One campus. One community. Celebrate the differences.

Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek shares details and a special video featuring members of our campus community.

Civility is treating others as you would want to be treated.  The golden rule is that simple and one that most people learn early in life.

But people don’t always live by the rule. Lawmakers often struggle to have a civil debate. Sports fans choose hostility over sportsmanship. People shout instead of talking and no one is heard.  And prejudice sometimes prevails, no matter how far we seem to have come.

Unfortunately, it’s happened here at UT Knoxville. Last spring, we had a series of bias incidents reported. In one, someone threw a banana at visiting African American students, their parents, and guidance counselors.

We dealt with them head on and made it clear that we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior. People appreciated how we dealt with the facts and made our message clear.

It was actually one of our students who helped me understand how we needed to respond. He told me how strongly he felt that we told our campus to hear the specific facts about the racial incident.

“It doesn’t make us look so good,” I told him. He said, “Chancellor, it is the truth.”

That was all it took to convince me that our faculty, staff, and students needed to know the offensive and embarrassing details so they could take a stand against that behavior and protect their campus as a welcoming place.

One of my top priorities is to enhance diversity on our campus, and one of the best ways to do that is to maintain and improve upon a campus climate. This past year, we’ve had several groups working on what we can do to make our campus even stronger.

This week marks the beginning of a campus-wide effort to ensure that the principles of civility and community will become an integral part of what it means to be a Tennessee Volunteer.

I invite you to join me for a Celebration of Civility and Community at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 15, at the University Center Plaza.  The celebration will be part of the twenty-sixth annual International Festival.

I hope you will also watch the special video we produced for this initiative. These faculty, staff, and students convey a powerful message.

We truly are one campus and one community, and that includes alumni and friends like you.

I hope you will join me in celebrating our differences.

Jimmy G. Cheek
Chancellor, UT Knoxville

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Angela Fisher Hamilton April 12, 2011 - 10:34 am

As a UT alum and parent of a rising Freshman (class of 2015), I was deeply saddened, and frankly disgusted, to read about the racial discrimatory incidences on campus. My son was accepted to UT in Jan. and we were elated, but those feelings were seriously dampened by the news of the racial discrimination behaviors on campus. I told my son about it with much sadness and embarassment. I implored him to accept the challenge to make a difference on campus by demonstrating civility and respect to others when he gets the priviledge to be a Volunteer.

I commend Chancellor Cheek for addressing these issues of racial discrimination and civility “head-on” with the campus awareness campaign and on-going celebrations. We came back to campus in late March before my son made his final deicison. I was again proud to be a Volunteer and see the best of UT all around us- hospitality, friendliness, and authenticity. That’s the true Tennessee spirit, and may this spirit of equality, diversity, and civility remain in the hearts and mninds of all on campus, in everyday life, and interactions with others. It is an honor and priviledge to be a Volunteer and treating each other with respect and an open mind will continue to lead UT to be the best it can be. Be serious about your committment. I am eager to see it demonstrated over the next four years.

Anne Meek April 12, 2011 - 10:50 am

Thank you, Dr. Cheek, and thanks to the student who said, “Chancellor, it is the truth” and prompted your open way of addressing the issues. This invitation is a marvelous example of the purposes of education, reaching far above courses, classes, grade reports, professors’ relationships with students, and the Vols! Thank you, thank you!

Rev. Bill Gupton April 12, 2011 - 12:03 pm

Chancellor Cheek,
Thank you for your courage and your willingness to directly address issues of acceptance and diversity on campus and in UT life. As an alumnus (Journalism, Class of ’79) of UT and native of the South, I am deeply disturbed by the rhetoric of intolerance and bigotry that has sadly become such a common part of our society, and I applaud efforts to help future leaders learn how to deal with differences respectfully and constructively. It is when I hear about initiatives such as the Celebration of Civility and Community, that I am most proud of my alma mater — even more so than when the Vols win on the playing field. Thank you again for hearing the concerns of your students, and taking action to respond.

Jim Light April 12, 2011 - 10:31 pm

Thank you Chancellor Cheek and thank you UT students. Although the disgusting and offensive conduct of some misguided students stained the tapestry of diversity on the UTK campus, I commend you for making it such a powerful teaching and learning moment. The greatest lesson and most lasting impact of my college experience at UT was not found in the content of my classes but the process of “learning to learn”. As it was so eloquently stated by the members of the UT community, a key to true learning is listening, respecting, and recognizing others. The greatest insights and and lasting knowledge can happen only when one opens their mind to new ideas and perspectives. Not only is mutual respect the right thing to do, it’s the only way to succeed in iife–both during and after one’s college experience. Thank you for making me proud to be Volunteer and for tackling a critical issue in society today. Your efforts will inspire others and may very well be the greatest educational take-away for today’s students.

David Hodge April 12, 2011 - 11:08 pm

Chancellor Cheek:

I for one cannot believe that this much energy, time and money are being expended due to the actions of a few students. With the size of the enrollment at UTK, I’m not surprised that there would be some idiots attending school. I bet you have thieves, racists, substance abusers, thugs, etc. enrolled at present. I think any large group of people have similar problems. I know you are teaching some students who will go on to do great things because of the education they are receiving at UTK. I assume it has not changed since I was a student, but there were University affiliated organizations that would not allow me to join because of my race and gender.

After publishing the campus police blotter so everyone will know all the bad things that happened on campus, how about reporting on what UTK is doing to educate the student body and what high-quality research is being created to help this country produce more wealth for its citizens.

Rob Power April 13, 2011 - 10:26 am

While I received all three of my degrees at UT (Aerospace Engineering 1998, MBA/MS 2000), I met my husband in his last undergraduate semester at UC Berkeley, and he received his Master’s Degrees from MIT and Harvard after we were married, so I have been able to compare firsthand the diversity initiatives of UT with three world-class schools.

This new civility program at UT is extremely welcome and very long overdue. I am cautiously optimistic that this will put UT on the path to become a 21st century institution of higher learning that even those of us who are no longer in the South can be proud to call our alma mater. When I consider that it was recent as 1996 that SGA resolutions on nondiscrimination were rejected by University administrators for not complying with Tennessee’s sodomy law, and yet today there is not only a Commission, but also a Resource Center, for LGBT members of the campus community, it is clear that UT has come a very long way since I was an undergrad and leading the Lambda Student Union.

But I’m nonetheless saddened that civility had to degrade to a point of such totally absurd racial bias as a banana being thrown at black visitors to campus for this initiative to be triggered, when clearly such a program was already long since warranted to combat bias involving sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and religion.

To put it bluntly, this strong reaction to an off-the-charts-ridiculous incident of racial bias elevates UT diversity to where my husband’s alma mater was nearly half a century ago. Even Tennessee Board of Regents schools had gotten this far by the 1990s. For UT to catch up to the 21st century, it needs to evolve more and faster. I think this is doable. It’s not a matter of student or faculty willingness, but rather of administrative resolve to drag the Board of Trustees (kicking and screaming if necessary) into the 21st Century regarding diversity in the UT system. I think Chancellor Cheek may be the Chancellor to accomplish that task, but I’ve had similar expectations of previous Chancellors, only to be disappointed. I remain cautiously optimistic that this is the time when it’s finally going to happen, and I would like to thank Chancellor Cheek for taking this important first step of what I hope will become many on the path to making UT a diverse and welcoming 21st century university.

Alice Lewis April 14, 2011 - 11:37 pm

It is with great sadness that I read about the incident at UTK. Having grown up in Tennessee, I attended UTK from 1969 to 1975 (B.S. and M.A.), after which I moved away. In the time I was a student, it felt as if we made progress. When I visited the campus a couple of years ago, I was shocked at the lack of racial diversity on the campus. Thirty years ago, the campus had a larger proportion of African American students than it does today. It was more racially diverse then than it is now. How can that be?

I applaud the chancellor’s actions, but I am ashamed that students on campus have behaved with such blatant racism. The chancellor has taken the first step to ensure that such behavior is absolutely not tolerated. But, there are more steps to be taken. I urge the university to proactively make the campus more racially diverse. I urge professors to again make racism a subject of discussion; courses in literature, history, sociology, religious studies, economics and many other subjects offer the opportunity to address racism directly. And, I urge the university to lead the state to consider how all of its children are being educated in the K-12 system where racism must be tackled.

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