Frank Guridy

A two-day conference honoring the Prairie View Interscholastic League brought together people who recounted their lives during legalized segregation and their transition into integration. 

The League is an organization that governed extra-curricular activities for Texas’ African American high school students during that time period.

The conference, “Thursday Night Lights,” kicked off Thursday with opening remarks by several coordinators of the event, including Gregory Vincent, UT’s vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Vincent said he is proud to be a part of the league’s legacy.

“We often talk about segregation and talk about the pathology of it, and all that’s true, but what’s amazing about our people, we make a way out of no way,” Vincent said. “And somehow when we’re given these scraps, we turn it into a tapestry of gold, and that is exactly what the [league] is about.”

The league was formed in the ’20s as the Texas Interscholastic League of Colored Schools and at its height encompassed 500 schools who had students participate in the league’s state championship events such as football, baseball, track and field, music and extemporaneous speaking.

Keynote speaker William Rhoden, columnist for The New York Times, spoke Thursday about the prominent national figures who came out of the league, such as Barbara Jordan, a former politician and UT professor, and athletes including wide-receiver Charley Taylor and defensive tackle Joe Greene.  

“What was so interesting is I started really digging into the [the league], you realize that all around the country when you talk about black folks, whether you’re in Louisiana, whether it’s in Alabama, here, Chicago, you got these tremendous black athletics associations that flourished and turned out all these great people, that you would have no idea,” Rhoden said.

Frank Guridy, history associate professor and director of the University’s John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, which hosted the event, said this was the first conference on this topic to be held, and said he hopes it will be an annual event depending on resources. Guridy said the point of the conference was to view and analyze the history of segregation in the state.

“What can we take from that period is how can we learn about community formation,” Guridy said. “What lessons from that period can we take to the present, other than the fact than we don’t want to remember it. The spirit of the conference was more about how they made do, how did they create communities, how did they create futures in a period when people struggled. I think those are valuable lessons that we can take from that period.”

One session from the conference focused directly on the league’s legacy at L.C. Anderson High School, the only predominantly African-American high school in Austin during that time period. The session composed of a panel of distinguished alumni from the high school who participated in sports and other school organizations. They talked about their experiences during high school, and the challenges they faced.

“Being in a segregated environment was a positive experience,” said Diane Lang, a graduate from the original L.C. Anderson high school. “We knew about the other schools and we knew we weren’t being treated right, and we used that energy to try and make the best grades we could.”

Cooperation between three centers within the College of Liberal Arts has grown since last year’s budget cuts, an unintended benefit from a challenging financial situation, said the centers’ directors.

Beginning this semester, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies will now partner with the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Asian American Studies to pool faculty, graduate and undergraduate resources. Each center suffered substantial budget cuts after a $3.75 million deficit left the College of Liberal Arts unable to sustain its faculties. All of the academic centers provided classes and grants to students interested in their fields, and the cuts were implemented after Dean Randy Diehl met with individual directors to determine their need, said Richard Flores, senior associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

“What happened was, the central administration said that we should keep going with our plan to hire more professors, and then that summer before we started the 2010-2011 session we were told that we wouldn’t be receiving the money we were expecting,” Flores said. “That immediately put us into a deficit. Even if we get more money through higher tuition, we’re talking about 21 departments. That’s a lot of need in the college, and new revenue may not go to the centers.”

After the decision was made to cut funding, each academic center was cut by varying degrees according to the factors selected by the dean’s office, said Susan Heinzelman, the director of the CWGS.

“It had to deal with a lot of factors ranging from how many undergraduate majors we were producing, to our ability to attract alumni to the faculty that we had teaching our classes,” Heinzelman said. “I couldn’t say that there was one primary cause. The most important factor, however, was certainly the decision to base decisions on undergraduate output.”

Heinzelman said the cuts have since provided a stronger bond between the academic centers, resulting in this semester’s cooperative program.

“Since the budget cuts we have been working much more closely with other organizations across campus to get our programs sponsored, but this is something that we have always striven to do,” Heinzelman said. “In a time of crisis, one could say that one gets closer to the people that help you. I wouldn’t say that we have suffered more than anyone else. Everybody has been hurting, and we are doing the best we can to pull through.”

The cuts have caused the Warfield Center to stop offering any classes, said director Frank Guridy. Despite difficulties like these, Guridy said the center has benefited from increased cooperation with other Black studies centers and groups in the College of Liberal Arts.

“This semester we have a faculty workshop that brings together staff from both the Warfield and the women’s and gender studies center,” Guridy said. “We are talking about issues that not only affect our programming but also contribute to the intellectual life of the University. Making a better future is going to involve all of us working with each other while facing dwindling resources.”

Guridy said he does not expect funding to return to previous levels any time soon, but he hopes that the state will continue to support education.

“It would be naive for me to assume that funding is going to go back to what it was,” Guridy said. “Like all departments, we all know that we have to be creative about generating a robust fundraising effort. We are also still insisting upon the state’s ability to support education.”

Printed on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 as: Liberal arts cooperation grows with budget cuts

Moving “beyond el barrio” means challenging stereotypes and highlighting the social, cultural and political struggles that shaped Latina/o communities in the past and present — ideas the five authors of “Beyond El Barrio: Everyday Life in Latina/o America” convey in their anthology. A symposium and book signing sponsored by UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, the Department of American Studies and the Department of History honored the book in the San Jacinto Conference Center on Tuesday. “Beyond El Barrio” is a collection of essays analyzing Latina/o representations in the media, popular culture and public policy within and across national affiliations. History and African Diaspora associate professor Frank Guridy said it is important to explore the problems and possibilities of “el barrio” as a framework for understanding Latina/o experiences. “For some ‘el barrio’ signifies ‘ghetto,’” Guridy said. “For others, it means an autonomous Latina/o community with vibrant cultures in the face of American assimilation. We interrogate the notion of ‘el barrio’ as a way to highlight how our understandings of Latina/os remained trapped in many racial, gendered and class-based stereotypes.” Co-editors Guridy and Gina Perez discussed the motivations behind the book and its broader conceptual framework, along with their own personal essays. Guridy said recent debates about Latinos in the U.S. make the anthology relevant. “The book is timely in that it sheds light on larger political questions, such as immigration, that affect U.S. society as a whole,” Guridy said. “Sometimes methodologies don’t capture the lifestyles of the people,” Perez said. “The 2000 census and political and demographic shifts that occurred during that time inspired us to create an interdisciplinary approach to Latin studies.” Three of the contributors — associate professors in the College of Liberal Arts: Deborah Paredez, John McKiernan-Gonzalez and Cary Cordova — summarized their individual essays and how they explored different meanings of “el barrio” in the U.S. McKiernan-Gonzalez focuses on the diverse Latina/o populations in Tampa, Fla., while Cordova delved into the Mission District in San Francisco. Paredez focused her essay on the absent mother figure in Latina representation. She said visibility in the media and popular culture doesn’t always result in power. “Even among Latinos, there was an anxiety of young Latinas and their economic autonomy and mobility,” Paredez said. “This strategically relocates the problem onto the mother, because she prevents the daughter from aspiring.”