A group of black and Hispanic high school students visiting Texas A&M University say they were harassed, taunted and told by white students they were not welcome to attend the university, according to Texas Sen. Royce West (D-23rd District).
West's office released a statement Thursday saying two black female high school juniors were part of a larger group touring the campus when they were approached by a white female Texas A&M student who asked the girls if they liked her earrings -- which were replicas of the Confederate flag.
Nearby, a group of white male and female students began harassing the larger group of 60 high school students by using racial epithets and telling them to "go back where you came from."
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The group of students, from Dallas' Uplift Hampton Preparatory School, were visiting the campus as part of the school's Road To College at Uplift Education Program.
Jayla Alex-Johnson was one of about 60 juniors touring the campus.
“Some students were really upset about it," said Alex-Johnson.
Standing towards the back of the crowd, she could only hear some yelling. It was not until later that she learned exactly what was being said to her classmates.
“I hope that their attitude changes," Alex-Johnson said. "The way they think, the way they believe in everything.”
“I hope they catch those people and find out who it was and they kick them out of whatever,” said Anna Alvarenga, a parent of a student at Hampton Prep.
According to West, the confrontation was witnessed by TAMU officials accompanying the students. A campus police officer initially said the university students were expressing their First Amendment rights, though a report was made on the incident.
Following their tour, Alex-Johnson said TAMU officials met with students to discuss the incident and assure them that the behavior was not in line with the university's beliefs or ideals.
“They were really sincere," she explained. "And they couldn’t believe what happened, like neither of us could, and they just really apologized and told us that this shouldn’t be happening at their school.”
West said the incident is now being reviewed by executive leadership at the university, including Chancellor John Sharp.
"While high level meetings are taking place among A&M administrative, faculty and student leaders, those meetings need to produce results that say that overt acts of racism will not be tolerated anywhere within the university system," West said. "I expect a response that is swift and similar to those taken at the University of Oklahoma. The students responsible for these reprehensible actions should be strongly disciplined, if not expelled."
West implored action must be taken swiftly or the university runs the risk of damaging its credibility. West added that the university has a history of recruiting minority students from urban schools, has established outreach centers in Dallas and elsewhere and has made scholarship monies available to minority students.
"But actions such as what took place Tuesday can undo whatever good has been done. When those student's stories are told to parents and friends, they could undoubtedly, further the belief that the home of the Aggies has a campus environment that has been hostile to Black students; that is those who are not athletes," West said.
Michael K. Young, president of Texas A&M University, said in a statement released Wednesday he was outraged and tremendously disappointed in the behavior of his students and that "appropriate action will be taken."
"I deeply regret the pain and hurt feelings this incident caused these young students. Be assured that we take such allegations very seriously," Young said in a statement. "While the actions of a few certainly do not represent our institution as a whole, it is the responsibility of all of us to stop any incidents that could be considered hateful or biased-based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor."
Uplift Education released a statement Thursday afternoon saying they were "proud of our scholars for the grace and composure with which they responded to the college students who chose to engage in a disrespectful and unacceptable manner."
Uplift added they appreciated the swift response from university leadership and that they hope the incident can broaden the national conversation about inclusion and cultural awareness so that everyone can feel safe and welcome.
At this time, the students involved have not been identified by the university.Uplift-Education-Statement-02112016 (PDF)
NBC 5's Caroline Connolly and Kevin Cokely contributed to this report.