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Separate but unequal: UT community divided by unnamed new band that won’t be required to play 'The Eyes of Texas'

The University of Texas will debut a new band in 2022 that won't be required to play "The Eyes of Texas." (Austonia staff)

University of Texas at Austin faculty and student groups are critical of a plan to create a new band whose members won't be required to play "The Eyes of Texas," the embattled alma mater at the center of a year-long controversy.

"The creation of a separate band does not solve the problem," said Alberto Martinez, a professor of history at UT who has researched the song's racist origins. "The solution of inviting Black students who dislike the song in the band to leave the band is frankly offensive."

UT band members are required to play "The Eyes of Texas." But starting in fall 2022, objectors can join the new, as-yet-unnamed band.

UT officials tout the plan as a solution to the controversial school song, which has divided the campus community and prompted revelatory reporting about deep-pocketed donors who pressured the university to keep the alma mater. But others think the plan will do little to quell tensions.

Band silence

It remains unclear how many Longhorn Band members will opt to join the new university band next year. But a number have spoken out against "The Eyes of Texas."

Judson Hayden, president of LH Blacks, the Longhorn Band's first-ever Black student group, told the Austin Chronicle in November that he would never play the song again, months before the university announced its separate band plan. Mercy Ogunlade, an LHBlacks member and clarinet section leader, said she would neither teach nor perform the song in the same article.

Hayden, who has said he's faced online attacks for speaking about the issue publicly, and other LHBlacks members did not respond to requests for comment.

The Longhorn Band did not participate in a Texas vs. Baylor football game last October after an internal survey revealed there weren't enough members willing to play the song. Former Longhorn Band Director Scott Hanna wrote that the band was "fairly evenly divided in opinion" in a message obtained by The Daily Texan at the time. UT President Jay Hartzell later issued a statement saying that the band was never expected to play at the game.

Dr. Cliff Croomes, the recently appointed first Black Longhorn Band director, recently told KXAN that he plans to listen to members' opinions about the song, but added: "When it comes to the ball games, we will be playing 'The Eyes of Texas' as a Longhorn Band and, as is customary, I'll be on the ladder leading in those efforts."

Last fall, around half of Longhorn Band members opposed playing the song, according to an internal survey. (Shutterstock)

Support on campus

The Daily Texan Editorial Board criticized UT's second band plan in a June 15 opinion piece. "By separating the Longhorn Band over an issue as indisputably bigoted as 'The Eyes of Texas,' the University proves once again that it adheres to donors and traditions over the will of its student body—especially that of its Black students," the board wrote. "All students deserve to feel comfortable joining the official, longstanding Longhorn Band: an undivided band that shouldn't play the racist song at all."

Dozens of student campus tour guides went on strike early last month after the university wouldn't commit to removing a plaque with "The Eyes of Texas" lyrics hanging in the Admissions Welcome Center.

The Texas Orange Jackets, the oldest honorary service organization at the university, hosted a virtual conversation with Martinez, the history professor, about the song's origins on April 29. (An unknown man crashed the Zoom event and appeared to load a large gun.)

"Our organization has had a history of upholding this school song rooted in anti-Blackness," the group wrote in an April 23 Facebook post promoting the event. "It's our full responsibility to confront this history, diverge from it, and uplift the voices that challenge this institution."

Zion James, an undergraduate student and member of the Black Student Alliance, suggested the university stands to lose Black students over its handling of the controversy at a March 29 press conference.

"As Black students we're conflicted on how we're told to transfer or choose another school," he said at the event. "Yet without any Black presence on our campus there would be no (Perry-Castaneda Library), no Duren Hall, no Martin Luther King Jr. statue or sports team to keep our school with great revenue."

'Not overtly racist'

Student opponents have found allies off campus, including members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, state and local NAACP chapter presidents and UT alumni. But they have also encountered critics.

"There was research done and a committee," Ann Sandoval commented on the Orange Jackets' event post. "So you now just undermine the university and disrupt? … Shameful. I am now contacting my Orange Jacket alumni friends."

The controversy began last summer after mass protests against police violence and racial injustice shed new light on long-standing concerns about "The Eyes of Texas," including its debut at a minstrel show and whether it was connected to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who allegedly often said "the eyes of the South are upon you."

Hartzell announced that the song would remain the university's alma mater on July 13 and then the formation of a 24-person committee—made up of faculty members, athletes, band members and alumni—to review the song's origins on Oct. 6.

The committee's 58-page report, released on March 9, found "that the intent of 'The Eyes of Texas' was not overtly racist," even though "the cultural milieu that produced it was," and offered 40 recommendations for healing the division sowed by the song.

Martinez published two Medium articles, on March 24 and May 8, based on his own research into the song's history, which contradict the committee's findings and list out 100 problems with the song. "I don't think it's going to become any easier for the university to just shrug this off, to move on or move forward or any of the other euphemisms that are used to say, 'We choose to ignore the complaints of the Black students," he said.


‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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