ETSU president: Supporting students is university’s ‘foremost responsibility’ amid kneeling debate


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The president of East Tennessee State University sent a letter Thursday to members of the university’s community addressing the kneeling controversy.

“As I reflect upon the events of the past week, I am struck by the intensity of emotion surrounding our student-led efforts to call awareness to issues of social justice and structural inequities in our nation,” Dr. Brian Noland wrote.

In the letter, Noland states he has spent time over the past week learning about the perspectives of students, staff, faculty, community leaders, alumni and legislators surrounding the issue.

Noland wrote that attacks toward ETSU students are “unacceptable” and that the school’s values declare everyone is to be treated with respect.

“These conversations have affirmed the importance of our institutional values, which declare that people come first and are treated with dignity and respect. As president, I have a responsibility to protect both those values and the people of this institution. I am dismayed by the intensity of attacks towards our students. These attacks are unacceptable.”

ETSU President Brian Noland

Noland states he recognizes the negative feelings felt by those who disapprove of the basketball team’s decision to kneel during the national anthem. However, Noland also wrote that other members of the community, especially African Americans, have endured a pain felt by many.

“I recognize the feelings of hurt, anger, and neglect that many in our community are experiencing. The flag and our national anthem are revered in our society. I deeply love our country and have profound respect for our veterans. I also recognize the pain and angst experienced by so many, particularly members of our African American community, who have witnessed firsthand the consequences of social injustice and structural inequities across our country.”

ETSU President Brian Noland

At the conclusion of the letter, Noland said everyone is a member of the ETSU community, regardless of their stance on the kneeling issue.

“While there are strong opinions across the spectrum, supporting students is our foremost responsibility as an institution,” Noland wrote.

To read the full letter, click here.

On Friday, February 19, Noland recognized the pain and frustration felt across the region at a Board of Trustees meeting.

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