UT responds after reports of racial slur on classroom whiteboard

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 7:00 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 1:38 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The University of Tennessee said responded Thursday after reports of a racial slur being written on a university classroom whiteboard.

The university said it was “actively talking with our students and faculty member about an Africana Studies class in which the faculty member wrote a racially charged acronym on the whiteboard.”

UT said, aside from engaging students, it was “working to bring expert scholars to this discussion. We are trying to understand the situation, its context and its impact in order to chart a path forward.”

The incident came to light on Twitter this week when, on Wednesday afternoon, Twitter user and alleged student @adriann47952112 posted a photo that shows an adult standing in front of a whiteboard that displays a racial slur, targeting Black people. The word appears to be used as an acronym for Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.

The post had gained thousands of interactions by Wednesday evening, catching the attention of UT Dean of Students Shea Kidd-Houze and the university’s Twitter account, and it even got the attention of actress Gabrielle Union.

UT replied to the post Wednesday, saying, “Thank you for sharing this with us. We are taking this seriously and working to learn more about what happened.”

Union, responding to a quoted-retweet of the post said, “I shouldn’t be surprised and yet here I am.”

UT apologized for the incident, saying, “We’re sorry for the hurt this has caused many members of our community. We value diversity, inclusion & respect, and are working hard to create a campus where everyone matters and belongs. This work will not stop, and we are committed to continuous learning and improvement.”

UT’s Africana studies program also issued a release on the topic, “The Pejorative Meaning of an Epithet,” saying, in part:

“We have been confronted with the image of one of our faculty members in Africana Studies standing in front of a whiteboard with a word that presents as a racial epithet for Black people. Underneath it is the reference phrase – “Never Ignorant About Getting Goals Accomplished – using the “n-word” acronym, which is the name of a song (and part of the album title) by the renowned rap artist, Tupac (1993). Without context and the acronym alone, this word presents a very painful and derogatory one that is not only uncomfortable, but also hurtful and troubling. But, it is the context of this discussion and this word that begs knowledge-building.

We and our faculty member sincerely apologize for the pain that this lecture about the acronym and its meaning for the “n-word” has caused. We do not take it lightly that members of the UT community and friends and others elsewhere feel the pain of seeing the image that captured this acronym ... Our faculty member understands deeply the significance of race and positionality in discussing Africana Studies, but we are willing and have had further discussion about the complexities of the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” people reference the “n-word,” even though to our understanding, this is why our professor wrote it— knowing that speaking it was a power even she should not have, which was a point she made in her lecture. We most sincerely regret and apologize that this action was in poor judgment, given the nuances and hurt that it presents.”

The full response from the department can be viewed here.

UT added that the incident is still being investigated and further action could follow.

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