UT trailblazer responds to blackface photo

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Choices, decisions, and consequences are three things Theotis Robinson Jr. says are facts he “knows to be true.” Each is impacted by the other. 

When he heard and saw a photo of four people, two in blackface, believed to be UT students, he said he was saddened. 

“My first reaction is one of sadness and a measure of anger. you would think people would learn. Blackface has been so much in the news lately,” said Robinson. “How do you get divorced from the reality of what that means and see what is costing people and their professional lives?” 

Previous storyUTK, NAACP condemn social media post depicting blackface

Robinson says he believes UT leaders must enforce a no tolerance policy for racism and hate speech on campus with consequences for students that chose to engage in racist behavior. 

“If we’re going to be able to get along as a society we need to educate ourselves of the value of diversity and cultures that are different than ours,” said Robinson. 

Robinson chose to attend UT Knoxville in 1961, enrolling as the first African-American student. He said he wasn’t scared and wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

Since that event, Robinson has continued to be a civil rights acitivist and leader serving on Knoxville City Council, as vice president of economic development for the 1982 World’s Fair, and a UT vice president. 

He says behavior, like that demonstrated in the blackface photo, should not and cannot be tolerated. 

“If the climate on a given campus, partularly the flagship university in the state of Tennessee, is such that black students are repelled from coming, it inhibits the university meeting its challenge to educate a well diverse workforce,” said Robinson. 

UT students echoed the sentiments shared by Robinson on Friday, holding a protest and march through UT Knoville’s campus. 

Students shared their thoughts on what they hope to see change on their campus relating to race, but also topics of diversity and inclusion.  

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