Racial Tension at UT Is Subtle but Real
By Carlos Morales
Students marched on the UT campus this week to protest what some are calling racially motivated attacks, in which bleach balloons were dropped from apartment balconies near campus. The incidents have brought attention to the racial climate for African American students on campus.
In the Malcolm X lounge, a study and social area on campus, UT student Archie Thomas sits with his friends playing a game. Thomas, a fourth-year sociology student, says that the recent events in West Campus highlight persisting racial tensions at the University of Texas.
“Some people here don’t experience any racial problems. Some people do. Some aren’t directly affected by it,” Thomas said. “But it is a problem and it needs to be addressed. The thing is, if you never know you have a problem, how are you going to fix it?”
For Thomas, part of the problem is UT’s small population of black students. Preliminary enrollment numbers for this school year show a slight increase in minorities at UT, including Hispanic and Asian students. But while African-American enrollment grew by 61 students, proportionally they still make up only 4.5 percent of the student body.
“Diversity is a benefit, and it’s a benefit when you have it in sufficient numbers,” said Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement. “When you don’t have it there are these threats of isolation, and I believe that’s what the students are feeling.”
That’s how Reva Davis says she felt when she first came to school here. Davis, vice president of the Black Student Alliance, says that everyday life for a black student isn’t difficult, but it isn’t easy either.
“I won’t say that it’s easier being on campus, because people still look at you like you don’t belong here,” Davis said. “And you can walk into a classroom and you’ll still feel uncomfortable — whether you’re a freshman or senior — being a person of color. It doesn’t get easier, you just find ways to deal with and cope with it.”
Last year, the University created its Campus Climate Response Team to help provide a better climate of acceptance. The group develops university policies and operates a referral service to report incidents of bias.