Black Student Alliance

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

In the midst of official reports indicating an absence of bleach in the balloon attack of government senior Bryan Davis, the Black Student Alliance organized a rally at the West Mall on Tuesday afternoon to plan for further activism and to oppose a climate of intimidation perceived by minority students at UT.

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said Davis’ clothing and balloon fragments collected at the scene on the Aug. 22 incident were sent to an independent forensic lab for further testing. 

“The lab has indicated that through their visual, microscopic and spectroscopy tests, all samples of clothing — shirt, shorts and socks — as well as submitted balloon fragments show no indication of bleach or other contaminant,” UTPD officials said in a statement. 

At the rally, students and staff voiced their dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of reported balloon attacks against minorities in the West Campus area. Speakers at the rally said the ensuing controversy — whether bleach was in fact used in the balloons — glosses over an overarching safety and civil issue.

Davis said despite the reports that bleach was not used in his attack, student concern over the issue is still very much alive.

“These targetings and attacks, as I’m sure all of you know, won’t stop until the University more seriously considers them to be an issue that isn’t going away until a proper solution is found,” Davis said.

Chas Moore, a former student who spoke at the rally, said he does not think every balloon attack in West Campus that involved a minority student is necessarily racially motivated. But Moore did say such attacks will not be taken lightly by minority students. 

“If [my racial demographic] makes up only 3 to 4 percent of the student population on this campus, and I’m getting balloons tossed at me from elevated levels in West Campus, I am going to internalize and think about those incidents in a different way than my non-colored constituents,” Moore said. 

Eduardo Belalcazar, an international relations and global studies junior, who is the latest victim to speak out against the attacks, shared his story at the rally. Belalcazar said he has not heard from UTPD regarding his investigation.

English professor Snehal Shingavi said the “boys will be boys” narrative used to justify or dismiss the balloon attacks evades what he considers some of the worst behavior on campus.

“It’s irresponsible to cite prankish behavior as an excuse for what is clearly a climate of intimidation,” Shingavi said. “The fact that it happens to sorority women more is not an excuse. It’s actually disgusting that sexism is being used as an apology to forgive racism.”

In response to the incidents, Reva Davis, African and African diaspora studies senior and president of BSA, announced that the group will be starting a letter-writing campaign to further voice student sentiments and the perceived racial tension on campus. Reva said the BSA will draft letters and send them to city and University officials. 

“It’s time for us to initiate change,” Reva said. “If people knew more about the demographics on color, they would empathize with the way these attacks are perceived. Every victim that has come forward has been a student of color. We need to cater to our reality.”

Dylan Hill, 12, marches down South Congress Avenue Tuesday afternoon during a rally held to protest the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin last month.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Echoing national outcry surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, more than 1,000 Austinites of different races and creeds marched down Congress Avenue to protest what they described as continuing institutional racism Tuesday evening.

Beginning at 5 p.m,, organizers and Austinites began to congregate before the Texas Capitol gates to rally against the Feb. 26 killing. As the crowd began to grow larger to include local politicians and UT groups including the Black Student Alliance and University Democrats, the initially silent protesters began to wave their signs and gather in a circle to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

A 17-year-old African-American, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., while walking through a gated community to his father’s fiance’s home, allegedly by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.

Following the example of other rallies across the nation calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and awareness about racial tensions in the United States, Tuesday’s rally was created to raise awareness about institutional racism and senseless suspicion, said organizer James Nortey.

Nortey created the Facebook group for the event, along with former Texas House member Glen Maxey and three others.

“I think this resonates particularly in Austin, with its history of minority shootings,” Nortey said. “People are shocked this is still happening when it has been going on for decades. We need to be proactive about making sure this doesn’t happen to a 17 year old in Austin.”

Though Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman described Martin as suspicious and claimed the killing was in self-defense.

Because of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, Zimmerman was not taken into custody and nationwide clamor for his arrest ensued after tensions grew online through Facebook and Twitter. Zimmerman has not yet been charged with a crime, although state and federal investigations are ongoing.

According to a pamphlet from the Austin Center for Peace and Justice distributed at the rally, there have been 11 killings of unarmed African-Americans and Hipsanics in Austin since 1980. The most recent is the shooting of Byron Carter last year by the Austin Police Department, after the on-duty officer claimed his partner’s life was in danger.

Following the lead of a group of rally members and Chas Moore, a former UT student and participant in the rally, a large number of the protestors began to march down Congress Avenue to City Hall, chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

“The fight for racial equality is continuing,” Moore said. “It’s not just a black, white thing anymore. It’s minorities fighting against the judicial and economic system. How long are we going to sit here and take this injustice?”

Over a hundred members of the UT BSA were present at the rally and march, said BSA secretary Reva Davis.

“We are here to support Trayvon Martin and his family,” Davis said. “This march is confirmation for what we want, but this is not enough at all. This is just the start of something that we hope will grow bigger.”

Other marchers included Austinite and UT alumnus Rudy Malveaux, who said that the killing of an African-American teenager in 2012 is absurd.

“We’ve gotten desensitized toward violence against black males to the point where boys can be killed for absolutely nothing,” Malveaux said. “The people in this crowd aren’t just black, they’re Americans. This is American family, and we can’t kill the kids in the family.”

Many protesters also held copies of the Daily Texan after assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi distributed them to the rally.

Shingavi said an editorial cartoon published in Tuesday’s Daily Texan was racist and inappropriate, and asked for protesters to support a petition to “censure Stephanie Eisner,” the cartoonist who drew the illustration in question, and “open The Daily Texan to staff and students to hold discussions about portraying racism.”

BSA member Ken Nwankwo said many African-American students at UT and members of the rally were disappointed by the cartoon, which depicts a mother reading to her child a statement about a “white man killing an innocent, handsome colored boy.”

“Clearly the cartoon is satire in the most wrong point, but it had to come out today on the rally for Trayvon Martin?” Nwankwo said. “There’s a lot in here in terms of rhetoric and syntax that’s incorrect. The cartoon downplays the whole issue.”

Ending their march at city hall, protesters listened attentively to the speakers’ messages.

“What we did was something they say doesn’t work anymore,” Moore said. “We are fighting for the rights of everyone, and we have to pressure the justice system and the education system to make it work. Don’t just go home and think the battle is over.” 

Editor's note: (03/28/12 at 9:22 a.m.) changed "censor" to "censure."

Printed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 as: Protesters rally against racism

To unify the black community on campus, students need to take the time to get to know individuals, rather than make assumptions based on stereotypes, said education senior Cierra Campbell.

Campbell was a panelist at the Black Student Alliance’s Speak Week event Wednesday night. The event, Things You Want to Ask but Can’t, allowed students to ask questions of a panel of representatives from different social groups within the black student community.

“You should take your responsibility to get to know that person before you make assumptions because you don’t know their story,” Campbell said.

The alliance’s faculty advisor, Kyle Clark, said Wednesday’s event was planned to break up the more serious topics covered at other Speak Week events this year. Monday’s panel discussion addressed suicide in the black community and Wednesday’s focused on gender roles.

“Today is supposed to be more lighthearted and let them talk about things they wouldn’t normally talk about,” Clark said.

Students submitted questions in advance at the alliance’s publicity table in Jester Center, and the panel took questions from the audience of more than 80 packed into a classroom in the Jackson Geological Sciences Building.

Jasmine Kyles, the alliance’s freshman action team chairwoman and a journalism sophomore, said the group hosts Speak Week to bring the black community together and to address a history of black students not interacting with one another. Kyles said in the past black students tended to avoid each other because stereotypes and ignorance led them to look down on each other. She said Wednesday’s event aimed to bridge the gap between different groups within the black community.

“Just by being here we’re taking the first step to unifying the black community, which is understanding different social groups,” Kyles said.

In response to an anonymous advance question about perceptions of athletes as egotistical, Cokie Reed, a communications sophomore and UT basketball player on the panel, said she hopes the black community in general and black athletes can gain a better understanding of each other.

“I wanted to be part of [Black Student Alliance] because I wanted to be part of the black community at UT, not just some stuck-up athlete,” Reed said. “My goal is to combine the black community and black athletes and become a unified community.”