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Sociology in the News

Sociology Statement on Racism and Hate on Campus

On Thursday, February 28, UT students posed in blackface in a snapchat photo with captions using racist language. This photo circulated across social media.  We join with others in condemning this grotesque show of racism.  But, as sociologists, we must point out that this is one more incident in a pattern of hatred on this campus.

The Department of Africana Studies has presented us with an important and shameful timeline of events in their statement, which we support:

“This incident is just the latest in a pattern of recent racist incidents at the University of Tennessee. In January 2019, a UT sorority suspended one of its members for a social media video referring to black people as the n-word. In November 2018, swastikas and hate messages were painted on “The Rock” at UTK not long after 11 worshippers were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. White supremacists were allowed to give an on-campus speech and bring threatening and violent messages to our campus during Black History Month in February 2018. Students attempting to educate about sexuality are being held back and silenced. During Black History Month in February 2017, there was controversy surrounding Dr. Stacey Patton’s accurately titled lecture “How Killing Black Children is an American Tradition.” And in 2015 our inaugural Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, Rickey Hall, was condemned and eventually let go in 2016 for educating people about gender diversity and for reminding people to be thoughtful of and sensitive to the beliefs of others during holiday celebrations.” 

In addition to these events, UT has been labeled one of the most unfriendly campuses in the nation to LGBQT students and faculty.  There have been 11 reported rapes on campus during this academic year alone, and we know that such reports grossly undercount the actual number of incidents.  It is clear we are neither providing a safe campus for students of color nor other marginalized students.

The administrative response to these realities has been slow and problematic. The Department of Sociology denounces all of these acts and emphasizes their patterned nature, pointing to a racist, exclusionary campus space. UT’s narrow condemnation of these acts and its selective use of First Amendment considerations is simply not enough. We are told that “this is not who we are as Vols” when the pattern tells us quite the opposite. This is, shamefully, who we are. The question now is how to change that. 

These actions adversely affect student, staff and faculty well-being, not to mention retention and recruitment.  They damage our national reputation.  We must move beyond slight condemnation and ‘neutral’ First Amendment protections to the hard work of building a different and more equitable world.  In Sociology, we teach and conduct research in the area of critical race and ethnicity, as well as inequalities and harms of all kinds.  We stand in solidarity with students of color and marginalized students on our campus.  We affirm their voice and requests of administration.  We stand ready to act with the entire UT community, to achieve understanding of where the patterns come from, and to interrupt them.

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