The University of Texas at Arlington prides itself on the diversity and inclusivity of its campus, and rightfully so. The campus sports an impressive student body hailing from a multitude of cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds.
However, UTA cannot, and should not, parade its inclusivity until it openly acknowledges its racist history. From school-sanctioned minstrel shows and mock slave auctions to deep ties to Confederate ideology, UTA continues to wrongfully honor one of the worst purveyors of the university’s darkest legacies: Jack R. Woolf.
Woolf was the president when Arlington State College became a four-year university, witnessing our transition from a junior college as well as the construction of the College of Engineering’s Woolf Hall, named in his honor.
But these feats were not the only legacies Woolf left behind. The Woolf administration is epitomized in their unique form of Confederate worship: Old South Week, a university-sanctioned holiday that encouraged staff and students to participate in old Confederate traditions.
Students were told to wear their best “Confederate Gray,” joined the “Confederate Army” and hosted mock slave auctions and minstrel shows.
The “Rebel” theme became synonymous with UTA, which flew the Confederate flag openly and proudly under Woolf’s leadership. It’s important to note that by this point, UTA was considered integrated and had, while few, Black students.
With regards to student integration, Woolf did so with “much regret,” according to a letter he wrote. Woolf’s approach to the university dormitories was lackluster at best, begrudgingly choosing to integrate them only after the threat of “a potential problem with the federal government.”
It remains expressly clear Woolf never intended to fully integrate UTA. An avid segregationist, Woolf was keen to exert the “greatest freedom of control over students of all races,” vying to maintain a harsh system where the fewest possible number of Black students would be permitted on campus, despite UTA’s status as an “integrated” university.
Neo-Confederate. Racist. Segregationist. This is the true legacy Woolf left behind, one born from unfounded hatred and willful ignorance. A legacy UTA continues to honor and permit through its refusal to acknowledge Woolf’s behavior and the harm caused by it. The Woolf administration was there for the progression of UTA as an educational institution, that much is true. But its unapologetic bigotry overshadows that. It defines it.
Why, then, do we honor the Woolf administration? Why is Woolf Hall named as it is? Woolf did as much to build the hall himself as he did to promote an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment for all students, which is to say, he didn’t.
Woolf and his backward administration represent a UTA that venerates the Confederacy, opposes diversity and refuses to treat its Black students with respect and dignity. UTA needs to do more to acknowledge its history and be vocal in its disapproval of the Woolf administration to uphold its status as a truly inclusive university. These changes start with the removal of Woolf’s name from Woolf Hall.
UTA deserves the honor of being known as one of the most diverse campuses in America and has worked hard for that title. However, until the last mention of the Woolf administration and those like him are removed from prominence, UTA cannot consider itself a university that listens to and respects its diverse student body.