UTM Students and Alumni In Forum Demand Racial Justice, Call For Black History Class Requirement
University of Tennessee at Martin students and alumni in a virtual forum Monday are taking a stand against racial injustice and calling on the university to require students to take an African American History and Culture class.
The UT Martin Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Black History Matters Coalition sponsored the forum for students and the public to express their need and want for a general education requirement in for the class.
Students in the forum believe an African American History course would highlight the importance and achievements of individuals who have been oppressed in the United States for more than four centuries. Devin Majors, an alumnus and former UTM Student Government Association President, said he has always felt disconnected from the campus.
“As a black male on campus, when I first arrived on campus I did feel disconnected from the campus. There were not many black males who were there. In the classroom, I never had a black male professor while at Martin, ” Majors said.
Alexis Millsaps, the Black Student Association Civil Rights Chair and Black History Matters Coalition leader, isn’t satisfied with the feedback they have received from the faculty on campus.
“I love this campus so much that I'm willing to call it out on what we need to improve on. We need this to be on our campus. Where’s the urgency? I keep asking people to prioritize this and I keep hearing that it’s a big concept,” Millsaps said. “So what I’m hearing is that my life as a black person just isn’t important enough for it to be on the top of the list.”
Major said he’s also experienced pushback from faculty at UTM who are alumni.
“You have a cycle of people who went to Martin and they never had a African American history class and they never really learned about diversity, so they end up working at the university,” said Major. “They get in these leadership spots as chairs of the committees, and all of these roles that are crucial to implementing a class like this, they have no idea what you're talking about when you say you want a mandatory African American history class. So when you bring the idea to them, it sounds like you’re speaking a different language.”
In February, the UTM Black Student Association hosted a forum with a panel of students to discuss the threats of white supermacist violence after racist flyers were found on vehicles on campus. Then in June, a video came to light of UTM students making racist statements towards the Black community.
Kayla Gooden, alumnus and panelist, said she isn't comfortable UTM hasn’t put forth an action plan after these disturbing events took place.
“If we keep pushing off this course, then people are going to start getting comfortable with acting out with racism, and I do not appreciate that at all. If I can respect you and your beliefs, then you should be able to respect me,” said Gooden. “I should not hear someone on a video being ok with saying the “n” word. I should not hear that and then nothing really happening about it.”
The UTM Black History Coalition is hoping the university Faculty Senate Executive Committee will present their resolution at the next meeting on Nov. 10.