Educate students on UT’s racial spaces and history

Sanika Nayak

In light of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, UT has promised to create a more diverse and welcoming campus. This promise includes the goal to “educate our community and visitors about the history and context of many of the names that remain.” While Interim President Jay Hartzell’s message includes ideas to proliferate this education through plaques and websites, this is not enough. 

As students, we are often unaware of the historical significance of the architecture, names and landmarks around the campus we frequent. UT’s history is closely connected to social themes from the past that continue to affect the present. In addition to plaques and websites, UT should include a mandatory presentation on racial history and racial spaces on campus in First-Year Interest Groups, orientation groups and other campus programs. Exposing all incoming students to knowledge about the spaces they occupy better fosters an inclusive environment that inspires critical thinking. 

Programs like FIGs and orientation already include a multitude of presentations about campus life. Understanding the dark history behind UT’s landmarks and past policies are just as important to campus life for students as other resources advertised within these programs. 

“Being able to critically engage with our environment to understand how it is that those issues of unequal power that saturate our every day is a really important thing to be able to do,” said Edmund Gordon, vice provost for diversity. 

Gordon, who also created the racial geography tour, said that racism and sexism are built into almost every aspect of how we operate culturally, yet we are not properly taught how to recognize these biases. Although education focused on racial history at UT may fall on some deaf ears, a point that Gordon acknowledged, it would still be beneficial to create a short presentation or lecture that is mandatory for all students to view. Gordon’s racial geography tour shouldn’t be the only avenue for students to learn about racial geography at UT. According to Gordon, this tour would only be beneficial to those genuinely interested in the subject as opposed to a general crowd. 

Instead, short presentations would help to create a better medium for mass education without time or effort wasted by any one entity. These presentations would also inspire civil discourse on racial spaces and UT’s history, which would be impactful in creating a more welcoming campus based in empathy and inclusivity. There are many students who are simply unaware of the racial significance of landmarks on campus. These students would benefit from learning about the history behind the Littlefield House, Painter Hall, past campus activism, desegregation and more. 

Additionally, these presentations should include the history behind “The Eyes of Texas” — which remains our school song despite student demand for change — and its use at minstrel shows. As the University claims to want to “own, acknowledge, and teach about all aspects of the origins” of the song, these presentations would be a perfect opportunity to fulfill that goal.   

“Making these resources available to educate (incoming students) is very important,” history junior Ashley Gelato said. “We need to be able to acknowledge the history behind the spaces that we’re in, and it would show that the University is taking responsibility … I would have definitely benefited from something like this.” 

If UT believes that education is important in creating a more diverse and inclusive campus, it is imperative that it educates all students about the racial history intertwined within its spaces and choices. It is not enough to create avenues for this information only for those who specifically choose to seek it out. Only by incorporating information on racial history into mandatory UT programs can the University fulfill its promises to create the diverse and inclusive campus all its students deserve. 

Nayak is a speech language and hearing major from Austin, Texas.