Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: UT-Austin Alumni Bullies

*Wealthy alumni and donors at University of Texas at Austin are proving to be adult bullies. They have threatened to cancel future monetary donations to the university and have said they will go as far as to block some students from getting jobs in Texas after graduation. 

Imagine going to college and preparing yourself for a career in your chosen field or hoping to play pro sports, being close to graduation then having the people you thought would help you – because of your UTA affiliation – threaten to put up barriers in your path! These threats are over the school song, whether it will be replaced or stand as is? Some current students have protested against the song and started a petition to ban it from getting played during sporting events. Most alumni and donors support the song as is. 

The fight song, ‘The Eyes Of Texas,’ is played to the tune of ‘I’ve Been Working On the Railroad’ and historically was performed at campus minstrel shows -White people in Black face. Since George Floyd’s modern-day lynching almost a year ago, many current students have revived long-held disapproval of the song, saying it’s racist, dehumanizing and should be replaced. 

Former cop Derek Chauvin’s murder trial and the three other go-along-to-get-along cops charged with Floyd’s murder are scheduled to go on trial in the coming weeks in Minneapolis.

In addition to the petition, UT Austin student athletes have stopped making appearances at donor events in protest. They have disappeared from the field as the song is played post game. At some point even the longhorn band refused to play the song. So the school resorted to playing a recording of it to get around that. 

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UT - Austin football coach and players

That’s when emails and letters started pouring in to Jay Hartzell, president of UT Austin. Hartzell formed a research group to study the song’s origin and to determine how the university should move forward with or without it. Results of that study should be released this week! The Texas newspaper published the contents of some 300 letters to the college president. 

Although most names were not released with the letters, billionaire alumnus Bob Rolling wrote one of the letters. Rolling’s holding company owns Omni Hotels, previously owned a chain of Golds Gyms and a building is named after him at the UTA School of Business.

In Rolling’s passive-aggressive letter he said he wasn’t trying to tell the president how to do his job, but the letter went on to say Rolling was for keeping the song as is and he included people in the email chain who Rolling said ‘love UT and are in positions of influence.’

If that’s not a passive aggressive bully tactic nothing is.

Several of the letters said phrases such as ‘If Blacks are unhappy they should either change schools or leave Texas.’ Other letters said it should be mandatory that student athletes stay on the field when the song is played. 

And although he is not on record as threatening to withhold donations, Larry Wilkinson, UTA class of 1970, said since African- Americans are only six percent of the student body ‘the tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog.’ He too said Black students should leave if they’re not happy.

First, it’s not just African-American students who are against the song. Other students, including White student athletes and members of the longhorn band, also have signed the petition and are walking off the field or refusing to play the song. So it’s not just a Black thing. Think of it as a human rights issue instead of a Black issue. 

However you might feel about the use of the song, using money and influence to coerce or manipulate someone’s actions against their will is at best paternalistic and at worst Donald Trump bullyish! It’s what some parents do when they give their kid a car or financial support. When that kid doesn’t do what his parents dictate they threaten to take away the car or cut financial support. Hey, donors and alumni: (In Maury Povich’s voice) You are not the father! Your donations shouldn’t mean you get to dictate policy.

Even though it’s their money to give or withhold as they want, trying to curb other people’s freedom of speech when you don’t agree with them is why America hasn’t been able to move forward more than it has. There is one thing, however, I can agree on with Larry Wilkinson: If the mostly Black students don’t like the situation at UTA, vote with your feet and walk away! Take your talents to where you are appreciated and celebrated.

This is another example of why Black student athletes and smart Black kids need to realize most wealthy White people and big White colleges only want you there for what you can do for them: So they can monetize you for their benefit. Most of them don’t care whether you actually get a degree and graduate so long as you score points for them, make them look good and basically shut up and play! They have little to no concern for your future in general. Stop begging people to respect you, especially when you are the reason they’re getting so much money and attention to begin with. If you weren’t valuable they wouldn’t have given you that scholarship. 

In the end, students might change the song or revise the lyrics, but they can’t change someone’s heart. My hope is this furor and display of disrespect towards the humanity of non White people will lead some current Black student athletes and scholars to reconsider their options and seek out Black colleges and universities. They should take their talents, whether it’s in sports or STEM or other disciplines, to HBCUs where they are appreciated, not just for the money they can generate but for their well-being and that of their Black communities for future generations.

To find out how retired Black pro ballers could contribute to building HBCUs and click on the video for details.

Stephanie Rivers
Stephanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Email her at with your comments, questions and speaking inquiries. Follow her @tcbstef on Twitter and Instagram.



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