Black students from the Society for Cultural Unity spoke out at The Texan Talks event during an interview with UT President Gregory Fenves, asking if black lives matter to him.
Loyce Gayo, president of the Society for Cultural Unity and a columnist for the Daily Texan opinion department, said at the event that many issues of diversity at UT need to be addressed. Gayo, an African and African Diaspora Studies senior, said she does not see enough black students or instructors at the University.
During a conversation with Texan editor-in-chief Claire Smith and forum editor Walker Fountain, Fenves discussed racial issues such as the confederate statues and diversity in student enrollment and faculty appointment.
“You matter to me, you are not invisible to me,” Fenves said in response to Gayo. “This is a university, and the way we get things done is by collective action — bring people together to develop our goals, set the policies and make sure they’re carried out.”
Development of a diversity council for faculty recruitment and retention is underway this year and minority student enrollment increased this year, according to Fenves.
“For this year, we saw double-digit increases in Hispanic and African-American first-time college freshman admits at the University,” Fenves said.
Sport management junior Desmond Manuel, who attended the event, said he disagreed with the enrollment statistics Fenves presented.
“I’m a junior and this is my first time seeing another black face in my major,” Manuel said. “As black students here on campus, we’re not seeing those numbers increase, except maybe in athletics, and that’s not indicative of what we are as a community. We want to just, you know, work together and help increase that number exponentially.”
Members of the group walked out of the Texas Union Theatre in protest after nine minutes.
Manuel, who is also the financial director for Afrikan American Affairs in the Multicultural Engagement Center, said he expected UTPD to show up after the organization addressed their concerns.
“That’s something I definitely expected, and that’s a shame that I expected that,” Manuel said. “We shouldn’t expect to have police show up the minute we raise our voices to get things done. I can definitely bet you, if it were a bunch of white students out there and they had a problem with their sorority house or something, they would’ve had their problem addressed. They would be pulled to the side, like ‘what can I do to help you?’ We black bodies have been asking for the Jefferson statue to be [taken] down since the 1960s, but as soon as, you know, more white students get around it, it comes down within a month.”
Susan Buckenmeyer, director of student activities at the Office of the Dean of Students who was at the event, said the fact that UTPD was present during the event was not coordinated.
“Free speech is really valued here at the University,” Buckenmeyer said. “We want both those who are planning an event and those who may be disagree with the content of the event to be able to express themselves.”
Buckenmeyer said in case of disruption — when there is shouting or yelling thus preventing the planned activity from continuing — warnings will be issued before individuals are escorted out.
“We were prepared to read the warnings,” Buckenmeyer said. “But the member who was causing the disruption chose to leave instead, so we did not issue any warnings.”
Gayo said in a statement that she spoke out at the event to ignite a flame for the black community at UT.
“SCU is an archiving organization dedicated to preserving and using the dark history of UT to push critical discourse on issues affecting UT’s most marginalized student body but also bring forth change,” Gayo said in the statement. “Today, we sought to use this opportunity to ask one question on behalf of the Black community, ‘do Black lives matter?’ and in a way, that question was answered.”
Additional reporting by Thalia Juarez, Amy Zhang, and Jack Mitts.