AUSTIN, Texas - The University of Texas announced a series of steps Monday intended to make itself more welcoming to its Black students but stopped short of shelving “The Eyes of Texas” song that a number of athletes have said needs to go because it has racist undertones.
Jay Hartzell, the interim president of the university's flagship campus in Austin, said the song will continue to be the alma mater for the Longhorns.
“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,” he 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.”
“The Eyes of Texas” has long been criticized for its connection to minstrel shows with characters in blackface in the early 1900s. It is sung at most organized campus events, and players in all sports gather as a team to sing it after every game.
An unsigned letter posted on social media last month said Texas athletes want the school to replace the song, among other steps. The letter said the athletes would not help the school recruit prospects or at alumni events as they typically do unless their concerns are addressed.
Texas defensive back Caden Sterns said though he will not sing the song, he appreciates the conversation about it.
“I’m not disappointed, I’m understanding on people’s perspectives on what the song means to them and I get it both sides," he said on Twitter. “I do think it’s important that those who partake are informed and educated of the roots of the song and how it came about. Still love though!"
Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, who previously posted on social media that he would boycott all team activities until the concerns were addressed, retweeted the University's statement on Monday with the message " We Are One."
Edmund T. Gordon, a professor at Texas and the school's vice president for diversity, has explained the history of the song as a part of his Racial Geography Tour. He said he approves of the changes and helped develop them.
Football coach Tom Herman also said he supports the the athletes' efforts.
“So very proud of our players, all Texas student-athletes, our entire student population and university leadership," Herman said in a tweet. “They will forever be known for being responsible for tangible, positive change on our great campus. Today is a great first step."
The school did announce several changes, including renaming Joe Jamail Field for Black Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. The school said the change was made at the suggestion of the Jamail family. The full name of the facility had been Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium at Joe Jamail Field.
The school also will erect a statue for Julius Whittier, the Longhorns’ first Black football letterman, at Memorial Stadium. The athletes had demanded that part of the football stadium be named for Whittier. Texas will also strip the name of segregationist Robert L. Moore from a building and find ways to honor Heman Sweatt, whose 1950 court case cleared the way for Black students to attend the school.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to massive protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Since then, many institutions have moved to strip the names of historical figures associated with slavery and racism. Clemson removed the name of former vice president and slavery proponent John C. Calhoun from its honors college.
Bryan Carrington, Texas' director of recruiting, said there is more work ahead at a school where Blacks make up only 5.1% of the student body.
“This has to be the #beginning of something pivotal and not the #conclusion of a matter! #FirstStep” he said in a tweet.
Associated Press Writer Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.