Rachel Quist

Classics professor Thomas Palaima speaks at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday afternoon about UT’s declining percentage of black students and faculty. Panelists discussed instituionalized racism at universities in light of recent controversies.
Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

In light of several recent investigations into racially insensitive fraternity misconduct around the nation, including one involving the UT Fiji chapter, panelists discussed Friday institutionalized racism at universities.

 Although the black population in Texas is 12.4 percent, the University’s faculty is 3.5 percent black and the student body is 4.1 percent black — percentages that have been declining since 2010, according to Thomas Palaima, panelist and UT classics professor.

 “Part of what I think is missed within the institution of higher education is essentially contact with the experience of the people who are targets or an understanding of what it must feel like [to be targeted],” Palaima said. “If you have a small dye in the big sea, how are you ever going to change the color perspective?”

In the current system, college students might not realize that they benefit from discrimination or fully understand the harm of perpetuate stereotypes, according to Rachel Quist, Plan II and art history senior. Coming in close contact with people who have different backgrounds is one viable solution, Quist said.

 “What I think is a huge problem is the way in which behaviors that are directly harmful to disenfranchised groups are normalized in society in such a way that they become invisible to the people who might actually do things to stop it,” Quist said. “I grew up unaware that we were not in a post-racial society until I entered into a less homogeneous environment, and I heard what people had to say, and I heard about their real experiences that are nothing like my own.”

 One way to deal with racial divisions is to force integration, according to Ryan Rafols, government senior and former UT Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter president.

 “We don’t have a very diverse culture and population at UT. We like to think we do, but when you look at actual statistics, it’s not very high,” Rafols said. “So we can either accept more people of diverse backgrounds at the University and let things play out over time, or we can do forced integration and programs.”

 The problem has less to do with fraternities and more to do with the unchanging dynamics of institutions, including universities, according to Palaima.

 “You’re not going to eliminate [racism] unless you change the institutions, and even make people realize there have to be changes in attitudes,” Palaima said.

The Blanton Museum of Art announced Friday that artist Ellsworth Kelly donated a design for a permanent installation called “Austin.”
Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

Many museums prohibit people from using selfie sticks in art exhibits, and the Blanton Museum is no exception, as detailed in an official statement from the museum Monday.

A selfie stick is a hand-held extender that attaches to smartphones and is used to take photos of large groups of people.  

“We are in the midst of revising our in-gallery photography policy, and as part of that policy, we will be retaining a prohibition on tripods and monopods, including the Selfie Stick,” Blanton officials said in the statement. “We encourage visitors to take photos in our galleries, but we must ensure the safety of the objects in our care, and bringing objects like selfie sticks, umbrellas or tripods into the galleries puts those objects at unacceptable risk.”

Several museums, such as the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., have already banned the use of selfie sticks this month. Others, such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, plan to ban them in the future. 

Although the selfie stick has potential to damage artwork, museums are becoming more lenient about their rules on pictures, especially since many people visiting museums have access to smartphones with cameras, according to art history professor Louis Waldman.

“I personally love taking pictures in museums, but it shouldn’t become a substitute for actually looking,” Waldman said. “Seeing art is a slow process that rewards patient effort. Just like getting to know a human being, you can spend hours and hours with a piece of art, and you’ll always keep discovering new things about it.”

The selfie stick can photograph a larger number of people because it extends past the reach of an arm, according to Amy Mulkey, communication sciences and disorders junior.

“I like it because I love taking pictures with friends, and the selfie stick is a good way to take a picture of a big group of people,” Mulkey said.

Some private owners are averse to big groups of people taking pictures with their art, according to Rachel Quist, art history and Plan II senior. Quist said artists and museums have a lot of reasons to ban pictures and selfie sticks, and she thinks the artists’ requests should be respected.

“There’s a reason some things are kept in really dim lighting. Really old images or images made out of sensitive materials can be significantly affected by the flash of a camera, especially repetitively,” Quist said. “If you like the image enough to take a picture of it, you should respect that you could be contributing to its deterioration.”

According to Quist, most museums have online collections of artwork that visitors can view. College students can access many images through the Artstor database, an online collection of artwork, Quist said.

“You might not be in the picture, but I just think that’s secondary to the preference of the owner of the image,” Quist said.