UTK unites against racism, promotes diversity

“Hate my guts, not my genes,” graduate student Margaret Cross said as she took her place to stand against hate.

Cross, along with other students, faculty and community members, gathered at the University of Tennessee Friday, Feb. 9 in a show of solidarity against racism. “United at the Rock Against Racism” invited the UT community to leave its mark on the Rock, a campus staple and free speech forum. Each handprint represented campus unity, a university vision.

“It feels like a physical representation of the community,” Crystall-Marie Alperson said. “Hand in hand we stand together and we are together.”

The Student Government Association, Faculty Senate and the UTK Campus Ministries Council organized the event. Athletic teams, academic departments and individuals gathered to celebrate love and unity.

“We have a very diverse team, and I think it is really important that, as an athletic department and a university, we celebrate diversity. It is really important for us to spread love and not hate,” UT Volleyball team member Alyssa Andreno said.

Supporters filled Volunteer Boulevard which closed to traffic during the event.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Beverly Davenport sent an email to the UT community condemning racism and hate. Davenport spoke to attendees at the Rock to further her message.

“I wanted to come today to make clear the University of Tennessee views. Our views about unity, our views about peace, our views about acceptance, our views about what kind of future we want. That is what I want us to celebrate,” Davenport said.

During Davenport’s address, she turned to 7-year-old Reed Burgin and asked if he knew why everyone gathered at the Rock.

“[We are here] to not hate people for the color of their skin or where they are from,” Burgin said.

Before the event, Chancellor Davenport sent another message to address a white supremacist group’s intent to speak on campus Feb. 17.

“I want to let you know that after consultation between UTPD and senior advisors, we have decided that this group will not be allowed to use McClung Museum due to safety and security concerns,” Davenport said.

Davenport encouraged students to “get involved, get informed, and take care of each other.”

Following Chancellor Davenport’s speech, the UTK Campus Ministries Council organized a brief vigil. Vigil attendees raised their voices in song as the Rev. John Tirro and Dr. Loneka Battiste led “Draw the Circle Wide.”

“No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.”

Featured Image by Ainsley Kelso

Video by Ainsley Kelso

Edited by Lexie Little

Democrats Hoyos, Williams Face Off Ahead of Race for Duncan’s Seat: Photo Story

Two representative candidates met to discuss their views at a Democratic town hall Wednesday night at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Joshua Williams, left, and Renee Hoyos, are running for representative for Tennessee’s 2nd Congressional District, currently held by Jimmy Duncan.
Hoyos cited her time as the director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, an environmentalist group, as one of many qualifications for the job. “I’ve lobbied at the state level and the federal level. I’ve worked in public policy for 15 years. I know how to do the work of government.”
“Right now healthcare is the number one issue for people,” Williams said. A clinical psychologist and healthcare provider, Williams said he knows how the industry works and that it’s time to get profits out of healthcare.
Both democratic candidates voiced support for many of the same ideas, such as family reunification, funding for Planned Parenthood, and access to higher education.
Williams also supports a $15 minimum wage and provision of better low-income housing.
Hoyos said her time working with immigration services would help her in policy-making. “I remember when Republicans thought amnesty was a good idea.” Hoyos said she is committed to protecting so-called Dreamers, and would like to craft meaningful immigration reform.
Running against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, both Democrat candidates will need to become more visible before the election. “Tennessee has the lowest voter turnout rate in the country. We’ve got to do better,” Williams says.
“We have an opportunity to change what this district looks like that we may not get in another 20 years,” Hoyos said of Duncan’s retirement. Both candidates encouraged audience members to be involved in this election cycle.
The town hall was hosted by the University of Tennessee’s College Democrats. The group had a booth set up for voter registration and members who could answer questions for attendees.
The town hall was moderated by UTK College Democrats President Caroline Cranford, right, who praised the two “very fine” candidates.


Diversity scholar addresses myths surrounding Muslims in U.S.

Dr. Amer F. Ahmed discussed Islamophobia and the stigmas that surround Muslims in the United States on Tuesday at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Students, faculty and staff gathered in the Toyota Auditorium to listen to Ahemed’s experiences and knowledge with Islamophobia.

Regina Tisdale, senior at UTK, said this event was one she had to attend.

“This is one of those uncomfortable conversations that I feel needs to be had,” she said.

According to Ahmed, a common misconception among Americans is that anyone wearing a hijab or turban is a person of Muslim decent.

“Obviously all Arabs are not Muslim and vice versa,” he said.

Ahmed’s main goal with this lecture series, is to break down barriers, myths and stereotypes against Muslim people. Ahmed describes his own personal struggles with being Muslim in the United States.

“It’s like how long do we have to be here to be considered fully American?” he said.

Ahmed describes his and his family’s personal dealings with racial profiling in difference scenarios, specifically in airports.

“Every man in my family that has ever ridden in an airplane, including the male children, have been on a flight watch list,” he said.

Ahmed spent the majority of his lecture on educating his audience on the differences between the religion and culture of Muslim people. He wants everyone to know the difference so that all Muslim people are not treated as a monolith.

There is a common hypothesis that Muslim people want everyone to convert to Islam, but Ahmed said the concept of being Muslim as being a “Free-will religion,” meaning no one can be made to believe something he or she does not.

To participate in more education week events, check out the university’s event calendar.

Featured Image by Arial Starks

Edited by Vanessa Rodriguez and Kaitlin Flippo

Engaging in thoughtful debate may require everyone to stop talking – at least temporarily

Shut Up!

Episode One: Facts or Feelings?

Thinking about the heightened awareness of “fake news” over the last year or two, and increasingly common debate taking place via social media, how can we create effective arguments and constructive dialogue around hot-button topics like politics and social causes?

Thoughtful debate can be challenging to facilitate, but is arguably more important than ever before. I spoke with my parents – a lawyer and a community organizer – and a coworker who is also a journalism student about how to facilitate “good” debate and use critical thinking, rather than allowing conversation to disintegrate into purely emotion-driven argument with little to no basis on fact. While some people gravitate toward manipulating emotion or forming relationship-driven arguments, others make use only of facts. I explore the benefits of both, and how we can find middle ground. This and more on Shut Up!

Panelists discuss mass incarceration in America, prison conditions in Tennessee

A diverse group of academics and activists traveled to UT to give a panel discussion on mass incarceration and reform in America on Friday, March 3.

The event was sponsored by the Scholars Strategy Network, the Howard J. Baker Center for Public Policy and UT’s departments of Political Science and Sociology.

The panelists represented the fields of religion, political science, legal studies and public policy. One of the panelists, Jeannie Alexander, painted a harrowing picture of prison conditions in the state of Tennessee.

Alexander, a former attorney and prison chaplain who directs No Exceptions Prison Collective, shared the fact that Tennessee is the 10th most incarcerated place in the world. According to Alexander, the private prison industry was “born” in Tennessee.

“We have four private prisons, so the majority of our prisons are state-run, but everything in the prison system is privatized,” Alexander said. “What we’re doing is charging the most to people who can’t afford it.”

The healthcare, food and commissary services in Tennessee state prisons are privately owned and operated.

Alexander spoke on the issue of violence against inmates by Department of Corrections officers and the denial of healthcare to inmates. No Exceptions assisted the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and Disability Rights Tennessee in filing a class action lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Corrections for denying treatment to inmates with Hepatitis C.

Alexander joined the other panelists in discussing ways she and her organization can fight back against what they view as human rights violations in the prison system.

Panelist Michael Owens, author and professor at Emory University, said that the injustice of mass incarceration can never be truly reformed unless the racial link is addressed.

“We know that the link between black and crime in the American psyche was a core cause of the prison boom,” Owens said. “We can make all sorts of reforms, but we are never addressing that racial link.”

Panelist Ash-Lee Henderson, of the Highlander Center and the Movement for Black Lives, spoke to the idea that abolishing a money bail system would “topple” the criminal justice system.

“Money bail is how they pay for everything,” Henderson said.

Henderson also explained that the activists involved in prison reform need scholars to back them up with research. Panelist Heather Schoenfeld, a professor at Northwestern University, explained that a lack of transparency in the prison system can make studying it difficult.

“Prison conditions right now are as bad as they have been in 25 years, and we have very limited ways of studying that in any kind of systematic way,” Schonfeld said.

For Alexander, the key to reforming the correctional system in Tennessee and beyond is organizing with people inside and outside of prisons. Alexander encouraged the mostly student audience to join in the fight against mass incarceration.

“We very much consider it a war,” she said. “We’re gonna do it with or without you. But we would much rather have you with us.”

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured Image by Ryan McGill