Dear Volunteer community,
In the past month, our Rock has been painted several times by a self-described racial separatist group. At the core of their beliefs are racial segregation, prejudice, bigotry, and exclusion. I know many of you have been offended by their presence on our campus and what they have written on our Rock. Please know I share your sentiments entirely. I find their values and teachings despicable, hateful, divisive, and incendiary, and as I have said before, they are completely at odds with our Volunteer values and ethics.
Across the country, white supremacist groups are targeting colleges and universities, hoping to promote their beliefs and recruit members. Groups like the one that has been writing on our Rock have been described as being closely aligned with neo-Nazis and other hardline racist organizations. They are coming to our campuses precisely because of our commitment to inclusion and our mission to promote free speech.
Even though the First Amendment to the Constitution protects hate speech, that does not mean we must remain silent about it. In fact, we have a responsibility to condemn what we know is wrong. Hate is wrong. Racism is wrong. Advocating for the exclusion of all but one race is clearly wrong.
So I encourage all of you to be guardians of our campus. Protect it and make it a symbol of what you honor and love. Take care of it and each other. Be mindful of what’s hurtful and hateful. If you see something hateful or hurtful on the Rock, say something and/or enlist the help of others to paint over it.
If your classmates, colleagues, or friends feel vulnerable or targeted, reach out to them and to us. Support them. Make sure they know they are valued and protected. Kindness matters. Words matter. Support matters.
This is our campus and our community. It’s on us—all of us—to make it our University of Tennessee. We will not stand by and let those words and symbols define us. We will be defined by our stance against words, actions, and deeds that demean, threaten, divide, and harm our campus community. Here in Knoxville, in a place we call Rocky Top, we are all torchbearers for a just, welcoming, and safe campus. We are all Volunteers for life.
Beverly J. Davenport