- Several current and former students of the University of Texas at Austin filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Education alleging the institution is creating a “hostile environment” for Black students by keeping an alma mater they deem racist.
- They say the playing of “The Eyes of Texas” denies Black students full benefits of campus life because of its “racially offensive origin, context and meaning.” The Texas NAACP and the civil rights organization’s student chapter at UT-Austin also signed onto the complaint.
- The song debuted at a minstrel show in the early 1900s, according to a recent university report on its origins. Students have been pressuring UT-Austin to stop playing the song because of those ties, but the university’s president said it would remain the institution’s alma mater.
The complaint argues that Black students aren’t treated as equal members of the Longhorn community because of the song’s official place in university events. It is one of several student movements nationwide that are urging their schools to do away with symbols that have racist roots or glorify Confederate figures.
The groups are requesting that the Education Department investigate its allegations against UT-Austin, ensure the university discontinues the use of the song and require it to provide “financial and emotional assistance” to students who’ve faced discrimination or retaliation over the matter.
The complaint alleges that when some UT-Austin student tour guides complained about the song’s prominence in their workspace, the university originally gave them the option to resign. “Some tour guides did not return to work, while others continued to be humiliated,” it reads.
Black students in the school’s band have also been required to play the song to remain members even though some of them have opposed performing it, the complaint states.
And football players have been threatened by UT-Austin alumni and others for opposing “the official use of this racist song.”
Last academic year, UT-Austin football players left the field in protest of the postgame tradition of singing along to the alma mater. But athletics officials told the players in October that they had to remain on the turf for the song because donors were upset by their actions, The Texas Tribune reported.
The identities of the students filing suit are kept anonymous in the complaint over fears of retaliation, it says.
UT-Austin has stood by “The Eyes of Texas.” And a committee commissioned to study its historical origins concluded in a 58-page report that the anthem had no “racist intent” but that it did debut in a “racist setting.”
But recent research from Alberto Martínez, a history professor at UT-Austin, counters those conclusions. Martínez has argued that the alma mater explicitly references the words of a Confederate general and borrows the melody and some of its lyrics from a racist song about imprisoned Black workers working on a railroad levee.
UT-Austin did not respond to Higher Ed Dive’s request for comment. An Education Department spokesperson said the Office for Civil Rights does not publicly acknowledge complaints unless it agrees to investigate them. The agency updates its list of current investigations around the first Wednesday of each month.