Black students lie in front of tower in protest

Van Nguyen

About 70 black students laid in front of the UT Tower on Thursday to bring attention to issues facing black college students across the nation, while non-black allies stood in solidarity holding up signs which read “Black Lives Matter.”

The Black Student Alliance organized the demonstration, called a die-in, to protest the University’s lack of a hate-crime policy, the killings of black people across the nation and racial incidents at other college campuses, according to government junior and BSA president Maranda Burkhalter. 

The protest started at 2 p.m. and ended 20 minutes later with no interruption from University officials. 

A day prior to the protest, Burkhalter met with UT President Gregory Fenves and Soncia Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, to talk about the absence of a hate crime policy. Burkhalter was told a policy was in the revision process, but no time frame for its implementation was mentioned.

“Finalizing a policy to address these kinds of incidents is an action item included in the University Diversity Action Plan, which is now being written,” said J.B. Bird, director of media relations and digital newsroom, in an email. “The University is in phase one of the process, working with the central administration and legal affairs staff to prepare a version for student input. The goal is to finalize a policy this
academic year.”

Joshua Ellis, a member of BSA’s political action committee, said he believes the University is not approaching the hate crime issue with enough urgency.

Ellis referred to one racially motivated incident in February when former UT student Tucker Sauer threw bottles and said racial slurs at then-senior Cody Young in west campus. Fenves announced shortly after the incident that the University had suspended Sauer until 2017, but Ellis said the one-year suspension was insufficient.

Fenves sent out an email after the incident which said he would “ask the Dean of Students to assess the sanctions that the University generally imposes on those who use violence as a tool to discriminate.”

Since the email, the University has not publicly addressed the lack of a hate crime policy.

“We’ve been told that it’s coming, but the fact of the matter is it’s not moving with any kind of swiftness,” said Ellis, a government and African and African diaspora studies sophomore. “What happens if something occurs to a student of color or a member of the LGBTQI community? What happens if that happens tomorrow and [the hate crime policy] isn’t in place? It’s just another person that got away with a hate crime.”

During the protest, a white man on a bike passed by and said, “Y’all should’ve brought yoga mats, it would’ve been more comfortable.” Ashly Okoli, human development and family sciences senior, heard the comment and responded. 

“I yelled out, ‘Death is not comfortable,’ and he said, ‘Well, have you died yet?’” Okoli said. “In that moment I thought, ‘No, I haven’t died, but I’ve been killed a million times,’ because when you see your fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters being killed in cold blood by police officers, it kills you each and every time it occurs.”