University of Tennessee’s Refusal to Expel Students in Blackface Photo Prompts Student Protest During Basketball Game

About four dozen University of Tennessee students, dressed in all black, remained seated for the national anthem during a men’s basketball game Tuesday night in response to the school’s handling of a recent blackface incident.

“No justice, no peace, no racist UT,” the students chanted, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “What do we want? Expulsion! When do we want it? Now!”

University of Tennessee

Student protesters at the University of Tennessee said they were upset over the school’s decision not to expel two students seen in a blackface photo. (Photo by Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel)

The protesting students occupied seats behind UT’s goal as the Volunteers took on the Mississippi State Bulldogs for their final home game of the season. Those who took part said they’re opposed to the university’s recent decision not to immediately punish two students seen in a Snapchat photo wearing blackface.

At least four people, all believed to be UT students, were involved, but only two can be seen with their faces slathered in what appears to be charcoal skin masks.

“We for racial equality boys,” the caption read. “Bout to get this free college now that I’m black let’s gooooo #blacklivesmatter.”

The university quickly denounced the photo, calling it “repulsive.” However, administrators on Monday said it was unlikely the students would face expulsion for “expressing their First Amendment rights.”

“We’d be hard-pressed to expel a student for expressing their First Amendment rights,” Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vince Carilli told students and staff at a meeting in the university’s student union. UT leaders said they are still determining how to handle the controversy, which has rocked the Knoxville campus and left minority students feeling unsafe.

“This hurts me down to my core and I want you to hear me,” freshman student Jerica Parks told officials during Monday’s meeting. “I want you to see me. As a young black woman, I have been through so much oppression and this is another thing.”

According to the New York Post, Twitter user and UT student @jxxsie_ posted a message on Feb. 28 from a young man who was in the controversial photo, apologizing after it went viral.

“We were putting on charcoal face masks to help with acne, and I decided to write a joke that was certainly not funny in the least,” the student explained. “It was immature, and it doesn’t reflect my personality and I am so so sorry. To any offended from this, I hope you can as well find it in you to forgive me for my actions.

The student, later identified as 19-year-old Ethan Feick, reportedly withdrew from UT this week amid the mounting backlash.

“The university took no punitive action,” Feick’s brother, Wylan, told the News Sentinel, adding that the young man left “on his own accord.”

It’s unclear if Feick was one of the students in blackface, however, the newspaper confirmed he was the one who wrote the apology note shared on Twitter.

Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis confirmed Feick’s withdrawal in a statement posted to the chancellor’s web page, which read: “While federal law prohibits us from commenting on specific students beyond their enrollment status, we can tell you that Ethan Feick is no longer a student at the University of Tennessee.”

Davis also unveiled a list of steps the university plans to take in the wake of the racist incident, which includes “immediate and ongoing” training in bias and sensitivity for all faculty, staff, and administrators “beginning with the executive administration,” he said.

“Global citizenship courses” will also be added to the university’s general education requirements.

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