Kevin Cokley

The University’s Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis appointed Kevin Cokley, an educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies professor, as its new director in May.

The institute was formed in 2011 with the goal of using applied research to see how public policy affects resource distribution across communities. Ultimately, the institute seeks to improve such policies to better the lives of historically underserved and underrepresented populations.

Cokley, who will be the second director since the institute was established, aims to understand the relationship between racial and ethnic identities and academic achievement, particularly among African-Americans. More specifically, he researches both environmental and psychological factors that play roles in the development of African American student achievement, the students’ own self-identifications and opinions, and the public’s beliefs. 

Cokley said he believes the institute may do projects that focus on the areas of education and mental health, which are areas of his expertise. 

“My primary goal as director of IUPRA is to increase our research profile,” Cokley said. “We will continue to produce policy briefs that address the important public policy issues that disproportionately impact the lives of people of color. I believe that public policy should be informed by rigorous quantitative social science research.”

Along with his appointment as director, Cokley said he will continue teaching courses at the University.

“I am straddling both worlds, because I still maintain teaching and advising responsibilities in the Department of Educational Psychology,” Cokley said.

Terra Ousley, an educational psychology graduate student, said she enjoyed Cokley’s multicultural counseling course because it showed her many of the factors that counselors must consider in their work.

“The class opens your eyes to the impact race, culture and ethnicity have on our everyday lives as Americans and how they affect different people’s counseling needs,” Ousley said.

Betsy Crowe, another educational psychology graduate student, said that the course has benefited both her clinical work and her daily interactions with people.

“Obviously he is a huge expert on that topic, but I didn’t feel like he was trying to talk at us,” Crowe said. “He was intentional about engaging everyone and helping us come to new insights on our own, instead of projecting them onto us.”

Young black males may be viewed as older and less innocent, making them more likely to face police violence, according to recent research published by the American
Psychological Association.

The study, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” tested more than 150 police officers from large urban areas to determine levels of prejudice toward black people. The research focused on young black males and did not study findings for black girls.

According to the research, the officers received a questionnaire requiring them to provide age and culpability assessments for 12 scenarios that depicted male targets of a given race. Then, researchers compared the questionnaire’s findings with the individual officers’ personnel records. The results found that implicit prejudice of blacks is related to black children’s disproportionate experiences of violent encounters with police officials.

Kevin Cokley, educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies professor, said the research validates many black males’ experiences of racial prejudice from police.

“When you say this, and you kind of complain about it, some people will reject that and claim that racism is no longer a major problem,” Cokley said. “And, of course, a study of this nature sort of undermines that and indicates that racism is not over, and there are deadly consequences for black boys.”

Cokley said if young black males are seen as less childlike than their white peers, then they are treated as adults well before they actually are.

“It’s almost sort of like this idea that black males, in particular, aren’t allowed to have the childhood that other children across other races are allowed to have,” Cokley said. “So, the consequences are, in the most extreme form, death, and, in other forms, a systematic dehumanization where they are always sort of seen as threats.”

The research also pulled from other studies. In one, more than 250 university students were surveyed about the childhood innocence of infants through age 25 who were black, Latino or an unidentified race. In another, students were asked to assess the age and innocence of black, white or Latino boys ages 10-17, with photographs and descriptions of various crimes.

From birth till age 9, children were seen as equally innocent regardless of race. However, beginning at the age of 10, participants began to think of black children as significantly less innocent than other children at every age group. 

In another study, black felony suspects were viewed as four-and-a-half years older than their actual age.

Rebecca Bigler, psychology and women’s and gender studies professor, said she believes broad racial stereotypes in American culture play a role in psychological notions for young black males, which can begin early in childhood development.

“Part of the negative racial stereotype of African-Americans in the U.S. has to do with being not innocent, lying, cheating [and] aggressive,” Bigler said. “I think what [the study] is arguing [is] that these things get applied even to children when, normally, there would also be a stereotype about children and a bias to see them as innocent.”

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Just days after Charlie Strong was introduced as the University’s new head football coach, booster Red McCombs took to the airwaves to voice his thoughts on the new hire. In an interview with ESPN 1250 San Antonio, McCombs, a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Vikings, described the University’s decision as a “kick in the face.”

“I don’t have any doubt that Charlie is a fine coach. I think he would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator. But I don’t believe [he belongs at] what should be one of the three most powerful university programs in the world right now at UT-Austin,” McCombs added.  

McCombs’ comments came off as insensitive, pompous and racist given that he reacted so strongly to the hiring of Strong, the University’s first African-American men’s head coach and only the second African-American head coach in school history. To say that Strong isn’t the right man for the job is one thing, but to dismiss his accomplishments as only warranting a position coach or coordinating job is downright degrading.

Bryan Davis, a government senior and president of the Society for Cultural Unity, felt McCombs’ remarks were “subjective, personal and rooted in something other than football commentary.”  

Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology and of African and African diaspora studies, added, “I think Strong will probably be scrutinized even more closely than perhaps a white coach, in part to see how he deals with the influential big-money boosters who are part of the ‘white Texas good ole boy’ club. Also, given the negative stereotypes that exist about African-American intelligence I would not be surprised if some critics start questioning his play calling and his decision making to a greater degree than occurred with Mack Brown.”

Even though McCombs is the only booster who has publicly spoken out against Strong, it is an indication of the uphill battle to come, especially when considering the fate of the University’s last and only other African-American head coach, Bev Kearney.

Kearney, who filed a $1 million lawsuit against the University, claims she was fired for having a consensual relationship with a student-athlete, while other UT white male employees in similar relationships — particularly Major Applewhite — did not face equal disciplinary action. 

The University has failed to clearly illustrate why Kearney was fired while Applewhite merely received a pay cut for committing the same offense. So it seems as if race and gender play a bigger role in the case than the University is letting on. 

Though the University has only had two African-American head coaches, it is important to note how both have faced questionable treatment seemingly because of their race. From McCombs’ dismissive comments about Strong’s accomplishments to the University’s handling of Kearney’s consensual student relationship, it’s commendable that Strong still wants to accept the position. 

When asked about McCombs’ comments, Strong replied, “There are going to be statements made … once you win some football games, you’re going to change a lot of people’s attitudes.” 

However, there are many people on campus whose opinions differ from McCombs’. 

Curtis Riser, a physical culture and sports sophomore and offensive guard on UT’s football team, said, “I’m glad to have our first African-American [men’s head football coach] at Texas. [Red McCombs] is entitled to his own opinion, but I’m just happy to move forward with our new coach.” 

But under no circumstances is the hiring of Strong enough to compensate for the disproportionately low number of African-Americans on campus. After all, the football team was predominantly black before Strong’s arrival. When the presence of black males at UT expands beyond the football field, then and only then will true progress be made.

“The hiring of Charlie Strong is certainly wonderful and is very exciting for UT. However, I would caution us to not make this a panacea for race relations,” Cokley said.  

Even if Strong’s presence doesn’t immediately fix race relations at UT, having a man of color in a position of such power is monumental, given that black males make up less than 2 percent of the University’s total population. 

“UT hiring its first black football coach is symbolic in terms of exhibiting black leadership that has potential to further discourse about race relations here,” Davis said.  

McCombs has since apologized for his derogatory comments about the hiring of Strong, but his insistence that he was unaware of the racist undertones of his comments further emphasizes that race relations continue to be an issue at UT. While McCombs has taken responsibility for his actions, as a man whose name is plastered across the University’s business school, McCombs should exercise better judgment. 

Johnson is an undeclared junior from DeSoto.