An incident in late August with a photo posted on social media triggered a chain of events that has so far included false news stories, petitions, and rumors of riots in the streets of Alpine.
The photo showed the on-campus statue of Sul Ross State University namesake Lawrence Sullivan Ross dressed in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Some students dressed the statue in protest of Ross’s role as a Confederate general and Texas Ranger.
University President Pete Gallego later told the Avalanche, “The misinformation and what’s going around on social media is a symptom of the times. But here on campus things are civil.”
He stressed Sul Ross was a center of education and, as such, a place where diversity of thought was valued.
“We’re having open and honest conversations about the issues that the rest of the country is talking about, whether it’s racism, or justice, or fairness,” he said.
Gallego met with some members of the university’s football team who raised concerns about the Bar SR Bar uniforms and the Sul Ross name.
The players requested that the team alternate uniforms, sometimes exchanging the Bar SR Bar uniforms for the school’s Lobo uniforms
“It’s not unprecedented. One of the coaches indicated they had done that before, so that’s fine,” said Gallego.
In conversations about the Sul Ross name, Gallego pointed out the university had no authority to make that decision, and only the Texas Legislature could make that determination. He urged students and anyone with concerns about the university’s name to contact their state senators and representatives, and any petitions should be directed to the Legislature as well.
“These were freshmen hundreds of miles from home, yet they had the courage to stand up for their convictions and exercise their right to free speech,” said Gallego, adding he was disappointed people were offended because some students spoke up for themselves.
He noted this was the first time the Ross statue had been used for a cause. It’s normally dressed for Halloween, or Christmas, or spring break, but never before to make a statement. He requested that the campus Diversity and Inclusion Committee draft preliminary rules on how to handle the matter in the future so everyone has an opportunity to exercise their right of free speech with the statue.
“We’re convening some conversations on race, justice, and due process that will be led by members of the football team who are putting a lot of this together. They want to talk to their fellow students about why these issues matter,” said Gallego.
To his surprise and amusement, the president received many emails and several phone calls commenting about students rioting on campus and marching in the streets of Alpine.
Said Gallego, “We have no riots in Alpine. Frankly, the rest of the nation could learn a lesson from how Sul Ross students are handling the conversation about the institution’s name and the history of racism, both in Texas and in our region.”
He noted that wasn’t what the media and others were spreading, and he wasn’t aware of anyone contacting him, an administrator, the athletic director, or any one of many people involved in conversations with the students for a comment.
“These are the people we are going to turn our country over to one day. We’re in the business of educating, and we’re trying to teach them how to do this appropriately,” said Gallego. “I hope others will be respectful of their views.”
Planned to start in the very near future, the university is laying the groundwork for formal meetings under the auspices of the Diversity and Inclusion committee. Students will drive the conversations, and the meetings will address topics relevant today.