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UT to require cultural training, forming panel to review student code of conduct following blackface incident

UT said one of the students involved with the incident is also no longer a student at UT.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee is taking steps to address racism on campus after a photo surfaced online last week showing UT students in blackface with the caption "about to get this free college now that I'm black."  

UT Chancellor Wayne Davis sent an email to students, faculty and staff, saying "we are all tired of racist events happening on our campus that make [these emails] necessary."

This email comes at a time when a lot of people on campus will tell you the racial climate there is not good.

"Good Ole Rocky Top, but it hasn't been so good to us lately," said UT junior Uriah Richey.

Students said they think constantly about racism, and how other people on campus look at them because of their skin color.

RELATED: Students demand action after UT blackface photo

Faculty said they've watched coworkers leave the university because of racial tensions.

Students gathered to speak with faculty Wednesday about the differences between free speech and hate speech.

After anti-Semitic speech was painted on the rock, a sorority suspended one member over a racist video, and most recently a blackface photo with an offensive caption was posted online, students have had enough.

"Most black people, we hate the fact that, you know, I have these racist stories. That I'm fighting racism in my early twenties," said UT senior George Johnson.

"The students are really aware. They know places and spaces on campus where they don't feel safe, where they don't feel welcome," said Asst. Professor of Psychology Dr. Jioni Lewis.

Teachers see the struggle, and know it's not new.

"To have students come in to my office and to talk to students over the years and to hear their day to day struggles with racism on our campus, this is not an outlier event," said Asst. Professor of Sociology Dr. Michelle Christian.

RELATED: 'The image is repulsive': UTK responds to Snapchat screengrab of students in blackface

Students said they've reported incidents of discrimination to no avail and want to see their administration take action.

"See the university at least doing something or saying something or taking some kind of public action for all to see," said UT senior Greyson Dulaney.

That wish was quickly granted moments later by an email from Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis.

Davis said all faculty, staff and administrators will now be required to undergo cultural competency, inclusion and bias training -- beginning with executive administration -- to develop curriculum to implement immediately.

UT will also expand student cultural competency training starting with this summer's orientation through next fall's Welcome Week, saying they will work with campus experts to incorporate this with first-year studies classes.

RELATED: UT updates investigation into fraternity hazing targeting of Asian students

The Faculty Senate also passes General Education requirements for all students that include global citizenship courses.

"These courses will provide more opportunities for students to engage in dialogue about current issues involving campus climate, race, and inclusion," Davis said.

Finally, UT will be forming a committee of students, faculty and staff to review the Student Code of Conduct to recommend 'changes and clarifications' to its content and how it's implemented. Davis said the committee will provide a timeline for its work to publicize at a later date.

UT Interim President Randy Boyd called the inclusion effort 'critical.'

Davis also said one of the students involved in the incident is no longer a student at UT.

UT will soon create a website to help curate resources, information, events and programming related to supporting students and the campus at belong.utk.edu

"These actions are merely a beginning. We have received a number of excellent ideas and appreciate everyone who is engaged in this difficult and ongoing dialogue," Davis said. "I am personally committed to listening to you, and I will ensure the leadership of the university takes the steps necessary to heal our community and rebuild your trust."

Students said that email from the chancellor doesn't instantly make things better.

They are still wary of tensions on campus and looking for a permanent solution.

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