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Viewpoint Diversity Initiatives

In alignment with the State of Tennessee’s Campus Free Speech Protection Act, the UT Board of Trustees Policy Affirming Principles of Free Speech for Students and Faculty, and the Chancellor’s Strategic Vision, campus partners continuously work together to ensure a climate welcoming of diverse viewpoints for all faculty, staff, and students.

Below are campus viewpoint diversity initiatives held during the 2022-2023 academic year along with initiatives completed during the past 2021-2022 academic year.

2022–23 Academic Year

Vol is a Verb Pledge

The Vol is a Verb pledge, which students recite as part of a welcome event for new students, includes a call for viewpoint diversity and respectful dialogue. The pledge reads:

To create a campus where everyone belongs, I pledge:
to listen first,
to build space for challenging ideas and diverse points of view,
to cultivate relationships that contribute to my growth as an individual,
to respect myself and those around me,
and to act with honesty, compassion, and courage.


Built on a framework supporting civil discussion and debate, we developed the messaging concept of LENS (Listen. Engage. Navigate. Support). The first LENS video has been released. The messaging concept had several applications (students, faculty, etc.). The first video helps students engage with new people and ideas on Rocky Top. LENS is a concept that helps guide them on how to navigate their academic courses successfully and exemplify the Volunteer spirit of learning, problem-solving, and supporting one another. The video was shared with all faculty as part of start-of-semester resources and shown to all new first-year students through Big Orange Welcome.

Syllabus Language

New optional syllabus language on civil discourse was developed and provided to faculty.

United at the Table

A gathering of about 500 UT faculty, staff, and students for a free dinner was held at one really long table on the pedestrian walkway between the Student Union and Neyland Stadium. The meal is a celebration of unity and diversity.

First-Year Study courses

First-year study courses include an optional module on civil discourse that emphasizes learning to listen, listening to learn, listening to lead.

Constitutional Conversations: Finding Common Ground among Faculty

This faculty event included a grounding discussion and dialogue session on free speech in the classroom. The engaging session was built on the country’s founding principles and their extension to contemporary disagreement and often conflict.

Constitutional Conversations: Finding Common Ground among Students

This student event provided a grounding lecture and dialogue on the topic of Equality vs. Equity.

Listen. Learn. Lead. (Fall)

The second iteration of Listen. Learn. Lead. incorporated weeklong programming and activities for faculty, staff, and students. Many of the week’s events were focused on voting and civic engagement. The keynote event was titled: “Calling in the Calling Out Culture,” with a focus on viewpoint diversity.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Speaker Paul Ryan Lecture

This fall 2022 public event featured Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R) with content around civil discourse.

Arthur Brooks Lecture

Arthur Brooks visited UTC and UTK campuses in December for an event focused on navigating difficult conversations.

Student Summit on Free Expression (Spring)

A partnership with PEN America offered the student summit free expression of ideas. The summit provided a foundational understanding of free expression as a human rights issue and political conversations for students.

Listen. Learn. Lead. (Spring)

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, hosted “Listen. Learn. Lead.” Week to engage students, faculty, and staff in thoughtful programming centered around understanding different perspectives, learning from the experiences of others, and leading with courage.

You Might Be Right Podcast

Moderated by former governors Bredesen and Haslam, each episode of the podcast, You Might Be Right, includes a guest on either side of a
political issue, and the governors process what they’ve heard at the end of the episode, helping listeners understand how to bridge the divide. Subscribe and listen here.

Constitutional Conversations

The series of discussions will continue and build upon the successful spring fall 2022 events.

Howard Baker Documentary

Focused on his skills as a conciliator, a documentary of Howard Baker will be released in 2023.

Courageous Dialogues Program

Designed for faculty and staff, the Courageous Dialogues Program equipped participants with a process of engaging in open, authentic, and respectful
conversations with others. Participants learned how to take responsibility for the dialogue and engage in the entire process and studied techniques to
practice expressing their values and, in turn, being be open to the possibility of those being changed because of interactions with members of their community.

2021–22 Academic Year

Nashville Alumni Event

Alumni event in Nashville centered on bridging political divides featuring both Republican and Democrat elected officials.

Listen. Learn. Lead.

Inaugural Listen. Learn. Lead. week was conducted in Spring 2022 with an emphasis on viewpoint diversity, free expression, and civility. PenAmerica led training for faculty and students on campus free speech along with staff training on dialogue across differences. The week’s keynote speaker was Dr. Jonathan Haidt, who lectured on The Three Terrible Ideas Ruining College Campuses. He also discussed his “Coddling of the American Mind” book with student leaders.

Constitutional Conversations: Finding Common Ground among Community Members

The first of a series of events, more than three dozen business leaders, community members, and elected officials came together for a presentation, reception, and guided conversation centered on representation and civil discourse. Local leaders joined University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd and Chancellor Donde Plowman.

Rocky Topics: Cancel Culture? Connecting Across Political Lines

Rocky Topics is a continued dialogue series hosted by the Department of Psychology, Division of Diversity and Engagement, Office of Multicultural Student Life, and Office of the Dean of Students. It was created to explore challenging and timely topics. The facilitation team welcomed faculty, staff, and students to cultivate brave spaces for meaningful conversation. This session explored cancel culture and connecting across political lines to help attendees develop skills-based techniques for difficult conversations.

Faculty Divisive Concepts Website

A website was launched to support faculty free speech, including guidance on viewpoint diversity.

Student Summit on Free Expression as a Human Right

Hosted in partnership with PEN America during Listen, Learn, Lead Week, a two-day summit for students, providing a foundational understanding of free expression as a fundamental human right and an ongoing topic of contemporary social and political conversation for students.

Story Corps’ One Small Step

This program brings people with different political views together to record a 50-minute conversation—not about politics, but about who we are as people. Each conversation is archived at the Library of Congress.