UT students and alumni started a petition Friday advocating for UT to replace the school alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas,” due to its racist history. It has garnered more than 1,300 signatures as of Thursday evening.
The petition is part of a student-led movement called Rewrite Not Reclaim, which posted a video of current and former students discussing the history of “The Eyes of Texas,” why it is offensive and why it should be replaced.
“Together, we can rewrite a song that unifies and represents all of us,” the petition said.
“The Eyes of Texas” was first sung in 1903 at a minstrel show where white performers sung it in blackface, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan. The opening verse was a saying by former UT President William Prather, who took inspiration from Confederate general Robert E. Lee, according to his biography by the UT System.
Ethan Jones was a participant in the video and does communications for Rewrite Not Reclaim. Jones said the movement is a continuation of various reforms students shared with the University administration in early June, which included asking UT to replace “The Eyes of Texas.”
At the UT System Board of Regents meeting Wednesday, UT President Jay Hartzell said the University is beginning to outline the history of “The Eyes of Texas,” and he hopes to share his plans with the community next week.
“University leadership will continue to meet with and listen to student suggestions as the University seeks to own the history and redefine the meaning of ‘The Eyes of Texas,’” University spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email.
Student-athletes and other student organizations have continued boycotting the song throughout the semester, according to previous reporting by the Texan.
“We always say, ‘What starts here changes the world,’ and … starting here is being bold and taking those steps to try and get rid of these parts of our history,” said Jones, a business honors and public relations junior. “Not just trying to reclaim but trying something new (and) something that we can all rally behind.”
Brianna McBride, a participant in the video and co-director of the Black Presidents Leadership Council, said the council has been meeting with Hartzell since this summer. While McBride said the group was disappointed “The Eyes of Texas” remained, she is happy other reforms were met.
McBride said it feels like Hartzell is listening to them, but they will continue demanding change.
“We believe in what the University can stand for, and it should stand for better than ‘The Eyes of Texas,’” said McBride, a communications and leadership and government senior. “We’re going to continue to be in this movement until our demands are met.”
Connor O’Neill, who does public relations for Rewrite Not Reclaim, said the petition and the movement began to allow more people to voice their opposition to the song’s continued use.
“It’s making a lot of white people uncomfortable because it’s their tradition,” said O’Neill, a Plan II and government senior who is white. “But if your tradition is rooted in racism, how welcoming is that for all of the other people that are around you?”
Jones said the UT administration has the opportunity to be at the forefront of change by replacing the song.
“I can ensure that if there’s not change made in a timely fashion, that you’re going to lose the love and passion that so many alumni today have because we aren’t in a school that works and serves all students,” Jones said.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that UT President Jay Hartzell said the University is beginning to outline the history of “The Eyes of Texas” during a Wednesday press conference, not during a UT System Board of Regents meeting. The Texan regrets this error.