AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some students and alumni at Westlake High School in the Eanes Independent School District say they’re exhausted, fed up with what they call “a culture of racism.”
They say it’s prominent on the athletic field, where athletes of color told KXAN they hear derogatory and insensitive racial slurs being casually used in everyday conversation.
The juxtoposition of race and sports has been particularly prominent in the United States in recent years, as the nation has divided over controversial topics like kneeling during the National Anthem to raise awareness of the issue of police brutality against Black lives.
Students of color at WHS want to spark their own conversations toward their plight.
KXAN interviewed eight current and former students — including one star athlete on the football team, one former marching band musician and one former color guard member — to ask them about their first-hand experiences of racism within the Westlake High School campus. Each one said they have either lived through, or witnessed, overt acts of racism from their classmates.
An expectation of success
The Eanes Independent School District, and much of central Texas, expects success from the students at Westlake High School. On the football field, they are perennial contenders for the Texas state championship. Last year, the Chaps took home the title.
But even during that successful season, capped with a win at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, not everyone was completely comfortable.
Zane Minors, an incoming senior at WHS, is a key part of the Chaps offense. He’s also one of a handful of Black athletes on the roster.
He said he feels in an awkward position; he often has to hold his tongue when he hears inappropriate or insensitive comments from his teammates.
“Being one of the three Black people on the team … there’s a lot of stuff said,” Minors told KXAN.
Minors said the n-word has been normalized at his school. Other WHS alumni have supported that claim. An entire Instagram account was recently created to shed light on years’ worth of racist allegations from classmates, teachers and administrators.
“It’s appalling that it’s thrown around so casually,” Minors said.
Also on the field, other students, past and present, shared their own feelings of hurt.
Remi Ogunsanya and Jules Shelby, former members of the Westlake marching band and color guard, respectively, recall a performance from 2014.
During the University Interscholastic League 6A state marching contest, the alumni say they were asked to twirl colorful Confederate flags and perform an old Southern song, which they say was chosen by the school, with lyrics glorifying picking cotton.
Ogunsanya said she later felt “disgusted” that the school didn’t consider the song choice and choreography to be offensive to any of the hundreds of students involved in the performance.
“I’ve never really quite forgiven myself for being a part of that,” Ogunsanya said.
Shelby told KXAN she felt uncomfortable at the time, but didn’t think expressing her feelings would actually lead to any lasting change.
“I didn’t want to say anything because … it’s the entire band. They weren’t going to listen to me or change that,” Shelby said.
Six years later, Eanes ISD told KXAN it regrets the decisions made for that competition and apologized, saying it will work to make performances more inclusive and respectful.
A district spokesperson said the rainbow flags the color guard were asked to twirl displayed school colors and were intended to signify Xs, not Confederate symbols, contradicting the memories the alumnae have.
“As we review and reflect on past events or traditions that are insensitive, offensive or in any way upsetting, we are saddened and sorry for those who may have been affected. We agree this performance is not acceptable, and we sincerely regret the choices that were made. Moving forward, we will do what we teach our students to do, and learn from our mistakes, understand their impact and work to improve. We renew our efforts to make our program and performances inclusive and respectful to all who hear and see us.”Eanes Independent School District
No reports of racism
Officials with the University Interscholastic League, which oversees high school sports and music at the competitive level, told KXAN it doesn’t have any reports of racism from anyone over the past 10 years at Westlake High School. Students KXAN spoke to said they have issued reports to WHS coaches and teachers in the past, but rarely saw discipline administered.
They said they don’t report the offensive behaviors of their classmates for this reason.
“A lot of things get reported and they’re very serious things, in fact. But nothing seems to get done and that’s the problem,” Minors said.
In the past, the UIL provided schools a sportsmanship manual before each season, asking athletes to refrain from disrespectful conduct, like offensive remarks which insult others. Coaches were given a manual too, asked to pledge to stop anything that wouldn’t reflect well on the school or program.
KXAN discovered the UIL stopped distributing those manuals years ago, but it’s unclear exactly when and why. UIL officials did not provide a direct answer when asked.
Still, Eanes ISD says it is taking steps to correct these issues and address ongoing allegations.
Three years ago, head basketball coach Robert Lucero was named Westlake’s first ever diversity coordinator. He’s Hispanic, which he says allows him to connect with students and athletes of color if they’re ever seeking help.
In the three years he’s had that title, Lucero said athletes have begun approaching him to share their concerns. But he says he wants to connect with the entire student body.
“Athletics get glorified, and that’s fine, but really, it’s more important that we take care of the people that aren’t in athletics,” Lucero said, referencing the fact that athletes are often widely accepted among the student body and that coaches often build solid relationships with their players.
Lucero’s outreach also extends to his own colleagues. He conducts training sessions for other Westlake teachers and staff on campus. Each year, he gathers testimonies from students of color, which he later presents to the staff. He said these under-reported testimonies help Westlake staff empathize with the struggles of minority students.
“Until I started to read and educate myself, I’m not sure I really understood all the different things students can go through,” Lucero said.
The district also recently hired an outside consultant, aiming to help coaches, teachers and staff become racially sensitive to student needs.
Looking toward the future
These three former and current Westlake students are excelling. Ogunsanya lives in Chicago and is in her second year of law school. Shelby left Central Texas after graduation and went on to attend additional schooling in Europe. And, Minors has committed to playing football in college at Yale after graduation.
But before he leaves Westlake, he hopes his story will give courage to other athletes of color who may also feel uneasy to raise their voice.
“With me being able to share this, they will actually realize that this stuff does happen to somebody they know and somebody they have been friends with. Somebody that plays football. This happens in the Westlake community,” Minors said.
The start of the high school football season for Westlake was pushed back due to the pandemic. The Chaps begin practicing on campus beginning Sept. 8. As of mid-August, the first game of the season is scheduled for Sept. 25.
The past two seasons of WHS football games have been broadcast on KBVO, a KXAN-affiliated TV station.