It’s well-known that the University of Texas was resistant to racial integration in the 1950s. But thanks to newly discovered university documents, there’s evidence of how UT systematically discouraged black student enrollment.
Asher Price, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, found the documents while researching a book about UT football player Earl Cambell. He later wrote about the university’s discriminatory policies in an article for The Atlantic.
“I found myself burrowing through the archives at the Briscoe Center here on campus, and a lot of these documents were shocking,” Price says. “They were basically pulled from the filing cabinets of high-ranking administrators, and some of them have folders that are just labeled ‘Negros.’”
Price found that a committee formed to deter black students from enrolling, decided standardized tests would be one way to achieve their goal.
“The document talks about how, if we have an open-admissions policy like the kind we have now, we can expect to have 300 African American students out of a class of 2,700. But if we adopt standardized testing, that number will drop down to 70 out of a class of 2,700,” Price says.
In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court forced schools at all education levels to desegregate.
At the time, other universities had started to adopt standardized tests as part of their admissions processes, but the timing of UT’s adoption of the tests stands out. Price says it came shortly after the Brown v. Board decision.
“It shows how people in power, in private, very formally, very deliberately, very methodically, bureaucratically, [were] thinking out ways to keep black people from enrolling at the University,” he says.
Price interviewed current UT admissions officers about the University’s history with integration, and about what’s going on today. UT has become an advocate of affirmative action, as a way to make up for years of racist admissions, he says. But critics of admission policies that acknowledge race continue to advocate the use of standardized test results as a basis for admission.
“Some of the opponents of affirmative action argue that standardized testing should be a greater measure of merit for who should be admitted to the university,” Price says.
But Price says support for these tests forget their racist roots.
“This idea that SATs and other standardized testing is color-blind ignores a whole quite disturbing history,” he says.
Written by Libby Cohen.