Skip to content

People for Black History at UTM collaborates with UTM Student Government on resolution

Story by Shannon Taylor, Senior Investigative Reporter

David Mason, Senior at UTM and representative for the newly formed campus organization ‘People for Black History’, says that the group has been petitioning at UTM for the last several weeks to demand action from the faculty senate in condemning the “two recently enacted White supremacist “education” laws in Tennessee.” The organization is still in the process of becoming official according to Caitlin Hill, Representative for People for Black History.

The group was formed out of a concern that legislation would be detrimental to education as well as undermining black history and progress.

The laws, Anti-CRT bans the teaching of critical race theory in Tennessee and went into effect July 1. The Divisive Concepts Law, or Public Chapter 818, was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee making it effective April 8, 2022. “The Act is intended to prohibit Tennessee public institutions of higher education from taking certain actions with regard to divisive concepts and the ideologies or political viewpoints of students and employees.”

With only a handful of petitioners, People for Black History surpassed 1,000 signatures from students as well as faculty. The group attracted the attention of the UTM Student Government Association who chose to collaborate with them to create a resolution in a bill that condemns “these racist laws” as well as calling on faculty senate to do the same.

The SGA bill passed 16-4 and was signed by President, Dawson Gremmels before making its way to a faculty senate committee, the UTM Faculty Senate Committee on Instruction, for discussion. The resolution was tabled, and People for Black History responded to the tabling of it by releasing a statement which states:

During the committee’s discussion regarding our resolution two weeks ago, a very interesting concern to what we, People for Black History, are doing on campus and the methods we are choosing in reaching our goals was brought up. The committee is concerned with the way we are wording our resolution. They insist that calling these laws by what they are is “too strong” and will alienate our state legislatures that may support our work. No faculty members we have spoken to can deny that these laws are White supremacist and the principal question that we should concern ourselves with is: are these laws White supremacist or not? If they are, we either call them by what they are or collaborate with the laws’ White supremacy. If someone can prove that these laws are not White supremacist, then, of course, we would be wrong in using that terminology, but if no one can prove that these laws are not White supremacist, then calling them something else conceals the White supremacy of our society.

The UTM Faculty Senate’s Committee on Instruction’s concern with our methods is how the state of Tennessee would respond if we were to succeed in having the University of Tennessee at Martin openly and publicly condemn and oppose these racist laws. Our critics believe that the state of Tennessee would cut funding and destroy our school. “Death by a thousand cuts,” they say. That is to say, the state of Tennessee would not just cut the funding to our university, but rather, it would slowly put an end to several programs, put an end to bonuses for faculty, and would find any reason to fire different faculty members. “Then we wouldn’t have education at all” is the principal concern the committee has about our methods. Does this concern not acknowledge the institution of White Supremacy in action? That if our university openly oppresses these racist laws the state of Tennessee would retaliate with concealed punishments to silence us, or equally put, “stay in your place” as White people would say to Black people during slavery and segregation. If the State of Tennessee was to respond to our success in this manner our university would need to fight this scandal and make every aspect of it public.

Is it possible to be a responsible citizen in American society today without a significant understanding of African American History and Culture? Education should challenge the understanding one has about themselves and what they were previously taught. Education should not only provide one with the ability to judge appropriately and reason, but also enhance that ability. Education should, most importantly, prepare one intellectually for life outside of the institution they attend, so that one can understand the society in which they live. To suppress this history and culture is to negate perspectives to our society that are fundamental in understanding how our society works and operates. Without an understanding of Black history, our UTM students leave here without the single most important component of an education in our society today.

Our university’s mission statement reads: “The University of Tennessee at Martin educates and engages responsible citizens to lead and serve in a diverse world.”

Responsible citizens? How can our university claim that this is its mission statement when it will not publicly condemn these laws that impact each student that attends their institution? These laws actively suppress the teaching of true Black history, an integral part of the upbringing of the United States, which would not be the world power it is today without the forced contributions of Black Americans. These laws actively defend a system of White supremacy by not only undermining the significance of the ugly and brutal treatment this country has given to Black people, but also suppressing the treatment and preventing institutions from even having the discussion of this treatment. How can one understand where our society is, or rather why our society is where it is, without understanding where it came from? To not condemn these laws and call them by what they are is to defend the institution of White supremacy that has reigned for over 400 years.

Bud Grimes, Vice Chancellor for communications and marketing at UTM responded and said, “The referenced statute does not impact teaching or the classroom. The UT Martin Faculty Senate Committee on Instruction will discuss the SGA bill further at a later date this spring. The university follows the laws enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly. We encourage civic engagement by all those in our campus communities, including their right as private citizens to contact their elected officials on any issue of concern.”

The People for Black History have submitted their bill to Phil Cavalier, Interim Chancellor, and the next Faculty Senate meeting will be held March 14 at 3 pm in UC room 111.

Members of People for Black History can be reached on Instagram @people_for_black_history_utm, on Twitter @UTM People for Black History or @people4blkhis and on Facebook at People for Black History.