University of Tennessee at Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport released a video message calling for students to "open your hearts, as well as your minds" in light of protests and rallies planned near the UT campus this weekend.
In the video released Thursday, Davenport said the student body will be "confronted with so many new things," and people who have different life experiences and beliefs.
"But of course, we come here together on Rocky Top where people are going to express different views, and people and going to express opinions that you may have never heard before," Davenport said.
"So I'm asking you, as you hear these opinions and you hear these differences, and as you come here to learn, open your hearts as well as your minds," she said.
Davenport acknowledged the rally and counter protest planned for Saturday around the Confederate monument in the Fort Sanders area near campus. She said she wants students to be engaged and express their voices, but also respect the other people involved in the demonstrations.
"I want you to know that we at the University of Tennessee believe hatred and violence is not part of the solution. Racism and bigotry and prejudice is not a part of the Volunteer Spirit," Davenport said.
The monument, which is at the corner of 17th Street and Laurel Avenue, was erected by the Daughters of the confederacy in 1914, and honors Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Sanders in 1863.
The monument has been vandalized three times in the past two weeks, and dueling petitions have been created to take the monument down and leave it alone.
Davenport, who is starting her first full year as Chancellor at UT-Knoxville, said campus officials are monitoring the weekend's events closely, and are working closely with the city, state and federal partners.
"I want you to know that beyond anything else, your safety is my utmost concern. My commitment is to you and to this campus, and we will do everything possible to ensure that you are safe and in a place where you can express your views. We will be here with you," she said.
Davenport asked students to be "reflective" about the events, and to think about "what really, really matters."
"Think every day you are representing what we hold dear. That everybody is treated with respect and with care and with kindness and with consideration that you would want to be treated with," she said.
She ended the address by saying she wants UT to be "the model of what a great university can be."
Knoxville Police have said they will close 17th Street from Cumberland Avenue to Highland Avenue at 6 a.m. Saturday. The city has said no guns and other weapons and no masks or shields will be allowed for people entering the designated demonstrations areas near the monument.
A counterprotest is also planned for the same day, and a Kindness Rally is set for 1 p.m. in the Krutch Park Extension near Market Square.
Tyson House at UT Knoxville has said it will offer a place of "peace and healing" on Saturday, and their common room and chapel will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.