Black UT-Austin students, faculty call for equity, inclusion from administration at State of Black UT event

Samantha Greyson

Black UT-Austin faculty discussed hiring across different UT schools while students called for increased funding and the removal of “The Eyes of Texas” during the second day of the State of Black UT event, a three-day discusion regarding inclusion on campus.

Computer science junior Earl Potts said the University has made small changes to improve the Black student experience, such as changing the name of the Physics, Math and Astronomy building from Robert Lee Moore hall. However, the University administration has ignored many demands made by Black students, such as replacing “The Eyes of Texas.”

“You have hundreds, if not thousands, of students saying, ‘This song is hurtful, it hurts us, it is not conducive to unity at this school,’” Potts said. “And then you have the University president saying, ‘We recognize the history or the past … but we’re going to keep singing it.’”

Students have called for the University to drop “The Eyes of Texas” as the school song because of its racist history. UT President Jay Hartzell said the song will stay, but pledged to “reclaim” it. He tasked a committee with researching the history of the song, which will release its findings in March.

Shaina Hall, an educational psychology graduate student, said the University needs to provide increased financial support for Black graduate students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hall called for increased administrative funding toward Black graduate student’s professional development, as well as funding for Black Graduate Student Association scholarships.

“It has become really evident with mental health that Black graduate students and Black students are not OK,” Hall said. “They’re having a very difficult time dealing with the stress and pressure and lack of connection. For Black students, that is particularly salient because we rely on that connection.”

Brianna McBride, a communication and leadership and government senior, said that after this summer, Black students especially felt the weight of the Black Tax. 

According to Diverse Education, the Black Tax is the “psychological weight or stressor that Black people experience from consciously or unconsciously thinking about how white Americans perceive the social construct of Blackness.”

“As Black leaders, we've been called upon on several occasions, from different organizations and administrations, (and) it can feel like the whole world is on our shoulders,” McBride said.

Skyller Walkes, assistant dean of diversity and inclusion for the College of Pharmacy, said the school has created programs to support diverse dialogues, such as the DiversiTEA Readers’ Roundtable, which allows the UT community to discuss intersectionality by reading articles, listening to podcasts and watching films.

Ya’Ke Smith, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Moody College of Communication, said he is working toward improved oversight for hiring and graduate selection committees to ensure diversity.

“What we often see is that those committees are not very diverse — that then determines what students get into and what faculty members are hired,” Smith said. “We have seen in the past that we just throw that Black person in there … just to say you did it. We want to make sure that our people are just as competitive, and when they actually are put in that pool, they get that job.”