The Progressive Student Alliance, an organization that focuses on various social and human rights issues, will host Speak Up!, which is a spoken word poetry event to create awareness about racism and white privilege on Thursday night as part of a series of events called Wise Up to White Privilege.
PSA members Kaitlin Malick, community liasion, and Melanie Barron, united campus workers liason, spearheaded the event. Malick said the inspiration came after racist posts were made by students on the UTK Memes Facebook Page, which is dedicated to posting humorous pictures with captions about various aspects of UT culture.
"Almost immediately, people started saying and posting racist things," Malick, senior in sociology, said. "When students called that out, it just became apparent that there were overt (racism) on campus and that no one really knew what racism really looked like."
Malick said that discussing race relations has been a trending topic among students, but tackling the issue is the actual problem. She said understanding the issues surrounding race is a responsibility held by everyone, but white students, including herself, should be especially accountable due to the white privilege given to these students because of the color of their skin.
"When you think about race, I think the conversation is always disenfranchised, but we (white students) never have to think about the other side of the racism coin," Malick said. "I would say privilege is the advantages they receive just because of their skin. Our administration is mostly white. People who are in power are mostly white folks. I can even see it in classroom spaces."
With the presidential elections approaching, issues surrounding race are still reflected in politics, said PSA secretary Sam Petschulat. He said the constant doubt of President Obama's citizenship is more than a trending joke.
"It's kind of a joke to most people, but people are still questioning Obama's citizenship, but it's still indicative of people questioning people of color as legitimate Americans," Petschulat, senior in English, said. "We've never had an issue with any other president. Taking an issue like that and bringing out how it is indicative of how (racism) is still present in our society.
"I definitely think affirmative action is an excellent program. I think something that students really lack when thinking about race is history. There are these very historical roots and the reasons why we have these race issues today. There's this great disparity between black wealth and white wealth."
Despite the heaviness of the topic, Malick thinks the event will ease students into thinking about race, as well as be a means of gaining more members.
"I would hope people will join PSA," she said, "but I think having an understanding that race is a real experience for a lot of people is how people will get engaged with race. We are not in a post racial world and we really need to be not thinking in those terms and being anti-racist and not just non-racist."
Speak Up! will be held in the University Center this Thursday at 8 p.m. in room 225.