A committee composed of 23 students, faculty and alumni met Thursday to discuss the history of UT’s alma mater as a part of UT President Jay Hartzell’s efforts to “reclaim” the song.
“The Eyes of Texas” was originally performed in a minstrel show, a racist show in which white performers dressed in blackface to stereotype Black people, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan. Ted Gordon, the vice provost for diversity, previously told the Texan that the song was written in 1903 amid a Jim Crow society and period of lynchings, and the University originally had clear minstrel affiliations.
“There are so many parts of our history that have complicated origins or problematic origins,” said Richard Reddick, committee member and associate dean for equity, community engagement and outreach for the College of Education. “Those things deserve our time and attention to understand what happened. We also have to think about not simply events frozen in time, but what they have meant over time.”
A committee report is set to publish in January, and it will include recommendations on how the song’s history can be remembered truthfully, Reddick said. He said the committee is not discussing whether “The Eyes of Texas” will remain as the alma mater.
“‘The Eyes of Texas’ has been around for 120 years,” Reddick said. “It is almost as old as the University. UT was literally 20 years old when ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was first rolled out. So, it really is, in a lot of ways, the story of the University of Texas.”
This semester, many Longhorn Band members said they would refuse to play the song at football games, and a group of students began a campaign asking the University to “Rewrite not Reclaim” the song.
The committee has four charges: to collect and document the origin of “The Eyes of Texas,” to examine the University’s use of the song, to chronicle its use in the University setting and popular culture and to “recommend potential communication tactics and/or strategies to memorialize the history of ‘The Eyes of Texas.’”
Reddick said the committee is ethnically diverse and is meant to represent the University as a whole. The committee includes staff, faculty and members of different student groups, such as athletics, student government and Longhorn Band, Reddick said. Committee members agreed to not speak to media outlets about their thoughts on “The Eyes of Texas,” Reddick said.
“There was this idea that we needed to have people from different walks of life,” Reddick said. “The goal was not to have folks who all go to football games on Saturdays or folks who all have 4.0 GPAs.”
The committee meetings are held over Zoom and will continue through January. As the committee continues to meet, Reddick said a website will open for students to share their own experiences with the “The Eyes of Texas.”
“What does it mean to have an institutional memory, and does that memory become augmented or change with time? That’s a question that is open,” Reddick said.