Outside the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University a group called “Texas A&M Anti-Racism” practiced protest chants.
Their October 6 “No More Emails March” was one of several demonstrations this semester. This one was in response to multiple mass emails from university President Michael K. Young addressing on-campus racism – action protesters such as Emilio Bernal say doesn’t go far enough.
“What we’re trying to say is we don’t want anymore emails, we don’t want anymore fake apologies,” Bernal says. “We want to see real change, we want to see more students and faculty of color here, we want to see a mandatory anti-racism class, and that’s just to begin with.”
The Texas A&M Anti-Racism group formed last February after a group of touring high school students were the victims of hate speech. The group hopes to combat what they call a culture and history of racism at A&M.
The group met with President Young and other university administrators last spring about creating a mandatory racism awareness class. Group member Justin Hale was a part of those meetings – he says Young was supportive.
“A great quote he had coming out that meeting was ‘to deny racism at A&M is blind’ and I think he hit the nail on the head,” Hale says.
But Hale says progress in forming the course is slower than he’d like. Administrators cite funding and faculty availability issues as a barrier but Hale is skeptical.
“We’re at one of the most affluent schools in America, and especially the state of Texas,” he says. “We built a half a billion dollar stadium within two years, heck this year we’ve built a parking garage that they wanted within a couple of months. We have more than enough money and this has been an issue that has taken course over decades, over decades, so time is really just up.”
The demand for such an anti-racism class mirrors pre-existing efforts within the university to revamp A&M’s International and Cultural Diversity or IDC credit – a degree requirement all students must fulfill in order to graduate. For administrators, it’s the obvious place to direct the student group’s demands, but Dr. Julie Harlin, co-chair of the Core Curriculum Committee, says a single class would be too difficult to implement.
“When we’re trying to serve as many students as we have on this campus, 45,000 undergraduates, trying to have one course requirement has all kinds of challenges that logistically we could not navigate,” Harlin says.
Right now there isn’t a single class at A&M that every student has to take. Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Daniel Pugh says the it’s hard to fit a new class into every degree plan.
“It’s got to fit across all of the different colleges and it’s got to fit within the constructs of what the state says we have to do within a core curriculum,” Pugh says. “And you can’t just add on another three hours or six hours – it’s got to fit within that degree number that’s there.”
Instead of a single class labeled as “anti-racism”, the Core Curriculum Committee will propose a new requirement called “Cultural Discourse” filled with several different course options and a common online module.
But students like junior Jessica Carachure doubt such courses would be welcomed, or effective, at all.
“I feel like it’s hard to change people’s opinions on things and there would be a lot of conflicts coming up from that like people saying ‘I don’t need this class I already know this’ and stuff, so, I don’t know about that,” Carachure says.
TAMU Anti-Racism member Amanda Gomez sees things differently.
“People of color for decades on this campus have faced violence, not a few minutes of discomfort, not a class-period of discomfort – actually violence, verbal assault, physical assault,” Gomez says. “So I think two or three times a week, being in a class you might not want to be in isn’t so bad compared to that.”
While TAMU Anti-Racism has been critical of what they see as a slow response by administrators to their complaints, pilot classes similar to the group’s proposals could be coming to the A&M campus as soon as next semester.