A now covered message raising concerns with students on UT’s campus. The free speech venue known as the Rock sits in the middle of the Knoxville campus.
Earlier this week, students noticed two words spray painted in white: “White Pride”, something they say they didn’t expect.
“Disgust and shock… that we still have people that would subscribe to that belief.” said Ryan Colbert, a Senior studying Vocal Performance.
Colbert says many of her major classes are in the building directly behind the Rock, so, she’s used to seeing messages both positive and negative.
“If it’s something particularly negative, like the White Pride thing, it just sours your mood…” said Colbert.
When she saw the writing, she tweeted about it, and so did others.
“Free speech is great, but on a university campus shouldn’t there be a line that needs to be drawn?” said Aleah Vassell, a first-year grad student at UT.
Vassell says she’s already been in contact with the Office of the Chancellor to find out what the university’s policies are on free speech and the Rock.
According to the university, even words like that are protected by the First Amendment. The University said:
As Chancellor Davenport has said on numerous occasions, there’s no place at the University of Tennessee for racism, bigotry and prejudice. Our Tweet was taken down because we felt like it didn’t convey our position about racism. The Chancellor is in constant communication with our students and various groups on campus and that dialogue will continue when students return to campus after the break.
When asked about free speech and the university’s plans to censor words or phrases on the Rock they replied:
The Rock is considered a venue of free speech and is typically self-policed by the campus community. There is no written policy regarding the Rock, although as a part of campus, our free speech policy and Hilltopics guidelines regarding bias apply to it.
The students say they understand that free speech is important, but still have questions.
A professor of law at Lincoln Memorial University, Akram Faizer, says the university ultimately has control.
“The university doesn’t have to allow speech there, but since it does allow speech there, it can’t discriminate on the basis of the speech.” said Faizer.
The students say they have already been in contact with administration to continue this conversation after the break.