A group of about four dozen black-clad University of Tennessee students attending the final home men's basketball game of the year sat during the national anthem Tuesday night in a silent but conspicuous protest of the school's handling of an alleged blackface photo scandal.
The section of demonstrators easily stood out amid a sea of spectators, largely dressed in the school's vibrant orange and white, who stood for "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Volunteers took on Mississippi State, Knox News reported.
The students were protesting the university’s response after the emergence of a Snapchat photo appearing to show two students in blackface. The picture, which was widely disseminated after it was screenshotted and tweeted by a student who wasn't in the photo, was captioned: “We for racial equality boys. Bout to get this free college now that I’m black let’s goooooo #blacklivesmatter."
The same student who retweeted the original photo also tweeted last week a direct message from one of the men in the picture, who apologized for the racially-charged caption and tried to offer a defense for the photo's content. Fox News couldn't independently verify the identity of the student who apologized, so he is not being named.
"I just want to let you know that I am so beyond sorry for the Snapchat picture," the message read. "We were putting on charcoal face masks to help with acne, and I decided to write a joke that was certainly not funny in the least. It was immature, and it doesn't reflect my true personality and I am so so sorry. To any offended from this, I hope you can as well find it in you to forgive me for my actions."
The university issued a statement last week condemning the post and the school’s Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Vince Carilli, said administrators were still deciding how to discipline the students seen in the photo, though Carilli said it was unlikely any of the men would get expelled.
But the lack of immediate punitive action appeared to have frustrated the demonstrators, who on Tuesday night were heard chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go.”
They also chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist UT,” according to Knox News, which added that most students left before the start of the second half.
It’s unclear what discipline the students could face. Campus officials have reportedly said more work need to be done at the school to include diversity.
Justin Hill was among the students who were marching before the game. He told WATE-TV he believes many on campus haven’t’ been treated fairly.
“I'm angry. I'm really mad that I feel my voice doesn't matter. The fact that I feel like the voices of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters do not matter. I'm sick and tired of feeling like anything related to racism or homophobia or whatever, people get away with it,” he said.
Maria Urias, a member of the student government, also told the station that she was advocating for an anti-racism provision in the university’s code of conduct.
“So many of my closest friends have come to me crying. I've seen the pain at these forums and we're not ok with it,” she said.