In response to the numerous racial incidents involving African Americans and police brutality around our nation, the University of Texas at Austin’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) organized a “die in,” a silent protest to support the Black Lives Matter movement. On October 6th, over 70 students of color participated in the silent protest, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, on the steps of the historic UT tower steps, a prominent area on campus where different groups of students cross paths daily. University of Texas senior Ravyn Middleton stated, “Given the current racial climate and times that we are currently facing, it is important for students of color to demonstrate unity, call attention to racial incidents on college campuses, and provide support to each other in an effort to uplift the community.”
Like other predominately white university campuses, there have been racially motivated incidents at the University of Texas. One recent act of violence resulted in a student suspension. Currently, the University of Texas at Austin does not have a hate crime policy in place. The Black Student Alliance is one of the few organizations on campus where students of color feel free to openly discuss racial issues that affect their community in a safe space. The executive board of Black Student Alliance led by President Maranda Burkhalter came up with the idea of the “die in” public demonstration to create awareness of black bodies on campus.
Many non-black allies surrounded the black student bodies on the ground in support of the protest with signs that said, “Black Lives Matter.” The students attracted attention from bystanders with pictures, stares, and even commentary. One student passing by shouted at protestors, “You should have brought your yoga mats. You would have been more comfortable,” in a sarcastic tone. A student participating in the protest responded back, “Death is not comfortable.” This interaction is just one example of the inherent racism students of color face on predominantly white campuses.
Two years ago, another protest occurred in the middle of campus on 21st Street and Speedway. The students gathered on campus and blocked the street, causing all buses and cars to reroute. The movement was very impactful for the African American students at the University of Texas, providing a public platform for black students to speak in front of many students on campus. BSA leadership was inspired to organize their silent protest due to the positive impact of the previous demonstration. Organizers say it is important for students of color to feel comfortable to engage in non-confrontational protests so they can stand up for what they believe in, show unity, and make a positive difference on their university campuses.