Thank you to UT Student Bryan Davis for sharing his perspective here. BOR readers may remember Davis as the target of a “bleach bomb” attack in 2013. For evidence of the validity of Davis’s argument below, look no further than some of the comments on the article about yet another racist frat party at UT. — Eds.
When I was racially targeted and assaulted in West Campus in the Fall of 2013, I swore that I would do everything in my power to make sure nothing like that ever happened to anyone again. The next spring, a group of African-American female students were assaulted in almost the exact same place I had been targeted; except this time, they could see their assailants which had solicited them for sexual favors and then told them to “Run Niggers Run” as they dodged the shards of a glass vase.
The first step in creating the blueprint for eradicating racism and sexism at the University of Texas at Austin was to realize that neither of these attacks were isolated incidents. In a long process of discovery and rediscovery, a few of us students explored the archives of various historical libraries such as that of the John L. Warfield Center for African and African Diaspora studies. From the police reports, news articles, essays, images, and bureaucratic documents that we collected, it became abundantly clear that UT Austin has a long and dark history of racial targeting that stretches back to the 1950s, when Black undergraduates were first admitted to the school. We were able to find documents which demonstrated the university’s troubled battle against institutional racism and racism perpetuated by its students dating back to the 19th century!
And that’s when it hit us. Racism and sexism persist, even in “liberal pockets of progress” like Austin, because people think that their actions are somehow different than the historical prejudice we’re taught about growing up.
A few years ago, the university implemented a course requirement for all graduating students called a Cultural Diversity flag. This measure, ostensibly, was enacted to encourage students to understand the “persistent marginalization” faced by groups of people outside their own. To meet the requirement, teachers essentially need only to discuss someone from a group that has experienced racism or sexism.
The problem with such a low standard of historical analysis is that most of the stories in these Cultural Diversity flag courses are not being contextualized and made relevant to today. This has resulted in a generation of students who don’t understand that racially targeting students of color, using racial pejoratives, or hosting blackface and brownface parties is more than just “innocent fun”.
A deep shift in awareness, along with action from the university that transcends the tokenism represented by the Cultural Diversity flag, will be needed to help us change this.
The Society for Cultural Unity, what that curious group of students now calls itself, was created to unite students from various backgrounds to pressure the university to align its actions with its values and foster a learning environment where anyone can prosper, regardless of how they look or what their beliefs are. We want the university to strengthen its standard of cultural awareness by making the inclusion of these documents a requirement for every Cultural Diversity flagged course. That way, all UT students are connecting the dots between historical wrongs and the wrongs we still face today. The age-old perennial excuse “I just didn’t know that was a problem” is no longer acceptable.
You can find us at facebook.com/society4unity.