Nick Engmann

From left to right: Chemistry senior Leland Breedlove, electrical engineering senior Nick Engmann and management information systems senior Joyce Wang.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The University of Texas has had a rocky history on the subject of racism. From Stephanie Eisner’s 2012 Daily Texan cartoon describing Trayvon Martin as a “handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy” to the Young Conservatives of Texas’ affirmative action bake sale, or more recently, the Fiji fraternity border patrol-themed party, there is still a thread of bias here at UT.

Perhaps it is no wonder. Many of the school’s first benefactors and key people were intolerant of racial harmony. George W. Littlefield, a Confederate war veteran, funded many of the statues around campus like those dedicated to figures such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other VIPs in the Confederate South.

As one walks through campus today, however, one is exposed to myriad races, colors and creeds, that co-exist within conflicting undercurrents; the region’s segregated and intolerant past and today’s trace of racial bias, however subtle that might be. The students on our present campus have the job of struggling to live within the University’s effort to create a melting pot of cultures from all over the world.

To fully comprehend the life-long implications linked to an individual’s race, it is important to understand how we define racism in society today.

For Nick Engmann, an African-American electrical engineering senior, racism is “any use of stereotypes or biases to harm another individual based on the color of their skin or how they identify themselves.”

Veiled racism has reached Engmann in his classes: “Some people don’t think that you are capable of things because you have a certain background or how they identify you. The way you speak, the nuances you drop here and there. They don’t think you’re competent.”

But sometimes, racism is more overt than subtle. The Campus Climate Response Team is responsible for receiving and tracking student complaints concerning, among other things, racial bias. As it reported Feb. 9, complaints have increased by over 700 percent since the 2012-13 academic year. The increase is due not only to high-profile incidents such as the bake sale but also to more personal attacks.

Just last semester, Engmann encountered one such incident firsthand. 

“One of my African-American friends and I were walking around West Campus with some other friends and a truck drove by and bleach-bombed us,” Engmann said. “They threw balloons filled with bleach water and hit my black friend’s pants and shirt. I had heard about this occurring around campus and thought that it had been blown out of proportion, but then it happened to us. It just baffled me that this could happen so close to home. That racism is still here.”

Rachel White, a black marine biology senior, hasn’t been directly targeted at UT. However, she says that she sometimes feels uncomfortable in certain situations, such as at parties or even in a class where she may be the only black student. 

“Although many people don’t have to think about their race or have to search for someone like them in their class with whom to study, as a black woman, I do,” White said.

Some students have a different perspective and have not encountered racial problems at all. International business junior Brianna Spiller is among them.

“I’ve always had a really positive experience here,” said Spiller, who states that she has never experienced any form of racism on campus directed at her.

Spiller has also been comfortable in social situations. As she explained, “All of the parties I’ve been to have been really good. No parties, no organizations, no one has looked at me funny. This school is very diverse and I think that the people are very open-minded.”

When asked how the University might improve, she pointed out that “for African-American students, there aren’t enough places for them to go. Either I join a sorority, or there is really nothing else. We also need to focus on getting more African-American men who want to come here to study and to learn.” The African-American student population of the University currently stands at 4 percent, down from 5 percent in 2013.

Why do students like Spiller not have any problems while others do? When a person is raised with bigotry as close as the next news story, sometimes it is hard not to expect it. 

White explains, “Racism still exists in schools, in the workplace and on the streets with law enforcement. It even exists in my mind because of the fact that I have to be self-conscious about what others think of me.”

But racial bias isn’t just about black and white. Hispanics make up close to a fourth of the student population at UT, but as the Fiji fraternity party illustrates, insensitivity still occurs, cloaked in a joke.

About the Fiji incident, Mathieu Saenz, a Hispanic math senior, said, “It’s pretty sad. I kinda feel sorry for them — the fact that they haven’t been exposed enough to other cultures to where they think it’s OK. If you grew up having a lot of Hispanic friends or friends of other races, and you’re close to those people, I don’t think you would treat somebody like that or go to a party like that.”

Joyce Wang, an Asian-American management information systems senior, has not felt such bias directly but says she has seen it within certain groups who don’t accept others into their circle because of race or language barriers. 

“How they act or don’t act towards strangers, whether they choose to socialize with them... They might think that others are not fit for their group because of things like ethnicity or they might speak a different language,” Wang said. She has also felt empathy for other students who have been the focus of random acts such as bleach balloon bombings.

For its part, the University has an active outreach program focused on improving race relations and opening a dialogue.

“We need to look at how much progress has been made at UT,” said Gregory Vincent, vice president of UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. “In terms of numbers, the campus is much more diverse than it has ever been, and there has been a shift in attitudes over time. If you recall last year, there were two events that were racially motivated planned by the Young Conservatives of Texas. The campus community saw those as extremely derogatory and the response was immediate, forcing the YCT to cancel the events. However, UT is a microcosm of what happens in the world. As a nation, there is still much to be done and UT reflects that.”

When asked if diversity can ever take on a negative form, Vincent responded, “On every level, diversity can be considered positive. Much research has confirmed that diversity in educational settings improves the experience for all. Studies of diverse scientific teams and workplace teams have shown that they produce stronger research and make better decisions. As a professor of higher education and law, I see this in the classroom over and over. The more opportunities we have to get know others of different races, the more stereotypes are broken down. In our increasingly global society, being able to work on teams of diverse people and possessing cultural competence are extremely positive.”

As race relations continue to improve here at UT as well as elsewhere across this country, understanding each other’s perspective can bridge many barriers. According to White, “Minorities have to tip-toe around the everyday issues that we experience in order to make our peers feel more comfortable, and a lot of people don’t realize this. We are afraid that we will be viewed as too sensitive or will be told that racism doesn’t exist and we are just too easily offended. It is something that is changing and there are efforts towards improvement, but awareness is so important.”

Ridout is a French senior from Garland.

Students popped bubble wrap, colored pictures and received massages at ChillFest on Wednesday in the Texas Union ballroom.

ChillFest is a free event which hosts different stress-relieving activities that students can participate in, including getting a massage, playing with therapy dogs and listening to Christmas music to wind down during the final week of classes and the start of final exams.     

“We want to make sure people remain calm during these stressful times,” radio-television-film junior Sean Rose said. “I, myself, have two finals tomorrow, so we try to pick the one day where people have the least amount.”

According to Rose, the recreation committee of Campus Events and Entertainment started ChillFest a year ago, and over 1,400 attended this semester’s event.

“We’ve already surpassed that for this ChillFest,” electrical engineering senior Nick Engmann. “I believe that the growth this year is mainly due to advertising. We got our word out through Twitter contests as well.”

Engmann said ChillFest persists as one of the largest events put on by the recreation committee, and he hopes that students’ evaluations will provide more insight on how they can improve the event for next semester.

“I would gladly like to look at the some of the students’ responses and see what they would like,” Engmann said. “Depending on the suggestions that people have, we always change our events due to that.”

Journalism freshman Clara Duffy said she enjoyed the activities at ChillFest and will return next semester.    

“There’s physical stress-relievers like the massages and the bubble wrap, and then there’s coloring and Legos, which is just a cool way to get your mind off studying,” Duffy said.    

Heather Finnegan, English sophomore and committee member, said the committee has brought back the massages, bubble wrap and coloring because they remain the most popular activities for students.

Engmann emphasized the importance of taking breaks in order to deal with the stress of studying for exams.    

“Stress is something that all students on campus deal with,” Engmann said. “Events like ChillFest are one of the main reasons we hold it for the students on campus. If they can’t find the time, they should definitely research into other stress-relieving things. You can’t let it all get built up inside you. It’ll just make studying for finals and the whole experience worse.”                          

Radio-television-film junior Sean Rose plays a chain saw-wielding goblin at a haunted house in front of Gregory Gym on Tuesday evening. The haunted house was hosted by Campus Events and Entertainment to celebrate Halloween.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

To celebrate Halloween, Campus Events and Entertainment turned Gregory Plaza into a free haunted house Tuesday, featuring eyeless babies, rolling fog and blood-curdling screams. 

Nick Engmann, electrical engineering junior and chair of E+E’s Recreation Committee, said students’ reactions in the haunted house were priceless. 

“We’ve had a variety of reactions,” Engmann said. “Some people are just really tough, so nothing really phases them, but, embarrassingly enough, we’ve had a few people say that they’ve peed their pants.” 

Business freshman Karishma Adnani was a volunteer in the haunted house and said she picked her own costume.

“I’m a creepy nun, and I’m in the baby room, so I stand with this really creepy baby that has eyeballs in its head, and I just scare people,” Adnani said. “I ask them to help my baby, and I throw the baby in their face.”

Theatre studies sophomore Dakota Salazar said some costumes had to be improvised. 

“Tonight, I am a skeletal, jester thing because it was a child’s costume, and I fit in it,” Salazar said. “I will be doing the scratching on the claustrophobia part of the haunted house. At the end, when they are emerging from it, I jump out and they get scared and I chase after them.” 

Salazar said the energy surrounding the event helps both the actors and the participants enjoy the experience. 

“Whenever you do things like this, whenever you perform or act, you feed off of everybody else’s energy,” Salazar said. “If the energy is low, then your performance is low. But, in something like a haunted house, when everybody is amped up and everybody is all excited to go through, it’s just a burst of energy and fun.”

After coming out of the haunted house, journalism junior Zara Mirza said the effects and the actors were very realistic. 

“The guy with the chain saw — I thought he was actually going to kill me,” Mirza said.

Engmann said on-campus events that take place during the school week, such as the haunted house, are important for students. 

“I feel like, especially now in the school year where a lot of midterms are happening, a lot of stress is being built in,” Engmann said. “It’s good to have these fun activities, not just as a stress relief, but also for memories. You want to think back to the fun times you had on campus — not just the stressful tests that you had.”

Against the wishes of a student who was hit by a bus during Foam Sword Friday last spring, UT student organizations will not host the end-of-semester celebration this fall.

UT student Nick Engmann was hit by a Capital Metro bus during the event in May, but suffered no serious injuries from the accident.

For the past six years, UT students have met on both sides of Guadalupe Street near the University Co-op to participate in Foam Sword Friday, an event where students charge into the street at each other holding foam swords when the walk signal appears. The Undergraduate Architecture Student Council has sponsored the event in the past, but this fall the organization has decided not to endorse Foam Sword Friday.

Engmann’s attorney, Reed Teckenbrock, said his client was not in favor of cancelling the event.

“Mr. Engmann does not support the cancellation of Foam Sword Friday, and he is disappointed that he was not consulted prior to that decision being made,” Teckenbrock said.

A traffic ticket was initially issued to the bus driver involved for running a red light. No other injuries resulted from the accident.

Erica Macioge, Capital Metro spokesperson, said review of cameras installed on the bus showed that the driver was in the intersection legally, and the ticket was dismissed at municipal court. Capital Metro’s investigation of the incident cleared the driver, as well.

“This incident involved a bus operator who at the time, had 21 years of service under his belt and a good safety record,” Macioge said in an email.

Teckenbrock said a complaint filed by Engmann with Capital Metro as a result of the incident is still under review.

After discussion with representatives from the School of Architecture, Higinio Turrubiates, president of the Undergraduate Architecture Student

Council, said the organization decided to cancel the event until it can be restructured in a safer manner. He said plans for a Foam Sword Friday in a new location should be completed by the spring.

Turrubiates said although the event has been cancelled, he believes some students will continue the tradition on their own.

He said because Foam Sword Friday has become a tradition at UT, his organization wants to keep it going.

“It’s had a strong demand by students,” Turrubiates said.

The event is normally held around noon on the last Friday of the spring and fall semester that classes are in session. Turrubiates said last spring roughly 200 students attended the event.

Printed on Thursday, November 1, 2012 as: Foam Sword Friday cut after student hit by bus

A Capital Metro bus driver ran a red light and hit a student today during the biannual foam sword party, an event put on by the Architecture Student Council.

Austin Police Department officials said a student, who was later identified as Nick Engmann, was hit by the bus at approximately 12:48 p.m. while crossing the street during the event. Engmann had minor injuries and was transferred to St. David’s Hospital. APD spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said the bus driver has already received a citation and whether he is at fault will be determined by insurance companies.

The bus was number 8936 running the 1M northbound route, said APD officer Jerry Bauzon.

Engmann posted to Facebook at approximately 4:30 p.m. today about the incident.

“Sorry the event got halted because of me fellow Longhorns! I’ll individually try and make it up to you all :). Hook em!!!”

This is the second time in the past few weeks a UT student has been hit by a Capital Metro bus. On April 20, 22-year-old advertising senior Andrew Ching Nien-Wang died when he fell under a bus as it departed. Wang was intoxicated at the time.

The event happens twice a semester and involves students standing on opposite sides of Guadalupe Street with foam swords and running across the street during red lights to hit the opposing side.

According to the Facebook event page, students have three rules to follow if they choose to participate: only cross the crosswalk at designated times when cars have stopped, do not bring your own foam swords since they will be provided and return the swords after the event.

James Spence, an executive officer on the Architecture Student Council, said the council has been holding the event for about six years with no accidents. Spence said the most serious incident involved a student participant slipping on the wet street while crossing last year.

He said the council talks to professors about safety and tells participants to be safe when crossing the street. Spence said students left the event soon after the accident. He said he feels terrible about what happened to Engmann during the event.

“It’s rotten luck that something like this happened at [an event] that should be a release for students,” Spence said. “It doesn’t look like we’ll be hosting the event in the future.”

He said the council is talking to professors in the School of Architecture on how to proceed. Although the Architecture Student Council hosts the event, Spence said the school does not promote it.

UT alumnus Bill Wilson said he has come to watch the foam sword battle for the past five years. Wilson said he heard a thud when the bus hit the student, after which the driver stopped immediately.

Additional reporting contributed by Hayley Fick.