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Texas A&M investigating reports of racial slurs aimed at Dallas high schoolers during campus visit

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By Claire Z. Cardona

The Dallas Morning News

(TNS)

DALLAS—Sen. Royce West and the Texas A&M University president condemned reports of racial slurs hurled at a group of Dallas-area students during a campus tour.

About 60 juniors from Uplift Hampton Preparatory in Red Bird were visiting A&M on Tuesday when they were allegedly approached by students who shouted slurs and made references to the confederate flag. The students were a part of the school’s Road to College Program, which takes students on college trips around the country and helps them experience a college setting.

West, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that the confrontation began when a white woman approached two black Uplift students and asked their opinion of her earrings, which were replicas of the Confederate flag.

Uplift Education spokeswoman Sara Ortega confirmed West’s reporting of the events, which were told to him by Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp.

Ortega said the students continued walking and encountered a second group of students who shouted obscenities and slurs at them. West reported the A&M students also allegedly told them to “Go back where you came from.”

The incident was witnessed and reported by an A&M tour guide and an Uplift official who were accompanying the students, she said.

West and Ortega said that a campus tour guide initially said that students were expressing their First Amendment rights. The campus police department responded to the scene and an investigation is being conducted into the incident.

Ortega said the students had a chance to meet with teachers and administrators in a small assembly Wednesday to discuss how the situation made them feel.

Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia said in a statement that they are “deeply disappointed” in the alleged events but proud of how the Uplift students responded with “grace and composure.”

“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,” Bhatia said.

West also commended the students, whom he said he hopes to meet with.

“You have got to really applaud those kids who were there for being the more mature of the groups because if they had flown off the handle then it’d be a bigger mess, needless to say,” he said.

West said though A&M has made the effort to recruit minority students from urban schools and has established outreach centers in Dallas and other cities, “actions such as what took place Tuesday can undo whatever good has been done.” He said those actions further the belief that the A&M campus environment has been hostile to black students who are not athletes.

“The collegiate experience has always had the goal of fostering academic and personal growth, broadening perspectives and being a melding place for diverse cultures. It is not the breeding ground to further prejudice and bigotry,” he said.

West called for the students to be disciplined or expelled if the university finds the incident did occur. He said he expects a swift response similar to that taken at the University of Oklahoma in March where fraternity members were chanting a song that included a racial slur. The fraternity’s OU chapter was disbanded and two Dallas-area students who led the chant were expelled. Other members faced mandatory community service and cultural sensitivity training.

University president Michael K. Young said in a statement that the school is taking the allegations “very seriously.”

“I am outraged and tremendously disappointed in the behavior displayed by a group of students on our College Station campus,” Young said. “I deeply regret the pain and hurt feelings this incident caused these young students. Be assured that we take such allegations very seriously.”

Young said he met with a student-led inclusion council to ask for input into how A&M can make all people feel welcome and safe, which he asked the university community to reflect on that charge. He said he understands “a deeper discussion about freedom of speech and inclusion needs to take place.”

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©2016 The Dallas Morning News

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Texas A&M investigating reports of racial slurs aimed at Dallas high schoolers during campus visit