Greek life is often put under the spotlight for instances of racism. However, organizations directly affiliated with UT are also plagued by it. Spirit groups, the University’s official student organizations, were established to support and better the University and the Austin community. Despite the pressure of upholding their esteemed reputations, racism against members has wiggled its way in. It is now the responsibility of the students, organizations and the university to get it out.
Isaiah Carter, government sophomore and a member of Texas Wranglers, said that although spirit groups are held to higher standards of conduct, he still experiences racism.
“‘You’re not really black’ or ‘you don’t act black’ is something I hear a lot in my organizations,” Carter said. “Frankly, there is no worse insult. That is a form of racism that I experience often. What that means is ‘you do not fit the negative stereotypes that I put on black people,’ … ‘you’re smart, and I do not expect that,’ ‘you are articulate; I do not expect that. ’”
Racism within spirit groups is not always violent or aggressive. It’s usually framed as micro-aggressions — in jokes, cultural appropriation or unassuming comments.
“Nobody has ever called me any racial slurs. Just stereotype jokes like ‘smile, where are you, it’s dark outside,’” said Alex Denney, a Texas Wranglers member and economics senior.
Subtlety doesn’t dilute the pain, discomfort or harm racism causes students. And while many members don’t realize they’re being racist, some don’t have an understanding of what jokes or actions are inappropriate and why. This is fixable through education.
“In my spirit group, I’ve heard ignorant comments, but I’ve been quick to educate the person on why their commentary was inappropriate,” said Christine Nbemeneh, a member of Texas Royals and government and public relations senior.
Education also needs to be paired with outreach. The spirit organizations oftentimes solely interact with other spirit organizations, sororities and fraternities, many of which are predominantly white.
“Spirit community is more diverse, but [minority] numbers are still small. They don’t engage with minority students,” said Carissa Weber, a Texas Spirit and mathematics senior. “It’s easy to say that the numbers are small because the majority of UT is white. But we need to take more responsibility to reach out to minorities. We need to not be passive but actively try to engage with those communities.”
Just reaching out to communities of color will help students learn about, understand and fight racism.
However, this fight is not just students’ responsibility. The University does not have strong consequences for or guidelines against racism. The student handbook defines discrimination but neglects to define racism. UT needs to spell out what a racist act is and develop firm policies against it so when racism happens, people of color will be protected by the System.
Maria Kroeger is a human relations senior from Corpus Christi.