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Vaqueros United: UTRGV Athletics stands against racism, hatred, and social injustice - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, reviews legislation in the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives. Guerra in 2013 was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 24, which created the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the UTRGV School of Medicine. “This institution provides more jobs and educational opportunities for our children and families, transformed the Rio Grande Valley’s education system, provides new research institutions, and brought home a first-class medical school,” Guerra said. “The new medical school will ensure the Valley meets the growing need for doctors and health care providers for a growing population while providing critical access and care to the uninsured.” 

Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY

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Vaqueros United: UTRGV Athletics stands against racism, hatred, and social injustice

By JONAH GOLBERG

The UTRGV Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (UTRGV SAAC) on Monday, September 21, 2020, unveiled Vaqueros United, an initiative that utilizes the UTRGV Athletics platform to engage in meaningful conversations on racism and social injustice while promoting peace, equality, human rights, and social justice.

Vaqueros, which is the nickname for the UTRGV community, is used in reference to cowboys  (in such as Mexico and the southwestern U.S.) where Spanish is spoken. Just as they were among the most accomplished of all horsemen, vaqueros were masters of the rope which they called reata.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vaquero

The Vaqueros United campaign starts with a pledge all student-athletes, coaches and staff have the option of signing:

“As a Vaquero and member of the UTRGV Community, I am committed to upholding the rights of people of all walks of life and addressing the inequalities of society. I am committed to stopping divisive conversations and starting productive discussions that promote unity and understanding. I stand committed to the inclusion of all races, genders, religions, and nationalities. I stand united with my fellow Vaqueros against racism and hatred. We share a commitment to continuing the conversation of love, acceptance, and awareness for social justice and human rights. Together, we will promote peace, love, and equality.

“We are Vaqueros for change. We are Vaqueros United.”

“I’m extremely excited about the launch of Vaqueros United,” said Rachel Yu, a senior on the UTRGV women’s golf team, and UTRGV SAAC President. “This is something that developed almost seamlessly as we had a great group of people who are all very passionate about standing up for change and allowing voices to be heard.

“It is very empowering, as a young person and student-athlete, to see tangible results like this come together, starting from the concepts presented by my peers, and then receiving strong support from our athletic administration,” she said. “This is only a small start that will open the doors to many other opportunities for change.”

Chasse Conque, UTRGV Vice President and Director of Athletics, commended SAAC and all UTRGV student-athletes for leading the initiative.

“UTRGV Athletics encompasses nearly 350 student-athletes, coaches and staff,” he said. “Our initial goal is to be ‘350 strong’ and have all members of our athletics community sign the pledge. And we’d like to get the rest of the campus community and the entire Rio Grande Valley community involved, so we can all collectively do our part to promote change.

“We want to have all members of our athletics community sign the pledge and publicly share their commitment, so we can collectively do our part to promote change.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said he fully supports Vaqueros United.

“I look forward to taking the pledge myself,” he said, “and I encourage our entire campus community to support this initiative to help reinforce UTRGV’s ongoing commitment to promoting access, diversity, and inclusion.”

The Vaqueros United campaign includes numerous initiatives, including:

• Working closely with the Student Government Association, the Black Student Union, the UTRGV Police Department, The Herd, Student Affairs, University Marketing & Communications, the President’s Office, and other offices and organizations within the UTRGV community.

• Hosting roundtable discussions with student-athletes, staff, and outside guests to promote safe, open dialogue and bring awareness to the issues being faced. Participating in discussions with media outlets to promote change.

• Establish a workshop series for student-athletes on how to effectively use the student-athlete platform to champion causes that are personally important. Making Election Day an off day from all athletic-related activity. 

• During the lead up to Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 3, 2020, UTRGV Athletics staff will provide voter education to student-athletes, staff and coaches. 

• Create a video series that promotes the commitment of individuals and the department as a whole to celebrate the diversity within UTRGV Athletics.

• Create a Vaqueros United T-shirt and posters to promote these initiatives and bring awareness to the fight against racism and social injustice. 

• Create public service announcements that will be featured during all home contests in 2020-21.

Additionally, all student-athletes will wear a Vaqueros United patch on their competition apparel throughout the 2020-21 academic year. The patch was designed through a collaboration between SAAC and department staff.

Jamal Gaines, Vice President, UTRGV SAAC, and a sophomore on the men’s basketball team said as a Vaquero and a member of the UTRGV community, this initiative provides an avenue to continue to combat racial inequality.

“I thank the Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for starting this initiative, in hopes of reaching out to the Rio Grande Valley community with the purpose of social change,” Gaines said. “It’s an honor to be a part of a community where there are multiple organizations and groups of leaders who constantly are taking steps toward a positive change in society.”

Taylar Kregness, Chair, UTRGV SAAC Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and a junior on the women’s track & field team, said Vaqueros United is just the first step in the fight for change. 

“I am thrilled to be a part of these initiatives and have the opportunity to advocate for inclusion, social justice and awareness with my fellow athletes,” she said. “Chasse Conque, Molly Castner and President Guy Bailey not only encourage, but endorse our campaign. I cannot wait to see the momentum we have created in action, and what is in store for the future of the Vaqueros.”

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS DALLAS WILL ADDRESS RACE, EQUITY ISSUES ON CAMPUS

The University of Texas at Dallas will create a new academic minor, enhance faculty and staff training, develop a campus police oversight committee and adopt other initiatives recommended by a task force formed to address concerns about racism, equity, and inclusion on campus.

The Living Our Values Task Force, composed of 23 student, faculty, and staff representatives, was established in June and will continue working at least through the end of September. The university extended its work, originally planned to end in August, to give members more time to develop recommendations. After that, the charge of the task force will be transferred to permanent shared-governance structures within the University. 

“The Living Our Values Task Force has brought together students, faculty, and staff representatives for candid conversations about improving racial equity and inclusion on campus. I am proud of the progress the task force has made so far and look forward to additional recommendations to strengthen our commitment to community, diversity, and tolerance,” said UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson, the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership. 

Benson has supported the following task force recommendations:

• Develop and approve proposals for new minors in African and African diaspora studies and/or ethnic studies as a first step toward exploring degree programs in these areas. The School of Arts and Humanities currently offers a range of courses on African American history and literature that could become part of a new minor program.

• Form a police oversight committee to promote transparency between the UT Dallas Police Department (UTDPD) and the University community. The oversight committee initially was recommended by a police task force formed prior to the Living Our Values Task Force, which endorsed its creation. The oversight committee would receive quarterly reports from the chief of police on arrests, use-of-force incidents, citations issued, and any complaints made against UTD officers. It also would work with the police department to identify and promote outreach opportunities for UTDPD in the University community, survey the community about its attitudes toward the department and host a forum for the public to ask questions of UTDPD leadership at least twice per year.

• Ensure fraternities and sororities educate members on the University’s nondiscrimination policy and promote cultural intelligence training for all UT Dallas fraternity and sorority members.

• Commit to providing additional diversity and inclusion training for faculty and staff, especially supervisors. In addition, the University will conduct a campus climate survey and needs assessment and continue to support Employee Resource Groups to help attract and retain a diverse community and foster a welcoming culture on campus.

• Expand outreach and recruitment efforts for underrepresented student populations with an emphasis on schools in the Dallas Independent School District and surrounding districts in historically underserved communities.

“The Living Our Values Task Force has taken important steps to address issues of inequality and racial bias brought forward by the UT Dallas community,” said Dr. George Fair, task force Co-Chair, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, and Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies

“We value the input we have received from students, faculty, and staff, and will continue to work to improve the University’s commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive campus for all.”

Taskforce Co-Chair Rafael Martín, UT Dallas Vice President and Chief of Staff, said the group has focused on concerns that could be resolved immediately, while a new structure and mechanism will be set up to address issues going forward.

“The task force was created to respond to specific concerns of the student body, staff, and faculty, and I think we have done a good job of addressing issues that could be affected in the short term,” Martín said. “The task force is now working to transition its charge to structures within the University that are better suited to addressing issues that require longer-term, structural solutions. The mechanisms of shared governance must be fully engaged to ensure an ongoing focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to hold our institution accountable for addressing them.”

“The Living Our Values Task Force has taken important steps to address issues of inequality and racial bias brought forward by the UT Dallas community. We value the input we have received from students, faculty, and staff, and will continue to work to improve the University’s commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive campus for all.”

Participants included members of the Black student body and Black Faculty and Staff Alliance, which raised issues with the University this summer.

Tamara Havis, a computer engineering senior and one of six student representatives who wrote to Benson in June to request changes, said the task force process has been difficult, involving more than 300 hours of volunteer service. She said achieving campus equity will require an effort by the entire University to make campus welcoming and comfortable for Black students. 

“UTD cannot accept the positivity of having different cultures without acknowledging the detriments that some of the cultures face in their heritage — such as systematic racism toward Black people. And with the creation of the task force, it is my hope the University is working to change that,” Havis said.

She believes the task force has done a good job of working to develop new metrics for measuring campus diversity, with various departments working to adopt its recommendations.   

“The things we do today on the task force will not go unseen. I hope the work done by the task force will continue to resonate after its conclusion and be the first step of putting UTD on the right side of history,” Havis said.

Stevesha Evans, a history graduate student on the task force, agreed.

“The task force is working diligently to make UT Dallas a more inclusive and safer place for our BIPOC [Black, indigenous, and people of color] students, faculty and staff.  It has been a pleasure being a part of this committee, and I look forward to seeing these changes come to fruition,” she said.

Three faculty task force members said in a joint statement that the group’s efforts are an opportunity to address the university’s Strategic Plan to recruit women and underrepresented groups for faculty, staff, and administrative positions, and to implement proven retention methods for both tenure-track and nontenure-track, underrepresented minority faculty.

“Our recommendations include strategic long-term plans that emphasize strong mentorship of junior faculty and implementing leadership roles within the University schools to address hiring practices, equity, and retention. We have further meetings planned with University leaders to suggest the details of these and other recommendations, and look forward to the action items making a difference in the job environment for all employed at UT Dallas,” the faculty members said.

Taskforce member Arthur Gregg, assistant vice president for multicultural affairs and director of the Multicultural Center, said, “This is one of the most passionate and productive task forces that I’ve worked on at UT Dallas. I know that we are helping UT Dallas be a more diverse and inclusive campus beyond the numbers that we pride ourselves on.”

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Kim Horner and David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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