Confronting racism and sexism demands civility

Jordan Greenberg and Jenny Kutner

On March 21, members of the Tejas Club, a men’s student leadership and social organization at UT, asked Robert Jensen, a UT journalism professor, to leave the group’s West Campus house after he delivered a talk about rape culture and the perpetuation of violence against women in our society. The Texas Orange Jackets, a women’s leadership organization, co-hosted Jensen with the Tejas Club as part of the Orange Jackets’ Week of Women, which took place March 18 to 22, and consisted of daily events aimed at raising the UT community’s awareness of issues facing women and celebrating campus female leaders. 

In his talk, Jensen offered a critique of the normalization and relative societal acceptance of violence against women. Specifically, he spoke about violent pornography and its harmful effects. During the question-and-answer period that followed, an audience member and one of the two authors of this column asked Jensen to clarify a comment he had made earlier in the evening about the Tejas Club calling members “braves.” 

Citing the disturbingly successful campaign to exterminate Native Americans throughout much of U.S. history — as well as our society’s inability to come to terms with that history — Jensen argued that the Tejas Club’s name for its members is racist and called for the organization to change it. In response, several Tejas members called Jensen “a shithead,” and asked him to leave the house. No one was talking about violence against women by the end of the night.  

Jensen spent 90 percent of his talk deconstructing our society’s acceptance of violence against women as a normal occurrence. He spoke directly to the men in the room when he argued young males watching violent pornography is one root cause of rape culture. And, for 90 percent of Jensen’s talk, no audience member audibly protested.

We believe the uncivil behavior following Jensen’s later allegations of the club’s racism shows that his point about society’s inability to confront challenges to socialized norms, such as rape culture and racism, was lost on the angry audience and Tejas Club members. In a subsequent interview for this column Jensen acknowledged his tone shifted when he stopped speaking on rape culture and started speaking on racism. The journalism professor acknowledged his tone may have contributed to the unreceptive nature of the Tejas Club members’ response to his larger point. Yet, the outburst and territorialism exhibited by specific Tejas members still only reinforced Jensen’s claims that men in our society are plagued with an inability to move past a harmful, socialized idea of masculinity — a masculinity that requires violence, a need to assert power, and an inability to confront the racist and sexist problems that male privilege causes.

The Tejas Club calls itself the “premier men’s social organization” on campus, seeking to help its members achieveleadership, scholarship and honor. The group hosts weekly coffee meetings with the intention of intelligent debates —  one part of the club’s efforts to put itself above the status quo of West Campus fraternity life. By hosting a talk for Week of Women, we believe the club tried to stand in solidarity with female empowerment and against male-perpetrated violence against women. 

Acknowledging the problem of normalized violence against women and acknowledging the problem of systematic racism require the same process of reflection: Recognizing that hierarchies exist, and that they have harmful consequences.

The road to “solving” sexism, a subject one Tejas member inquired about before Jensen made his allegations of racism, does not begin when we yell, scream, curse and threaten. While defending the Tejas club against Jensen’s provocative and accusatory rhetoric, members noted their racially diverse membership, but pointing to non-white members in the club doesn’t amount to evidence that solutions to racism have been achieved, just as hosting a coffee about feminism doesn’t constitute evidence sexism has been overcome. Jensen did not connect his two points about racism and sexism last Thursday, but we want to make sure the connection was not missed. 

Kutner is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies senior from Houston and Greenberg is a Plan II and Middle Eastern studies sophomore from Austin.