Tag Archives: ETSU

Gorilla mask regrets

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee State University student who disrupted an on-campus Black Lives Matter rally while wearing a gorilla mask and carrying around a rope and bananas regrets his actions and was not trying to intimidate anyone, his attorney said.

Freshman Tristan Rettke, 18, appeared in court for the first time Thursday after being charged with one felony count of civil rights intimidation, news outlets reported. A conviction on that charge carries two to four years in prison.

Attorney Patrick Denton said in a statement Thursday that Rettke was exercising his freedom of speech and did not intimidate anyone.

“Mr. Rettke deeply regrets the unfortunate events leading up to his arrest yesterday and understands the negative perception of his speech and actions,” Denton said. “He respects the rights of those in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement to peacefully demonstrate in furtherance of their message in the spirit of the First Amendment.”

Rettke told investigators that he heard about Wednesday’s rally on social media and then purchased the attire and items in order to provoke the activists, police said.

The freshman arrived at the event masked, barefoot, wearing overalls and toting bananas and rope. He also carried a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He was taken away by university public safety officers.

Rettke is free on a $10,000 bond while his case is pending. University officials have condemned his actions and placed him on interim suspension.

ETSU student in gorilla mask disrupts Black Lives Matter protest

A barefoot man wearing overalls and a gorilla mask, trying to hand out noose-wrapped bananas to Black Lives Matter demonstrators, was taken into custody by East Tennessee State University public safety officers Wednesday, reports the Johnson City Press.

According to a news release from the public safety office, freshman Tristan Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation. Saying Rettke’s actions “go against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect,” the university said the student has been placed on interim suspension. Criminal charges were pending before the local district attorney, and an internal student-conduct investigation was underway.

ETSU President Brian Noland held a press conference in the afternoon to speak out against what he saw Wednesday. And Noland did watch, almost in real time as it happened, via a video on a student’s Facebook page.

“I was offended, but I was also saddened,” Noland said about his personal response to Rettke’s behavior. “The nation is not only raw, but it’s healing.”

Noland praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their peaceful rally and handling of the disruption.

…Rettke also carried with him a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He told officers he bought the attire and items to provoke the Black Lives Matter protesters after having learned about it on social media site Yik Yak.

ETSU signs designate gender-neutral restrooms

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — East Tennessee State University has updated some restrooms in academic buildings and residence halls with signage that identifies them as gender-neutral restrooms.

The university’s Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Bill Rasnick tells the Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/1S4DL7H) that the restrooms with the new signs had previously been restrooms that were not specific to either males or females.

According to the Heartland Trans Wellness Group, an organization that works on behalf of transgendered individuals in America, gender-neutral restrooms are generally lockable, single-stall bathrooms that are available to people of all genders.

Rasnick says transgender issues did play a part in the university’s decision to install the signage.

He says no new constructions or renovations have been performed to install the new restrooms.

Note: Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, in November raised the possibility of filing legislation to require people to visit male-female restrooms based on gender established on their birth certificates. (Previous post HERE.) The bill hasn’t been filed, but presumably it might not apply in restrooms designated gender-neutral?

Ground broken on new $26M ETSU football stadium

Eight months after a private fundraising drive began and nearly three years after a new student fee passed the student senate, shovels hit the ground Monday on East Tennessee State University’s campus at the site of the $26 million football stadium soon to be built.

Further from the Johnson City Press:

As university President Brian Noland threw touchdown passes to wide receiver Demetrius Anthony in an end zone painted at the approximate location where an actual end zone will be when the stadium is completed in fall 2017 and Scott Niswonger, who donated $1 million to the project, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who helped guide it through the necessary approval process at the state level, piloted heavy diggers around a mound of fresh dirt, the word “historic” was used frequently.

“Today is a historic day,” ETSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Scott Carter said. “The skyboxes are sold out, the club seating is halfway gone and, if you want mid-field tickets, you’d better get them now, because they’re going fast.”

Borrowing based on advance premium seating ticket sales will make up 15 percent of the 10,000-seat (eventually) facility’s final price tag, according to the university’s funding plan. Another 31 percent, or $8.2 million is expected from a $125 per semester student fee instituted in 2013 and $1.6 million will come from a corporate marketing bond.

The largest chunk on funding, $12 million, is to be generated through private donations, a campaign that Carter said is nearing the metaphorical end zone.

ETSU Student Senate votes against funding Sex Week

Citing fears of controversy and a perceived danger to the student body funding process, the East Tennessee State University Student Senate voted not to fund Sex Week activities at the campus, reports the Johnson City Press.

With the denial of the $9,340 request by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, organizers of the three-day sex education event will be forced to find outside funding — through fundraising or other means — or to reapply in hopes of changing the college’s legislative body’s collective mind.

After the March condemnation by the Tennessee House of Representatives of a similar event held at the University of Tennessee, many of the student representatives expressed worries that the power of campus governing bodies could be stripped away by legislators if the event were sanctioned by ETSU.

“If we fund this, the whole Buc Fund process has a very high chance of being destroyed,” said student Sen. Brandon Johnson, who added he conferred with former state Sen. Stacey Campfield on the matter. “If this is a power-play, we will lose. As much as I’m all for fighting the system, you have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, as the insurance commercial says.”

Senators also claimed FMLA, the campus’ local chapter of a nationwide rights organization, refused to discuss changing the name of the event from Sex Week, which Senators were afraid may be inflammatory.

Kathryn Travis, a student and secretary of ETSU’s FMLA, said the name of the event was approved by a voted of the organization’s committee, and she didn’t hold the power to change it without conferring with the group.

…The denial of the funding isn’t the end-all for the event, Travis said.

“It’s going to continue,” she said, noting the options of fundraising or reapplying to the Senate. “It’s going to happen.”

The money requested by the group would have been used mostly to pay speakers at the event, she said, who would offer presentations on a wide range of sex-related topics.

ETSU plans its own Sex Week

From a Johnson City Press story:

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

That’s the only way important sex-related topics are going to be covered, said Max Carlile, organizer of East Tennessee State University’s Sex Week, set for Feb. 10-12, though she joked that it should actually be called “Sex Half-Week,” because of its brevity.

There are many questions that people are too embarrassed to ask, and the goal of the program is to provide discussions so students can feel comfortable enough to get information. Because of the prominence of sexual assault and sexually transmitted disease among college-age people, Sex Week discussions couldn’t come at a better time, organizers say.

A Texas State University study in 2013 showed that college-age students are misinformed about the risks of the most common sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus, or HPV, and are also the most vulnerable to contracting it.

While Carlile says there will be experts to discuss a range of topics, what she strives for most is the open conversation that is not always available.

“We had our sex education classes taken away from us in my high school,” said Carlile, who went to school in Knox County. She said permission forms had not been signed by students’ parents, which led to changes in the curriculum.

The lack of available information, she said, had students walking around school without sound knowledge about sex. To fight against this on ETSU’s campus, Carlile said there will be plenty of literature and more available on campus for students interested in a range of topics.

…The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, had its Sex Week last year, and Carlile says she didn’t organize the event just because of UT’s event — around 50 colleges across the country are making it an important event on campus and she felt inspired to carry one out at ETSU. The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning UT’s Sex Week in March, calling its activities — including an aphrodisiac cooking class, drag show, and condom scavenger hunt — an “outrageous misuse of student fees and grant monies.”

This pushback did not stop Sex Week from occurring. Carlile, who has connections with the Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at TN group that put on UT’s Sex Week, expected some of this to carry over to ETSU’s announcement that they would be putting on a similar event.

“Watch out, you’re going to get criticism,” Carlile said she was warned, but says it’s been nothing but smooth organizing so far.

Not taking this on by herself, Carlile said some of the many campus groups that have expressed interested in participating in the event include the Women’s Studies department; Outreach & Awareness: Sexuality Information for Students; FMLA, a feminist student alliance on campus; H.E.R.O.E.S., an equality group on campus; and Buctainment, among others.

The inclusion of many campus groups will lead to better “swag,” Carlile said, which should include brochures, male and female condoms, dental dams and lubrication.

On Lamar Alexander, a seven-foot-long form and, maybe, a bit of oversimplification

To demonstrate the clumsy growth of federal regulations and their effect on the education system, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander unfurled an impressive visual aid Saturday before East Tennessee State University’s commencement ceremony, reports The Johnson City Press.

In front of television cameras and scribbling pens, the senator dropped a seven-foot-long copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and held one end high above his head.

“It intimidates a lot of students, discourages them from going to college, and it wastes a lot of time and money that could be spent on educating students,” Alexander, the country’s former Education Secretary, told reporters. “My goal as U.S. senator is to reduce this form to two questions: One would be ‘How many members are in your family?’ and ‘How much money did your family make last year?’ Think of all the productivity that would encourage.”

The FAFSA was added to the country’s Higher Education Act in 1992 under President George H.W. Bush. (Note: Alexander was U.S. Secretary of Education at the time.) Since then, it has provided current and upcoming college students with a free method to apply for available federal and state grants, but some now believe it has become overgrown and needs an enthusiastic pruning.

Like Alexander, Margaret Miller, ETSU’s Director of Financial Aid, believes the application has become overly complicated, but she said reducing it to only two questions may be oversimplification.

…On Alexander’s larger-than-life-size form, Miller said it’s not the usual method for applying. To save printing costs, the federal government stopped widely distributing paper copies to schools in 2007 and now relies mainly on online applications.

Alexander and Miller both said the arduous application process can dissuade students from applying for college, especially students who are the first in their family to attend a higher education institution, those who likely need financial aid the most.

Miller said the senator’s proposed questions are a good foundation for determining eligibility for aid, but said other questions should cover untaxed income and how many students a family is currently supporting in college.

…A spokesperson for Alexander reached Monday said the senator’s legislation is “in the works.”

In February, Washington media reported the formation of a task force including Alexander and Sens. Michael Bennet, Barbara Mikulski and Richard Burr, members who intend to simplify and deregulate higher education in the upcoming renewal of the Higher Education Act.

Alexander, seeking re-election this year, said Saturday if Republicans take control of the Senate in the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections, he will be the chairman of the Education Committee, and the streamlined education law will have an easy passage.

ETSU president recuperating from serious traffic accident

East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland thanked members of the community for their support in a video posted on the college’s website Tuesday, giving the public its first look at his recovery after a November car crash, reports the Johnson City Press.

Filmed in Shelbridge, the Johnson City home reserved for ETSU’s president and his family, Noland, wearing a brace to keep his head and neck stationary, said he hopes to return to conducting business on campus in January.

“Well, I have this lovely little neck brace on, and I can stand, I can walk, I do have full-range of motion,” he said, as he stood from a seated position. “I am going to make a full recovery.”

The post was the first installment of Noland’s “From My Notepads” video address since he was injured in a Nov. 18 crash at the intersection of West Watuaga Avenue and West Market Street.

“That accident has, in many respects, brought my semester to a close, but it’s not brought the work of the institution to a close,” the president said. “Our faculty, our staff, our administrative team, led by Dr. Wilsie Bishop, has continued to make the institution move forward, and we’re now approaching the close of the semester, where this weekend, we’ll graduate another class of students.”

…ETSU Chief Operating Officer Wilsie Bishop has assumed Noland’s administrative duties, as she did under former President Paul Stanton.

…Noland was hospitalized for nearly a week after his SUV was struck by a rollback tow truck as he was crossing the intersection. The president’s vehicle then struck a utility pole, and the wrecker struck a tree off the roadside. The driver of the truck was given a citation for running the red light and given 10 days to address his driver’s license status.

Building Commission Signs Off on Bledsoe Prison, ETSU, Memphis Projects

On Prisons
The State Building Commission on Thursday gave the green light to more than a half-billion dollars worth of construction and upgrades for dozens of projects, including a $30 million, 512-bed expansion of the Bledsoe Correctional Facility in Pikeville, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
The expansion will handle medium-security prisoners. The project also will provide minor modifications to house female inmates in separate security facilities within the complex.
Commission members also approved some $21 million to beef up security at state prisons, including $4.4 million for a specialty security contractor to replace what a Building Commission document described as “aging and failing locking systems” in facilities statewide.
Many of the projects were included in the new state budget that went into effect July 1 but required commission approval to proceed.


ETSU Football
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced the Tennessee State Building Commission’s approval of a project to build a new football stadium for East Tennessee State University.
From the Kingsport Times-News:
After a decade-long hiatus, ETSU has recently rebooted its football program under the supervision of former University of Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer. Last month, ETSU hired former University of North Carolina coach Carl Torbush as the university’s new head coach for the program.
“I’m so proud to have football coming back to the East Tennessee State University. College is first and foremost about academics but a full and complete college experience is crucial to attracting top top-quality students to the university,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey.
“The return of football to the ETSU campus will enrich university life in so many ways. But the first step to building a great football program is building a high-quality facility. I’m excited that the commission has approved this outstanding project.”

Privatized Housing at U of M
The long-delayed Highland Row project near the University of Memphis may finally start construction this fall, as a result of a new affiliation agreement U of M is proposing with a private nonprofit developer for the residential space in the upper floors of the multiuse center, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The university asked the State Building Commission Thursday to fast-track approval of an agreement with Alabama-based Collegiate Housing Foundation that will help arrange financing. Under the agreement, rental of the apartments will be limited to U of M students, faculty and staff and the University of Memphis name will be affixed to the privately owned and managed facility.
…Memphis-based Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers announced the $65 million Highland Row in 2008 but was unable to obtain financing when the recession deepened. It will have retail space on its ground floor, anchored by a 40,000-square-foot full-service Barnes & Noble bookstore that will serve as the university’s official bookstore.
Apartments were always planned for the upper three floors but the affiliation agreement is new, putting the U of M brand on it as “affiliated housing” and limiting occupancy to about 550 students and employees.

Fed Grant for ETSU Fossil Center

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined state and local leaders today to announce the award of a $145,026 transportation enhancement grant to East Tennessee State University for the Miocene Habitat at the Gray Fossil Site Visitor Center in Washington County.
The Miocene Habitat at the Gray Fossil Site Visitor Center includes outdoor enhancements to the visitor center, such as a welcome sign, signage for self-guided tours, landscaping, irrigation, picnic shelters, art, and ADA accessibility. This project represents the completion of the grounds and visitor amenities for the visitor center.
“In its three year history, the Gray Fossil Site Visitor Center has welcomed more than a quarter of a million visitors from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries,” Haslam said. “This project completes a monumental effort to preserve this historic site and create a unique educational opportunity for those who visit.”
The grant is made possible through a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“Through Transportation Enhancement grants, TDOT has funded more than $259 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “Established by Congress in the early 1990s, the program supports activities designed to strengthen the cultural, aesthetic and environmental aspects of the nation’s transportation system.”
A variety of activities such as the restoration of historic facilities, bike and pedestrian trails, landscaping and other non-traditional transportation projects are eligible for grant funds under the federal program.
Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough) and Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) represent Washington County in the Tennessee General Assembly.