The center isn’t holding.
Examining the hateful messages painted on the University of Tennessee’s Rock, a forum for open discourse and free speech – bedrocks of democracy – one plainly sees, as W.B. Yeats says, “things fall apart.” Even that which is seemingly set in stone.
Was it naïve of us to believe by coming to college our minds would be more open, more accepting of a diverse world?
Was it naïve of us to believe our administration would quickly respond to initial incitements of hate, having just issued a statement saying diversity is the country’s greatest strength in a divisive time?
Was it naïve of us to believe hateful rhetoric might not return?
Following a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead last month, UT Jewish student organization Hillel held a vigil and painted the Rock in remembrance on Oct. 31. Prior to the event, Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis sent a campus-wide email saying, “it is imperative that we celebrate [diversity] and not allow it to be used to divide us.”
Two days later, anti-Semitic images defaced the show of solidarity. Davis sent another email Nov. 9 to respond, a week after the incident in which “a swastika was painted on the Rock.”
“I am disappointed and deeply concerned, as are many members of our university community, that this symbol of hate appeared on one of our iconic campus landmarks,” Davis said. “I want to make it clear that the university does not condone these actions or other acts of intimidation or intolerance.”
Someone missed the memo.
Saturday night, symbols and hate messages yet again smeared a campus staple noted for wedding proposals, congratulations on graduation day and notices about campus events. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continues on a campus recently ranked in the top 20 for least happy students and third most LGBTQ-unfriendly campus.
Campus needs positive change.
The Tennessee Journalist remains committed to free speech, but the Tennessee Journalist also remains committed to following the Volunteer Creed: to bear the torch to give light to others. We echo Chancellor Davis and an enumeration of faculty and students in condemning the actions and words of hate disseminated under the veil of darkness, under the protection of free speech.
As journalists, we are dedicated to upholding the First Amendment which legally protects free speech not directed to incitement of imminent lawless acts. Free speech founds a pillar of democracy that continually shapes culture and governance. However, as students, we are dedicated to speaking for our campus community in need of a more inclusive and accepting culture. Open mindedness founds a pillar of higher education that allows us to grow and learn as individuals in an ever-globalizing world.
Without the Volunteer spirit, the Rock will crumble and the foundation of higher education – free thought – will break. The center will not hold.
– TNJN Editorial Staff