Bleach Balloons Stoke Racial Tensions at UT

Reports that African-American and Asian students have been hit by bleach-filled balloons in West Campus are making national headlines this week.

Four students filed police reports with UTPD on Monday, saying they were hit by the balloons between June and September. On Tuesday, more than 100 students and others gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue, then marched to West Campus to protest the incidents. West Campus is a dense residential area adjacent to UT’s campus, though not technically a part of it.

“I was shocked,” UT student Taylor Carr told ABC News. Carr and a group of friends were hit by the balloons. “Initially it was—why? Why would you do something like that?”

The bleach-balloon news comes weeks after other alleged incidents of racial bias on the Forty Acres. A Sept. 20 “fiesta-themed” sorority party also drew criticism, and on Sept. 25 a fraternity party titled “A Border to Cross,” at which partygoers were to cross an artificial Rio Grande river, was canceled. The three Greek organizations hosting the parties all issued apologies last week.

Ryan Miller, an associate director in UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, is a lead team member with the Campus Climate Response Team, which responds to reports of bias on campus. Miller said that the group, which launched in March, has received 15 total reports of bias this semester. “Themed parties, slurs, and of course the balloon incidents are the primary types of reports we’ve received,” Miller says.

UT staff, Miller said, entered the semester with a “heightened sense of awareness” about bias. “There are a number of issues that could make this a tense time,” he said. “There’s the Fisher case [on considering race in admissions] at the Supreme Court and the presidential election. I think in a very general sense, we do sometimes see incidents of bias in a pattern that occurs over time.”

At a press conference, Dean of Studens Soncia Reagins-Lilly praised the students for speaking out. “On one hand it is very troubling and unfortunate that these reported incidents have occurred,” she said. “However, it is beautiful and powerful to see our community come together and voice their concerns.”

University Police chief Robert Dahlstrom said that UTPD and the Austin Police Department are conducting a joint investigation into the bleach-balloon incidents. “We’re talking to people day-to-day on this,” Dahlstromm said. “I’m hopeful that by the time we’re done with it, there will be some kind of news.”

In a statement released this afternoon, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement Vice President Gregory Vincent said that the University is taking the incidents seriously.

“The University of Texas at Austin continues to support a diverse and inclusive campus culture that is welcoming to students, alumni, faculty and staff from all backgrounds,” Vincent said. “This fall semester the numbers of African American, Asian American and Hispanic students enrolled increased, continuing a decade-long trend.”

Below, see how students and community members are reacting to the news.


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