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UT-Martin student government passes resolution condemning Tennessee's laws as racist

University of Tennessee

A student government organization at the University of Tennessee at Martin passed a resolution last week condemning two bills passed by the state legislature as racist.

A student organization recently formed on the campus – People For Black History – brought the proposal for the resolution to the Student Government Association, calling a pair of Tennessee Senate bills passed over the past three years into question.

Senate Bill 623, passed in 2020, and Senate Bill 2290, passed in 2022, both restrict what can be taught in Tennessee schools regarding subjects like critical race theory, an approach to teaching American history by examining the country's history of systemic racism.

Caitlin Hill is a member of People For Black History. She said the state legislation affects more than college classes – it decides what can be taught to K-12 students, as well.

“Whitewashed history is not a version of history that people should be educated on. And, just that extreme regulation on core topics relating to culture, especially black history, such as topics on systemic racism,” Hill said. “It really just started loosening compromises on the quality of education that we would like students to be educated on.”

The SGA, which represents the student body of the university, passed the resolution by a vote of 16-4. In an interview before the Thursday night vote, SGA Freshman Senator and co-sponsor of the resolution Mmachukwu Favour Osisioma said it was important to push the organization to take a stance on the issue.

“If something is racist or an institution is racist, saying ‘I'm not racist’ doesn't make you not racist. It's about the action,” Osisioma said. “I think it's important for there to be discussion about it. I think that's the first step. It can prompt discussion.”

Osisioma said there was more pushback than she expected during Thursday's debate, with questions being raised about what exactly should be changed in state law. Still, the resolution’s passing was heartening for Osisioma.

“I think the [SGA] President is going to pass it on to our president of the whole university, and we'll see what happens,” Osisioma said. “I think some of the best things to have come of this are people in the community are talking, not just small groups on campus.”

The freshman said a similar debate took place on the same night at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to discuss whether their SGA organization would pass a similar resolution. Osisioma hopes this will inspire other state universities to host discussions she feels could lead to meaningful change.

“It could go to the UT System president and [after that] it could go to the Tennessee State Legislature,” she said. “Hopefully, it's not something that is big for a day or for a weekend and then dies out.”

The resolution now goes to the desk of the Student Government Association president for approval. If signed, it will be put before the UT-Martin Faculty Senate for deliberation.

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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