By Randy Boyd
University of Tennessee President
Racism – a word that has divided our country and our world for decades. As we have watched the nation’s events unfold in the recent wrongful death of George Floyd, our hearts are deeply grieved. So many in our country are asking the important question, “What can we do?”
What can we do? We can learn. We can actively listen from not only our friends of color but from people of every background, ethnicity, nationality, religion and culture to understand the unique challenges and struggles they endure. We must understand their truth and learn from it.
What can we do? We can lead. Every campus and institute in our 95-county state can lead with love and help ensure everyone who steps on our campuses is treated with respect, fairness, dignity, compassion and care.
What can we do? We can act and advocate. At the University of Tennessee, we have the power to enact change. We have a responsibility to do our part to recognize hate, condemn it wholeheartedly and work to eradicate racism once and for all.
Chancellors, vice chancellors, deans and others at each of our campuses are showing tremendous leadership in speaking up and speaking out against this most recent example of racism that we simply cannot tolerate any longer. They are developing, strengthening or building upon plans to better address diversity and inclusion in order to make a meaningful difference on their campus and in their community. I look forward to sharing more about our campus response as plans further develop.
My pledge to the more than 50,000 students on our campuses across the state, our 10,000 new graduates every year and our more than 387,000 alumni around the world is that we will continue to faithfully act and persistently advocate for change. We must share in our victories and lock arms around our challenges. We must realize we are much better together than we could ever be separately. We must acknowledge our differences, but then use those differences to make us stronger. We must know that success cannot be ultimately measured from graduation rates, funding increases or statistics, but instead on how we develop our future leaders who will provide hope to our next generation. What makes a university great are its people—students, faculty, staff, and alumni. During difficult times, our University can be a beacon of light to the rest of the world when it comes to civility and respect.
As the late Senator Howard Baker, a revered UT alumnus, once said, “If we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree, or that we don’t like, we could soon stop functioning altogether.” We are hurting alongside our nation, but we must do more than hurt. We must commit to change. We must take action and do – and, we have much to do.Together, we have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world the Tennessee way. I hope you will join in that effort.