Hate on Campus: A Letter to UT President Randy Boyd and UTK Chancellor Wayne Davis
In the wake of two incidents of anti-Semitic messages scrawled on the iconic “rock” at University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK), the four Jewish Federations of Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville) sent a joint letter to UT President Randy Boyd and UTK Chancellor Wayne Davis, asking the university system to condemn in stronger terms the anti-Semitism expressed on the rock and to articulate publicly the steps being taken to educate the entire campus community about the scourge of anti-Semitism.
In the second incident, “kill Jews” was written on the rock, representing a dangerous escalation of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The letter recognized the statements already issued by the UT Administration but noted that “Against the backdrop of Pittsburgh, at a time when Jews all over the United States feel increasingly vulnerable, it is even more incumbent upon those in positions of leadership to speak out forcefully and unequivocally and to take concrete steps against incitement.” The top professional and lay leadership of the four communities asked UT to engage in a “strategic healing process” to include campus-wide education, dialogues and forums and to send the message “that an attack on the Jewish community is an attack on the entire community.”
November 14, 2018
Randy Boyd Interim President
Wayne Davis Interim Chancellor
University of Tennessee – Knoxville 527 Andy Holt Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996-0184
Dear President Boyd and Chancellor Davis:
On behalf of the Jewish Federations of Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville and Middle Tennessee, we are writing to share our grave concerns about the series of anti-Semitic and inflammatory messages recently scrawled on the iconic “Rock” at University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). All four of our Jewish communities have strong ties to the university and current students from our communities, parents and alumni have been in contact with us to express their fear, worry and anger.
We are particularly outraged and concerned by the “kill Jews” message found on the rock during the “second incident” which represents a dangerous escalation of the situation from hate speech and hate symbols to incitement. Unfortunately, we all know too well, the power and influence of inflammatory rhetoric and violent language both from history and from the most recent act of anti-Semitic violence in Pittsburgh. Against the backdrop of Pittsburgh, at a time when Jews all over the United States feel increasingly vulnerable, it is even more incumbent upon those in positions of leadership to speak out forcefully and unequivocally and to take concrete steps against incitement.
We appreciate the statements that have been issued by Chancellor Davis and Dean of Students Dr. Shea Kidd-Houze and the steps the university has taken in the wake of these two incidents. And, we recognize that messages on the Rock may fall under protected speech, a right that we, too, hold sacrosanct. However, “kill Jews” raises the stakes, and Jewish students, faculty and staff have rights as well – including the right to a hate-free campus where they feel safe and secure.
We expect UTK and the entire University of Tennessee system to speak out against the “kill Jews” message in the strongest of terms and to take steps to make clear to the haters and inciters in Knoxville and beyond that their rhetoric not only does not represent the values of the campus but also are vile, shameful and loathsome. Anti-Semitism is a specific form of hate and in order to provide genuine support to the UT Jewish community, the hate needs to be specifically condemned; the administration needs to denounce anti-Semitism specifically, not just “hate.”
Moreover, a thoughtful, strategic healing process is needed. What kind of campus-wide education against Anti- Semitism and hate is in the works? What are your plans for campus-wide dialogues and forums? How will you publicly and strongly send the message to the Jewish community on campus that it is an integral part of the campus community and that an attack on the Jewish community is an attack on the entire community?
This situation has profoundly troubled our four Jewish communities and we look to you to provide leadership and support during this precarious time. You may direct your response to this letter to Bluma Zuckerbrot- Finkelstein, Chief Strategy Officer, Memphis Jewish Federation, by email at bzuckerbrot- firstname.lastname@example.org .
We look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely,
Ken Steinberg, Chair, Memphis Jewish Federation
Laura Linder, President and CEO, Memphis Jewish Federation Chip Rayman, President, Knoxville Jewish Alliance
Lisa Perlen, President, Jewish Federation & Jewish Foundation of Nashville & Middle Tennessee
Eric Stillman, Executive Director, Jewish Federation & Jewish Foundation of Nashville & Middle Tennessee
Austin Center, Chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga
Michael Dzik, Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga
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