In a letter shared Monday to the campus community, UT-Austin’s interim president Jay Hartzell promised to implement a series of changes in response to demands of black student activists and athletes seeking to remove what they see as reminders of racial injustice in the university’s history, including the song “The Eyes of Texas.”
The song, which is traditionally sung at large events, such as commencement ceremonies or sports competitions, was originally performed in the early 1900s at a minstrel show by performers wearing blackface, according to student newspaper The Daily Texan. Black students account about 5.1 percent of UT-Austin’s student body.
“The Eyes of Texas, in its current form, will continue to be our alma mater,” Hartzell wrote. “Aspects of its origin, whether previously widely known or unknown, have created a rift in how the song is understood and celebrated, and that must be fixed. It is my belief that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent.”
“The Eyes of Texas should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values. But we first must own the history. Only then can we re-imagine its future,” he continued.
A statue of former Texas Gov. Jim Hogg will also stay on campus, Hartzell wrote. The student athletes called for its removal because Hogg was a proponent of racial segregation during his tenure.
The university agreed to some of other demands, including renaming some campus buildings named after Texans who were segregationist or held other racist views. For example, the Robert L. Moore Building, named for a former math professor who refused to teach black students, was renamed the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building.
For those buildings that are not to be renamed, a Campus Contextualization Committee will place historical explanations in them to educate students and visitors about the “history and context of many of the names that remain.”
The UT-Austin black student-athletes, who earlier stated they would not play until their demands were met, largely welcomed the changes, reported Daily Texan.
“I’m not disappointed,” UT-Austin football player Caden Sterns wrote on Twitter. “I’m understanding on people’s perspectives on what the song means to them and I get it both sides.” Sterns’ teammate DeMarvion Overshown wrote “We Are One” in response to Hartzell’s statement.