Texas A&M University leaders have apologized to a group of inner-city high school students who said they were racially taunted and told to “go back where you came from” by white A&M students while touring the College Station campus last week.
University President Michael Young and Chancellor John Sharp met Tuesday with juniors at Uplift Hampton Preparatory in South Dallas to extend a personal “apology to the class,” Uplift education chief executive Yasmin Bhatia said in a statement. The university officials “praised them for the manner in which they handled a difficult and offensive situation,” Bhatia said.
Young said it was a way to make amends.
“I wanted to tell them how deeply sorry I was, and how sorry many people were, about what happened,” he told the Texas Tribune. “I wanted them to know that doesn’t represent the values that we really hold dear at A&M.
“Also, we wanted to tell them we were tremendously impressed with them and how proud of them we are in terms of how they reacted — and that they are precisely the kinds of students we’d love to see enrolling.”
Officials are investigating reports that white Texas A&M students harassed the high-schoolers, some of whom are African American and Latino, while about a group of about 60 teenagers were visiting the campus last week.
Of Texas A&M’s more than 64,000 students, about 23 percent were reported as Hispanic, black or American Indian, according to fall enrollment data. The enrollment figures include students on multiple campuses; nearly 58,000 students were enrolled in the fall at the flagship campus in College Station.
Officials told the Dallas Morning News that the high school students reported that a white woman approached two African Americans in the group and asked them what they thought about her Confederate flag earrings. Then, other students shouted racial slurs at the high schoolers.
State Sen. Royce West said that A&M students told the South Dallas high schoolers to “go back where you came from.”
The next day, Young, the university president, said he was “outraged and tremendously disappointed” in the A&M students.
“I deeply regret the pain and hurt feelings this incident caused these young students,” he said in a statement. “Be assured that we take such allegations very seriously.”
“While the actions of a few certainly do not represent our institution as a whole,” he added, “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. This type of behavior goes against our A&M core values and in addition to immediate intervention.”
The university’s student newspaper, the Battalion, reported that the treatment of the campus visitors brought “widespread condemnation from students and administrators.”
Student body president Joseph Benigno said on social media that it was a “sobering reminder” that the idyllic experiences at A&M “do not always align completely with reality.”
“My initial emotions of shock and disbelief have now soured into the painful realization that a very small group of students could be capable of such an ignorant and barbaric form of hate,” he wrote.
Benigno helped launch a campaign to send 10,000 letters to high-schoolers to tell them about A&M’s values.
“The true Texas A&M is a very friendly and welcoming place, and it’s loving and cares for every member of the Aggie family and we go out of our way to make sure that everyone feels welcome here,” he told the student newspaper. “So I don’t want their experience at Texas A&M to be defined by that memory.
“I want their memory to be a Texas A&M that responded very well in the face of crisis and clearly stood up for what it really believed in, and not stood for hate.”
On Monday, A&M student groups set up tables on campus so students could pen letters to the Uplift Hampton high-schoolers.
“We’re going to encourage them to write whatever they feel, but we would love for students to write about how what happened to the high school students does not represent Texas A&M’s values,” Benigno told the newspaper.
West, the Texas senator, had called earlier for an investigation and possible expulsion for the A&M students involved in the incident.
“If these students did in fact do this, they should be expelled,” he told NBC-affiliate KXAS. “You need to send a strong message that A&M — the A&M system — will not tolerate any of this.”
A&M president later confirmed that the university was conducting an “expedited investigation” and would “take appropriate action as quickly as possible.”
“I thought it was a very good step on the part of A&M’s leadership and I am happy that they did all that,” West told the news station, “but the sincerity comes as a result of what ultimately transpires.
“You can’t come to the students, apologize, and say you’re an open university if you don’t take action when you have a gang of students who act directly opposite to that.”
Said Bhatia, the Uplift education chief executive: “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.”