BY JASMINE WILLIAMS
MARTIN (July 8) — UT-Martin is investigating a video that spread through social media of three UT-Martin students’ apparently offensive language to those of African descent.
In the viral video, expletives can be heard against African Americans. Racial slurs were apparent, with one female saying, “I hate blacks” and that “You’re gonna get murdered,” all being said while laughing, in the short video.
In the first of many responses made by the university on social media over this video, UT Martin representatives noted, “We condemn hate and are working hard to create an inclusive campus culture. This video in no way represents the values of UT Martin. We have a responsibility to support our Black students and create a place where all students feel safe. At the conclusion of the investigation, appropriate action will be taken.”
Later, UT Martin’s Chancellor Keith Carver made comments in a video that was posted to social media. During this video, Carver said, “When one Skyhawk hurts, we all hurt, and I just want to start by saying the lives of our black students, our black faculty and staff on campus, but also the lives of our black alumni and black community members truly matter to me and they matter to our campus,”
Carver was joined by the school’s Black Alumni Association in the video.
UT Martin’s vice-chancellor, Dr. Andy Lewster of Student Affairs, also released a statement regarding the viral video and an update into the investigation by the university.
“The video is appalling. It illustrates that we have miles to go to become a campus that is welcoming to everyone … Let me assure you the Division of Student Affairs is taking this matter very seriously. All students are afforded due process. The conduct review will protect the privacy records of the students involved, as authorized by the State of Tennessee and the federal government, as well as provide opportunities to counsel, educate, and seek actions that will help heal the community. While there is great interest in the outcome, I will not be able to disclose this information to the public,” Lewster said.
However, many on social media, including current faculty, students, and alumni have said the statements by the university are not enough. Many are requesting to know if the students in the video will be or have been expelled.
The UTM’s Black Student Association released a statement online noting, “The BSA asks that appropriate actions are taken, and punishments are swift and adequate … We acknowledge the hard work of administrators on campus and we recognize that pressure that is placed on those in leadership roles when situations such as these transpire. The BSA does not, and will not, however, continue to accept vague responses and passive recognition of the trails that black students face, not only at UT Martin, but all over the state.”
In a statement made Monday, July 13, Chancellor Carver reported there will be several changes to help promote inclusivity and understanding. These changes include the hiring of a new division — a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Office. The position has been in the making for several months before the surfacing of the video, according to the university. There will also be new courses offered to students focused on race and diversity.
Students are now able to report incidents of bias they see on campus to the university. Programs and speakers are also being looked at to host events for Martin.
By the end of July, 212 new security cameras are expected to be installed on the UT Martin campus to increase security.
When discussing with Carver, those who have voiced concerns on social media about feeling unheard, he said any staff, faculty, alumni, or students could contact him or the Office of Student Affairs with any concerns that were raised from this video.
Many on social media have been calling for the university to release an update on the students and their future at UT Martin. Carver said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) will prevent the college from releasing any information on the outcome of the investigation. FERPA is a federal law that protects all student-conduct cases. Carver emphasized FERPA protects not only this case, but all student-conduct cases.
The student conduct and student handbook are under review, which happens annually. Many of the rules governing investigation and student privacy are not set by UT Martin, but instead, by the state and the federal government.
BY JASMINE WILLIAMS