Civil Rights Pioneer Leads Traditional Torch Night

KNOXVILLE — Rita Sanders Geier, a civil rights pioneer recently appointed to help lead diversity efforts at the University of Tennessee, will deliver the keynote address at Torch Night.

Torch Night will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, in Circle Park.

Torch Night, an annual candlelight ceremony, draws nearly 2,000 students. During the ceremony, seniors pass the torch of preparation to new students. Faculty, staff and other members of the community also are invited. The event will not be held if there is rain.

Chancellor Loren Crabtree and his staff of vice chancellors and deans will host the event. Student Government Association President John Rader will pass the symbolic torch to freshman representatives from each of the colleges.

Geier’s new role at UT was announced earlier this week. She will serve as an associate to Crabtree and help implement goals of the university’s diversity plan and Ready for the World, UT’s international and intercultural awareness initiative.

She also will serve as senior fellow at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

Geier sued the state of Tennessee in 1968 when she was a faculty member at Tennessee State University, challenging that the state’s higher education system was still segregated. The result was the 2001 Geier Consent Decree, which provided $77 million in state funds over six years to diversify student populations and faculty of all state higher education institutions. The consent decree was dismissed last year.

She also was the UT fall commencement speaker last December.

UT’s 4,346 new freshmen are once again the best in school history. Their average ACT score is 25.9 and average high school grade point average is 3.65.

Torch Night was first held in 1925 when it was started by Victor Davis, a former UT alumni secretary, as the Freshman Pledge Ceremony. In 1929, the name changed to Freshman Torch Night. From Ayres Hall Tower a bugler called the freshman class to the “Hill,” then proceeded to the main entrance of the campus to “give a yell” for the sophomores and then for the juniors.

Seniors met the freshmen at the top of the Hill where they took the oath of loyalty to the university. The freshmen formally were declared part of the student body and received lighted candles to symbolize the “torch of preparation.”

By the early 1980s the ceremony had become more subdued with a select senior passing the torch to a select freshman at halftime of a basketball game.

In 1984, a ceremony reminiscent of the first one was initiated and held in Alumni Memorial Gym.


Contacts:

Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179, elizabeth.davis@tennessee.edu.

Jane Redmond, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, (865) 974-7449.