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Two University of Tennessee, Knoxville, residence halls were officially dedicated last Friday in honor of Rita Sanders Geier and Theotis Robinson Jr.—two African American trailblazers whose fights for racial equality transformed the state’s higher education system and university.

The Board of Trustees approved the renaming of Orange Hall for Geier and White Hall for Robinson at its winter board meeting on February 25. The buildings first opened in 2016 and provide a home away from home for almost 700 students.

Robinson, a Knoxville native, is well known as the first Black undergraduate student admitted to the university and one of three Black students to fully desegregate the university in 1961. Geier, from Memphis, is best known for the landmark lawsuit that sought to dismantle inequities in the state’s higher education system. Both Robinson and Geier later worked for the university.

In the initial renaming announcement in February, Chancellor Donde Plowman said she hopes future students are inspired by the legacy that Geier, Robinson, and others have left.

“Each of them broke barriers and showed so much courage to do it,” she said. “Both of them are people who looked around at their world and said it can be better—we can be better. They moved the world forward. I’m grateful for people who are willing to remind us that there’s a better version of ourselves. I hope that’s what people see when they see their names on those buildings.”

The initial push for the renaming was recommended by former student and 2021 Torchbearer, Maria Urias, who proposed finding a creative way to recognize civil rights trailblazers that left lasting legacies at UT. University administrators were highly supportive of the idea and worked collaboratively to make it happen.

Members of the Geier and Robinson families participated in the dedication as well. After the ceremony, students, faculty, staff, and guests enjoyed refreshments in the courtyard.


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,