In response to requests from Longhorn football players, University of Texas officials announced sweeping changes Monday to address the university’s racial landscape but is not changing “The Eyes of Texas” school song.
The university addressed most requests made by members of the UT football team, such as changing the name of Robert Lee Moore Hall, an academic building named for a former professor. UT will permanently honor Heman M. Sweatt as UT’s first Black student and allocate a “multimillion-dollar” investment from UT athletics to programs “that work to recruit, attract, retain and support Black students.”
The university said it will erect a statue of Julius Whittier, UT’s first Black football letterman, at Royal-Memorial Stadium and change the name of Joe Jamail Field inside the stadium to honor UT’s Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. Jamail, a loquacious Texas lawyer, was one of UT’s biggest benefactors until his death in 2015. His family made the request, UT officials said.
The school will also honor the Precursors, the first Black undergraduates at UT, with a new monument on the campus’ East Mall. That’s in addition to expanding UT’s outreach presence in major Texas cities “to better recruit outstanding high school students from underrepresented groups.”
But changing the century-old school song was a flashpoint with thousands of UT students and alumni and garnered nationwide headlines in June.
The university announced it will “own, acknowledge and teach all aspects of the origins of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ as we continue to sing it moving forward with a redefined vision that unites our community.”
“The Eyes of Texas” is traditionally sung before and after every athletic event and at most school functions. The tune, set to the historic Black work song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” is one of the most recognized school songs in college sports. The song originated in the early 1900s and was performed at minstrel shows by white performers in blackface. The full teaching of the song’s history is included in the school’s African-American studies programs.
Longhorn players have never been formally required to stand on the field and sing the lyrics, school officials have said. Going forward, players who do not wish to stay on the field will be allowed to head to the locker room before the post-game song.
Various student groups have been pushing for changes to UT’s racial landscape for years. Once the UT football team marched to the State Capitol in June and posted a series of “requests,” the movement went into hyperdrive.
Interim Texas President Jay Hartzell went on what he called a “listening tour” with various constituencies around campus. Hartzell and athletic director Chris Del Conte both met with the UT football team in the practice bubble to hear from them directly.
Last week, Hartzell met with presidents of Black student groups on campus and Black faculty members.
“During the past month, I have listened to scores of students,” Hartzell said in a statement. “I went into these conversations understanding that UT has worked hard to become a more diverse and welcoming place.
“I came out of them realizing there is still more work to do — and this starts and ends by creating an environment in which students are fully supported before, during and after their time at UT,” he added.
Hartzell said the goal of change is shared by the UT System Board of Regents and chairman Kevin Eltife.
As for “The Eyes of Texas,” Hartzell wrote in a letter to campus that it will remain UT’s alma mater. “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,” Hartzell said. “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.
“Together, we have the power to define what the Eyes of Texas expect of us, what they demand of us, and what standard they hold us to now,” Hartzell added. “‘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 reimagine its future, and I look forward to partnering with our campus community to do just that.”
On the campus side, many have called for the change to Robert Lee Moore Hall, home to UT’s math, physics and astronomy departments. Moore, who died in 1974, was a UT math professor who once refused to teach Black students and favored segregation.
Sweatt, who grew up in Houston, was denied admission to the UT law school due to segregation laws. Sweatt filed a lawsuit in 1946 that ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which said UT would have to admit Black students. He registered for classes in September 1950.
The Heman M. Sweatt Entrance will be established at T.S. Painter Hall. A major space within the building will be dedicated to telling Sweatt’s story.
But the university isn’t changing everything. UT plans on “educating” visitors to campus about the context of current buildings like the Littlefield Fountain, the statue of Gov. Jim Hogg, the Belo Center and the pedestals on which a series of controversial statues were placed until 2017.
UT also plans to expand the campus police department’s oversight committee and refocus the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan that was released in 2017.
“Great day to be a Longhorn, want to thank the students, athletes, administration, alumni and those behind the scenes working who made this happen,” UT safety Caden Sterns tweeted after the announcement. “Looking forward to make more positive change on campus. Hook’Em.”
Texas coach Tom Herman not only allowed his players to play significant role in campus activism, he encouraged it. Now, several Longhorns, like Sterns, cornerback Josh Thompson and others, will have their name tied to a significant moment at the University of Texas, now in its 136th year.
“So very proud of our players, all Texas student-athletes, our entire student population and university leadership,” Herman tweeted. “They will forever be known for being responsible for tangible, positive change on our great campus. Today is a great first step. #Hookem.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.