COLLEGE STATION (AP) – Texas A&M University is still trying to determine which students may have shouted a racial slur and referenced the Confederate flag to a group of Black and Latino high school students touring the campus.
About 60 students from a Dallas charter school reported they were harassed by A&M students during a visit on Feb. 9.
Two of the high school students, who are Black, said they were approached by a White A&M female student who asked their opinion of the Confederate flag earrings she was wearing, state Sen. Royce West said Thursday.
“This was exacerbated by a group of White, male and female students, who within earshot of the first event, told a larger group of the high school visitors, part of the Road to College at Uplift Education Program, to ‘Go back where you came from,’” West explained. “They continued their taunts by using the most well-known racial slur that’s directed toward African Americans and also made other references to the Confederate flag.
“This scene was witnessed and reported by TAMU officials who were accompanying the Uplift Hampton students. A campus officer initially said that the A&M students were expressing their First Amendment rights. However, campus police were dispatched and a report was made.”
West called for the possible expulsion of any students involved in the incident, and said he wanted to see action from the university’s leadership next week.
“If you’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior, then you’ve got to make a statement,” he said. “This gang of students that participated in this should be disciplined accordingly.”
No video or audio of the incident has emerged yet, complicating efforts to find out who said what, University President Michael K. Young said Friday.
“It’s 2016 and within months of other race-related events that have taken place on college campuses in Oklahoma, Missouri and elsewhere nationally,” West noted in a statement to the press immediately after the incident. “They have in common that they have been triggered by a climate of racially-tinged conflict and other acts of intolerance. These discussions related to the Confederate flag began last summer following the massacre of innocent worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina church. Yet there are those who still defend Confederate symbols and ideologies.”
Young said Friday that racism needed to be addressed broadly at Texas A&M, where the student body is 3.4 percent Black, and elsewhere. One element of that discussion, he said, was addressing the meaning of the Confederate flag for White students who might not get the connections it has for many people to slavery and discrimination.
“If this event serves as an occasion to kind of galvanize the community even more to expand and deepen their efforts on that, I’m absolutely delighted to do that, because that’s what has to happen,” Young said.
Joshua Lewis, a Texas A&M student who serves on the university’s Black Student Alliance Council, said he’s never had racial slurs directed at him, though other students have told him they have had them. Subtler forms of racial insensitivity are more common, he said, like other students assuming he is a scholarship athlete because he’s Black.
Lewis said he was encouraged by strong statements this week from Young and campus leaders, but wanted to do more to improve campus dialogue and awareness of race.
“No one’s going to have a reset button to change these ideologies,” Lewis said. “But we have to start thinking of creative ways to not only get students from diverse backgrounds who want to come to the school, but be at the school and then stay at the school.”
Texas A&M is one of the state’s biggest and most prestigious universities and is about 90 miles outside of Houston.
Dena Marks, associate director of the Southwest Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, told The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle of her satisfaction with “what they’ve done already to, number one, immediately recognize that perhaps there is a problem and, number two, to express that if there is a problem, this sort of thing should not be tolerated.”
As a result, many of the university’s students have taken a stand against the incident. Letter-writing stations were set up Monday on campus in the Student Government Association-supported effort against racism. Thousands of the college students participated, writing letters disavowing racism. Organizers hope to send 10,000 handwritten letters to students from the charter school who toured A&M last week. University fraternity and sorority members wrote more than 6,000 letters.
Student Body President Joseph Benigno said the letters are meant to show that A&M stands up for what’s right.
Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.