Thousands of people cheer among a sea of burnt orange. The feeling of camaraderie and community is palpable. “The Eyes of Texas” begins to play, and everyone in the crowd raises their hands and sings the tune of the institution that brought them there. Since we arrived as freshmen at orientation, we’ve been internalizing the iconic traditions of our University — but have we ever stopped to ask
ourselves what they mean?
One of these traditions is the iconic school song, “The Eyes of Texas.” The song is rooted in minstrelsy and anti-black sentiment, and UT should make an effort to be more forthcoming about its history by offering presentations at orientation. Offering historical presentations grants students the right to make decisions for themselves about whether or not they want to propagate the traditions.
“The Eyes of Texas” was first performed by a UT student named John Sinclair in 1903. Sinclair was also a member of the Varsity Minstrel Show, a type of performance that typified post-Reconstruction racism. These shows perpetuated the notion that African Americans were lesser than whites, with white performers painting their faces and bodies black and acting in a manner intended to mock African Americans.
The song’s centrality to student life necessitates student’s understanding of its history. It represents how our country’s dark history of exclusion isn’t so far behind us, which has the capacity to make some students feel marginalized or uncomfortable.
Plan II and neuroscience sophomore Ana Ross agrees it could negatively affect the student experience.
“I feel like it would make a lot of people uncomfortable because it’s such an ugly part of our past,” Ross said. “It’s so disgusting that a song that we sing was originally used to make fun of black people.”
Leslie Blair, executive director of communications for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said it was brought up that tours should be made more inclusive of University history with the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan in spring 2017. However, this initiative was never fully realized.
The University agrees this history is important to remember.
“We don’t want to forget the history of it,” Blair said. “It’s important to keep it alive. The University is aware of its past, of course, and we try to acknowledge it and hopefully, offset it a little bit.”
An easy way to ensure all students become aware of UT’s past is to implement a presentation about UT history into the traditions portion of orientation.
“I think at orientation they should talk about the historical background of it more,” former orientation advisor Lawrence Robinson said. “Because working as an OA, (we went) through the traditions training about Smokey, the Tower, “The Eyes of Texas,” hook ‘em, all that stuff. They just say it’s a tradition, but not the history of it. I think they should talk more about it so that students know.”
New Student Services, the office in charge of orientation, declined to comment on this issue.
Incorporating this material into orientation would be a way to ensure all students have equal opportunities to access this information. Additionally, it would allow students to decide for themselves how they want to implement UT’s traditions into their own lives and gives them the opportunity to resist the perpetuation of these ideas and make progress for UT’s future.
Cloteal Haynes, president of the Texas Precursors, a group of some of the first black students to attend and integrate UT, assesses the value of this history.
“I think it’s informative,” Haynes said. “It increases my awareness about the song. Similarly, I think it would increase folks’ awareness of other songs that have racist backgrounds, like ‘Amazing Grace.’
As a University that promotes equality and progress, we need to be forthcoming about our past and use it as a mechanism for education — our school pride should come second to making UT a comfortable and inclusive space for all.
Lazaroski is an international relations and global studies sophomore from Dallas.