One tradition at the University of Tennessee is our rock, a 97.5-ton hunk of Knox dolomite stone, which serves as an iconic centerpiece of expression on campus. While some artists are better than others, everyone has a voice.
On Dec. 14, a University of Tennessee student tweeted a picture of a shocking message spray painted on the rock. It read, “White Pride.” Along with a picture of the rock, the student tweeted “@UTKnoxville this was seen on the rock approx 30 minutes ago and is not okay.”
While hate speech might not be something everyone agrees with, it is protected by the First Amendment.
Individuals have a right to say whatever they want to say and share their message however they see fit as long as they aren’t threatening the life of another student. In this instance, the message was merely a message painted on a rock with no force behind it.
University of Tennessee’s original response to the tweet was spot on.
“Hi McKinley. While we sometimes disagree with what appears on the Rock, those who paint it are protected by the First Amendment. We trust that the Volunteer community will take care of this quickly.”
When my school responded with this tweet, I felt like it was a win for free speech. It was a rare moment where a college administrator actually acted like the Constitution still exists. It was a win for justice rather than a win for those who twist what this nation was founded upon.
Sadly, the university deleted their tweet when the student quoted what they said and added “Does this response cover someone’s ass while meanwhile, this message is making students feel MORE unsafe? Stand up for ALL your students and condemn students when they have taken action out of hate.”
It’s understandable that this message would make someone feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t make a student feel unsafe; there was no threat to someone’s life. The student also argued that the school should condemn students when this type of behavior is shown on campus, but the school explained that they disagree with what was painted on the rock.
I was proud of my school for standing up for the constitutional rights of their students, but unfortunately, the school bowed to the politically correct and unconstitutional demands of their students and removed the tweet from their account.
I was almost proud to be a student at this university again. After pushing my way through “Not my President” protests the day after the election to get to class, I thought this would be the time that my university stands for facts instead of feelings. Sadly, I was wrong.
Although I will always be proud to say that I attend the University of Tennessee, I'm not proud of the lack of backbone displayed. Every institution that claims to educate students for a prosperous future should have the moral courage to protect speech on campus. It's behavior such as this that makes students weaker, and unprepared to face the reality of the world that we live in today. One of those realities is that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.
No matter how much I may personally disagree with hate speech, I have to understand that the Constitution protects those individuals the same way it grants me the rights that I exercise every day. In this great nation, we don't get to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution we decide to follow; we must adhere to it all and prepare for the reality that some things will hurt our feelings.
Lexie Bess is passionate about all things political and Christian. Lexie is an avid writer. In addition to her work for Red Alert, she writes at her own site lexiebess.com