UT diversity questioned at rally over King statue

By Erik Rodriguez
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, January 23, 2003

A student march and rally to protest the defacing of a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. at the University of Texas turned into an impromptu debate about campus diversity Wednesday.

UT President Larry Faulkner defended the university's efforts to bring more minorities to campus, while students said the incident was an example of ongoing racial tensions. And one administrator criticized the state law that guarantees state university admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

"In a nation which is rapidly moving to the right, we need to make a moral stand, the kind that Martin Luther King advocated," said Edmund Gordon, director of the UT Center for African and African American Studies. "If you look at the numbers, the top 10 percent plan does not provide equal access to African American students."

The UT chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized the march after students discovered that vandals had thrown eggs at the statue on Monday, the holiday honoring King. Vandals also threw eggs at the Harry Ransom Center, the geology building and an engineering building. About 200 students and some faculty members participated in the march.

A surveillance camera faces the statue of King, but the recording device malfunctioned, so there's no record of the incident, UT Police Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke said. He said police have few leads.

The incident prompted a demonstration Tuesday and the introduction of a resolution in the UT Student Government calling for a racial harassment policy for students. On Wednesday, students marched from the statue to the UT Tower, where they heard presentations from the dean of students, students and faculty decrying the vandalism and promoting unity on campus.

Student leaders said architects should review the statue for structural problems, and maintenance staff should provide better upkeep of the King statue and the grounds surrounding it, among other requests.

Gordon galvanized the crowd when he spoke out against affirmative access, a term coined by President Bush to describe the Texas system. Bush has come under fire for a brief the White House filed with the U.S. Supreme Court last week in opposition to affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan.

"I'm here to tell you that race-neutral plans for admission do not work," Gordon said, to applause from students. "We need a leadership that says it's important that this campus is diverse."

Faulkner was far less popular with students, who interrupted him and at times shouted as he attempted to speak. He hinted that students' anger over the statue incident had been misdirected and that administrators were doing much to promote diversity among students and faculty.

"We're going to keep hammering at it," he said. "I've challenged our admissions group, faculty and our staff to invent something new we can try in every admissions cycle. This is very important to the university."

Crystal Thompson, 22, a past president of the UT NAACP, said that race issues have been a problem on campus and that UT should do more to promote diversity.

"This (vandalism) may come as the most profound evidence of racial tension at the University of Texas," she said. "It's an expression of what exists on this campus."

Other students said they were shocked that the King statue would be vandalized at a campus such as UT.

"What happened shows a lot of disrespect to the man himself, not just for him but for what he tried to do for everyone else," said Ray Andrade, a sports management major.

Dolores Saenz, a social work major, said she hasn't experienced discrimination from other students but believes that it exists.

"Some people are nice, and some people aren't, and this kind of brings it to our awareness," she said.

erodriguez@statesman.com; 445-3673