Choquette Hamilton

Michael Williams has been researching the Top Ten Percent rule as a means of discovering the affect of an applicantÂ’s race on the admission practice.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

Three years ago, when he first stepped on campus, someone told Michael Williams he would not be at UT if it were not for the top 10 percent rule. Williams is black, and the words he heard that day echo arguments a rejected UT applicant is making to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s a pride thing,” Williams, a sociology and applied learning and development senior, said. “I would hope I would be admitted even if I was not in top ten percent.”

The debate on this question will open on the national stage in October when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case brought by rejected UT applicant Abigail Fisher, who claims she was denied admission because she is white and said she was just as qualified as her minority counterparts. UT will be submitting its briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 6. Fisher did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her class.

Williams said although race is not the only factor in admissions, it is important.

“This is a case that will affect admissions and a lot of schools of higher education,” he said. “It’s not just going to change UT, it’s going to change a nation. I don’t know if students know that.”

Since February, Williams has been researching black male students admitted to UT under the Texas policy, and presented his findings Aug. 1. Based on his findings, as a black UT student, if he had not been in the top ten percent of his class, the odds of admittance would not have been in his favor.

Passed in 1997 during the tenure of former Gov. George W. Bush, the law was created as a race-neutral policy to increase minority representation in Texas universities. The program grants certain students automatic admission to any public university in Texas if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Williams found the plan had succeeded, with TTP black male enrollment at UT rising steadily over the years. However, he found the number of black males admitted to UT who were not in the top 10 percent of their graduating class had declined.

Choquette Hamilton, UT associate director for development in the department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and other researchers conducted similar research on the relationship between the top 10 percent admittance and black students in 2011.

She said TTP has played a major role in increasing UT access to Asian and Latino students, but not black students. Hamilton herself was admitted under TTP and said she did not think she would have gotten into UT otherwise.

Hamilton said minority students could be negatively impacted if race is thrown out of the admissions equation as a result of the Fisher case.

“Policies like affirmative action and Top Ten Percent play a major role in minority admission,” she said. “Race is closely tied to class, race is tied to opportunity, race is tied to these inequitable institutions that create a disadvantage for students. Until there is true equal opportunity, we are always going to need racial preferences in these situations.”

For students, like Fisher, not automatically admitted in the top ten percent, UT determines admission based on their Academic Index and Personal Achievement Index, according to the Office of Admissions.

The Academic Index evaluates students based on class rank, completion of required curriculum and SAT/ACT scores. The Personal Achievement Index evaluates students based on essays, extracurricular activities, leadership, honors and awards, service, work experience and special circumstances, which include race and ethnicity. Their combined score on both determines whether they get into UT.

Director of Admissions Kedra Ishop said UT has been using race and ethnicity in its admissions process since 2005. Before 1996, UT also had affirmative action policies that allowed for minority students to be considered differently. Ishop said the recruitment of a diverse student body is a top priority for UT and President William Powers Jr.

“Race and ethnicity are some of the many factors of personal achievement,” Ishop said. “It has no bearing in priority on the process of holistic review. With the premise of holistic review, everything is weighed in context.”

UT is the only school in the U.S. to use both the top 10 percent rule, considered a race-neutral policy, and racial factors in special circumstances. Other Texas universities, like Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University, do not consider race in the admissions process.

Regarding whether the admission process would be greatly affected if race were thrown out of the picture, Ishop said she had no comment. She said admissions will evolve as necessary.

Lauren Gaskill, an incoming education freshman, said it was very difficult to get into the top ten percent at her school and she focused more on building her resume, working two jobs and doing extracurricular activities. She said although she did not feel being white played a part in her admission to UT, she had other white friends who were denied admission and felt race was a factor.

“I don’t think UT accepted me because of the color of my skin but because of the student that I am,” she said.

Gaskill said she thinks UT should throw race out of the admissions process and evaluate potential students on a solely academic basis.

Kayla Celeste, an incoming radio-television-film freshman, said it was also very competitive to get into the top 10 percent at her school. Celeste said she did not expect to get into UT and was already planning on going to Emerson College in Boston. Celeste said she knew UT and other colleges look at race in admissions.

Celeste, who is black, said race definitely plays a part in admission, but it doesn’t mean that anyone who might be accepted on a racial basis is any less prepared to be a college student.

“The fact that I am black could have been the thing that put me over and put me on the admitted side,” Celeste said. “I would like to think I was admitted because I was more prepared. I am going to do my studies and have that mind-set.”

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works to coordinate access and efficiency for schools across the state, said minority recruitment has been very important to the board. Chavez said the board has very specific goals for increasing the number of Hispanic and African-American students in its various programs.

Although Chavez would not comment specifically on Fisher v. UT, he said the board wants to do more to increase participation in higher education by minorities and all Texans.

“Regardless of any lawsuit, I don’t think that goal is going to change at all,” he said. “We’re still going to be focused on getting more students, particularly African-American and Latino students, to college. We’re going to continue to tell the Texas Legislature to give more financial aid for these poor students. For us, it’s business as usual.”

Cheyenne Hoffman looks to provide an outlet for black voices on campus. She is the editor-in-chief of the Black Ink Association, which is launching an online publication this fall to raid awareness about news affecting the black community.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

After two semesters and a summer of planning, a new online African-American UT publication will launch in the fall.

Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman, editor-in-chief of the publication and a journalism sophomore, said the student organization Black Ink Association is attempting to launch a publication similar to the “The Griot,” which was an African-American print publication at UT in the ’80s and the ’90s.

Choquette Hamilton, associate director of development for the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, said during its time the Griot served as a counter-narrative to the dominant voice of students, which she said was The Daily Texan.

“The Griot came about because students, particular black students at the University, felt that their story wasn’t being told, and if it was being told, it was being told in a viewpoint that was not their own,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the Griot addressed a few landmark issues during its time. For instance, the Griot tackled the issue of divestment of UT from companies in South Africa, which was utilizing the racial segregation policy of apartheid at the time.

Hamilton said while she was not certain why the Griot stopped publishing, she imagined it would have to do with funding, as it cost about $225 to create the Griot, which printed once a semester.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but back in the ’80s, I imagine $225 to create a newspaper was a significant cost for students,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said while The Daily Texan says it strives to act as the voice for all students, the newspaper has a hard time recruiting and retaining people of color from different perspectives.

“The way The Daily Texan obtains their employees is through walk-in type basis, rather than more of a recruitment,” Hamilton said. “Because that is the case, it’s self-selected. By the very nature of that process you’re going to get a one-sided viewpoint on many of these issues. So having these counter-narratives open up the dialogues and present things from different perspectives really helps everyone involved.”

Now, Hoffman said, the Black Ink Association’s publication, which does not yet have a name, will attempt to cover some of the issues that have not been covered since the Griot’s absence.

“I just think there are a lot of issues involving the black community at UT, and just Austin in general, that don’t really get reported about,” Hoffman said.

News editor Aladeria Allen said students can expect a diversity of news from the publication that is not just from the African-American perspective, but all student minorities.

“Students can expect just really a huge range of news, from the more controversial topics to the stuff you don’t see everyday,” Allen said.

Since the Black Ink Association’s publication will be online and not in print, Hoffman said they are planning to spread information about their publication by talking to organizations on campus.

“When we do start next semester, we’ll have a Twitter [account] and Facebook [page], and we’ll be pushing for it a lot in the organizations,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the publication is still looking for reporters and all students are welcome.

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: Publication to report counter-narrative

Students Cameron Woods, Marzavia Crayton, Montrail Neal and Jeremy hills play dominoes in the Malcolm X Lounge Thursday.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff


Editor’s note: This story is the third in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

Walk into the Malcolm X Lounge any given day to find a heated discussion, a study session, an organizational meeting or a prayer group.

Some say a peek between the alabaster blinds lining the room provides a look at the makeup of University’s black community.

“I would say it’s ‘our space’ because we can talk about what we want to talk about,” said former UT student Chas Moore, who visits the lounge for at least two to three hours each week. “We can have events in there, play dominos or cards — it’s the black spot on campus.”

At UT there are many organizations centered on cultural interests, Moore said, and the X Lounge is the place where black students can come and be around people from the black community. People who identify as black are the ones who most frequent the lounge, Moore said, and those who do not will often stare at the lounge but not come in.

The lounge first opened in 1995 on the ground floor of the Jester Center after black students pushed to create an area for their community on campus after the University closed their unofficial meeting space. Black students petitioned former UT President Robert Berdahl for a new area where black students could gather and were approved for the space. Today, the X Lounge is run entirely by students and provides a space for organizations to hold meetings and events, student study sessions and storage, among others. It is open for reservation by all students.

Choquette Hamilton, associate director for development of African-American diaspora studies, said the lounge was always intended to be an area for the black community but is open to all. Hamilton said there have been many points in time where black students did not feel safe on campus, both physically and in terms of respect for their culture.

“If you’re a black student and you’re in a classroom filled with people who don’t look like you and may possibly say things that are offensive, it’s frustrating going through that day in and day out,” Hamilton said. “[In the X Lounge] people don’t have to worry about dealing with those things because the people that hang out in that space relate to your experiences.”

Hamilton said even today many black students do not feel welcome in all parts of campus, and while there are often many organizations tabling on West Mall, it is rare to see black organizations there. She also said some black students do not feel welcome in the South Mall, which contains statues of former U.S. leaders known for spreading racist ideas.

Carissa Kelley, Student Events Center president, said she does not go to the lounge much and spends most of her time in the Texas Union. She said most black students have gone to the lounge at least once and those who do not go are probably disconnected from the black community. Kelley said if people are absent for a while, many in the lounge will begin asking questions.

“People expect for all black organizations on campus to table there, put their fliers there and put their face there because that is how you show you’re involved in the community,” Kelley said. “If you’re not there, you’re not [involved].”

Ethnic studies sophomore Jarius Sowells said he visits the X Lounge about three times a day for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. Sowells agreed with Moore that there is a stereotype that only black students can go into the X Lounge. Sowells said the majority of non-black people that go in the lounge do so to use the microwave and often do not interact with black students there. He said there is often conversation in the lounge on how to break down that stereotype, comparing it to the assumption that only white people go to the Roundup philanthrophy event.

“The X Lounge situation is indeed the counter opposite to the Roundup situation,” Sowells said. “I was encouraged by my black brothers not to go [to Roundup], but I went because I wanted to experience it for myself.”

Brenda Burt, a UT diversity and community engagement officer, said she has worked as an adviser for students who frequent the X Lounge since it officially opened. Her office is in the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies located above the lounge on the second floor.

“If I want to know what the hot topics are I will just go in there,” Burt said, adding that recent topics have included the Trayvon Martin case and a controversial Daily Texan editorial cartoon about the shooting. “That’s their space and it’s not for an adult to be in there. There are times they’ll come and get me if they want my input.”

Burt said if a student who is not black tried to visit the lounge, no one would stop them, and that she recommends the lounge to new black students.

Mauricio De Leon, a human development and family sciences junior, said he identifies as Latino and first went into the X Lounge during summer orientation. At the time, he said the lounge was filled with Latinos and he did not realize the lounge was normally frequented by black students. De Leon said he disagrees with the notion that only black people go into the X Lounge and has seen people from other races visit.

“I don’t think there are racial barriers,” said De Leon, who visits the lounge at least once a week. “It’s just people choose not to go in there. Everyone is welcome to go in and people are welcoming when you go, it’s just whether they want to or not.” 

Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Malcolm X Lounge offers safe haven to students of all races

Father and son Jason and Jayren Young, 6, enjoy refreshments and paintings in an African-American art gallery located in Jester Center during Black Family Day, an event hosted by Afrikan American Affairs that invited families to enjoy music, dance performances and tours of the gallery and Malcolm X Lounge.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

African-American parents sometimes are concerned when their son or daughter arrives on the Forty Acres because the black population is so small, said Choquette Hamilton, director of the Multicultural Engagement Center.

Hamilton and UT faculty spent Saturday afternoon visiting with families of students at Black Family Day, an event planned to coincide with UT’s parents’ weekend by Afrikan-American Affairs, an organization run by seven UT students to promote unity within the African-American community at the University.

“I think this is an opportunity for parents to see there is a community on our campus for their son or daughter given the population is so small,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, an education administration graduate student, said connecting with other African-American students can be a challenge at UT because only 4.3 percent of the student population is African-American.

“For some of our black students, they can go days without seeing another black student,” Hamilton said.

Black Family Day, which included musical and dance performances, tours of the Malcolm X Lounge, a gallery of African-American influenced art, and interaction with African-American faculty, is one of many ways the Afrikan American Affairs organization promotes the community during the year, said Rachel Pennington-Hill, co-director of operations for the group.

“Black culture just has a history of being more united,” Pennington-Hill said. “Maybe because of our history and because that’s embedded in our culture, we do things like family reunions, and all of these types of other events that emphasize the importance of family.”

Pennington-Hill, a finance sophomore, said Afrikan-American Affairs wanted to use family weekend to show parents what UT can offer their children.

“We really wanted to show parents that UT is a place that your child can learn and can play and can have a sense of family away from you,” Pennington-Hill said. “It’s to kind of put them at ease that there’s not no one there for their children.”

Biology freshman Raven Pierre said she got accustomed to being a part of a small minority presence from her high school experience but appreciates events on campus that help connect the African-American community.

“There’s a small black community on campus, so for us to have an event for our small community is really cool,” Pierre said. “My high school was a lot like UT, small black community, small Latino community, so it wasn’t that different from UT, but I do appreciate having the event.”

Pierre’s mother, Dianthia Hodges of Caldwell, also said she appreciated the Black Family Day Event.

“It helps knowing that there are other African-American students they can actually communicate with if they have problems knowing that they come from a similar background,” Hodges said.

Hodges said her favorite part of Family Weekend was something all parents got to experience — spending two days learning about campus, student organizations and meeting other parents.

“It helped becoming more familiar with the campus layout, in relation to where she lived and where her classes are,”
Hodges said.

Printed on Monday, October 24, 2011 as: Group seeks to connect small black community

Roundup, an annual event that draws thousands of people to a weekend of West Campus parties, began eight decades ago as the highlight of the University’s spring social season — but it has also been a source of controversy over the years.

During the most recent Roundup in late March, a female student claimed she was assaulted at a fraternity party. She said a male fraternity member threw food at her and spit in her face, which she believes was a racially motivated attack, although no one used racial slurs.

Choquette Hamilton, the director of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said racial tension between fraternity members and minority students ultimately transformed Roundup from a University-sanctioned celebration into a series of individual Greek parties.

Roundup began in 1930 as a spring celebration for students and alumni. The annual parade featured dozens of floats bearing 20-foot-tall decorations and the year’s Texas Sweetheart. The parade ran through the heart of campus and attracted the local community. Greek organizations always decorated floats for the Roundup parade and hosted parties during the weekend.

In 1990, 60 years after the inaugural Roundup, the event evolved mostly into fraternity parties, and the parade became less of a community event, Hamilton said. She completed her thesis on the history of African-Americans at UT and interviewed former UT students and administrators extensively about race relations during Roundup.

Based on her research, she said aspects of the parades often included racist and homophobic undertones, and at least five parades between 1980 and 1990 openly mocked and harassed minorities and the LGBTQ community.

Marcus Brown was the president of the Black Student Alliance in 1990. Brown said he has always known Roundup to have a history of racial intolerance, but in 1990, more people noticed, according to an interview Brown conducted with Hamilton.

“This just happened to be the year that they caught the stuff in pictures, which led to a bunch of activism, and it all kind of spiraled out of control,” Hamilton said.

After the annual parade on April 6, 1990, a fraternity decorated one of the floats with inflammatory racial slurs. Another fraternity sold T-shirts for a basketball tournament with an image of Michael Jordan’s body and a Sambo character’s head, said James Vick, former UT vice president for student affairs. The Sambo character portrayed African-Americans as lazy and with ape-like facial features.

The incidents took place three days after the student body elected Toni Luckett to be its first black president, Hamilton said.

Vick said racial tensions were already high that year because students were disappointed in the low minority enrollment. Although UT was desegregated in 1959, by 1990 only 3.7 percent of UT’s approximately 48,000 students were black.

Not much has changed in terms of current enrollment figures, as only 4.3 percent or 1,800 of UT’s approximately 50,000 students are black.

“I think all of us were aware that there was a lot of tension before that weekend. I don’t know how you measure that, but I think we had all been concerned about hard feelings about racial issues in various parts of the University,” Vick said.

Following the events, about 20 minority student leaders met with Vick and then-Dean of Students Sharon Justice to demand the fraternities be reprimanded for their offensive Roundup behavior. The student leaders also wanted the University to require all students to take a course in African-American studies.

Protesters used Roundup as a means to try and implement Project PRIDE, Proposed Reforms to Institute Diversity in Education.

More than 1,500 students rallied on campus and in front of the offending houses to fight racial inequity following the Roundup incidents.

“They brought the T-shirts, and they brought very strong feelings,” Vick said. “There followed day after day of marches and demonstrations and protests and very unfortunate confrontations.”

Vick said the protests drew the attention of then-UT President William Cunningham, who attempted to address students’ concerns in a speech on April 13. Protesters shouted so loudly he could not finish.

Two weeks after Cunningham’s speech, both offending fraternities received a yearlong suspension and 1,500 hours of community service in a predominantly black community.

In July 1990, Cunningham asked the UT alumni group Texas Exes to re-evaluate its participation in Roundup. The group provided little funding but a substantial number of volunteers and later opted out of the event, according to a April 17, 1990, Daily Texan article. Vick said Cunningham later announced Roundup would no longer be recognized as a University event.

“I think it was a combination of the negative impact that year’s Roundup had on the lives of all of us on campus, our community spirit and our relationships with various communities around us,” he said. “It was also the realization that we’d had problems with Roundup in the past that weren’t necessarily racial but were there nonetheless.”

Today, Roundup takes place mostly in West Campus, and individual fraternities host parties. Students outraged by the alleged assault on the black female student at a fraternity party this March formed a coalition to address what they call racial discrimination in the modern incarnation of Roundup. The Austin Police Department is currently conducting an investigation to determine the validity of the student’s claims.

The Interfraternity Council and other University groups are not affiliated with the event, said council executive officer Houston Berger. The IFC does not recognize it as an official event, although most of the fraternities that participate fall under the council.

“Whereas it used to be a type of homecoming event, fraternities now just hold social events on their own, and it’s their decision whether or not they want to hold one,” Berger said.

He said contrary to popular belief, the weekend is not a time for rounding up potential members for the individual fraternities and that high school students are not supposed to attend.

Stephen Sibley, a former president of an IFC fraternity, said for college students, Roundup is like a “Greek Christmas” where everyone takes the weekend off to celebrate and is relatively harmless.

“Anything that happens during Roundup weekend could happen anytime, and I think it’s one of those things where when alcohol is involved there is a higher risk for unfortunate things to happen,” he said.

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article contained a vague caption, which has been changed to clarify the date of incident shown in the photo.