NAACP, students file federal civil rights complaint over UT’s ‘Eyes of Texas’
UT football players singing The Eyes of Texas. Photo credit UT Austin.

The Texas chapter of the NAACP, along with the civil rights organization’s University of Texas at Austin chapter and a group of anonymous students, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights alleging UT-Austin is creating a “hostile environment” for Black students by continuing to play the “The Eyes of Texas” alma mater song at university events.

The complaint alleges that Black students have been denied full benefits of Longhorn student life because the song is an official part of the university, “despite its racially offensive origin, context and meaning.” The song premiered at a minstrel show in the early 1900s where students likely wore blackface. Despite pushback, university officials have said they are going to keep the song as their alma mater, concluding in a report issued earlier this year that the song “had no racist intent.”

The complaint says the university has failed to respond to racial harassment against Black students and others who oppose the song, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and argues the university’s decision to create a separate marching band for students who do not want to play “The Eyes of Texas” violates equal protections afforded under the Fourteenth Amendment.

This past spring, the UT-Austin Butler School of Music announced the creation of a new band in which students would not be required to play the song after members of the Longhorn Band refused to play it last fall due to its history and origins. Students in the Longhorn band are required to play the song.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, said the groups initially tried to work with university leaders to get them to do away with the song, but were unsuccessful. They decided to file the complaint because students said the campus climate surrounding the song had gotten increasingly tense throughout the spring semester. Al-Nasser Lawal, a UT-Austin senior and president of the UT-Austin chapter of the NAACP, said Black student groups also met with administrators to discuss their concerns with the song without success.

“As Black students, we kind of feel as if it’s not like our voices are heard,” Lawal said in an interview. “The main objective of the administration and the campus is just to appease their wealthy donors so that they can continue to get that funding, and that they don’t really have our best interests at heart.”

They argue the song is unavoidable as it is sung after sporting events, at graduation and from the UT Tower bells every evening.