UT Chancellor Decries 'Bias'

Cites discrimination on race, sexual orientation

The six incidents of intolerance that prompted a surprising e-mail message Friday from a top University of Tennessee official included actions and derogatory comments based on both race and sexual orientation.

Shortly after UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek sent his message decrying "an increase in the number of reported incidents of actions and language that reflect bias on our campus," the UT Police Department posted details of six "Bias Based Crimes" from the past two months on its website.

They include "sexual orientation slurs" spray painted in February on the Sigma Epsilon fraternity house; racial slurs written on a poster in North Carrick Hall; an assault in which the assailant used a sexual-orientation slur; and an incident Cheek mentioned in his e-mail, in which "someone threw a banana at visiting African-American students, their parents and guidance counselors."

In a short news conference Friday afternoon in his office in Andy Holt Tower, Cheek added that one of the African-American students who witnessed the banana toss is on the campus commission on diversity. He allowed that there was no way to know for sure if the act was racially motivated, but said, "The group that this happened to felt like it was."

In his e-mail, Cheek called on the campus population to join him in a new push for civility and respect. He said he would announce new initiatives along those lines in coming weeks. He also promised to continue to publicize on the UT Police Department website any new reported bias offenses.

"Quite frankly, we'd prefer not to have this attention," he said at the news conference. "But it happened, and we're taking a strong stand on what we believe is right."

Cheek noted that when he came to the Knoxville campus last year from the University of Florida, he promised to make the school a place for everyone.

"Diversity's important to me, and we're going to be a welcoming campus," he said. "And we're not going to be hostile to anyone."