A&M investigating after black high schoolers harassed on campus

A group of Dallas high schoolers were greeted with racial slurs at Texas A&M University this week. Jason Whitely reports.

Texas A&M University is conducting an investigation after a group of students visiting campus from an inner-city Dallas high school were harassed Tuesday with racial slurs and a demand to "go back where you came from." 

About 60 juniors from Uplift Hampton Preparatory were touring the campus, according to state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The incident happened outside Walton Residence Hall between the Dixie Chicken and the clock tower on campus.

Not long after getting off of the bus, two black students were approached by a white woman wearing Confederate flag earrings. West said the white woman showed the students her earrings and asked them what they thought about them.

Then, a group of "white male and female students" began taunting the students "using the most well-known racial slur that's directed toward African Americans," said West, whose district includes the Uplift Hampton campus.

"I just thought it was another day of hate," said Tariq Smith, 17, a junior at Uplift Hampton Charter School.

His class was on the field trip Tuesday to visit the College Station campus.

West wasn't there when the incident occurred, but he said he was briefed on it later by A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. A spokeswoman for Uplift Education, which operates the charter school, said West's description was accurate.

"People are going to hate people for certain things," Smith said. "Sometimes it's not fair what they hate you for."

A&M staffers who were accompanying the students on the tour called campus police. No one was charged; the responding officer told people at the scene that the harassers were expressing their First Amendment rights, according to West.

University officials are now reviewing the incident, West said. A&M would not release the officer's report Thursday.

Soon after, A&M President Michael Young sent out a campus-wide e-mail saying he was outraged by the event.

"I deeply regret the pain and hurt feelings this incident caused these young students. Be assured that we take such allegations very seriously," Young wrote. 

Young said administrators and students from A&M met with the high school students and told them that the vast majority of Aggies would welcome them to campus. The students continued their tour and returned home to Dallas that evening.

The students who used the racial slur would be "investigated to the fullest extent possible," the president added.

One of the high school counselors snapped a picture of the A&M students, which the university is using to identify those involved.

"My first reaction was, here we go again," said State Sen. West.

Every year, he hosts recruiting trips for A&M in his district.

The senator said he was alerted to the racial slurs by the chancellor of the A&M system.

"Obviously, you have to make sure they have due process, but if these students did in fact do this, they should be expelled," West said. "You need to send a strong message."

Smith, the Uplift Prep student, agrees. But he said something else surprising.

"I still want to go to that college, because I know there's great people there," the teen said. "Now I know there's some negative people there, too."

Uplift Hampton school officials said Thursday that they were disappointed by the incident. The charter school is devoted to helping economically-disadvantaged students get into college. Many come from families with no experience in higher education, and campus tours are their first encounters with universities.

The school said it was appreciative of how A&M responded. Uplift officials said the visits to Texas A&M won't change. A group of students from another Uplift campus visited the campus Thursday.

"We are proud of our scholars for the grace and composure with which they responded to the college students who chose to engage in a disrespectful and unacceptable manner," said CEO Yasmin Bhatia, in a statement.

A&M President Michael Young said he was "outraged and tremendously disappointed" by the behavior of the college students.

"While the actions of a few certainly do not represent our institution as a whole, it is the responsibility of all of us to stop any incidents that could be considered hateful or biased-based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor," he wrote. "This type of behavior goes against our A&M core values and in addition to immediate intervention, Texas A&M has a website available for the reporting of any non-emergency hateful or biased-based incidents."

OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM UPLIFT CEO YASMIN BHATIA

“We are deeply disappointed about the events that occurred while our junior class of Uplift Hampton scholars were touring the Texas A&M campus earlier this week as part of our robust Road To College Program. We are proud of our scholars for the grace and composure with which they responded to the college students who chose to engage in a disrespectful and unacceptable manner. While we appreciate the swift response of the Texas A&M leadership, it is my hope that we broaden the conversation at colleges locally and across the country about increasing inclusion and cultural awareness programs so that all students can feel safe and welcome regardless of their ethnicity. Currently only 8% of low-income students in the United States graduate with a college degree within 6 years. At Uplift, we are laser focused on fulfilling our mission of 100% college acceptance of our graduates (many of which are the first in their families to attend college), and 70% earning a degree within 6 years. We as educators need to come together for the betterment of all students and work collaboratively to ensure that all students feel accepted and supported while in college. Our country and our future can only be stronger through these students’ successes. Uplift Education looks forward to being part of a broader solution by working with universities to create the best possible college environments for the students we serve.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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