UT, where do Black student demands stand now?

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Daily Texan.

 

In the wake of summer protests against police brutality led by the Black Lives Matter movement, students received an email from then-interim UT President Jay Hartzell claiming he was listening to the community to understand how UT could promote campus equity and “fully support our Black students.”

 

However, in an email from Hartzell last week reflecting on “The Eyes of Texas” report, he said “no one should shut down” people who want to sing the song. The utter disconnect between these two emails is clear and begs the question — who is the administration really listening to?

 

One major demand from UT athletes to make campus safer for Black students was for UT to replace “The Eyes of Texas” as its official alma mater. This request is nothing new: only the national scrutiny brought forth by last summer’s protests propelled UT to engage in conversation about the song’s problematic origins.

 

Hartzell distanced himself and the University from recent “abhorrent and hateful” emails to UT from donors and alumni uncovered by media outlets, but it is clear that some alumni feel entitled to a tradition that actively marginalizes Black students.

 

UT’s institutionalized racism doesn’t end with “The Eyes of Texas.” Many other buildings, including T.S. Painter Hall, the Littlefield Home, and the Belo Center for New Media still memorialize their racist namesakes. We applaud the University for at least renaming Robert Lee Moore Hall, but this came after years of student activism surrounding the issue. It shouldn’t take years for UT to listen to student voices.

 

Black students and their allies had to step up in place of the University to ensure their needs were met. A coalition of student organizations drafted a list of demands for the University. Earl Potts Jr., a computer science and African and African diaspora studies junior, created an app to support Black students through the protests. The respect we hold for students advocates is immeasurable. But should the burden really be on them?

 

We understand we aren’t the most important voices in this conversation. That insight belongs to the Black students on campus whose thoughts we want to highlight. We urge you to listen and take action on what they have to say.

 

When it comes to Black student demands, we need transparency and engagement

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Unit 6888-B

Contributor

 

The NAACP stands by the positions we took in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. While UT has taken some steps to address racism and inequality on campus, our systemic issues with discrimination on campus have yet to be addressed. Last summer, the University took steps to investigate the origins of “The Eyes of Texas” and restructured some upper level positions in the interest of promoting diversity and inclusion. While welcome, these decisions made little difference in the practical lives and safety of the Black community at UT.  It is apparent that there is much more work to be done than UT is willing to realize.

 

Regarding specific issues, the transparency that the NAACP called for regarding UTPD’s role in monitoring the campus climate, involvement with APD, as well as calls for reductions to UTPD’s budget, have been ignored. In fact, UT is working on expanding UTPD’s presence in West Campus, which will certainly affect Black students’ ability to feel safe in an area they are already excluded from. Additionally, the reallocation of funds toward initiatives that would benefit the community has fallen short. If UT wants to support its Black community, then the role of the police in marginalizing Black people and presence on campus must be explicitly addressed.

 

Other problems that have long gone unaddressed at a widespread level within the UT community are also becoming apparent. The racist and disturbing emails from Texas boosters regarding the University’s investigation into “The Eyes of Texas” are just the most recent of several statements that highlight UT’s  fundamental misunderstanding of Black students’ — especially Black student-athletes’ — relationship to the song. “History” aside, the song is racist now, too, and that is far more relevant than any unifying feelings it may inspire. A committee can find what it will in the history books, as it should, but the damage continues to be done.

 

Students should continue showing up for meetings, engaging in difficult conversations and pushing themselves and the University to face their racist history and present. Organizations like the NAACP can only function with the support and involvement of students across campus and provide an opportunity for UT students to engage with their peers about these issues. Off campus, students should engage with organizations like the Austin Justice Coalition, which works to improve the lives and achieve liberation for the communities in Austin who have been impacted by institutionalized racism.

 

NAACP Unit 6888-B is UT-Austin’s chapter of the broader grassroots organization NAACP.

 

“Continue to advocate, lead, and inspire change”

Black Student Alliance

Contributor

 

First, we would like to acknowledge and applaud the tremendous time and effort put forward by UT’s Black President Leadership Council on behalf of the Black student body and in collaboration with UT administration through the summer and this school year to create lasting change on campus. Though the University has begun many great initiatives including, but not limited to, expanding the UT Austin Police Oversight Committee and renaming the RLM building to the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure a legacy of inclusivity and progress at UT. Recent events, specifically the racially insensitive statements made toward the Black UT population and the racist history surrounding “The Eyes of Texas” is further evidence that there is work to be done not only on our campus, but amid our alumni groups and anyone who considers themselves a part of the University of Texas body. We, the Black Student Alliance, along with the greater Black student, faculty and staff body will continue to advocate, lead and inspire change, not only to hold President Hartzell and the administration accountable to their promises of creating a more diverse and welcoming campus, but to protect the current Black UT population and establish a firm foundation for future generations of Black UT students.

 

The Black Student Alliance is a student organization committed to uplifting and empowering the Black community at UT.

 

“Southern trees​ continue ​to bear a strange fruit”

Munji Nfor

Contributor

 

Anger cannot express my pain and exhaustion like being unsurprised does. It sits on my face like a cement mask. Solid, cold, but slowly cracking as pressure is continuously applied. At least when I’m angry, the reason is unexpected, and I’m completely blindsided. How can I be surprised that one of the largest primarily white institutions in the heart of Texas placates the public with surface-level initiatives and announcements when it comes to the issue of racism? The expectation that my university would maintain statues of individuals who owned slaves or refrain from renaming dorms that I and other Black students are expected to live in is horrific. The normalization of being let down is far more disturbing than constantly being taken aback. Being shocked insinuates that there is a higher standard. But when there is a trend of hypocrisy, that trust is shattered. It is my freshman year, and already there have been new exhibitions created in the horrid gallery that is decorated with our untouched issues. I do not feel welcome, I do not feel respected, and I haven’t even stayed on campus. Despite my acknowledgment of the world we live in, I will continue to disrupt and demand better.

 

Not a day has gone by since I began classes at UT that I haven’t been reminded of the apathy of the administration. Frankly, the University’s responses to “The Eyes of Texas,” especially the statement made on Tuesday, have been beyond insulting to the Black community. How is singing a song that is offensive and unsettling holding oneself accountable? Out of respect, would it not be best to refrain and condemn it? Well, we are the most disrespected group in the world. If what starts here changes the world, why hasn’t the culture of invalidation towards those of African descent been fought against on a greater scale here? One of the most powerful movements in history is racism towards Black people, and in the past year we have seen a major manifestation of it as the depths of our racial divides were not created, but revealed. Why are more diversity & inclusion committees being created now when minorities have been attending the University for decades? Let it be known that they are not meant to last forever and serve as public relations sanctuaries. The information, expectations and ideas that emerge from them and make clear the importance of equity and respect should be regarded as necessary and revolutionary in the beginning but also as a normalized standard that never needs to be questioned in the end. Just as diverse curriculums should be normalized, professors of color not mainly being involved in studies related to D&I should be normalized and listening to students should be normalized.

 

What is this investment in racism? Who will lose in this struggle for equity? Why has the spilled blood of my people across the South not been enough for change to be enacted? We all know the answer, but I want my school to say and do something about it.

 

Nfor is a public relations freshman from San Antonio, TX.