Event Coverage Sarah Lynn Neal Student Life

A Conversation with President Fenves: Black Students Push for More Diverse UT

Written by Sarah Lynn Neal 

On Thursday October 29, The Daily Texan hosted The Texan Talks in which a panel asked Fenves some hard-hitting questions followed by an open Q&A with audience members.

One of the most pressing issues on campus is the lack of diversity among both students and faculty. When the panel asked what the university is doing to work toward a more diverse learning environment, Fenves mentioned the recent brief filed in the Fisher v. The University of Texas case, in which he notes that UT made “a very compelling argument on our behalf on the importance of diversity on campus.” He went on to praise the “hybrid admissions process…following Supreme Court precedents” which allows UT to use ethnicity as one of multiple factors in the admissions process.

Fenves also acknowledged, in lieu of the question of diversity, that “this year we saw double digit increases in Hispanic and African Americans” who were recently admitted to the university as freshmen. Despite trends displaying a continuous increase on the ten year scale, as Fenves asserted, the increase in the amount of African American students on campus is “not as much as we’d like.” Fenves concluded his response by noting that an ethnic diversity council is underway.

Fenves asserted, the increase in the amount of African American students on campus is ‘not as much as we’d like.’

         The panel questions then shifted toward campus carry, where Fenves was asked, “Do you share the concerns of those who are protesting?” He replied that he does, conceding that “guns [are not] consistent with a healthy leaning environment.” President Fenves appeared to be on the side of the students and faculty regarding this issue—most of whom oppose SB11—however, he mentioned that the university is limited as to how far they can go to eliminate concealed weapons on campus. “This is a very emotional issue,” Fenves said, making note that UT is currently working with The Board of Regents and UT’s Chancellor, Bill McRaven, to make UT as safe as possible for students and faculty.

The president’s role in admissions was brought up by the panel, a question which became significant after former UT president, Bill Powers, allegedly allowed certain students admittance despite their lack of qualifications. Fenves acknowledged that there is a policy in place that does allow the president to have a role in admissions under “rare circumstances,” but Fenves stressed that in those circumstances the Board must approve his choice. He continued, “there are checks and balances to make sure decisions are fair.”

Sexual assault, another pressing issue, was also discussed. One in five women have experienced sexual assault on campus, the panelist outlined, following with a question for Fenves: “What more can be done to combat the issue?” President Fenves mentioned programs like Voices Against Violence and the recent Association of American Universities survey as tools UT is utilizing to decrease sexual assault on campus.

The floor was then opened up for student questions. Loyce Gayo, a student, slam poet, and activist, stood—with the solidarity of her black peers—and asked, “Do black lives matter to you, President Fenves?”

Loyce [said], ‘Minority recruitment has not gone up, the instructors do not look anything like us, and tuition is going up. Do we matter to you? Are we a priority to you?’

         “They do matter,” Fenves replied. But Gayo made note of the contradiction between Fenves’ assertion and the statistics. “There are zero black tenure professors in the College of Natural Science,” said Loyce, “Minority recruitment has not gone up, the instructors do not look anything like us, and tuition is going up. Do we matter to you? Are we a priority to you?”

The panel moderators then interjected, noting that the panel was intended to promote “respectful dialogue” with President Fenves. Gayo continued. “Give us a date when Robert E. Lee is going to go. Tell me a date when you intend to increase the percentage [of black students]. You wield so much power,” Gayo spoke, “We are two days away from more black face parties. We’re having a hard time existing in this space.” She mentioned Fenves’ “self congratulatory” speech with regard to the panel questions, saying “[Fenves’ rhetoric] proves nothing to the black community.” Gayo emphatically cited that her “demands look exactly the same as students who attended UT in the 60s.” Gayo and her peers left the auditorium after her speech, and the question and answer session was closed shortly after.

Outside of the Texas Union Theatre, where the event was held, stood two police officers who were called to address the “disturbance.”

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