Dozens of students at the University of Texas at Austin who give campus tours to prospective Longhorns are refusing to work this week over a dispute about a plaque with “The Eyes of Texas” lyrics hanging in the Admissions Welcome Center.
The dustup over the plaque is the latest example of UT-Austin officials standing by “The Eyes” over pleas that the university distance itself from the song because it originated at a minstrel show where students likely wore Blackface.
It’s also the latest in a series of clashes over the school’s alma mater song in a nearly yearlong controversy that has frequently pit administrators and alumni against students. Recently, nearly 180 faculty have signed a new petition calling for the song’s removal.
Just this week, a threatening incident was reported to UT-Austin police where a student-led online event about “The Eyes of Texas” was crashed by an unknown man on camera wearing a bandana over his mouth and nose and who appeared to be loading a large gun.
UT-Austin officials did not respond to a request for comment about the incidents, nor did they respond to written questions.
Students say protests over the song are not going away. Kendall Walker, a UT-Austin senior who is part of the student strike in the admissions office, said she thinks administrators wrongly assumed the issue would die down after the school formed a committee this past year to study the song’s origins. UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell has repeatedly affirmed that the university will keep the song.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg honestly,” Walker said. “This is the beginning of it and people resisting that decision and not accepting a committee of people deem[ing] the song isn’t racist. There's a whole generation of students and minority students that are equally and more mad than we are and don't want to enter a space that predetermined their opinions don’t matter.”
Members of the Texas Tour Guides said the song has created a divisive environment on campus and wanted the plaque to be removed to ensure all student employees and prospective students feel comfortable in the Welcome Center, according to more than six students who work or volunteer as tour guides and spoke to The Texas Tribune.