UT must acknowledge, address institutional racism

Jacob Hood

On Aug. 11, white supremacists began their descent on the University of Virginia, stating that they were in protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the scene soon evolved into hatred, violence and domestic terrorism. On Aug. 20, statues of Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg quietly disappeared from UT’s South Mall under the cover of night. An effort long pushed by students of color came to fruition almost silently, and almost immediately after events at UVA.

For some, the removal of the statues was a success, a long-overdue payment of respect to black students who were forced to navigate campus among their shadows. For others, the removal represents the destruction of Southern history — albeit, a history rooted in betrayal and the fight to preserve the right to own human beings. Some even viewed the move as nothing more than performative, a strategic decision designed to protect the University and not out of consideration for students of color. Whichever way one views the politics of the statues’ removal, the fact that the University of Texas is rooted in racism and still unaccommodating for black and brown students remains.

The statues served as a more obvious reminder of the University’s tumultuous history with race. T.S. Painter — former UT president, with a hall named in his honor — fought in Sweatt v. Painter to keep black student Heman Sweatt from being able to enroll, and to uphold segregation. Robert Lee Moore Hall, a name garnering more attention as of late, finds its namesake as a notably racist professor who refused to teach black students. Simkins Hall, now named Creekside, gained its original name from a noted Klansman. The school song sung at sporting events, at orientation and at commencement was originally performed in blackface at minstrel shows, yet this racist, persistent history goes undiscussed. There are not brochures sent out en masse proudly boasting who George W. Littlefield was, or that the number of black students on campus continuously hovers at 4 percent out of upwards of 50,000. Tours are not designed to point out the site of the now infamous Affirmative Action Bake Sale. The statues’ removal, while important, is barely a drop in the bucket in making the University a more welcoming space for black and brown students.

As an institution supported by donors and, in the view of many, only interested in profit, how does the University achieve this goal? Recognition of the racism that pervades this campus can serve as a starting place. Announce the true history of “The Eyes of Texas.” Below every building plaque named after a noted racist that the University does not rename, write their history and their hatred towards black people. Yet recognition alone does not suffice in redoing a foundation rooted in exclusion. Even if all the building names are changed, the school song scrapped, and the University reoriented to no longer face the South, the conditions for black and brown students will not change. As long as UT continues its poor outreach and financial aid for students of color, we will be consistently underrepresented. As long as Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and racist signs can continually be posted without so much as a town hall to attempt to ease our fear, we will be unsafe. As long as we cannot walk into a room without feeling alone, walk through West Campus without feeling afraid, or walk onto this university without feeling isolated, no meager attempts at patching up a racist past will suffice.

The path to resolving a past of racism and bigotry is not a simple one. Removal of statues is not enough to give black students peace of mind. Yet so often, the onus falls on students of color to push and implement these changes, to tell our friends from underrepresented communities to come to UT, to educate, lead discussions, and perpetually defend our right to be viewed and treated as equal. The institution, on the other hand, does not effectively use its power to address these systemic problems. Rather, they often issue statements and words clouded in ambiguity in response to whatever the latest campus scandal may be. But as black and brown students have proved since their time began at UT, we will continue to fight, and to protest and to push for visibility. The labor we must often undertake in order to establish our place at this university is grueling and exhausting, but we will still stage protests. We will still be loud. While the statues are gone and tucked away, the memory they held, and the legacy of hatred they represent, will stay with the 40 Acres.

Hood is an African and African diaspora studies, English and sociology sophomore. He serves as an officer for Students for Equity and Diversity.