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Texas University students file federal civil rights complaint over school song, alleging ‘hostile environment’

Written by on September 7, 2021

Students at the University of Texas at Austin have filed a federal civil rights complaint accusing the school of creating a “hostile environment” for Black students by continuing to play the “The Eyes of Texas” alma mater song, which they argue is racist.

The NAACP’s Texas chapter, university chapter and a group of anonymous students filed the complaint Friday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS PRESIDENT ADDRESSES ‘EYES OF TEXAS’ CONTROVERSY, DEFENDS PLAYERS TARGETED BY FURIOUS ALUMS

The complaint reportedly alleges that Black students have been denied the full university experience because the song is an official part of that experience, being played after all sporting events “despite its racially offensive origin, context and meaning.” 

“The Eyes of Texas” became a source of controversy for Texas last year amid a summer of racial tension in the country. Scrutiny over the song revealed that the title was taken from a favored saying by a former school president who was mimicking Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and the song was performed in the 1900s by musicians in blackface at minstrel shows.

During the 2020 football season, the band at one point refused to play the song and some players refused to stay out on the field while the song played. The protest sparked a wave of backlash from donors.

In January, when new head coach Steve Sarkisian was welcomed at his introductory press conference, he said the song would remain a part of the culture with him in charge.

“I know this much, ‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song,” Sarkisian said at the time. “We’re going to sing that song. We’re going to sing that proudly.”

This past spring, the UT-Austin Butler School of Music announced the creation of a new band in which students would not be required to play the song.

Friday’s complaint said the university failed to respond to racial harassment against students who opposed the song, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and argued that the creation of a separate marching band violated equal protections afforded under the 14th Amendment.

Al-Nasser Lawal, a UT-Austin senior and president of the UT-Austin chapter of the NAACP, said talks between administrators and Black student groups had produced little results.

“As Black students, we kind of feel as if it’s not like our voices are heard,” he told the Tribune. “The main objective of the administration and the campus is just to appease their wealthy donors so that they can continue to get that funding, and that they don’t really have our best interests at heart.”

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UT-Austin did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. 

A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson told the Tribune, which obtained the complaint from the filers, that it does not acknowledge complaints unless they have been accepted for investigation. The department updates its list of investigations on a monthly basis, the Tribune reported.

Ryan Gaydos contributed reporting.

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