Athletes asking University of Texas to address history of racism on campus face resistance from fans
The dozens of University of Texas athletes who called for the school and athletics department to address a history of racism faced immediate backlash on social media.
While many students and alumni tweeted in solidarity last week, other fans and alumni strongly opposed their requests, suggesting they transfer schools and calling their requests "blackmail."
@MarqezBimage_ @TexasLonghorns Much easier to just replace the players. it works like blackmailing and ridiculous d… https://t.co/WRZ0hQVDQq— lian (@lian)1592003694.0
A major point of contention was the athletes' request to scrap the school song "The Eyes of Texas," which they are required to sing at athletic events. The song was first performed by a group of students in 1903, UT Vice Provost for Diversity Edmund Gordon said.
"The Varsity Quartet performed it in a minstrel show at the Hancock Opera House, and the assumption, because it was a minstrel show and they were minstrel performers, is that it was performed in blackface."
@BDavisAAS The eyes of texas is not racist. I mean come on people. We have to change for sure. I agree we should ad… https://t.co/wqRARBYbnS— Orren Lilly (@Orren Lilly)1591991988.0
Soon after, "The Eyes of Texas" was adopted as the university's school song, Gordon said. The words are a deviation of "The eyes of the South are upon you," a phrase often used by Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army.
@given__talent @TexasLonghorns Wow. .. . okay. .maybe I'll have to take my Horns Down after this BS.— Blondie (@Blondie)1591999301.0
"I think that a lot of people have a hard time dealing with the history of the country, the history of the state of Texas and the history of the University of Texas and would like to wish that away," Gordon said. "As a university, we need to be critically engaged and knowledgeable about our history."
Gordon said there can be an argument for buildings and monuments to be used as a "scarlet letter" to educate people on the university's past and think critically about the future, but people who do not want changes on campus tend to use claims of tradition and history to avoid it, Gordon said.
"They're not able to empathize with black folks who are made uncomfortable by these things because they're in a different position, and they don't think they have a responsibility to empathize with us," Gordon said. "Beyond that, they think that they have particular kinds of rights to a celebration of what they understand to be their positive past, that are as important or more important than the rights of certain groups of people to be comfortable in this setting."
- Robert Lee Moore Hall memorializes an outspoken segregationist who refused to teach black students. Students have called for the building to be renamed in the past.
- Painter Hall is named after UT president Theophilus Painter who denied black students admittance to UT's law school. Painter lost the Supreme Court case Sweatt v. Painter, which outlawed segregation at law schools and undermined the concept of "separate but equal."
- Littlefield Hall and fountain honor George Littlefield, a Mississippi slave owner and a Confederate officer. In a since-deleted tweet, a man who claimed to be a descendent of Littlefield said the building should not be renamed since Littlefield had "1 slave, whom he offered to free."
- James Hogg Auditorium and the Hogg statue memorialize a Texas Governor who signed Jim Crow laws into effect. The Hogg statue was removed from the Main Mall in 2017 along with several other Confederate statues—only to be brought back to campus and relocated a year later.
The final word on renaming buildings is in the hands of the UT Board of Regents, who have not yet made a statement.
Athletes and students called for more diverse statues to be added to campus, as well as more diversity within Texas Athletics, including more representation in the Hall of Fame and a tribute to the first black football player at UT, Julius Whittier. UT's Athletic Director tweeted Friday that he was willing to have conversations with students about the changes they're calling for.
UT's Interim President Jay Hartzell sent a university-wide email Monday saying that he is scheduling conversations with students and athletes to hear their concerns, although he did not mention taking action on any of the specific demands that student-athletes called for.
"During the past few days, I have heard from many students, alumni, faculty and staff asking for meaningful changes to promote diversity and equity and ensure that black students at UT are fully supported," Hartzell said in the email. "Working together, we will create a plan this summer to address these issues, do better for our students and help overcome racism."
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