The incoming freshman class for the 2004 fall semester at The University of Texas at Austin is expected to be more ethnically diverse than last year, with a slightly larger percentage of Hispanics and African Americans anticipated, according to a preliminary estimate by the university’s Office of Admissions.
Many of these entering freshmen and other new students will be celebrating together on campus Tuesday (Aug. 24) on the Main Mall during “Gone To Texas” festivities, a welcoming event traditionally held the night before fall classes begin. The alternate location for the 8 p.m. event, if rain occurs, will be Gregory Gym.
The number of incoming freshmen for the 2004 fall semester is expected to be about 6,800 but final figures will not be available until after the 12th day of class. This preliminary figure is slightly higher than the 6,544 entering freshmen in the fall of 2003 but significantly lower than the record 7,935 enrolled for the 2002 fall semester.
Early estimates by the Office of Admissions indicate there may be a slight increase in the percentage of Hispanics and African Americans enrolled in this freshman class, but how much of an increase will not be known until after the 12th class day. The 2003 fall semester freshman class percentages included about four percent African American (up from 3.4 percent in 2002) and about16 percent Hispanic students (up from 14.3 percent in 2002).
Enrollment of African Americans and Hispanics at the university declined after a 1996 federal court order in the Hopwood case prohibited affirmative action initiatives in admissions. A gradual increase in minority enrollment began after the Texas Legislature passed the Top 10 Percent Law in 1997.
In 1996, the year before the federal court order in the Hopwood case, Hispanics were 14.5 percent of the freshman class population. The first post-Hopwood class in 1997 had a 12.6 percent Hispanic population. The African American fraction was 4.1 percent during the year before the Hopwood court ruling and dropped to 2.7 percent in 1997 when the court ruling prohibited affirmative action initiatives.
The diversity of the university will be reflected Tuesday in the broad range of music and presentations at the “Gone To Texas” celebration. The Texas-sized event this year also will provide an opportunity for incoming freshmen, transfer, graduate and law students to meet and bid a fond farewell to the university’s longhorn steer mascot, Bevo XIII, in one of his last public appearances before he retires in September and strolls off to greener pastures.
“Gone to Texas is a campus tradition that helps our new students to find out what it means to become a Longhorn,” said Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of the university. “It’s also an opportunity for freshmen to learn that even though UT is a big place, we share a strong sense of community.”
The annual welcoming event is based on a chapter in the history of the migration to Texas. More than 100 years ago, as adventurers pulled up stakes seeking a fresh start, three letters etched on old homestead doors revealed their destination. “GTT” was written on the doors of people indicating they had gone to Texas.
The incoming students getting a start on their education at The University of Texas at Austin will be introduced during the event to student leaders, key faculty and administrators in a festive atmosphere abundant with campus traditions.
“There is no better way to get excited about coming to the greatest university in the nation than by attending Gone To Texas,” said Brent Chaney, incoming student government president. He said the incoming students should prepare for amazing educational experiences.
Student performing groups will provide a sampling of the diverse opportunities that exist for new students to become involved in campus life. They include: The Roustabouts, Nritya Sangam Indian Dance Troupe, Innervisions Gospel Choir, The Ransom Notes and Ballet Folklorico.
Tales of campus traditions will be interwoven into the program as will “on-the-spot” interviews with academic deans. The finale will include the Longhorn Band and a large Texas Flag being dropped over the front of the university’s Main Building.
In its ongoing support of campus traditions and events, the University Co-op sponsors Gone to Texas and also provides 4,000 Gone To Texas T-shirts each year for new students.
“The University Co-op is proud to sponsor Gone to Texas because, for many students, it is their first big introduction to the university,” said George Mitchell, president of the University Co-op. “They also have a chance to meet the president of the university.”
The night before classes begins also offers an opportunity for new students to get some survival tips from upperclassmen who have been on campus long enough to reflect on how, if they could do it all over again, they would have done things differently their freshman year.
“If I were to do it all over again, I would go to at least one ‘office hour’ of every one of my teachers,” said Nick Staha, chairman of the Senate of College Councils. “My most enjoyable courses and best grades all came from classes where I had spoken personally with the teacher on several occasions.”
Staha said one thing he is grateful for is that during his freshman year he got involved in student organizations “early and often,” especially in areas related to his college major.
“There I met the students who would be my good friends and roommates for the next four years,” Staha said.
The “Gone To Texas” celebration will be viewable via webcast this year. Visit the Gone To Texas Web site for more information.
Robert D. Meckel
Photos: Marsha Miller