Celebrating Black History Month: Sneak Preview Into ‘As We Saw It’

Image of book cover In honor of Black History Month, we’re turning back the pages of time to the mid-1970s—an era when women’s sports programs were in the early stages of development on the Forty Acres. This pivotal point in UT Austin history is documented in the forthcoming book “As We Saw It” (UT Press). The collection of stories, co-edited by Division of Diversity and Community Engagement staff and faculty, gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the first Black undergraduate students to enroll at the university. Told against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South, this narrative is inextricably linked to current conversations about race, identity, access and equality in higher education.

Read this abridged chapter to learn more about the first Black female student athlete to receive an athletic scholarship at UT Austin. And be sure to pick up a copy when it hits bookshelves in Austin area bookstores on March 23!


Retha Swindell

The first athletic scholarship was not offered to a female athlete at UT until 1974, Women were thus faced with the complex task of navigating both the uncharted waters of racial integration and gender social politics. Sports as a pathway to educational opportunity and social mobility for women of color was less defined yet just as transformative. The experience of Retha Swindell, UT’s first Black female athlete, who played basketball for Texas from 1970 to 1974, provides a look into an under-explored experience.

The gender parity between female athletes and male athletes, regardless of race, was ever present during Retha’s ascension to college prestige.

“In high school we were always told we had to be better than our white counterparts,” she explained. “We were always taught you have to work, work, work. I remember Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. I remember watching that group on TV. I remember liking Johnny Roberts from Nebraska; I definitely knew Jesse Owens, and there was definitely pride in seeing them compete. You always wanted to see someone Black on TV. Those male trailblazers represented progress and opportunity for all Black Americans. There was little visible precedent for women of color; our path was less defined and less lauded.”

Image of Retha Swindell

Swindell sits with teammates in her final season as a Longhorn.

That was the type of environment that female athletes faced. Black women were confronted with the challenge of advocating for more resources for female athletes while also pursuing more social opportunities and administrative support for all Black students. Before the introduction of Title IX, the UT women’s basketball team would hold bake sales and car washes to raise funds to travel to games and/or cut expenses by camping out in sleeping bags in the gym of the team they were playing.

The year Retha came to UT Austin, the women’s basketball team transitioned from an intramural sport to a varsity sport, thanks to Title IX, which was signed into law in 1972. Coach Rodney Page had been hired to teach physical education in 1972 by Dr. Betty Thompson, who oversaw recreational sports. In the fall of 1973, she asked him to coach the women’s basketball team.25 He was the first Black coach in an official capacity at UT. Page told Texas Athletics writer Natalie England, “I can’t say that there was much overt opposition, but at that time in the history of The University of Texas, there were no black head coaches and very few black faculty.”

For Retha, Coach Page’s position helped make possible her positive experience in a nominally integrated sports environment.

“Rodney drove the van to our out-of-town games, washed uniforms, and helped us mature as young women. He made sure we all knew each other. We learned to appreciate everybody’s differences. He would even pick whom we roomed with when we the women’s basketball program, seemed, at the very least insensitive to racial overtones. It was natural for her to want to put her own person in the job with so much at stake.”

Michaelson says, however, that Retha, who had been recruited by Page, decided to give Conradt “the benefit of the doubt.” In fact, Jody Conradt recalled in a 2007 Texas Month/,y interview that only two team members decided to stay on the team after Coach Page was fired-Retha and Cathy Self.

Retha would go on to become team captain her final year and would become her team’s first All-American. She also holds the Longhorn record for number of rebounds, 1,750.

“When journalists, historians, and students ask me about what the experience of being the first Black female basketball player at UT means, it’s always puzzling because although I was aware that was my story, my circumstances were just a part of the journey to get me to college and to get me a life beyond my childhood,” Retha reflected. “I did what I had to do, and I’m grateful if it has made a difference.”

Germanic Studies Professor Discusses “Dopers in Uniform” at Texas Book Festival

Since 1995, the Texas Book Festival has connected Texas authors with readers through literary panels and readings, book signings, demonstrations, live music, family fun and local eats. This year at the festival, Germanic Studies Professor John Hoberman presented his third book on the social impacts of anabolic steroids, Dopers in Uniform: The Hidden World of Police on Steroids.

His newest book follows two previous works on the topic, including Mortal Engines (1992), which examines the sports world; and Testosterone Dreams (2005), which looks at the medical world. Visit Life & Letters, the magazine of the College of Liberal Arts, to read Hoberman’s Q&A.

 

Bestselling Authors, UT Professors to Celebrate African American Culture at Annual Book Festival

Juneteenth marks the day when the last of the American slaves learned they were free. It commemorates June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union general landed in Galveston and announced that all slaves were free.

In honor of this significant point in U.S. history, also known as “Freedom Day,” we’re spotlighting the upcoming African American Book Festival, an annual event that brings bestselling authors, scholars and bookworms together for thoughtful discussions about race and society. The event, free and open to the public, will be held on Thursday, June 22, and Saturday, June 24, at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

Events listed below are just a few highlights. A full schedule can be found here.

Thursday, June 22

April Sinclair will present Coffee Will Make You Black, a humorous coming-of-age tale set in the Civil Rights Era. The novel was selected as the 1994 Young Adult Book of the Year by the American Library Association..—11 a.m.

Bestselling young adult author Angie Thomas will present her No. 1 New York Times best-selling novel The Hate U Give. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the story follows a teen girl who is the only witness to her friend’s fatal shooting by a police officer, leading her to confront the reality of racial injustice in America and get involved in activism.—6:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 24

Educator and editor-at-large for Salon, D. Watkins will discuss his books including The Cook Up: A Crack Memoir. This inspiring true story was a New York Times bestseller and an O Magazine Best Summer Book. Watkins is also the author of The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America.—12 p.m.

Peniel E. Joseph, UT Austin history professor and founding director of the LBJ School’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, will deliver the keynote address. Joseph’s publications include Stokely: A Life, and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His career focus has been on “Black Power Studies,” which encompasses interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies and political science. Joseph is a frequent commentator on CSPAN, NPR and PBS’s NewsHour.—1:30 p.m.

UT Austin English Professor Jennifer Wilks will lead the discourse around Raoul Peck’s critically acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro, based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript. The film covers race and race relations in America.—3 p.m.


Want to know more about Juneteenth happenings in Austin? Visit the Greater East Austin Youth Association website to learn more about the Annual Juneteenth Historical Parade and Festival, happening June 17, 10 a.m. at the intersection of MLK and Comal streets. You can also learn more about the recent Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant, supported, in part, by the DDCE’s Community Engagement Center.

Latin American Studies Alumnus Chronicles Peace Corps Journey in ‘Different Latitudes’

image of bookAs graduation looms right around the corner, many soon-to-be UT alums will be traveling far and wide on missions to change the world. From the Peace Corps to Teach for America, our jet-setting Longhorns will be making an impact in high-need regions of the world. In a book titled “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond” (Peace Corps Writers, April 2017), Latin American Institute alumnus Mark D. Walker chronicles his Peace Corps journey in various countries beset by poverty and political corruption.

Synapsis (from the publisher): Summer, 1971. A naive young man must decide his path upon graduation from a small university in Colorado. Amidst the turmoil of the counterculture years and the looming possibility of being sent to Vietnam, he concludes that he wants to travel, serve, and, if possible, save the world. As a Peace Corps volunteer Mark embarks on a vigorous cross-cultural experience in a Caribbean and two Central American countries, with a final stop in one of the more isolated areas of the highlands of Guatemala.

Though beset with a fear of the unknown and feelings of profound isolation due to being the only volunteer in a remote village, he eventually gets to know and appreciate the people of the rural communities he is privileged to live among. After a near-death experience takes him to another part of Guatemala and eventually to a horse town, Mark meets the love of his life, Ligia, who will bear him three children and be part of a lifelong commitment to and appreciation of this beautiful and unique country. Much of the courtship process will take place on a coffee plantation owned by Ligia’s family, where Mark experiences a different side of Guatemalan society.

While Ligia selflessly abandons her own career to focus on establishing a stable bi-cultural home for their three children during the violent Guatemalan Civil War, Mark’s “wanderlust” takes him on a four month solo trek through Latin America and then a country change based on threats from a guerrilla group. Mark’s 13-year career promoting rural development through various international NGOs begins when he sets up a local development agency in Guatemala to help the poorest of the poor, whose plight is at least partially due to the policies of his own government.

Eventually family circumstances force a radical career change and a return to the United States to begin a 30-year calling. Inspired by the “extreme do-gooders” he’d met along his journey, he takes some of the wealthiest American families in the world to meet some of the world’s poorest in some of the most isolated, unstable countries. This leads to many adventures, with both wealthy and poor growing from their shared experiences.

Mark’s career comes to a sudden and unexpected turn after he is let go as the CEO of one of these international NGOs, and this frees him up to focus on his three children and  six grandchildren. This twist in the road also provides a new opportunity to reflect on what he has accomplished, where he’s failed, and where the international NGO community has come up short. Different Latitudes is more than a travel memoir. It is a tale of physical and spiritual self-discovery through Latin American, African, European, and Asian topography, cuisine, politics and history.

Visit the author’s website to learn more about his good work in publishing and human rights advocacy.

UT Austin Alum Pens Essay on Diversity in Higher Ed

image of bookLast summer, a federal appeals court panel ruled that UT Austin can continue using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions as a way of promoting diversity on campus.

In the wake of the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin ruling, a group of scholars penned a series of essays examining campus diversity issues in colleges and universities across the nation. UT Austin alumnus Dr. Craig Carroll (Philosophy/Journalism, Ph.D., ’04) is among this group of distinguished authors who make the case for diversity as essential to higher education and society.

During his time at UT Austin, Craig participated in the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship, a program that connects undergraduates with faculty and graduate students to help them discover their academic interests.

Read more about the book titled Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society (Princeton University Press, 2016). in this Inside Higher Education Q&A.

Words that Wake Us: A Guest Post by YA Author Ashley Hope Pérez

image of author Out of Darkness is set in Texas, and it takes the 1937 New London school explosion as the backdrop for a secret romance between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl. It’s a book about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

When I began Out of Darkness, my goal was to write a historical novel that would capture experiences largely excluded from the sanitized historical accounts in Texas history books. I wanted to approach the past in a way that would also prompt my readers to think more deeply about the present and the shape of the world around us.

Growing up in East Texas, I heard powerful stories of loss and of survival related to the natural gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers. But I was driven even more by the stories I didn’t find collected in the archival materials on the disaster. Because the New London school was intended to serve white children, historical accounts of the explosion focused on the tragedy as the white community experienced it; no one recorded how people of color in the area had responded or how they viewed the disaster.

image of book cover Gaps in the historical record catalyzed my imaginings of the two teenaged characters at the center of Out of Darkness: African American Washington Fuller and Mexican American Naomi Vargas. They meet in East Texas, where Wash is a long time native and the son of the New London Colored School’s superintendent. Naomi is a beautiful and painfully shy high school senior who has just moved to New London with her younger twin half-siblings, Beto and Cari (short for Roberto and Caridad). They’ve come to East Texas from San Antonio to live with the twins’ white stepfather so that the children can attend the New London School. The lighter-skinned twins quickly settle into their new life, but Naomi encounters hostility and racism. Wash helps her navigate the day-to-day demands of her new life, befriends the twins, and awakens Naomi to her own desire for love and freedom. Wash and Naomi’s love grows through secret meetings and stolen moments in the woods, but they know that they can’t hide forever. What they don’t know, though, is that the worst school disaster in U.S. history awaits, threatening to shatter the school, the community, and their hopes for a future where they can be together.

Because Out of Darkness is set in the South during the 1930s, color lines shape the story. In San Antonio, for example, Naomi and the twins are forced to attend “Mexican” schools with overcrowded classrooms and underqualified teachers. In East Texas, Wash attends a “colored” school with a shorter school day and year, and Naomi is sent to the back entrance of New London’s only grocery store. Although forced segregation of schools and communities may be a thing of the past, the effects—and reality—of segregation linger on. Wash experiences the heightened vulnerability that still characterizes the lives of many today, as evidenced in the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, to cite just two examples. Racism and violence have deep roots in our history, and these roots are among the painful legacies that Out of Darkness examines.

James Baldwin once noted that, in the U.S., “words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not wake him up.”

Reading fiction is no substitute for engagement with the world around us. I hope, nevertheless, that Out of Darkness confronts readers with words that that wake them to the human cost of racialized violence and wake them to the need for change in our communities.

About the author: In addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel. Read her Q&A here.

 

A Peek Inside ‘Circuit Riders for Mental Health’

book coverIn honor of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health’s 75th anniversary, we’re shining the spotlight on a forthcoming book by Texas A&M social and cultural historian William S. Bush. In Circuit Riders for Mental Health: The Hogg Foundation and the Transformation of Mental Health in Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2016), Bush tells the story of the Hogg Foundation’s central role in transforming the way we think, talk, and make policy about mental health in Texas and the nation. It also provides portrayals of the visionary men and women who pushed relentlessly to improve mental health for the people of Texas.

A community partner of the DDCE, the Hogg Foundation has been advancing recovery and wellness in Texas and across the nation since it was established in 1940 by “The First Lady of Texas” Ima Hogg. Read more about the foundation’s early beginnings in this excerpt from the book. Visit www.hogghistory.org to read more chapters.

On the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 1941, Homer Rainey, the president of The University of Texas, took the stage of the university’s Hogg Auditorium. He was there for the formal inauguration ceremony of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

In the audience were university faculty members, elected and appointed state officials, members of the news media, prominent Texas philanthropists, and nationally recognized experts in the emerging field of mental health.

As a privately endowed philanthropy housed within a public university, the Hogg Foundation was structurally unique. It also stood out as the only organization of its kind in the nation to be devoted solely to mental health.

Rainey told the audience that they were present for “some real history in the making” that night. The new foundation, he explained, “is going to play the most important role in the redirection of education for the next 20 years – mental health for the normal man.”

Rainey was hardly alone in holding this seemingly grandiose view. Public anticipation of the foundation’s inauguration had been building for nearly two years, ever since the announcement in July 1939 that the Hogg family had made a $2.5 million bequest to establish a “mental health program” at the state’s flagship university.

During the year prior to the inaugural ceremony, Rainey fielded a steady stream of inquiries from across Texas and other parts of the country. The writers were graduate students, university professors, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, community groups in Texas, researchers in Chicago, professionals in Los Angeles and Boston, and private citizens from across Texas.

Clearly, the coming of the Hogg Foundation had tapped into a wellspring of excitement, as expressed in one handwritten letter: “I almost can’t believe this wonderful news. I am only twenty-three years old, a recent college graduate – but I know the need and value of such a program. I just thrill to think that Texas will enjoy the privileges of this work. I want to have a part in it. I want to work – and I have long yearned, really, to be allowed to enter this type of work. I know that I haven’t the necessary specialized training and experience for the technical, scientific side of the work, but isn’t there something I could do?”

The ceremony thus held different meanings for its varied participants. For its hosts at The University of Texas, it announced a new financial endowment from a prominent Texas family. Other observers looked to the new foundation as a source of support for social reform, not only for its stated purpose to promote “mental hygiene for the people of Texas” but for its association with the Hogg family, which had built a reputation for deploying its wealth for the public good.

For Robert Lee Sutherland, the inaugural director of the Hogg Foundation, it was the beginning of what would prove his life’s great mission: to use the foundation as a vehicle for improving mental health not only for the people of Texas, but for the nation.

For Ima Hogg, it was a memorial for her beloved brother Will, who had died while on a trip with her to Europe, and whose estate provided the money for the foundation.

It was also, for “Miss Ima,” a statement of the kind of future she hoped the foundation would help bring into existence.

It was a future in which people with mental health challenges would be treated with respect and dignity, and mental health would be seen as indivisible from all other aspects of a flourishing and healthy life. Over the decades Texas has come some distance toward realizing that vision, in no small part thanks to the work the Hogg Foundation and its allies have done.

There remains a great deal to be done, however, and the foundation is as engaged in the hard work of realizing Miss Ima’s vision as it has ever been. Under the leadership of psychiatrist Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., the foundation’s fifth executive director, it is deeply involved in reforming and improving mental health practices and policies in Texas at every level of the system.

 

Hogg Foundation Staff Member to Read and Sign ‘Exit Right’ at BookPeople

Daniel Oppenheimer web squareDaniel Oppenheimer, director of strategic communications at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, will read and sign his new book Exit Right on Friday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m. at BookPeople.  A new voice in political history, Oppenheimer tells the stories of six major political figures whose journeys away from the left reshaped the contours of American politics in the 20th century.

“[Exit Right] is flawed in the particular way that only great books can be. It fails to fully answer the impossibly ambitious questions it lays out, but its insights are so absorbing that it doesn’t matter [and] the prose is so perfect. … This book proves so satisfying precisely because it leaves you wanting much more. … Oppenheimer began with a book about the origins of political beliefs and ended with one about the literary force of political misgivings. They’re both worth reading.”
—The Washington Post

“Call it natural evolution or ideological midlife crisis, but the figures profiled here … all turned away from the political left, either incrementally or in revelatory bursts. … Brilliant yet fallible, these apostates deserve our attention, Oppenheimer believes. Right or wrong, they ‘reckoned with themselves at the most terrifyingly fundamental level.’”
—The New York Times Book Review

“[A] confident debut. … [Oppenheimer] excels in portraying the personal torments and costs to his subjects in their transitional struggles…. The interplay between large historical movements and personal anguish is well-balanced and skillfully handled throughout. Whether his subjects are viewed as champions or apostates, Oppenheimer’s insightful narrative should inspire some soul-searching among political believers of every stripe.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

More about the Author: Daniel Oppenheimer is a writer and filmmaker whose articles and videos have been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine and Salon.com. He has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.

Save the Date! English Alumna to Read and Sign ‘Out of Darkness’ at BookPeople Jan. 8

image of bookYA Novelist Ashley Hope Pérez will stop by BookPeople to read and sign her new book Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Books, 2015) on Friday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.

In Out of Darkness. Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people. Read her Q&A for more about the book.

“[This] layered tale of color lines, love and struggle in an East Texas oil town is a pit-in-the-stomach family drama… A tragedy, real and racial, swallows us whole, and lingers.” – The New York Times Book Review

“The work resonates with fear, hope, love, and the importance of memory…. Pérez …gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history.” – starred, School Library Journal

image of authorIn addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel.

Before the BookPeople event, she be at the SCBWI Austin lunch with a fellow YA author Cynthia Leitich-Smith on Friday, Jan. 8, 12 p.m. (SCBWI membership required to register). She will also be at a writing workshop at The Writing Barn from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10. In Houston, she’ll be signing at Brazos Books on Saturday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m.

Visit these Facebook events to join in on the online conversation.
Austin-BookPeople:  https://www.facebook.com/events/852434314876257/

Houston-Brazos Books: https://www.facebook.com/events/1649418651976776/

 

Save the Date! Author Naomi Klein to Discuss New Book about Capitalism, Climate Change

image of author Author Naomi Klein will give a public lecture on Nov. 11, 7-9 p.m. at the LBJ Library, Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium. The event is part of the Humanities Institute’s 2015-16 theme of Imagined Futures.

Naomi Klein Klein’s first two books, No Logo (1999) and The Shock Doctrine (2007), were international hits, with each book being translated into dozens of languages and selling over 1 million copies. The Shock Doctrine exposes the ulterior motives of the neoliberal economic paradigm—not to bring freedom and democracy to developing countries, but to exploit their labor and resources through austerity politics. Often, the imposition of this neoliberal paradigm occurs in places recently impacted by disasters, whether natural or purposely instigated. Thus, Klein’s neologism of “disaster capitalism.”

Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything (2014), argues that Capitalism cannot carry on with business as usual. Something beyond its power demands that be replaced with something else—Climate Change. Do not expect to find doom and gloom, however, in Klein’s book. Indeed, Climate Change is our “civilizational wake-up call.” First exposing the climate denial of the right and the ideology campaigns of wealthy, vested interests, Klein quickly moves into visiting small revolutions across the world, where people are responding to Climate Change in a way that benefits the economy, the people, and the planet. Reviewing these empowering movements, we feel compelled to answer “Yes” to Klein’s question: “History is knocking on our door; Are you ready to answer?”

Klein is the Humanity Institute’s eighth C.L. and Henriette Cline Visiting Professorship in the Humanities. Visit her website to learn more about her work.