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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

From South Africa to the Willy statue, admin and SA conflict

Jones College senior Chad Chasteen comments at an SA special meeting convened to discuss Hatfield’s statements Nov. 8, 2002. Courtesy Thresher Archives

By Sarah Knowlton     4/2/24 11:09pm

When the Office of Access, Equity and Equal Opportunity instructed the Student Association to table a resolution adopting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement for Blanket Tax funds, the authors of the resolution called it “a direct violation of [their] freedom of expression” and an “overstep of [administration’s] power.” SA President Jae Kim called the action unprecedented.

This isn’t the first time that administrators and the SA have come into conflict. International issues like the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa caused turmoil as student and university opinions diverged. Closer to home, the construction of the Ion in Houston’s historically Black Third Ward and the Down With Willy movement were also intensely debated. Faculty members themselves — and their sometimes controversial opinions — have sparked several resolutions.

In the face of the administration-ordered pause on S.RES 02, “Student Association Boycott and Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Ongoing Genocide in Gaza,” similar administrative decisions throughout Rice’s history may point to the future of the resolution.

Vietnam: “We had no intention of leaving”

In the midst of the Vietnam War, CIA recruiters visited campus to meet with Rice graduate students. On Nov. 10, 1969, approximately 40 students gathered in the RMC to stage a sit-in and deter students from meeting with recruiters. 

“We had no intention of leaving until we were certain that the CIA had left the campus,” protester Bill Katzenberg said.

“You people are disrupting the normal operations of this university,” then-dean of students Fred Wierum told the students, asking them twice to end their protest.

After about an hour, Wierum informed students that the recruiters had left campus for the day. When students did not end their sit-in immediately, they were threatened with disciplinary probation. Three students were escorted to Wierum’s office after being identified as “demonstration leaders.”

Following the incident, Wierum wrote a letter to Thresher reporter Karolyn Kendrick requesting she meet with him regarding her participation in the protest. Wierum alleged that Kendrick attempted to hide the identity of one of her fellow protesters and blocked Wierum from proceeding down the hallway where the recruiters were located. Kendrick published Wierum’s letter in the Thresher, along with her response. She was placed under disciplinary probation later that month.

“It is terribly sad to see a man stripped naked against his will, but it is even sadder to see a man clothed only in a title,” Kendrick wrote at the time.

In 1970, Kendrick attempted to run for editor-in-chief of the Thresher. Still under probation, her candidacy was disqualified by the SA. The SA voted to approve Kendrick as a candidate given that she continued to appeal her probation. Wierum said in a speech to the SA on March 10, 1970 that regardless of her appeal status, he held the opinion that Kendrick was ineligible. He also indicated that if one of her appeals was upheld, he would re-appeal that decision.

In May of that year, Kendrick was suspended. John Mauldin was elected as editor-in-chief instead.

South Africa: “Acts against humanity”

In the 1980s, a number of universities, including Barnard College and the University of Arizona, chose to divest from companies operating in South Africa during apartheid. On Oct. 4, 1985, the Thresher reported that the Rice Board of Governors opted not to divest.

“While the Board abhors a continuance of the policy of apartheid, it does not believe that disinvestment in companies doing business in South Africa will benefit the cause of those suffering from the apartheid policy,” the Board wrote in a statement. 

Though the Board would not completely divest, chairman of the Board and Duncan College namesake Charles Duncan said that the Board would not invest in companies that did not abide by the Sullivan principles, a set of corporate guidelines intended to promote racial equality and pressure South Africa into ending apartheid.

On Oct. 21 of that year, the SA proposed a resolution to call on the university to reconsider their decision regarding divestment, but the resolution failed. Instead, a resolution agreeing with the Board of Governors’ decision narrowly passed on Dec. 2, 1985 after then-president George Rupp spoke in favor.

Rupp explained that rather than divesting from all corporations doing business in South Africa, Rice would only invest in those that opposed apartheid.

“I for one favor stringent governmental sanctions against South Africa, and I think that such political and economic pressure from the United States and other governments can and will have an effect,” Rupp said. “But this effect may be enhanced if economic forces within South Africa are also persistently pushing for change in the policies and practices of apartheid.”

Homophobia: “He probably would think hard about it” 

Rice’s former head football coach Ken Hatfield was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education speaking about gay athletes on Nov. 1, 2002. Hatfield said that homosexuality went against his religious beliefs as a Christian, and that if one of his players came out to him, he would be concerned about the impact that that player might have on the team.

“[Hatfield] says that while he would not necessarily kick a player off the team for being gay, he probably would think hard about it,” the article read.

In response to Hatfield’s statement, the SA held a special meeting. Both the Faculty Senate and the SA passed resolutions emphasizing the university’s nondiscrimination policy while Rice’s then-president Malcolm Gillis also issued a statement disavowing Hatfield’s opinion.

Gillis followed a suggestion included in the SA resolution and asked the Rice University Athletic Committee to conduct an evaluation of the atmosphere within Rice athletics regarding discrimination. He also created a special committee — the President’s Council on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Campus Climate — to further address the issue.

“[Gillis] was very forthcoming and went out of his way to make people feel he was taking concerns very seriously,” said Chandler Davidson, a faculty representative on the special committee.

At the first Rice home game following Hatfield’s statements, over 100 students attended in shirts that read “I am not homophobic” that were sold by Rice PRIDE — and reportedly funded by the president’s office.

The Ion: “The interests of the wealthy”

Some students expressed concerns about housing inequity and gentrification when the Rice Management Company announced the construction and renovation of the Ion, the flagship building of a 16-acre Innovation District in Houston’s Third Ward owned by the Rice Management Company. The Innovation District is currently being developed into a site for research and development in a variety of fields.

In January 2020, the SA presented Senate Resolution #8, encouraging Rice to enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with a community group called the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement. This would have required the RMC to include HCEDD in decision-making regarding the Ion.

The resolution was supported by student organizations including the Rice Black Student Association, Rice InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Rice Young Democrats.

“Unfortunately, projects like the Ion often only promote the interests of the wealthy while exacerbating issues faced by marginalized populations,” Lila Greiner, the media representative for the Rice Young Democrats, said.

In response, representatives from the RMC spoke at the Jan. 27, 2020 Senate meeting in defense of the Ion. The resolution was tabled. A few weeks later, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent an email to SA president Grace Wickerson stating that he intended to create a CBA between the city and the Rice Management Company. In response, the SA made a number of changes to Senate Resolution #8.

On Feb. 17, 2024, the SA hosted a debate and town hall for internal vice president candidates. In support of her platform, Martel College senator Ashley Fitzpatrick said that she had experience confronting administration and that the RMC had threatened to “disown” the SA if they passed a resolution supporting HCEDD as a signatory party of the CBA.

The revised resolution was passed that same day. Although it acknowledged HCEDD, it recommended the CBA between the RMC and the city of Houston as described by Turner and no longer endorsed HCEDD as a signatory party.

Down With Willy: “Extraordinary demand”

The Down With Willy movement, coordinated by Shifa Rahman ’22, took a significant step on Nov. 29, 2021 when the SA unanimously passed a resolution calling for the university to remove the statue of William Marsh Rice from the center of the academic quad by the end of the 2021-2022 school year. During his lifetime, the university’s namesake participated in a Houston-based slave patrol group and enslaved 15 people.

On Jan. 25, 2022, the Board of Trustees announced that they would be acting in accordance with the resolution and with the advice of the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice to relocate the statue, with the support of then-incoming president Reggie DesRoches.

On Nov. 8, 2023, the statue was officially removed from its pedestal.

Black students involved in advocacy work, including SA president Kendall Vining, were criticized in media outlets such as Fox News for their “extraordinary demand and apparent censorship” of the university. Vining emphasized that the resolution came as a result of extensive research on the part of Rice for Black Life and the SA. 

In an interview with the Thresher this week, Vining said that current proponents S.RES 02 might learn from looking back at the Down With Willy resolution.

“As a former Student Association president and someone who has experience with advocacy work, I know that effective student government resolutions should be concise and backed by solid evidence. In cases where evidence is lacking, letters or external resources can be utilized for advocacy,” Vining wrote in an email. “Previous actions, such as letter-writing and survey distribution, lay the groundwork for formal resolutions, like relocating the Founder's Memorial [statue].”

Vining also stressed the need for strategy and collaboration in the future of S.RES.02.

“I hope [equal opportunity office director Richard] Baker’s action won't establish a new norm,” Vining wrote. “I'm hopeful that thorough reflection by SA leadership will lead to future proposals supporting Palestinians being welcomed for consideration.”

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This year’s Beer Bike took place Saturday, April 6. After a seven-minute delay, the alumni races began, followed by the women’s and then the men’s. For the second year in a row, each of the races were divided into two heats. As usual, the times from both heats will be compared, along with calculated penalties, by the Rice Program Council to determine final results. Results are not available at time of publication, and the campus-wide Beer Bike coordinators did not provide a timeline for when they will be.


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