Take a virtual tour of the University of Tennessee campus during the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020. Knoxville News Sentinel


The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, uses an internal investigation to look into incidents of bias and racism like the two incidents involving students who used racial slurs on social media in the past week. 

Universities, both public and private, typically use a similar internal review process when these incidents occur. Private universities have rescinded offers of admission, and at public universities, students have withdrawn from attending after posts gain attention.

At UT, a Twitter thread showing a student using a racial slur twice began drawing attention on June 3. The next day, the university announced that the student would not be on the cheer team and would not be attending UT in the fall. 

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Three days later , a second Twitter thread was posted showing a video of someone identified as a UT engineering student using graphic, racist language toward black women. 

UT investigated the first incident and removed the cheerleader from the Spirit Squad. The student also withdrew from the university. UT got both the University of Tennessee Police Department and the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards involved in the second, and announced Thursday the student is no longer enrolled.

Incidents around the country

Days before the two incidents at UT, a student at Marquette University, a private university in Milwaukee, had her admission offer rescinded after screenshots of a Snapchat she posted about the death of George Floyd drew anger on social media. 

At Missouri State University, two incoming students withdrew from the university after a similar Twitter thread surfaced, showing the students using a racial slur. 

At UT, the tweets were investigated through the bias incident reporting process.

"Anytime the university receives a report, it is reviewed. Any reports relating to current students will go through existing bias reporting processes. We review and address issues as they come up with the individuals involved," UT said in a statement on Thursday. 

What happens after an incident is reported?

When an incident is reported to UT, members of a Bias Education and Referral Team determine how to handle moving forward with the reported incident. 

"Team members will review incident reports and meet with affected students to facilitate services such as counseling, health services, or other referrals as needed to address safety concerns and to provide assistance and comfort to those impacted," UT spokesman Owen Driskill said in an email. 

The university defines bias as "any act that is motivated, in whole or in part, due to an individual’s age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender, gender identity or expression, immigration or citizenship status, marital status, national origin, veteran status, religion and/or religious practice, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, weight, political affiliation, medical condition, or mental health."

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Bias-related incidents the university looks at include vandalism, racially motivated acts, including racially themed parties or using a racial or ethnic slur, including jokes, and threats or harassment. 

To investigate bias incidents that have been reported, UT will collect information and meet with affected students. From there, the university will develop a plan to address the incident, provide support services and refer students to various offices on campus, including the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. 

The UT Knoxville Code of Conduct also outlines an investigation process, which involves a hearing and can result in interim suspension, campus restrictions, or being expelled, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

At Middle Tennessee State University, students can report complaints through a variety of resources, according to its website. Complaints involving discrimination, harassment or bias are reported to the Institutional Equity and Compliance and Student Conduct offices.