On Tuesday, April 19, students and faculty walked out of their classes in protests to the recent bill that strips the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, of funds that would go towards diversity programs on campus.
The walkout was planned for 1:40 p.m. exactly. Students and faculty met in the Humanities and Social Sciences amphitheater.
The protest began with student leaders explaining what the event was about and what was going to take place. UT junior Thomas Tran said the event was an extension to all of the other methods the UT Diversity Matters Coalition has taken to emphasize the importance of the diversity programs on campus.
“We’ve been doing this the right way, according to the UT administration,” Tran said. “We’ve had four meetings with them now. We’ve gone to Nashville. We’ve called legislators. We’ve made progress with all of that. But still, the problem is on this campus.”
Senior Johnathon Clayton said UT administration has shown disregard for the issues students of marginalized groups face.
“We’re here today to show them that we care and that we demand that they change,” Clayton said.
Afterwards, senior JT Taylor gave participants instructions for the next steps. Taylor told students that for the next ten minutes, those who are physically able and comfortable would lie down on Pedestrian Walkway and perform a “die-in.” Those who were not able to lie down would stand over their peers in solidarity.
Taylor told students to be mindful of the students who were walking on Pedestrian Walkway and that the aim was not to harm anyone.
“We are not in the business of trying to hurt other students who are not engaged with us right now,” Taylor said. “We are simply trying to let them know that we are hurting and that the administration has not been showing up for us.
After students performed the die-in, the group marched through Hess Hall and the Presidential Court Building and into the Presidential Court courtyard, where they gathered in a circle and continued chanting.
When they were in the Presidential Court courtyard, sophomore George Habeib had the white students stand in the center and had students of color stand around them. He said the exercise was to show the disparity between what the UT administration considers to be “diversity” and what students on campus actually experience.
“Do you all see what’s wrong with this picture?” Habeib asked.
Afterwards, students were given a lecture on white privilege and how it affects white students and students of color on campus.
To end the protest, Kristen Godfrey, the graduate assistant for the Pride Center, announced that the UT Diversity Matters Coalition would be holding their last meeting with administration on April 20, at 3:45 p.m. in room 334 of the Haslam Business Building.
“We really need you guys to come and show that there are so many people behind this,” Godfrey said.
Images courtesy of Courtney Anderson
Edited by Ben Webb