Roundup, an annual event that draws thousands of people to a weekend of West Campus parties, began eight decades ago as the highlight of the University’s spring social season — but it has also been a source of controversy over the years.
During the most recent Roundup in late March, a female student claimed she was assaulted at a fraternity party. She said a male fraternity member threw food at her and spit in her face, which she believes was a racially motivated attack, although no one used racial slurs.
Choquette Hamilton, the director of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said racial tension between fraternity members and minority students ultimately transformed Roundup from a University-sanctioned celebration into a series of individual Greek parties.
Roundup began in 1930 as a spring celebration for students and alumni. The annual parade featured dozens of floats bearing 20-foot-tall decorations and the year’s Texas Sweetheart. The parade ran through the heart of campus and attracted the local community. Greek organizations always decorated floats for the Roundup parade and hosted parties during the weekend.
In 1990, 60 years after the inaugural Roundup, the event evolved mostly into fraternity parties, and the parade became less of a community event, Hamilton said. She completed her thesis on the history of African-Americans at UT and interviewed former UT students and administrators extensively about race relations during Roundup.
Based on her research, she said aspects of the parades often included racist and homophobic undertones, and at least five parades between 1980 and 1990 openly mocked and harassed minorities and the LGBTQ community.
Marcus Brown was the president of the Black Student Alliance in 1990. Brown said he has always known Roundup to have a history of racial intolerance, but in 1990, more people noticed, according to an interview Brown conducted with Hamilton.
“This just happened to be the year that they caught the stuff in pictures, which led to a bunch of activism, and it all kind of spiraled out of control,” Hamilton said.
After the annual parade on April 6, 1990, a fraternity decorated one of the floats with inflammatory racial slurs. Another fraternity sold T-shirts for a basketball tournament with an image of Michael Jordan’s body and a Sambo character’s head, said James Vick, former UT vice president for student affairs. The Sambo character portrayed African-Americans as lazy and with ape-like facial features.
The incidents took place three days after the student body elected Toni Luckett to be its first black president, Hamilton said.
Vick said racial tensions were already high that year because students were disappointed in the low minority enrollment. Although UT was desegregated in 1959, by 1990 only 3.7 percent of UT’s approximately 48,000 students were black.
Not much has changed in terms of current enrollment figures, as only 4.3 percent or 1,800 of UT’s approximately 50,000 students are black.
“I think all of us were aware that there was a lot of tension before that weekend. I don’t know how you measure that, but I think we had all been concerned about hard feelings about racial issues in various parts of the University,” Vick said.
Following the events, about 20 minority student leaders met with Vick and then-Dean of Students Sharon Justice to demand the fraternities be reprimanded for their offensive Roundup behavior. The student leaders also wanted the University to require all students to take a course in African-American studies.
Protesters used Roundup as a means to try and implement Project PRIDE, Proposed Reforms to Institute Diversity in Education.
More than 1,500 students rallied on campus and in front of the offending houses to fight racial inequity following the Roundup incidents.
“They brought the T-shirts, and they brought very strong feelings,” Vick said. “There followed day after day of marches and demonstrations and protests and very unfortunate confrontations.”
Vick said the protests drew the attention of then-UT President William Cunningham, who attempted to address students’ concerns in a speech on April 13. Protesters shouted so loudly he could not finish.
Two weeks after Cunningham’s speech, both offending fraternities received a yearlong suspension and 1,500 hours of community service in a predominantly black community.
In July 1990, Cunningham asked the UT alumni group Texas Exes to re-evaluate its participation in Roundup. The group provided little funding but a substantial number of volunteers and later opted out of the event, according to a April 17, 1990, Daily Texan article. Vick said Cunningham later announced Roundup would no longer be recognized as a University event.
“I think it was a combination of the negative impact that year’s Roundup had on the lives of all of us on campus, our community spirit and our relationships with various communities around us,” he said. “It was also the realization that we’d had problems with Roundup in the past that weren’t necessarily racial but were there nonetheless.”
Today, Roundup takes place mostly in West Campus, and individual fraternities host parties. Students outraged by the alleged assault on the black female student at a fraternity party this March formed a coalition to address what they call racial discrimination in the modern incarnation of Roundup. The Austin Police Department is currently conducting an investigation to determine the validity of the student’s claims.
The Interfraternity Council and other University groups are not affiliated with the event, said council executive officer Houston Berger. The IFC does not recognize it as an official event, although most of the fraternities that participate fall under the council.
“Whereas it used to be a type of homecoming event, fraternities now just hold social events on their own, and it’s their decision whether or not they want to hold one,” Berger said.
He said contrary to popular belief, the weekend is not a time for rounding up potential members for the individual fraternities and that high school students are not supposed to attend.
Stephen Sibley, a former president of an IFC fraternity, said for college students, Roundup is like a “Greek Christmas” where everyone takes the weekend off to celebrate and is relatively harmless.
“Anything that happens during Roundup weekend could happen anytime, and I think it’s one of those things where when alcohol is involved there is a higher risk for unfortunate things to happen,” he said.
This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article contained a vague caption, which has been changed to clarify the date of incident shown in the photo.