University of Texas Announces Plan to Promote Diversity on Campus

Several student demands remain unfulfilled, including divesting from police and removing alma mater roots in minstrelsy

Photo by John Anderson

On July 13, interim President of UT-Austin Jay Hartzell released a statement titled "A More Diverse and Welcoming Campus," detailing a plan to better support Black students in the future. This comes in response to two lists of demands regarding racism in the university's historic and current practices: "8 Demands for Transformative Change," from a coalition of student organizers and signed by thousands of students, alumni, faculty, and staff; and an open letter from the Texas Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Hartzell's statement includes promises to redirect millions of dollars of athletics revenue to efforts to recruit and retain students and faculty from underrepresented groups, to honor three Black athletes (Julius Whittier, Earl Camp­bell, and Ricky Williams) with a statue and a field, and to educate students and visitors about UT's past transgressions, among other initiatives. But many crucial demands were left unmet.

The first of the "8 Demands" was to divest from the Austin and UT police departments. The university will instead expand the UT-Austin Police Oversight Committee, further funding campus policing instead of the social advocacy and public health efforts that students suggested. Additionally, a building named after racist former professor Robert L. Moore will now be known as the Physics, Math, and Astro­nomy Building (which students have been calling it for years), while seven buildings and monuments commemorating slaveholders, Confederate soldiers, and discriminatory faculty remain unchanged. Most notable is T.S. Painter Hall, named for the UT president who denied Black student Heman M. Sweatt entrance to the university law school. Sweatt's case led to a historic 1950 Supreme Court decision that disputed "separate but equal" ideology, and later contributed largely to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which outlawed segregation in public schools. With no regard for irony, UT will be designating a Heman Sweatt entrance to Painter Hall instead of renaming the building after him.

The last point of the university's plan is that "The Eyes of Texas" will remain UT's alma mater. Despite its roots in blackface and minstrelsy, Hartzell hopes to "reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent." The statement itself divulges no information about the song's background.

Hartzell published the plan in order to "ensure that we recognize and learn from our history." But as the words "racist," "racism," and "discrimination" appear nowhere in the statement, it's unclear what history the university has studied and what lessons they might have learned.

For more information about racist monuments at UT-Austin, read Mac McCann’s 2015 feature, “Written in Stone.”

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