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University hides details on mandatory diversity training, conduct code rewrite after ‘blackface’ photo

General statements rather than answered questions

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville won’t elaborate on new general education “inclusion” requirements that were announced soon after a “blackface” Snapchat photo went viral.

It’s also staying mum on the details behind a slew of new diversity training requirements and a revision of the student conduct code, spurred by “racist events” including the photo.

The administration has repeatedly ignored specific questions from The College Fix regarding its announcements, providing general statements instead. For example, it won’t say whether a purpose of the code revision is to make it easier to punish students for perceived racist acts.

After the photo went viral, Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vince Carilli said UTK would be “hard-pressed to expel a student for expressing their First Amendment rights.” The student who took the photo, Ethan Feick, dropped out with “no punitive action” from the administration, his brother told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

State lawmakers who have been critical of the university for indirectly funding an annual Sex Week are not similarly concerned about the university’s recent mandatory diversity moves.

Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham and Rep. Micah Van Huss did not respond to several phone calls and emails about whether they were concerned the new programs could potentially violate the First Amendment rights of students.

What is ‘immediate and ongoing cultural competency, inclusion, and bias training’?

The administration immediately denounced not just the caption on the Snapchat photo, which implied that “free college” is reserved for black students, but its content: white students in charcoal face masks.

It called the image itself “repulsive” and said the Bias Education Response Team would investigate. Students weren’t pacified, with almost 200 showing up to a campus discussion with administrators, according to the News Sentinel.

Over three-and-a-half hours, students blamed administrators for not doing enough to promote diversity and inclusion. “You failed if you believe that the First Amendment is the equivalent of protecting someone from blackfacing,” one told the newspaper outside the event.

They took their discontent even more public on March 5 at a school basketball game, with 40-50 students wearing black to protest blackface.

MORE: UTK denounces ‘repulsive’ selfie of white students in ‘charcoal face masks’

The next day, interim Chancellor Davis briefed the community on “next steps” for the taxpayer-funded university in response to “racist events,” including the photo.

It will require all faculty, staff and administrators to undergo “immediate and ongoing cultural competency, inclusion, and bias training.” UTK will also take summer orientation and Welcome Week and use them as an opportunity to “expand student cultural competency training.” The components will be incorporated into first-year classes with the help of “campus experts,” Davis said.

“We are also working with faculty members to create instructor workshops and student programming around intergroup dialogue,” the interim chancellor said, in order to facilitate “better understanding and acceptance of differences.”

The school is putting together “a committee of students, faculty, and staff” that will review the part of the Student Code of Conduct that deals with “peer university policies and applicable laws.” It will recommend “changes or clarifications related to both content and implementation.”

Davis said his vague laundry list was “merely a beginning” that would “address the underlying issues that allow [‘racist events’] to happen.”

The Fix asked UTK media relations for more details about the “immediate and ongoing cultural competency, inclusion, and bias training” mentioned by Davis, and whether the code revision was intended to make it easier to punish students for perceived racist acts. It did not answer in its email response.

‘Global citizenship courses’

The Fix has been unable to verify one of Davis’s claims about updates to general education requirements, or even obtain documentation of their approval.

The interim chancellor said the Faculty Senate approved changes March 4 that “provide more opportunities for students to engage in dialogue about current issues involving campus climate, race, and inclusion.” Students will be required to take “global citizenship courses.”

The Faculty Senate page does not appear to mention its approval of new general education requirements in documents associated with March 4, March 11 or any other 2019 date, however. They also aren’t mentioned on the Senate’s Twitter feed, which is regularly updated. The Daily Beacon, the student newspaper, simply cited Davis as the source of that information.

The Fix emailed media relations multiple times asking for more details on the curriculum requirements, including how courses qualify for “global citizenship,” and documentation of the Faculty Senate vote.

MOREProfs make racism exception for white kids to wear Black Panther costume

Spokeswoman Karen Dunlap emailed back after The Fix called. She said the school has been working for three years to update general education requirements and the “new course requirements will go into effect in fall 2021.” (UTK’s “action plan” discloses the implementation date.)

The Fix followed up again with the same questions, and UTK again responded with a general statement.

The Faculty Senate updated the course curriculum on March 12 as part of a six-year routine to look over the university’s general education curriculum, Dunlap wrote.

The new focus will be on “effective communication, expanded perspectives, and engaged inquiries.” What happens next is the “for academic departments to demonstrate how a course fits within one of these focus areas so faculty can recommend courses for approval.”

Misty Anderson, president of the Faculty Senate President, told The Fix in an email she is currently away with “limited access to email,” and that she’ll respond after Monday.

The only relevant curriculum document The Fix could find is labeled “draft.” The 2021-2022 Volunteer Core Curriculum says students are required to take one international-based and one United States-based global citizenship class to graduate.

The first will help students “develop an understanding of historical influences and contemporary dynamics that shape the experiences of those living outside the United States.” The second will focus on helping students appreciate “the variety and realities of the ‘American experience’” based on “social class, disability, ethnicity, gender, human geography, language, race, religion, and sexual orientation.”

MORE: Purdue students demand firing of prof for 44-year-old blackface photo

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About the Author
Lexi Lonas is a sophomore at The Pennsylvania State University of Altoona. She is studying political science and is the president of the political science club. She is also a student ambassador for PragerU. In addition to writing for The College Fix, her work has been published in the Daily Signal. 

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