Point of View
A new project aims to capture the Black student experience at UT.
Photographs by Adraint Bereal | By Danielle Lopez
Adraint Bereal, BFA ’20, grew up in a predominantly Black and Latino area in Waco. He dreamed about being a Longhorn for as long as he can remember. But when Bereal started at UT Austin in 2016, he says it felt like a week went by before he saw another Black student walking around campus. He felt disappointed. The campus community wasn’t quite what he had expected.
Then one day in the Student Activity Center he came upon a room full of Black students in a meeting and peeked his head through the doorway. He recognized a friend who motioned for him to join them. “I walked in and was like, ‘Where’s everybody been?’” he says. “I thought, This is what home feels like to me.”
As of fall 2019, Black students make up 4.9 percent of the UT Austin student population on campus. That’s a number that has fluctuated yearly only by one or two points since the school first integrated in 1956, and one the university has been working to raise through programs like Texas Advance Commitment, which provides financial support to students; by expanding outreach to underserved high schools; and by recruiting more Black faculty and staff.
Upon learning about the small Black student population, Bereal was inspired to create The Black Yearbook, a documentation of the lives of Black students at UT Austin. He has spent the last two years taking student portraits, photographing events, and conducting interviews. The book, which Bereal published in August, is made up of more than 300 pages of photos and student stories and has garnered national interest from The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and CNN.
“When people initially hear about the project, they think, ‘Oh, like a traditional yearbook,’” he says. “But that’s not what it is. It’s more of a fine art piece that people can take something away from. Traditional yearbooks aim to depict the good times and picture-perfect moments rooted in this normalized tradition of what life is supposed to be like on a college campus. This is a much more honest telling of our story.”
“Dismantling this idea that being Black is a monolithic thing has been really important to me. Many of our peers who didn’t grow up around Black people think, ‘This is what a Black person is. This is how they’re supposed to be.’ Blackness is a spectrum of identities and unique cultures.”
On the Process
“I didn’t realize how big of a thing I was making until I finally stopped. One of the most stimulating parts is that a lot of my peers said that they’ve never been photographed in this way before, or never saw themselves in this way. It makes me happy knowing I could capture them in a way they never thought they would see.”
On What’s Next
“I had a gallery planned in May — but, coronavirus. So now I’m trying to find a place to host a show. I think a lot of people are going to be taken aback by the work because I don’t think [Black UT students] have ever been highlighted in such an unfiltered way before. And I don’t think so many students have ever gotten to tell their story on this large of a platform before. It’s really going to change the way students see themselves and the possibilities of what we can and can’t do.”
Check out The Black Yearbook online here.