Amid complaints, the University of Tennessee Knoxville last week deleted a tweet that defended the free speech rights of an individual who penned the phrase “White Pride” onto the university’s outdoor “campus message board.”
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the deleted tweet stemmed from a student complaint over the pro-white message, which was posted on the public university’s “Rock,” a boulder that has stood on campus for decades and serves as a sort of de facto free speech wall.
The student, McKinley Merritt, issued her complaint about the “White Pride” message via a tweet to the university, providing a photo of the “White Pride” message and saying it was “not okay.” The university quickly responded with a tweet that appeared to sympathize with Merritt’s complaint while also upholding the right of free speech.
— McKinley Merritt (@merrymerritt) December 14, 2017
“Hi McKinley, While we sometimes disagree with what appears on the Rock, those who paint it are protected by the First Amendment. We trust that the Volunteer community will take care of this quickly,” the university said in its tweet.
Merritt later posted a screenshot of the university’s response on her Facebook page, asserting the school responded to her concern about the “White Pride” message “with indifference.”
“This is the reason why people continue to feel unsafe in the world. Don’t be indifferent,” she said in her post.
Others chimed in on social media, saying the university’s response was inadequate. The University of Tennessee later deleted its initial tweet.
The university told the News Sentinel that it scrubbed the tweet since “it didn’t convey our position about racism” and added “there’s no place at the University of Tennessee for racism, bigotry and prejudice.”
According to the News Sentinel, there are no rules dedicated solely to the Rock’s content and “messages are generally self-policed by the campus community.”
An article published earlier this month about the iconic campus boulder described it as a “symbol of free speech” that has stood on campus for decades and has included an assortment of various messages.
“Over the years, it’s been used to mourn national tragedies, protest political issues, propose marriage, advertise events on campus and of course, to spread news about UT athletics,” the report explained.