Texas A&M president decries reports of racial harassment

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University is still trying to determine which students may have shouted a racial slur and referenced the Confederate flag to a group of black and Latino high school students touring the campus.

About 60 students from a southwest Dallas charter school reported they were taunted by students on campus during a visit Tuesday.

Two black high school students said they were approached by a white A&M student wearing Confederate flag earrings, state Sen. Royce West said Thursday. Others in the tour group said they heard white A&M students telling them to “Go back where you came from,” and using an anti-black slur, said West, who said he was contacted by university officials.

The Dallas Democrat called for the possible expulsion of any students involved in the incident, and said he wanted to see action from the university’s leadership next week. Texas A&M’s leaders “have political capital with me,” said West, the vice chairman of the Texas Senate’s higher education committee.

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“If you’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior, then you’ve got to make a statement,” West said. “This gang of students that participated in this should be disciplined accordingly.”

No video or audio of the incident has emerged yet, complicating efforts to find out who said what, University President Michael K. Young said Friday. A counselor from the tour group appears to have called the police, and a campus officer did investigate at the scene, he said.

Young said Friday that racism needed to be addressed broadly at Texas A&M, where the student body is 3.4 percent black, and elsewhere. One element of that discussion, he said, was addressing the meaning of the Confederate flag for white students who might not get the connections it has for many people to slavery and discrimination.

“If this event serves as an occasion to kind of galvanize the community even more to expand and deepen their efforts on that, I’m absolutely delighted to do that, because that’s what has to happen,” Young said.

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Joshua Lewis, a Texas A&M student who serves on the university’s Black Student Alliance Council, said he’s never had racial slurs directed at him, though other students have told him they have had them. Subtler forms of racial insensitivity are more common, he said, like other students assuming he is a scholarship athlete because he’s black.

Lewis said he was encouraged by strong statements this week from Young and campus leaders, but wanted to do more to improve campus dialogue and awareness of race.

“No one’s going to have a reset button to change these ideologies,” Lewis said. “But we have to start thinking of creative ways to not only get students from diverse backgrounds who want to come to the school, but be at the school and then stay at the school.”

Texas A&M is one of the state’s biggest and most prestigious universities and is about 90 miles outside of Houston.

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The university administration response so far has drawn praise. Dena Marks, associate director of the Southwest Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, told The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle of her satisfaction with “what they’ve done already to, number one, immediately recognize that perhaps there is a problem and, number two, to express that if there is a problem, this sort of thing should not be tolerated.”