State Senator Stands Up for High Schoolers Racially Harassed at Texas A&M

By Sheryl Estrada

Texas Sen. Royce West (D-23rd District)

A group of approximately 60 Black and Latino high school juniors from Uplift Hampton Preparatory School in Dallas toured the Texas A&M University’s College Station campus last week. They were subjected to racial slurs from white college students, who also shouted “Go back where you came from.”

“The fact is, if you have several people come together for an organized event and then begin to taunt students new students the fact is that they are engaging in a behavior as a unit,” state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) said in an interview on Wednesday. “And that constitutes a gang to me.”

West’s district includes Uplift Hampton, an inner citycharter school with predominantly Black and Latino students. The students visited Texas A&M as part of “Road to College,” a program that takes high school students on tours of colleges and universities across the country.

According to West’s eight-paragraph statement released Feb. 11, the incident began on Feb. 9 when a white woman wearing Confederate flag earrings approached two Black high school students. She asked their opinion of her earrings and whether they’d be able to wear the jewelry at school.

A group of “white male and female students” then began taunting the students “using the most well-known racial slur that’s directed toward African Americans.”

West said the incident was witnessed and reported by Texas A&M officials accompanying the high school students.

“A campus officer initially said that the A&M students were expressing their First Amendment rights,” he wrote. “However, campus police were dispatched and a report was made. An account from Uplift Hampton faculty who witnessed the incident was also forwarded to A&M officials.”

President Michael K. Young said the university has now identified some of the students involved. Young, Chancellor John Sharp and student body President Joseph Benigno met privately with the Uplift Hampton students in Dallas on Tuesday to apologize for their treatment. West attended the meeting as well.

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“We wanted to meet directly with the students, and I wanted to tell them how deeply sorry I was, and how sorry many people were, about what happened,” Young said in a statement. “I wanted them to know that doesn’t represent the values that we really hold dear at A&M.”

Young also said he was impressed by the students’ reaction.

“They are precisely the kinds of students we’d love to see enrolling,” he said. “At the end of the day, racism is systemic and endemic all over American society.”

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Young has written three official statements following the racist incident.

On Feb. 10 he wrote, “It is the responsibility of all of us to stop any incidents that could be considered hateful or biased-based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor.”

The Texas A&M College Station campus has 43,931 undergraduate students. The student body is 68 percent white, 20 percent Latino, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent Black and less than 1 percent American Indian.

Benigno delivered thousands of support letters to the high school students on Tuesday.

“This is a physical representation of what we stand for and what we really hold so dear to us because what they had experienced was such a[n] unfortunate misrepresentation of Texas A&M,” he said.

“I thought [theletter writing]was a showing of good faith,” West said. “I don’t know of any situation where something like this has happened before in Texas or around the country, where the president of the university and the chancellor of the system have gone to a particular school to apologize for the behavior of a few gang members on the campus.”

While police and Texas A&M are conducting investigations, university officials have not yet announced the disciplinary actions they will take against the students.

West said there should be an “institutional response to this type of behavior that makes certain that people know that if they come to an institution of higher education and they engage in this type of behavior, there will be severe consequences.”

He added, “I would think if we do that a couple of times, then the masses will get the message.”

In 2013, The Texas Association for the Protection of Children honored West with the Children’s Champion Award for his efforts in reducing the threat of child abuse while improving the well being of children across the state.

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