University of Tennessee’s ‘The Rock’ becomes battleground after tense political season

PHOTO (@Lexus_Coupe)
PHOTO (@Lexus_Coupe)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Sometimes the University of Tennessee’s “The Rock” is painted to support University of Tennessee athletics, legendary former coaches or charity events, but this election season the Rock has become the front page for a battle for University of Tennessee students’ freedom of speech.

In the hours before the election, “The Rock” went from “undecided” to voting blue with a little help from University of Tennessee College Democrats.

The morning after President-elect Donald Trump claimed his place as America’s 45th president, some students voiced their frustration with the results. “Trump is not my president. America was never great and won’t be now” was spray painted across “The Rock.”

After seeing “The Rock,” Steve Parker a University of Tennessee student and Trump supporter said he decided he needed to change the rock. Parker and some of his friends painted “Trump, Land of the Free,” the hashtag for Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and “#NoSafeSpaces.”

However, several students were not happy about the change criticizing the university for encouraging diversity and inclusion, but allowing “#NoSafeSpaces” to be posted to the rock. One student posted a video to social media, which has been taken down, showing students trying to re-paint the rock, but getting stopped.

“Step aside, the rock is open for all students to paint,” said one student to the painters. “It is a pretty historic day, so I think we can leave this up here a little longer,” one of the painters responded.

“No Safe Spaces,” refers to a welcome letter sent to students by the University of Chicago’s dean of students, John Ellison, sent out the incoming class of 2020. In the letter, Ellison wrote:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

As the letter began to circulate, students and alumni praised the university’s commitment to free speech, while other students condemned the letter, saying that the university disguised hate speech as “discourse.” The letter followed several incidents at the University of Chicago where events at the university where shut down by protesters.

Later in the day, The Rock was repainted with a quote from rapper Kendrick Lamar saying, “We gon’ be alright,” and “Spread love not hate.”

Students have mixed reactions to results

Students at the University of Tennessee were having mixed reactions after last night’s election results.

Nina Gampe says she went to sleep last night hoping Donald Trump would pull through.

“I woke up first thing this morning and I set an alarm just to see if he has actually won it,” said Gampe.” I guess they called it and then she conceded, so I was so thrilled.”

Other students say they are just happy for it all to be over.

“I’m not ecstatic,” said Katie Green. “I mean, I guess he was kind of the lesser of the two evils in my opinion, but I don’t think I was going to be happy with either of the two candidates winning today.”

One group on campus was particularly upset by Trump’s victory. Damon Christensen and others gathered around a card board cut out of the new president elect. They invited other students to write their thoughts on it.

“Trump supporters are quite virulently anti-gay, his vice president supports conversion therapy,” said Christensen. “Currently add that with the really homophobic climate on campus, all the LGBT students who have been recently attacked, I think it has direct ties in relevance to our daily lives here as students.”

Christensen says the group does not encourage hate on the cut out. They want everyone to feel safe expressing their opinions.

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