University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport has a message for white supremacists planning to come to campus Feb. 17: “We are on it!”
Davenport spoke to about 20 women — and one man — on Wednesday at a luncheon put on by the Knoxville Symphony League in the West Knoxville home of League member Angela Pugh. She covered a wide variety of topics, but one weighed most heavily on her mind, she confided.
“A white supremacist group is coming and we meet every day about this,” she said. “I would like nothing better than to say they can’t come. But they have the First Amendment right to speak. We will control the time, place and manner where their free speech takes place.”
She does not expect a replay of the violence that occurred when a white supremacist group gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. “Charlottesville was not prepared. We’ve been on this since summer.” Davenport said campus leaders have been coordinating with city of Knoxville and state authorities, as well as with the FBI in preparation for the event.
The university will put on a series of other events to compete with the speech by Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an organization characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are planning events for our students to be talking about issues of unity and where does hate come from,” she said.
Davenport said these white supremacists are the same ones painting hate messages on UT’s famous rock on campus in front of the Natalie L. Haslam School of Music. “They are emailing me and tagging me,” she said, in an effort to let her know that they are the ones responsible.
“They are going where they believe they can have an audience. They say they are coming to recruit. We hope they don’t have one iota of success!” she said.
She had a request of the folks gathered for the luncheon. “Stand with me for peace and unity and against violence and ugliness,” she implored.
In other remarks, Davenport said she is supportive of fraternities and sororities on campus and is opposed to legislation recently introduced in Nashville that would ban them from campus. “I will be a proponent for Greek life,” said Davenport, who was president of the ADPi sorority when she was a student at Western Kentucky University. “Students in fraternities and sororities have higher graduation rates, are more likely to be campus leaders and are our highest category of donors.”