Robert Jensen

Harris Zafar, author of “Demystifying Islam,” spoke Thursday night at the #StoptheCrISIS event held in Welch Hall.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

To better understand the threat ISIS poses, a UT professor and guest lecturer explained how they believe United States action during the Persian Gulf War contributed to the formation and spread of the terrorist group.

ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, is an extremist terrorist group that controls territory in Iraq and Syria and has a presence in other areas of the Middle East. The group adheres to a medieval ideology, and the beheadings it regularly carries out often go viral on social media after promotion on ISIS-operated Twitter accounts.   

Journalism professor Robert Jensen opened the discussion with a reading from the Bible verses in Matthew 7:1–5, which are about having a plank in one’s eye. Jensen said this concept is important to recognize hypocrisy inherent in United States military involvement in Iraq. Jensen referred to what he calls the crucial point in the Persian Gulf War history in 1990 and 1991.

“In 1990, [the history] got very clear,” Jensen said. “The regime of Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The United States secured a resolution to authorize the use of force. In 1991, the U.S. drove out the Iraq force, but there are questions about whether coalition forces engaged in war crimes when firing on retreating Iraqi troops.”

Jensen said there are clear records of U.S. military leveling much of the infrastructure within Iraq.

According to Jensen, the U.S. military used force against the civilian population, which technically constitutes as a war crime.

“If a civilian’s infrastructure is decimated, that means the population is suffering, and you can exert more power,” Jensen said.

Jensen said further issues were fueled by the Middle East’s oil, which greatly complicated the politics of the situation. 

Harris Zafar, a guest lecturer and author of “Demystifying Islam,” said the group’s actions do not show the true values of Islam.

“Some will make this a religious matter that those joining ISIS are deeply religious,” Zafar said. “Can a group whose primary tool is chaos, destruction, disorder, mayhem be inherent of Islam?”

Sarah Khan, a religious studies and government sophomore, said she appreciated the discussion because of her own background. 

“My dad is Muslim … he wants to lay low and not run into trouble,” Khan said. “My main thing [is looking for] a solution for Islamophobia … Through moving forward in this problem, there are solutions, but we have to be willing to come together.”   

Assistant professor Snehal Shingavi and author Rahul Mahajan discuss the rise of religious nationalism in the context of the upcoming 2014 election in India at the Belo Center for New Media on Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

A student organization hosted a discussion Tuesday night on the upcoming 2014 elections in India and its current political atmosphere, featuring English assistant professor Snehal Shingavi and author Rahul Mahajan. 

The talk, “Is Intolerance on the Rise in India?,” was put on by the Azad Forum for Social Justice, an organization centered on raising awareness about politics in South Asia. Journalism professor Robert Jensen, who moderated the talk, said it was an opportunity to learn about another part of the world and get an understanding of how U.S. trends affect other areas.

“In the United States, there’s been a growth and appreciation of diversity and multiculturalism along with the need to be tolerant,” Jensen said. “But often tolerance is used as a defense against critical thinking and engagement. I think this notion of tolerance without critique is very dangerous, and that’s what we’re here to do tonight.”

Narendra Modi is the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but he is surrounded by controversy because of his alleged involvement in massacres of Muslims in India, according to Mahajan. Mahajan said Modi has not been held accountable for his involvement in the massacres in the 12 years since they occurred.

“It’s quite a remarkable thing — a politician who is deeply involved in a series of massacres that probably claimed 2000 lives, and then, later in 2002, essentially campaigns on the basis of the massacres,” Mahajan said. “The problem with figuring out all of the details of this is that the investigations were done in a context where [those questioned] were subject to large amounts of coercion.” 

The latest polls show Modi is headed toward a victory in the upcoming election, Mahajan said. 

In order to add context to Modi’s candidacy, Shingavi said Hindutva, an invented phenomenon meant to revitalize the Hindu religion and culture, is associated with the massacres.

Parvathy Prem, an aerospace engineering graduate student, said she came to fully understand the progression that led to the current state in India and get opinions on the matter, as she has thought a lot about the matter in the last few months.

“As an Indian, I think the upcoming elections are hugely important,” Prem said. “I also thought it was interesting that both speakers thought the way to go about fighting communalism is going about economic change.”


Clarification: This story has been updated from its original version. Hindutva, an invented phenomenon meant to revitalize the Hindu religion and culture, is associated with the massacres.

Photo Credit: John Massingill | Daily Texan Staff

“I’m a mouse, duh.”

Virtually every female college student can recognize this line from the movie “Mean Girls,” spoken by Amanda Seyfried’s character as she exasperatedly points to the mouse ears that, together with skimpy lingerie, constitute her Halloween costume. Young women have recreated that outfit on countless Halloweens since then, along with a variety of sexualized costume versions of nurses, French maids and even Big Bird (yes, as in the character from “Sesame Street”). Though squeezing into a revealing costume seems like a commonplace, trivial matter, it reflects a larger issue that speaks volumes about the sexual climate on our campus and campuses across the country.

Before continuing, I want to make a distinction between “sexy” and “sexualized.” Sexiness refers to a subjective judgment of attractiveness, and revealing ensembles aren’t necessarily “sexy.” But sexualized costumes, according to journalism professor Robert Jensen, “present women as objectified bodies for the pleasure of men. This idea extends across the [board], not just with Halloween costumes.”

Sexualization, then, is about something being sexual in nature, and near-nudity definitely qualifies as sexualized in our culture.

Moreover, confusing these sexualized Halloween costumes with “sexy” Halloween costumes narrows our conception of beauty, Jensen says.

“To call [revealing costumes] sexy buys into the idea that [they make] women look beautiful.”

It’s obvious that when female students choose to wear a low-cut, short-hemmed, sexualized ensemble, the intention is to be sexy. Thus, equating “sexy” and “sexualized” means restricting beauty and attractiveness to the physical form. This prompts the question: Why do we, as young women, limit our own conception of beauty?

One answer? The extensive influence of media. The source of it is everywhere: the Internet, TV or tabloid stands in the checkout line. “The costumes tell you something about the increasingly pornographic nature of contemporary culture,” Jensen said.

Certainly, sex sells. Madonna embodied this in the ‘80s, and Miley Cyrus is attempting the same today. The problem with this commonplace hypersexuality is that we still live in a deeply patriarchal culture. “That is the fundamental question,” Jensen said. “How do you resist the patriarchal culture?”

That is a much larger problem that I believe can only truly be addressed through education. But one temporary and theoretical solution could be that students boycott all social gatherings where women are expected to dress revealingly and men may act predatorily. You’re probably scoffing right now and thinking, “That will never happen at UT.” And you’re correct about that — at least for now — because there is currently no compelling feminist movement on campus shaping student ideology. But there are still conscious individual choices young female students can make this Halloween.

Simply choose a costume based on your personality and taste. Halloween isn’t about sexuality or modesty, anyway — don a costume that shows off your intelligence, humor and cleverness. Don’t buy into the media’s glorification of hypersexuality. Or, you can just go ahead and sport that Spandex/choker/garter thing you had planned with your friends, and do so proudly. Wear what makes you happy, and know that you don’t deserve any kind of punishment for that.

Last Halloween, I chose to don an elaborate Mulan costume with long sleeves, a sweeping hem and a full face of eerie white makeup and exaggerated black eyes. My reasoning wasn’t necessarily to cover up and avoid being objectified; it was simply what a Mulan costume entailed, and it plain old fun to dress up as a favorite childhood character.

At the same time, however, I’d be lying to say I wasn’t conscious of the implications my costume choice might have. I’m aware of those implications whether it’s Oct. 31 or any other day of the year. As a young woman navigating the waters of an often overtly patriarchal culture, I personally feel unsafe walking through West Campus alone at night, leaving a drink unattended and, yes, wearing notably revealing clothing in party settings. These are just the bounds of my individual comfort zone, but the takeaway is to critically identify your own boundaries and to respect them, even if it is just a Halloween costume.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Base your decision on what makes you comfortable, what message you’re OK with sending and what allows you to explore yourself and form positive relationships. The key in all three choices is awareness. To blindly throw on mouse ears over lingerie would be to conform to unhealthy ideas about identity and sexuality, and that’s a costume you can’t just take off.

Huynh is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Laredo. Follow Huynh on Twitter @raychillinn.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

On Sept. 4, UT journalism professor Robert Jensen penned an op-ed in the Austin Post titled “With Truce at the UT Factory, Time to Face Tough Choices.” In the article, Jensen defended the University “from right-winged attacks on critical thinking” and criticized the University’s close relationship with private industry. Jensen also criticized the pretensions of academia and of “self-indulgent professors” in the humanities that conduct research that “doesn’t much matter.” Jensen raises some important points, but his exaggerated language oversimplifies UT’s educational mission and ignores its potential benefits to the public.  

Jensen is right that a lack of intellectual courage in academia discourages practical solutions to pressing questions. Nevertheless, the best instructors know how to balance complex theory with practical applications. For example, in his article “Neoliberal Multiculturalism: The Remaking of Cultural Rights and Racial Dominance in Central America,” UT anthropology professor Charles Hale explains how the illusion of multiculturalism can be appropriated by institutions such as the World Bank  that grant cultural recognition but also potentially stymie legitimate efforts by indigenous activists at autonmous economic development. The title is a mouthful, and at first glance, the study might seem of little use to many students. But the article smartly explains the risks and rewards of indigenous activists working within the globalized capitalist system. It gives examples of activists who have turned the system to their advantage. Any student working to make change could learn a lesson from Prof. Hale’s research, regardless of how “self-indulgent” Jensen might deem the work.  

Moreover, though the tone of Jensen’s article seems to imply that political activism is a must, professors can critique existing systems without being blatantly militant. For example, English professor Douglas Bruster. As a former research assistant for Bruster, I can vouch for his engagement in the classroom. While he is not particularly partisan, his syllabus puts Shakespeare’s sonnets warning us of the frailty of our temporary monuments side by side with Andrew Marvell’s “An Horatian Ode,” forming a subtle yet effective critique of military ambition and societal acquiescence.

Though Bruster’s research topics are specialized and might seem inapplicable to most, his willingness to take on research assistants from outside his field shows a desire to give others transferable research and critical thinking skills. The key for professors is not to give up their “uninteresting research” but to balance it with rigorous teaching. Professors like Bruster were key in teaching me to develop interdisciplinary connections inside and outside the circles of academic theory.

Jensen’s pessimism regarding this equilibrium is ironic. Having taken one of his classes and consulted him on some of my own research in masculinities, I have no doubt that he strikes this balance between provocative teaching and solid scholarly research. However, by saying that the University is failing its students, Jensen ignores the practical resources available on campus and in the Austin community, such as the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Workers Defense Project (which he had a part in promoting).  Both of these organizations were brought to my attention by UT faculty.

The University is already doing its part to open doors for students. It’s our job to walk through them, no matter how frustrated that makes Jensen. 

Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

On March 21, members of the Tejas Club, a men’s student leadership and social organization at UT, asked Robert Jensen, a UT journalism professor, to leave the group’s West Campus house after he delivered a talk about rape culture and the perpetuation of violence against women in our society. The Texas Orange Jackets, a women’s leadership organization, co-hosted Jensen with the Tejas Club as part of the Orange Jackets’ Week of Women, which took place March 18 to 22, and consisted of daily events aimed at raising the UT community’s awareness of issues facing women and celebrating campus female leaders. 

In his talk, Jensen offered a critique of the normalization and relative societal acceptance of violence against women. Specifically, he spoke about violent pornography and its harmful effects. During the question-and-answer period that followed, an audience member and one of the two authors of this column asked Jensen to clarify a comment he had made earlier in the evening about the Tejas Club calling members “braves.” 

Citing the disturbingly successful campaign to exterminate Native Americans throughout much of U.S. history — as well as our society’s inability to come to terms with that history — Jensen argued that the Tejas Club’s name for its members is racist and called for the organization to change it. In response, several Tejas members called Jensen “a shithead,” and asked him to leave the house. No one was talking about violence against women by the end of the night.  

Jensen spent 90 percent of his talk deconstructing our society’s acceptance of violence against women as a normal occurrence. He spoke directly to the men in the room when he argued young males watching violent pornography is one root cause of rape culture. And, for 90 percent of Jensen’s talk, no audience member audibly protested.

We believe the uncivil behavior following Jensen’s later allegations of the club’s racism shows that his point about society’s inability to confront challenges to socialized norms, such as rape culture and racism, was lost on the angry audience and Tejas Club members. In a subsequent interview for this column Jensen acknowledged his tone shifted when he stopped speaking on rape culture and started speaking on racism. The journalism professor acknowledged his tone may have contributed to the unreceptive nature of the Tejas Club members’ response to his larger point. Yet, the outburst and territorialism exhibited by specific Tejas members still only reinforced Jensen’s claims that men in our society are plagued with an inability to move past a harmful, socialized idea of masculinity — a masculinity that requires violence, a need to assert power, and an inability to confront the racist and sexist problems that male privilege causes.

The Tejas Club calls itself the “premier men’s social organization” on campus, seeking to help its members achieveleadership, scholarship and honor. The group hosts weekly coffee meetings with the intention of intelligent debates —  one part of the club’s efforts to put itself above the status quo of West Campus fraternity life. By hosting a talk for Week of Women, we believe the club tried to stand in solidarity with female empowerment and against male-perpetrated violence against women. 

Acknowledging the problem of normalized violence against women and acknowledging the problem of systematic racism require the same process of reflection: Recognizing that hierarchies exist, and that they have harmful consequences.

The road to “solving” sexism, a subject one Tejas member inquired about before Jensen made his allegations of racism, does not begin when we yell, scream, curse and threaten. While defending the Tejas club against Jensen’s provocative and accusatory rhetoric, members noted their racially diverse membership, but pointing to non-white members in the club doesn’t amount to evidence that solutions to racism have been achieved, just as hosting a coffee about feminism doesn’t constitute evidence sexism has been overcome. Jensen did not connect his two points about racism and sexism last Thursday, but we want to make sure the connection was not missed. 

Kutner is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies senior from Houston and Greenberg is a Plan II and Middle Eastern studies sophomore from Austin. 

An editorial by journalism professor Robert Jensen criticizing the celebration of Thanksgiving stirred critics during the holiday break, prompting a stream of email and editorial responses.

In an editorial “No Thanks for Thanksgiving,” republished on, Jensen discusses the history of the holiday, calling the actions of English settlers genocide.

“Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers,” Jensen’s editorial stated.

The editorial goes on to compare the values of some of the founding fathers to those of Nazis.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Jensen said he has published several other editorials on the topic since 2005, but this republishing of a 2007 article on the day before Thanksgiving has received more attention than in the past.

Jensen said since Wednesday, he has received roughly 300 emails responding to the editorial and almost all have criticized the piece.

He said the emails range from raw anger with insults and profanity to criticisms of his understanding of the holiday’s history. He said many support traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, because they focus on sharing and thankfulness and believe the holiday can be celebrated separately from what he referred to as “the beginning of a genocide.”

Jensen said, however, Thanksgiving cannot be separated from its historical context.

Since its republication this year, Jensen’s editorial has been critiqued through editorials on several online news outlets, including, and

Dan Gainor published an editorial on Jensen’s piece Thursday on CNS News, a conservative online news source.

In it, Gainor claims that Jensen is “bashing” America with his editorial.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gainor said he sees Jensen’s editorial as inaccurate.

“That’s so monsterously wrong in so many different ways,” Gainor said. “It attempts to apply 20th century thought circumstances and morality to the American Revolutionary War,” referring to Jensen’s comparison of some of the founding fathers to Nazis.

Jensen said he was prompted to write the editorial partly by discomfort he felt celebrating Thanksgiving, something he felt others could relate to.

“I wrote that piece, in part, for people that were struggling with the same practical problems that I was,” Jensen said.

He said he also wanted to give those who did not feel such discomfort insight into the historical context of the holiday.

“The purpose is to put in front of those folks an argument that they can ponder,” Jensen said.

Jensen has published other works in the past challenging American actions throughout history, including a 2001 editorial he wrote for the Houston Chronicle titled “U.S. just as guilty of committing own violent acts.”

The 9/11 attacks were “no more despicable as the massive acts of terrorism — the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes — that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime,” Jensen stated in the 2001 editorial.

He said the 2001 article was the last time he received so much criticism for one of his editorials.

Jensen has published dozens of editorials on American politics in between.

“I believe that there are a lot of issues this country needs to come to terms with quickly,” Jensen said.

Printed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 as: Holiday editorial receives criticism

This year the Young Conservatives of Texas announced that they’re bringing back their ‘professor watch-list’, which attempts to bring attention to professors that teach with either a conservative or liberal bias, and either discourage or openly reject dissenting opinions.  It’s a noble cause, of course, but as my colleague Larisa Manescu pointed out in a recent column, “The fact that an inherently biased political organization considers itself the architect of a watch list to identify and eliminate bias is suspicious. This concern would be just the same if the University Democrats proposed the same project.”

It’s important to address biases, especially in the classroom and in the media.  From my experience, my professors do an excellent job of welcoming diverse opinions.  But Danny Zeng, communications director of College Republicans of Texas, thinks the media is liberally biased, asking me, “For instance, how many conservatives write for The Daily Texan?”  My own observations of this semester’s group of weekly columnists tells me there are few.

The reason is actually rather simple.  At the beginning of the year, Kayla Oliver, a Texan associate editor, did actually invite members of both the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives to apply for a spot on the paper, though only two expressed an interest in applying.

As a libertarian, I often feel like my voice is left out.  Realizing this, I applied to be an opinion columnist.  I reached out to the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives for this column, like I did for my last three columns, to no avail.  Danny Zeng of the College Republicans did contact me for this column.  The Young Conservatives, however, have not yet replied to a single interview request — for this column or any other.  Perhaps the issue isn’t some ‘liberal’ media bias, but rather a lack of cooperation.

“Bias in media is not simply how one phrases certain things, but more importantly, what topics are chosen to be covered,” Zeng said.   However, the College Republicans refused to participate in the recent Hook the Vote election debate, claiming, “CR officers re-evaluated the whole situation and saw absolutely no benefits for us to stage a dog-and-pony show, putting our members through debate prep for a group of maybe 20 highly partisan college students.”  I asked Zeng if the group regretted their decision after the debate attracted more than 100 attendees, as well as media coverage.  “Short answer, no,” Zeng said, “I have to ask if any significant number of that “[more than] 100 attendees” did not have their minds made already prior to attending the debate.”  Maybe there is a bias that affects which topics are chosen, but removing yourself from a publicized debate is not a great way to help your case.

But how do others see bias?  Journalism professor Robert Jensen noted that, statistically, people with higher education levels, including journalists, are typically more liberal on social issues than the general public.  So, he says that “there is a kernel of truth” to the alleged bias, but it’s a very small kernel that’s been exploited by the well-funded right wing.

Plan II student Colleen O’Neill is a little uncomfortable with what she considers the media’s liberal bias, as are many other students I talked to.  Agreeing with Dr. Jensen that the entertainment industry has a very clear liberal bias, O’Neill told me, “Teens and young adults see these young, relatable and successful celebrities supporting the liberal party, and they see that being a part of the liberal party is the popular thing to do. At our impressionable, young ages, it is only natural for us to latch onto something that the crowd is doing.”  To see O’Neill’s point, one only has to compare the many celebrity endorsements of Obama to the fewer celebrity endorsements of Romney.

It is important to note, as Dr. Jensen did, that sometimes the supposed ‘liberal bias’ of the media is simply a ‘bias’ toward fact.  While supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion is subjective, pointing out facts is not. When Missouri Congressman Todd Akin infamously said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” the media called him out for his blatantly false statement — and rightly so.  Akin, however, claimed that the media attention was an unfair attack from the ‘liberal elite’ and the ‘liberal media.’  If a bias against stupidity is considered unfair, we have a significant problem.

Luckily, from the students I’ve talked to, our professors on campus do a good job of teaching without any significant biases.  Even Zeng told me, “I have personally not experienced much bias from the professors. My liberal professors are very balanced with their teachings, so are my conservative professors.” Exercise science junior Caroline Betik said, “All of my professors like to keep quiet about their views and allow students to decide for themselves.  I think the bias comes from who your friends are, roommates and what groups you associate yourself with, like certain sororities or other organized groups on campus.”  Seconding that point, Pierre Rochard of the Libertarian Longhorns noted, “Neither the city of Austin nor the University are monolithic, homogenous entities,” so we can’t make blanket statements about local biases.

So, really, the only thing I’ve concluded is that, with my libertarian bias, I can’t properly address whether or not there is a dominant bias in the media or on campus.  But there was one thing that everyone I interviewed agreed upon: it’s important to learn, discuss, and engage the ideas and views of all sides of the political spectrum.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas

John Horton is the chairman of the UT chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas. The organization maintains a watchlist of professors who assert political opinions in class without allowing students to express dissenting opinions.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter is compiling a watch list to identify professors who it decides are inappropriately politicizing the classroom.

The organization is accepting suggestions from all students and will publish the list for students to consult in advance of Spring 2013 registration, government senior John Horton, Young Conservatives of Texas UT chapter chairman, said. Members of his organization will investigate every name submitted by auditing classes, interviewing students from the professors’ classes and evaluating the syllabus for reading materials selected, he said.

“We’ll get a lot of submissions, but most of them will probably not end up on the list,” Horton said. “You can have a devout, open communist or an open neo-conservative professor that tells you they are openly that way. If they allow for dissenting opinion, that’s perfectly fine with us.”

UT’s chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas has about 40 active members, Horton said. He said the members will be tabling for watch list submissions beginning Friday. Students can also submit suggestions anonymously on the website, Horton said. The organization began publishing a watch list in 2003, but has not produced one since 2007. Horton said it has been five years since a list has been compiled because of the effort needed to do the list correctly.

“It is only legitimate if we do it the right way and actually find the professors that have a legitimate bias and do not allow for dissenting opinion,” Horton said.

Horton would not give names of professors who had been submitted, but said students have named eight or nine so far. Journalism professor Robert Jensen’s name appeared on past versions of the list, but Horton said Jensen will not be on it this year, based on student interviews that indicate he does not unfairly push his views on others.

“As someone who comes from the political left, I have to be especially attentive to these kinds of things, because people like me tend to be the targets of concerns about inappropriately politicizing the classroom,” Jensen said.

He said proselytizing for specific candidates, positions or parties in the classroom is not appropriate. All teachers make political decisions when they select textbooks and plan lectures and assignments and the best practice is to be transparent about it, Jensen said.

“All teaching in the humanities and the social sciences has a politics to it,” he said. “But teaching is more than politics.”

Jensen said he is happy to see any group engage in a conversation about politics and education, whether or not they agree with him. Government lecturer Alan Sager, an active member of the Republican party, is another professor who is “Classrooms are supposed to be a place for the examination of critical thought,” Sager said. “If someone thinks that the classroom isn’t like that they should be able to say it.”

Sager encourages students to challenge his own politics and said that dissenting discourse in his class often improves students’ grades. He said if anyone has a problem with the list Young Conservatives of Texas is producing, they should make their own list.

“On most speech issues I am very libertarian,” Sager said. “I think the answer, if someone has a problem with speech, is to just create more speech.”

An excerpt from a story that ran in May 1957 after it was discovered that Barbara Smith Conrad was removed from her role as Dido in the campus rendition of Dido and Aeneas because of her race. The article does not immediately address the incident after the initial paragraph, instead the reporter chose to cover other events that were “overshadowed” by the announcement. (Photo courtesy of Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Editor’s note: This story is the fourth in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

In March, a racially offensive cartoon commenting on the media’s coverage of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin motivated members of the University community to picket The Daily Texan and shined a spotlight on the coverage of race by the Texan in the modern era.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said the most recent controversy at the Texan is the latest in a long line of incidents.

“These flashpoints at the Texan seem to pop up fairly frequently,” Jensen said.

The Texan has been the student newspaper of UT since 1900 and is a quasi-independent entity of the University, overseen by both the office of the vice president of Student Affairs and the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees. The editor-in-chief is elected by students and the paper is funded by revenue from advertising and student fee allocations from the Student Services Budget Committee. The policy of a University official monitoring the paper’s content was established in 1936 and was inconsistently enforced until 1971. In 2007, this policy of prior review was abolished after 36 years of use.

For the first 30 years of the Texan’s existence, it’s difficult to find an indication of a stated political stance the University held on segregation. Laden with details of campus celebrations and ceremonies, the Texan focused more on student life than state news or major issues.

The paper gradually grew to include news of a more serious tone in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The Texan openly voiced racist sentiments, including the publishing of a January 12, 1940 guest column in The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia. In the column, the editorial board argued that pending anti-lynching legislation was a ploy by Republican lawmakers to garner more African-American supporters.

“Congress cannot legislate away the threat of mob violence with this ridiculous bill,” the editorial said. “Only education and enlightenment, directed by the thinking men of the South can wipe out the evil. It is our problem as a state, and if you look at the record, you will see we are doing a pretty good job. Let the Congressmen find some less distasteful method of garnering votes.”

Over the next 10 years, the push for integration grew stronger, and by the time Ronnie Dugger became editor of the Texan in 1950, publishing pro-integration editorials reflected the changing campus climate. Dugger, now an 81 year-old journalist in Austin, recalled the state of integration in an interview.

“The position at the University was that there would be no blacks there,” Dugger said. “This was 1950-51. Blacks were not welcome. I was, of course, for integration at The Daily Texan,” Dugger said.

Dugger said his election as a progressive editor of the Texan was a result of student support for integration on a campus where the University administration was kept from taking a pro-integration stance by ties to the legislature.

“You have to remember [the legislature was] literally for segregation at least through 1957, and therefore the administration had to be concerned about integration at UT because it would affect their appropriations,” Dugger said.

The Daily Texan supported the UT administration’s pandering to racist legislators in 1957 when Barbara Conrad Smith, who came to the University the previous fall as part of the first class of accepted African-American undergraduates, was forced to resign her part in an opera production after she won the lead role opposite a white male. State Rep. Joe Chapman insisted Smith, who had spent six months rehearsing for the opera, be removed.

The Texan criticized the selection committee that awarded Smith the part.

“Even if the girl chosen had the best voice, and we do not doubt that she did, it would have seemed only the better part of discretion and wisdom not to cast her in a romantic role opposite a white male lead,” the editorial board wrote.

Smith’s removal may have set minority students back, but change was on the horizon. In the 1960s UT saw an explosion of student activism, recalled alumna Alice Embree, who enrolled at the University in the fall of 1963 and took part in civil rights on campus.

The Texan didn’t delve into the problems driving the issues or produce much coverage of minority students’ struggles on campus, Embree said.

“The long term problem was that the Texan would ignore the problem until student activists made it an issue, and then they would cover what happened and begin to open up the dialogue,” Embree said.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the population of minority students on campus grew, and the battle for ethnic studies centers and courses allowed the contentious issue of race in higher education to continue simmering on the pages of the Texan before reaching two major flashpoints in the 1990s.

In 1991, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust submitted to The Daily Texan a full-page advertisement contending the historical accuracy of the Holocaust. A unique policy of Texas Student Publications, now called Texas Student Media, required the members of the Board of Trustees’s advertising committee to publicly debate and vote on contentious ads. Once the press got wind of the possibility of the ad running, a passionate debate erupted across the state.

“At one point we had hundreds of letters coming in from synagogues in Houston, telling us not to run the ad,” said Geoff Henley, editor of the Texan in 1992.

A version of the ad eventually ran without the editorial board’s support after advertising professor John Murphy, a member of the TSP board who still works at UT, convinced the other student members of the board that the value of free speech outweighed the potential racist tone of the advertisement.

Students distributed flyers on the West Mall labeling him a racist and a barrage of other personal and physical attacks. Murphy said these allegations were not true.
Marketing administration professor Eli Cox symbolically resigned from the TSP board after the vote to run the ad was made.

“I did not think any reputable professional newspaper would have printed that ad,” Cox said.

After receiving much criticism, Henley said controversy at the paper died down. The peace did not last.

Toni Nelson Herrera was an incoming history graduate student at UT in 1997 who arrived on campus shortly after the Hopwood v. Texas ruling of the previous year that struck down the UT law school’s affirmative action policy.

In an April 18, 1997 editorial in the Texan, current law professor Lino Graglia wrote: “The only reason we have racial preferences, of course, is the fact that blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites and Asians. Racial preferences is simply an attempt to conceal or wish away this unwelcome fact ... Racial preferences are the root cause of virtually all major problems on American campuses today.”

Herrera said she and other students of color decided to organize in response to professor Graglia’s comments. A rally of 5,000 people, including an appearance by Rev. Jesse Jackson, took place, Herrera said.

“I was targeted very specifically by The Daily Texan after I spoke up at the rally, saying something to the effect that I had low test scores,” Herrera said. “My SAT scores weren’t that great. Nevertheless I double majored and graduated from undergrad in three years. The point I was trying to make was that we should be looking at a whole range of factors to get into college.”

The Texan zeroed in on Herrera and fellow graduate student Oscar de la Torre, she said. Both student activists became the target of editorials, and de la Torre was depicted in a cartoon on horseback wearing a sombrero and carrying a rifle. After organizing demonstrations against the paper, Herrera said she and de la Torre took action against the newspaper’s racist actions.

“It was a formal complaint we filed with the newspaper,” Herrera said. “Unfortunately, not much came of it.”

Editor Colby Angus Black later received a 17-1 vote of no confidence from the staff of the Texan and was reprimanded by the Texas Student Publications board for allowing the cartoon to go to print and making personal attacks on students.

The outcome of the controversy wasn’t all bad however, Herrera said.

“The other side of it was that there was a section of students that worked for the newspaper who were more progressive and wanted to understand the movement and understand the struggles of students on campus so they could reflect that in their journalism,” Herrera said.

The Texan still faces criticism for its coverage and portrayal of race. In March 2012, the Texan once again published a racially-charged cartoon, this time labeling the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin as a “poor innocent colored boy.” The editorial board later apologized and decided it would not publish artist Stephanie Eisner’s cartoons for the rest of the semester.

Jensen said there are steps the Texan can take to improve coverage of minorities.

“To change, The Daily Texan will have to commit to the project of trying to transcend its racist past and the white supremacist culture,” Jensen said. “One thing that will have to happen is that the staff has to go through a brutal process of self-reflection,” Jensen said.

Since the cartoon’s publishing, The Daily Texan has taken steps to better address the needs and experiences of minority students on campus through its current and future coverage. A workshop with professors and local journalists, meetings with students from organizations that represent students of color and a series of stories spotlighting issues of race on campus, including this story, have been first steps.

“Hopefully, moving forward the Texan will have better coverage of the entire campus community and better representation of all of our students,” current Texan editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous said.

Pulitzer Prize winner David Hoffman, formerly of The Washington Post, spoke about the legacy of Anthony Shadid Monday evening at the Jesse H. Jones Communication building. The presentation was hosted by the Institute for Communication on Media and the Middle East.

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

Journalists, students and educators gathered Monday to discuss the work of Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who had planned to visit the University before he died while fleeing Syria in February.

The Institute for Communication on Media and the Middle East hosted the talk, which featured a speech by Washington Post contributing editor David Hoffman followed by comments from School of Journalism director Glenn Frankel and professors Karin Wilkins and Robert Jensen.

At the time of his death, which was caused by an acute asthma attack, Shadid worked as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Prior to writing for the Times, Shadid won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 and 2010 for his work for The Washington Post.

Hoffman, who oversaw Shadid while serving as assistant managing editor at the Post, said Shadid exemplified a mastery of the art of journalism.

“He fulfilled an ideal for many of us as journalists,” Hoffman said. “He had shown us that it was possible to attain a kind of perfection.”

Shadid achieved that excellence by committing himself to the people and events he reported about, Hoffman said.

“Anthony would record every detail, every sight, every smell,” Hoffman said. “He would linger looking for clues.”

Frankel said Shadid’s method resonated with the title of the late reporter’s memoir, House of Stone.

“Reporting starts on the ground, going to see one person at a time, gathering little bits of material, like building a house,” Frankel said.

“Shadid’s work was this edifice of knowledge that he built one brick at a time. No one had this body of knowledge, and it gave him the altitude to see the Arab Spring coming.”

Shadid’s open-mindedness enabled his foresight into the future of the Middle East, Jensen said.

“He didn’t come in with a conclusion that he wanted to prove true,” Jensen said. “He did have assumptions that made him able to see things more clearly. One was that Arabs are fully human.”

Finding the human element amidst war was a theme of Shadid’s reporting, Frankel said.

“Anthony was always looking for that human moment,” Frankel said. “He was trying to get to the essence of that human suffering — to show you exactly what the price of war is.”

Hoffman said Shadid’s career will inspire the next generation of journalists.

“I don’t know who the next Anthony Shadid will be, but I hope there will be hundreds,” he said. “I just hope they pull Shadid’s books off the shelf and read the master.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 as: Talk honors Pulitzer winner's legacy