Racism at University of Texas, Austin

- By Matthew Wackerle

The University of Texas at Austin has had its problems with race relations. The University itself has often been on both sides of the fence in the race debate. It was not until the Sweat v. Painter ruling in 1950 that African Americans were allowed access to the University's graduate programs; but, more recently in 1996, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the UT's affirmative action program. As the Supreme Court has ruled affirmative action to be a valid means of ensuring a relative degree of ethnic diversity in public institutions of higher learning, many white Texans feel threatened by what they perceive to be "reverse discrimination." Race relations at the University of Texas itself, no doubt, have not been spotless in the last couple of years.

This is a school where one can still find statues dedicated to dead Confederate soldiers and to the President of the CSA - Jefferson Davis himself. Texas House Bill No. 953, proposed in 2001, would have removed these offensive relics of Texas' shameful history. Unfortunately, the bill has been left pending in committee since that time. If any statue deserves routine defacing at the University of Texas, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that it is the statue of a committed racist and white supremacist, a man who led a pro-slavery revolt that aimed at keeping nearly ten million children of Africa in a state of living death. But, in the spring of 2003 it was the statue of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. that was egged on the night before the national holiday commemorating the fallen champion of justice for African Americans.

Such a racist incident did not stand alone. Also that Spring, an off-campus fraternity party was reported to have involved white students from the University dressing themselves in blackface and racially insensitive t-shirts. Their excuse was that the party was meant to have a rap and pop-culture theme, but what it truly revealed was the level of distance and alienation that white and black students experience at the largest university campus in the nation where less than 4% of the students are African Americans. Sure, I can't prove it, but for some reason I doubt very many black students were invited. Oh yes, I might as well mention the racial profiling, because we had plenty of that too.

It does not get any better. As the Fall 2003 semester comes to a close, all of us at the university can recall memories of ethnic hostility. There was the time when the National Alliance flyers mysteriously appeared in mass on campus one September morning. For those of you not familiar with the NA, they are a neo-Nazi organization that advocates, among other atrocities, the deportation of all non-whites from the United States. The Young Conservatives of Texas had a field day with modern racism. Besides their "affirmative action bake sale" in which pastries were sold to different ethnicities at different prices, in order to prove some obnoxious and misinformed point I suppose, the YCT also put up "wanted posters" of a Pakistani student who apparently faked his transcripts in order to be accepted to the University. He has no known connections to terrorism, by the way, and even an FBI representative quoted in the Daily Texan referred to the stunt as "insane." Needless to say, the YCT's effort to protect us from the brown menace was not well-reflected upon by the Middle Eastern and South Asians who are currently enrolled. Scared, conservative white people act very funny at times.

Sometimes it makes one feel like he is at Bob Jones university. But this is a somewhat prestigious institution. UT's law school is one of the top 20 in the nation. Its engineering and computer science programs rank amongst the top 10. Its business school is considered great as well, but I don't see why (sorry, I am prejudiced towards business majors). Its undergraduate program is also top tier.

Plus, UT is a liberal school in a fairly liberal city (at least by Southern standards). As I am making note of all of this, it is really disturbing to me to think that so many Americans (white Americans especially) believe that racism is no longer an important issue for the United States. "To even address it is ridiculous because, today, everyone has a chance! Yeah, America was once pretty racist….with segregation and all….but that was, oh, how many years ago? I forgot." Some would think that this is especially true at our universities, where we as students pay a lot of money to be "enlightened." But this is not the case. People still need to fight racism in this country, because, lo and behold, it does exist. Matthew Wackerle Matthew Wackerle is a 20 year old government and sociology major at the University of Texas at Austin. He encourages feedback here: mwackerle@mail.utexas.edu

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