By Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Texas at Austin works to foster a welcoming environment of inclusion and promotes diversity of ideas and people through its organizational goals and mission of providing a first-rate education to all students. Students are encouraged to be active participants in their education and to explore all that the university has to offer, including the academic, cultural and social opportunities available both in and out of the classroom.
However, incidents during the recent Roundup weekend have raised concerns related to the climate of our campus community. Roundup began in 1930 when the student government decided to “round up” alumni, entertaining them with barbecues and music. The Texas Exes sponsored Roundup from the 1960s until 1990, but due to a number of racially charged incidents that year, ultimately quit sponsoring the annual event. Roundup is not an official university event and does not take place on university property. Rather, various organizations host events that attract students and visitors to areas adjacent to campus.
Though reported incidents at this year’s Roundup were considerably fewer than the number reported last year, several incidents reported this year are disturbing, and remain under investigation by the Austin Police Department and the Office of the Dean of Students (DoS). One alleged incident reported in the Daily Texan on April 4 raised issues of racism and sexism that have the potential to erode campus climate.
The University of Texas at Austin does not condone behaviors such as those reported at Roundup including disrespect, forceful physical contact, public intoxication and underage drinking. Actions that could be construed as harassment, racism or other bias, or assault are particularly harmful to progress the university has made since 1990 in working to create an inclusive, open environment. We hope that members of our campus community will not tolerate such actions.
These incidents do however provide an opportunity for education and reflection on our campus. Currently the Dean of Students is gathering facts from all parties involved in the Roundup incidents. Student leadership groups including Student Government, the Interfraternity Council, and the newly formed Roundup Coalition will be involved in finding ways to educate our community about campus climate issues. In addition, the Office of the Dean of Students will look at ways to strengthen the leadership training that it provides through the UT Leadership and Ethics Institute.
Earlier this semester, President Powers approved a formal Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT). This team, which reports to the vice president for diversity and community engagement, is composed of members from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE), the Division of Student Affairs, and University Operations. The team develops and facilitates the implementation of appropriate university-wide responses to campus climate incidents impacting the UT Austin community. It also identifies existing programs and resources in the UT community that could be used to address campus climate incidents. Currently, the CCRT is working with units within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the Division of Student Affairs to identify ways to address the concerns raised by the reported incidents.
The Roundup incidents also serve as a reminder that there are many opportunities on campus to learn more about campus climate and diversity issues and that such offerings are needed. The Diversity Education Institute within the DDCE offers training sessions throughout the year, including an upcoming program on Civil Discourse on April 11. The DDCE’s Multicultural Engagement Center and Gender and Sexuality Center and the DoS’s Greek, Leadership and Intercultural Education offer resources and trainings especially for students.
At this time, it is up to each of us on campus, whether a student, faculty member, or staff member, to take responsibility for campus climate. It is up to each of us to speak out when we see issues of bias or harassment, to take responsibility to educate ourselves, engage in dialogue with others, and make a commitment to end bias, harassment, and hatred toward others in our community.