UT students hope for change after faculty uses racially charged acronym

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Some students at the University of Tennessee are hoping for change after a faculty member wrote a racially charged acronym on a whiteboard during an Africana Studies class.

In a series of tweets following the incident, UT’s College of Arts and Sciences pledged to engage with students in the class and the department, work to bring scholars into the discussion, and garner better understanding “in order to chart a path forward.”

Adrianna Smith, a UTK junior, hopes the path forward includes more listening to students and more solutions that better represent people of color.

Smith isn’t enrolled in the class but received a photo showing the acronym from a friend. Smith tweeted the photo with the caption “Now was this acronym necessary?” That tweet has been shared more than 5,000 times and liked by more than 56,000 accounts.

“I understand where the quote came from. I understood what the quote meant. But I don’t think in any academic setting you’re required to write the slur on the board,” Smith said.

Smith said old emotions surface with every new use of the word.

“Imagine every horrible thing that could have ever happened to you, your past generations, all shoved into one word then thrown at you. That’s what that was,” she said.

In a lengthy response to the incident, Shayla Nunally, Africana Studies Program chair, noted underneath the “n-word” acronym were the words “Never Ignorant About Getting Goals Accomplished,” the name of a song and part of an album title by influential rap artist, Tupac. “Without context and the acronym alone, this word presents a very painful and derogatory one that is not only uncomfortable, but also hurtful and troubling. But it is the context of this discussion and this word that begs knowledge-building,” Nunnally wrote.

Nunally apologized, but also called it a teachable moment.

“We, faculty, will engage in this discussion with the greater effort to learn, to impart informed knowledge to our students, and to denounce ill-contrived, misinformed, and virulent usage of the “n-word,” she said.

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