UT's president acknowledges extremist activity on campuses, including UTC

UTC extremist groups.jpg

The president of the statewide University of Tennessee system shared a message with all UT faculty and staff on Thursday: Extremists walk among you on campus.

Joe DiPietro cited two recent examples of extremist propaganda appearing on statewide campuses, including at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

DiPietro said in the statement, “It’s no secret that we are living in a polarized, turbulent time in American life, and college campuses are not immune. In the last 12 months, alone, news accounts have documented multiple instances of extremist groups seeking to demonstrate or speak at universities.

“The ugly reality is, extremist groups are actively organizing, targeting colleges and universities in an attempt to be heard and to grow their ranks. Hate groups also target some universities on the basis of their principles of inclusion and commitment to free speech.

“And now, two of our own campuses—the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga—are being targeted.

“At UT Knoxville, the white supremacist group Traditionalist Workers Party was not invited to appear on campus, but followed UT policy on use of campus facilities by non-University speakers in seeking to conduct an event.

“At UT Chattanooga, vandals have attempted to cover posters for Black History Month events on campus with posters referencing Adolf Hitler. As these have been discovered, the posters have been removed because the group does not have a permit to be active on campus.

A group on Facebook called Chattanooga Redneck Revolt posted a picture of the flyer that appeared on UTC on Wednesday:

The photo depicts a sticker over a black history month event poster that depicted Adolph Hitler, and said "Hitler was right," and appeared to be from the group Vanguard America.

DiPietro's message continued, “Now, let me be clear: Every campus and enterprise of the statewide University of Tennessee system respects and upholds the constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech which, history has shown, also can include ignorant, repulsive speech.

“The statewide UT system also respects and upholds principles that run counter to hateful speech – inclusion, tolerance and civility – that I emphasize here for every person who reads these words.

“History is littered with the tragedy of unchecked hate, racism and violence. And at the University of Tennessee, we should bluntly call out what is wrong: Hate, racism and violence are wrong. There is no place for them on any of our campuses or university facilities.

“The University of Tennessee is a vast community of 50,000 students, 11,000 employees, and more than 375,000 alumni of every UT campus. As varied and divergent as the viewpoints among our community may be, I am certain we can agree that hate should be rejected and civility embraced across the entire university system.”

The Anti-Defamation League defines Vanguard America as "a white supremacist group that opposes multiculturalism and believes America is an exclusively white nation," and says it "is particularly focused on recruiting young men and has engaged in unprecedented outreach efforts to attract students on American college campuses."

The presence of the flyer on UTC's campus prompted flyers denouncing their activity.

UTC Chancellor Dr. Steven Angle also issued a statement about the flyer:

"On February 7, posters celebrating Black History Month were defaced on the UTC campus by covering the BHM posters with ones extolling Hitler and Nazism. The person or group that did this is disrespecting our celebration of Black History Month and violating campus policy. The defaced posters were removed, as are all posters that do not follow campus policy. The University supports free speech but not by trampling on the rights of others. More importantly, the expression of such racist, hateful views have no place on our campus.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will continue to pursue excellence by embracing diversity and inclusion. The values of Hitler and the neo-Nazi movement are despicable, hateful, divisive and inconsistent with our ethics and core values.

Across the country, white supremacist groups are targeting colleges and universities, hoping to promote their beliefs and recruit members. They are coming to our campuses precisely because of our commitment to inclusion, diversity, social justice, and our mission to promote free speech.

While the First Amendment to the Constitution protects offensive speech, that does not mean we must remain silent when it occurs. In fact, we have a responsibility to condemn what we know is wrong. Hate is wrong. Racism is wrong. Advocating for the exclusion of all but one race is clearly wrong.

Our Student Government Association has released a statement in response to the poster defacing that reads in part:

“Blatant racial hatred across the United States has been highlighted as a result of recent events. Unfortunately, UTC is not immune. We have a responsibility to facilitate conversations about how to deter hatred and embrace the diversity that exists on our campus and in our community. Moving forward, we will continue to push our campus community, particularly the division of Student Development and our Student Body, to be leading forces in the change of our campus climate.”

I support and share the ideas and sentiments expressed by our SGA. Now is the time for us to speak up and speak out, to cherish our diversity, understand people who are different from us, and to stand up for our beliefs.

Challenges like this strengthen our character and resolve to do what is right, just and fair. UTC is a campus for all people. We strive to create an environment for lifelong learning in an atmosphere of understanding and civility.

Steven R. Angle"

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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