• August 8, 2020

TEXAS VIEW: UT must go beyond symbolism to show Black students matter - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

e-Edition Subscribe

TEXAS VIEW: UT must go beyond symbolism to show Black students matter

THE POINT: UT must create a campus environment where Black students feel welcome and valued.

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2020 2:30 am

It shouldn’t have taken protests and petitions for the University of Texas at Austin to remove the name of an avowed segregationist from a math and physics building, to erect statues and monuments honoring pioneering Black students, to examine the racist history of the school song.

Those steps, along with concerted efforts to address racial issues at Texas’ flagship university, are long overdue.

But we are heartened that UT Interim President Jay Hartzell has responded to valid concerns from Black students not only with symbolic changes such as renaming the football field for a pair of Black Heisman Trophy winners, and dedicating a statue and space to Heman M. Sweatt, the first African American student admitted to UT’s law school following a legal battle, but also by pledging to allocate millions from athletic department revenue to recruit and support Black students and to build a more diverse faculty.

While Black Texans make up 13 percent of the state’s population, only 5.1 percent of the UT student body is Black and 4.4 percent of the faculty is Black. In addition, more than 1,900 Black students admitted through the college’s automatic acceptance program opted for other schools.

“Many of those talented students do not believe our campus will be a welcoming home to them, and that we have not provided enough resources to ensure they will get all that is possible out of a UT education,” Hartzell said in a statement.

It’s not enough, however, simply to acknowledge that UT has fallen short when it comes to Black students — or to promise to do better. The school, which was resistant to integration and, at one time, used standardized testing to discourage Black applicants, has had little success with other efforts to boost enrollment of Black students and other students of color.

Last year, a report found Latino faculty at UT faced “gross disparities” in pay and “discrimination.” At the time, this editorial board called those inequities unacceptable at a school that fought successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court to include race as a factor in its holistic student admission criteria, arguing that a diverse student body “brings with it educational benefits for all students.”

If UT truly believes that, it must create a campus environment where Black students feel welcome and valued.

“Creating that culture on campus for Black students to thrive requires thinking outside the box and understanding the context and background that Black students come from,” Tracie Lowe, a postdoctoral fellow at UT’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, told the editorial board.

That could range from funneling financial resources to students who struggle to get enough to eat or to pay rent to working to ensure Black students feel safe during interactions with police on and off campus. The plan Hartzell introduced includes expanding the UT Austin Police Oversight Committee — a sign that UT officials understand the importance of going beyond enrollment numbers.

Hartzell has also done the right thing by formally acknowledging unsavory parts of the school’s history. He has included plans for exhibits, plaques and possibly a website that will address the context and impact of symbols with racist meaning and ties.

We encourage UT officials to go beyond that.

Hartzell should also reconsider keeping “The Eyes of Texas” as the school song.

As beloved and iconic as the song is to many students and alumni, it is loosely based on a statement by Robert E. Lee and was performed in the early 1900s during minstrel shows by students in blackface. It will stay, Hartzell said, arguing “that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent.”

That’s a tall order. Whether it’s possible to shake the taint of the song to the point that Black students can feel pride in singing it remains to be seen. If the effort falls short, so does UT’s campaign to earn the trust of Black Longhorns and prospective students.

UT officials could also send a strong message of support to Black students by taking a page from rival Texas A&M University and include a commitment to diversity in its mission statement. It must also set clear benchmarks for increasing Black enrollment and faculty.

Such steps could make a real difference for students such as Amaya French, a third-year political communications major who helped organize a petition calling on UT to acknowledge its “modern ties to its discriminatory history.”

As a freshman, French was stunned to realize she was the only Black student in many of her classes. She got through that year by grabbing a seat in the front row, so she wasn’t constantly reminded that no one else looked like her.

No student should feel like an outsider in her chosen school, especially one with some 40,000 undergraduates. We applaud UT for recognizing that it must do more to ensure that doesn’t happen. Now follow through with action.

Odessa, TX

Current Conditions

Sunny
96°
Humidity: 26%
Winds: S at 16mph
Feels Like: 96°

Your Extended Forecast

Tomorrow

weather
High 98°/Low 72°
Abundant sunshine. Highs in the upper 90s and lows in the low 70s.

sunday

weather
High 98°/Low 73°
Mainly sunny. Highs in the upper 90s and lows in the low 70s.

monday

weather
High 100°/Low 75°
Mainly sunny. Highs 98 to 102F and lows in the mid 70s.
Online Features

Pet Central

pets

Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

Fitness

Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

Crosswords

Crosswords

Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

Sudoku

Sudoku

Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9. More >>




  • ALL-ACCESS: Subscribe to our e-edition and premium website at myoaoa.com.
    You can read your daily newspaper without taking a walk to the driveway.
    Look back at yesterday's newspaper, or issues from months ago with our archive feature.
    Call circulation at 432-337-7314 to sign up today.