Late Tuesday, I received disturbing news from Texas A&M University (TAMU) officials that a group of students from Dallas were subjected to racial epithets while on a campus visit to the university. Sixty junior students from Uplift Hampton Preparatory were approached by white Texas A&M students who made it known that the visitors – prospective students – were not welcomed by them on campus.
The initial confrontation began when a white female student approached two female African American Uplift Hampton students to ask their opinion of her earrings, which were Confederate flag replicas. This was exacerbated by a group of white, male and female students, who within earshot of the first event, told a larger group of the high school visitors, part of the Road to College at Uplift Education Program, to, “Go back where you came from.” They continued their taunts by using the most well-known racial slur that’s directed toward African Americans and also made other references to the Confederate flag.
This scene was witnessed and reported by TAMU officials who were accompanying the Uplift Hampton students. A campus officer initially said that the A&M students were expressing their First Amendment rights. However, campus police were dispatched and a report was made. The incident is now being reviewed by university officials, including executive-level administrators. It was reported to me by Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp. An account from Uplift Hampton faculty who witnessed the incident was also forwarded to A&M officials.
It’s 2016 and within months of other race-related events that have taken place on college campuses in Oklahoma, Missouri and elsewhere nationally. They have in common that they have been triggered by a climate of racially-tinged conflict and other acts of intolerance. These discussions related to the Confederate flag began last summer following the massacre of innocent worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina church. Yet there are those who still defend Confederate symbols and ideologies.
Throughout my more than 20 years in the Texas Senate, I have attempted to expand and enhance educational opportunities for all of Texas’ young people; first imploring them to graduate high school and then encouraging and making available to them, the means to attend college. This includes working with officials at Texas’ flagship institutions to strive harder to achieve a more diverse student body.
Although progress has been slow, particularly when it comes to African American students, Texas A&M has made the effort to recruit minority students from urban schools. It has established outreach centers in Dallas and other cities and made scholarship monies available. But actions such as what took place Tuesday can undo whatever good has been done. When those student’s stories are told to parents and friends, they could undoubtedly, further the belief that the home of the Aggies has a campus environment that has been hostile to Black students; that is those who are not athletes.
While high level meetings are taking place among A&M administrative, faculty and student leaders, those meetings need to produce results that say that overt acts of racism will not be tolerated anywhere within the university system. I expect a response that is swift and similar to those taken at the University of Oklahoma. The students responsible for these reprehensible actions should be strongly disciplined, if not expelled.
The collegiate experience has always had the goal of fostering academic and personal growth, broadening perspectives and being a melding place for diverse cultures. It is not the breeding ground to further prejudice and bigotry. I call on Texas A&M officials to drive their decision to a destination which says that the halls of higher education are open to any student who is willing to rise to the challenge of earning a college degree.
A 21st Century Texas institution of higher learning deserves no less.