University of Tennessee Administrators Address Minority Students’ Concerns
What started as a sophomore-level student art project meant to depict the strangulation of the environment — nine nooses hanging from a tree — has many Black students at the University of Tennessee seeing the incident as more than just art.
Last month’s episode was the latest in a series of intended or inadvertent affronts, several Black students told administrators. The ropes were removed by campus police within an hour of being hung.
Approximately 100 students and faculty attended a standing-room-only forum called by university administrators to give renewed attention to racial sensitivity.
“We are committed to promoting an atmosphere of civility and racial discourse,” says UT’s president, Dr. J. Wade Gilley.
The problems come as Gilley, who has just completed his first year as president, pushes ahead with programs to boost recruitment of minority faculty and students to the Knoxville campus.
Though the university now exceeds many of its minority hiring goals for administrators, the Knoxville campus still falls far short among Black undergraduates. Of some 20,000 undergrads, only 1,200 are Black — about 6 percent of enrollment compared to a goal of 11 percent.
Students also are raising concerns about what some say is insensitive coverage by the student paper, The Daily Beacon, pertaining to the African American community and the reduction in the number of African American studies classes. Administrators say efforts were being made to increase the number of class offerings in this area and that recruitment of qualified minority faculty members is difficult because of a lack of funding for higher education in Tennessee.
Students also are requesting that diversity and sensitivity training be added to the already required curriculum. Administrators say they were looking into ways to incorporate diversity awareness and racial sensitivity into first-year studies.
Gilley told local media in attendance that although the forum addressed African American student concerns in particular, there would be forums in the near future to address the affairs of other student groups that feel they have been discriminated against.
In addition, the university is working to raise minority student numbers by opening recruiting offices in Nashville and Memphis, and by hiring Noel-Levitz, a national consulting firm, to work on minority admissions, recruiting and retention strategies. The university also has consolidated its affirmative action strategies, plans to increase minority scholarships and is building a $2 million Black Cultural Center in Knoxville.
Talks are under way with historically Black Tennessee State University to offer highly qualified Tennessee State students fellowships and research opportunities in agriculture and veterinary medicine at the Knoxville college.
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