Wednesday was a bright, warm, and sunny day. But it was not a good day. It was the day that we were reminded once again that we go to a university where the people who are meant to be looking out for our interests have failed us. Once again, we felt the familiar sting of disenchantment and distrust towards those that should be advocating for our interests. Today, one of the most vocal allies in our universities’ administration was removed.
When the Tennessee Senate tried to take away our pride center, our Chancellor stood with us. When corporate interests tried to outsource at the University of Tennessee, our Chancellor stood with us. When Neo-Nazis infiltrated our campus, our Chancellor worked tirelessly to avert a potentially violent situation and ensure better communication between administration and the student body.
More than anything else, our Chancellor worked towards change. She worked relentlessly to make deliberate steps toward a UT that was safer and more inclusive to all Volunteers. We did not always agree with her, but we respected her and we trusted that she would do the right thing. Through her words and actions, we knew that Chancellor Davenport would stand by us and be a valuable ally.
But on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, in the depths of finals week, we were given the news that this valuable ally was to be fired. We were given no notice. We were never consulted, and our universities’ administration was slow to alert us of this change. The firing itself was done in an altogether appalling fashion, unbecoming of a group of professional administrators in academia. It is truly shocking that Chancellor Davenport would receive such poor treatment in return for the time and energy she has devoted to Big Orange Country.
For too long administrative officials at this university have consistently acted against our interests. We have had to endure a Tennessee legislature which consistently interferes in our affairs, to suppress “progressive” thought. Women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community on this campus are reminded on a regular basis that they are not considered equal by this university. Whether it be sudden SPAC (Student Programming Allocation Committee) cutsto vital programs such as Sex Week, SEAT programming, the Black Issues Conference, or attempts to strip us of our Pride Center, events have shown us that our administration allies on this campus are few.
But we cannot remain silent. Those who made the decision to blatantly disregard the interests of the student body know that this strategy hinges on one thing. They are counting on us to do and say nothing. For this reason, it is more imperative that we do not give them this pleasure. I attended the demonstration in support of Chancellor Davenport, and I repeatedly heard the words “this is not a protest”. But my fellow Volunteers, this is and must be a protest. We must strive to make our voice heard even when the news cameras are long gone, and even when it seems that no one is listening to us. Because the truth is that we have immense power. We are students, and we all pay tuition at this institution. We pay President Joe DiPietro’s salary.
Over this past semester, I had the privilege to meet and speak to student leaders at universities such as American University (in Washington, D.C.). These student leaders had achieved a constructive dialogue with their University administration, which was working to be more responsive to the needs and concerns of their student body. But this was not always true. American University, like our institution currently, also had a crisis of confidence between a frustrated student body and a disconnected administration. They solved it by coming together as one student body, and making their voice heard. We cannot expect any action from our own administration unless we do the same.
Repeatedly, events and circumstance call on us as the student body to come together and protest, to make this message of disapproval known to the those that choose to work against our interests. When shall we, the Volunteers, honor that call?
Mateos Hayes is a junior in history and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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