Pardon me if you’ve heard this before, but the University of Texas at Austin has a bit of an “OK, so is this racist as hell or nah?” problem when it comes to its fight song. But of course, you knew this already because you read The Root.
For those out the loop, however, here’s a bit of context, as reported by yours truly:
“The Eyes of Texas” became a hot-button topic in the immediate aftermath of the officer-related death of George Floyd. Students at the school took issue with the song’s origins—it was inspired by Confederate general Robert E. Lee and made its debut in 1903 during a campus minstrel show performed by white students in blackface—and soon after, both student-athletes and school band members protested and took action. The Texas marching band refused to play it during the Longhorns’ final two home games.
And how did the school respond? By blaring the song over the loudspeakers instead and issuing statements like this:
“‘The Eyes of Texas’ has been UT Austin’s official school song for almost 120 years. It has been performed at most official events—celebratory or solemn—and sung by proud alumni and students for generations as a common bond of the UT family.
“It is a longstanding symbol of The University’s academic and athletic achievements in its pursuit of excellence.”
Are we all up to speed? Good.
Because now comes the part where I bring to your attention that after months of petitions and student protests to get rid of a song that was routinely performed in blackface on campus, the University of Texas is no closer to ridding itself of “The Eyes of Texas.” Thanks, in part, to wealthy
white alumni who are threatening to pull donations from the school if it doesn’t do its part to preserve white supremacy.
As the Texas Tribune reports, the school is being flooded with
white tears hundreds of emails bitching and moaning about “cancel culture” and demanding that the school take a stand in support of the fight song or else.
“My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” one donor, whose name was redacted by UT-Austin, wrote back in October. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”
“‘The Eyes of Texas’ is non-negotiable,” wrote another who’s had season tickets since 1990
and may or may not attend Klan rallies in his free time. “If it is not kept and fully embraced, I will not be donating any additional money to athletics or the university or attending any events.”
Others prefer to be ominous instead of issuing threats directly.
“I am not advising you or taking any position regarding this issue right now, other than to say ‘The Eyes’ needs to be our song,” wrote Bob Rowling, a donor and graduate whose name adorns one of the buildings within the McCombs School of Business on campus. “I AM wanting you to be aware of the ‘talk about town’ regarding UT. There are a lot of folks on this email chain who love UT and are in positions of influence.”
From the Tribune:
From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed [UT-Austin President Jay] Hartzell’s office about “The Eyes” demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it.
Sounds about white.
But it’s not just donations at stake. These bigoted assholes have also threatened to cancel season tickets and boycott games unless the school “forcefully defends” the song.
Needless to say, chaos has ensued behind the scenes at the university.
From the Tribune:
“[Alumni] are pulling planned gifts, canceling donations, walking away from causes and programs that have been their passion for years, even decades and turning away in disgust. Last night one texted me at 1:00 am, trying to find a way to revoke a 7-figure donation,” President of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees Kent Kostka wrote to a group of administrators, including Hartzell. “This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence.”
Any day now, a university committee will be dropping its “highly anticipated report” on the song’s history, which will likely only fan the flames as things get more contentious on campus. But in the interim, until UT-Austin decides to have a moral compass, they’ll continue to receive emails like these:
“UT needs rich donors who love ‘The Eyes of Texas’ more than they need one crop of irresponsible and uninformed students or faculty who won’t do what they are paid to do.”