The issue of cultural diversity at UTEP began in the first days of the institution, where the official history of the time described it as being found on “several of the oldest highways established by white men on this continent.” UTEP has found itself in the center of many of the major issues that affect cultural diversity, both on a local and at the national level. From Raul R. Barberena, UTEP's first Hispanic student and perhaps the first Hispanic instructor in the University of Texas system, to having one of the first integrated campuses in the former Confederate South, to its earth-shattering NCAA basketball championship featuring an all-black starting lineup against an all-white team from Kentucky that signaled the end of segregated sports in the South. Cultural diversity at UTEP was to be found on many levels. Despite these notable achievements, UTEP has not been immune to prejudicial and intolerable actions due to identity on the part of those associated with the transforming the university.
Ruth Monro Augur arrived at the State School of Mines and Metallurgy in the fall of 1917, though not as a student. As the new registrar, her contributions exceeded her administrative duties, extending into enriching the school’s cultural life. A professionally trained artist (she studied under the eminent impressionist landscape painter, William M. Chase), Augur also enjoyed the theatre and spent her off hours writing plays. In April 1919, Augur staged a performance of one of her scripts and featured the students of TSM. On a rocky precipice she designated the Lost Mine Opry House located next to the new Main Building that had opened the previous year, the TSM students performed A Miner’s Romance: A Tale of the Border. In this musical melodrama, Augur demonstrated mastery of the genre of the melodrama. A cowboy hero crosses the border into Mexico where he finds himself hopelessly lost. A Mexican beauty, Panchita Pastelle, also known as “Bandit Belle,” rescues him. Together, they sing love duets as Panchita guides the wayward cowboy hero back to the border and they part, Panchita longing for her Texas cowboy. The couple no sooner parts when in rides Pancho Villa who proceeds to kidnap Maiden Fair, the lovely (and white) damsel in distress. Our cowboy hero rides back into Mexico to rescue Maiden Fair. In showdown with Villa, surrounded and all hope of escape lost, Panchita stabs Villa, sacrificing her own life, as well as the love for her Texas cowboy, allowing for the hero and Maiden Fair to escape and live happily ever after.
Augur’s script is an almost perfect reproduction of the “tragic octoroon” melodramas common during the nineteenth century. It is a tale of unrequited, interracial love where the tragic flaw of the heroine is her poisoned blood—a racial identity that prevents her from ever marrying the white hero of the play. And like the plays of the era, the role of the heroine had to be played by a white actress, in this case, a TSM student wearing “six coats of brown grease paint on her face and a wicked look in her flashing eye.” One can be tempted by the exoticness of the other, in this case a Mexican female, but interracial love sanctioned by marriage was forbidden on the stage and in real life. Here, in the first years of the University of Texas at El Paso, was staged a morality tale that could define the university and its relationship with those who were not white.
Raul Ramon Barberena, the first Hispanic instructor in the UT System
The first two women of significance at UTEP with regards to contributions were Kathleen Worrell and Ruth Monro Augur. Both women were suffragettes and accomplished artists. Worrell, the wife of the first dean of the school, Steve Worrell, was an award-winning author of travelogues and short stories. As legend has it, it was Kathleen who came up with the idea to use the Bhutanese architectural style for the buildings.
Ruth Brown and Grace Odell were the first female students of the school, enrolling as non-regular students in 1916. Since they were not engineering students, they did not graduate with a degree. Brown, however, was awarded a certificate of completion for her classes. Brown was hired as a teaching assistant in 1918, making her the first female instructor at UTEP.
Myra Carroll Winkler was the first full-time faculty member, hired in 1923 as a professor of history and economics. She was also the first female superintendent of schools for the County of El Paso.
It was the demand for by parents for a place to send their daughters locally for a college education as well as the need for grade school teachers that drove the transformation of UTEP from a mining school to a school of the liberal arts. By the 1920s, following Texas’ adoption of compulsory education laws for children, this drove up the demand for higher education. Many local parents did not want to send their daughters 600 miles to the east to attend college. This is why the community lobbied for additional classes at the College of Mines in 1927.
When the college added courses in the liberal arts in 1927, Abi E. Beynon, an associate professor of business administration, became the department’s first head as well as the first dean of women. In 1930, she went back to school to complete her PhD, which would have made her UTEP’s first full female professor. Sadly, she died the following year after receiving her degree. This honor would go to Gladys Gregory, political science, in 1951.
On May 31, 1932, when the College of Mines graduated its first class of B.A. students, all nine graduates were female.
Perhaps the greatest contribution by a female were the efforts of Thelma White, In March 1955, she filed suit against Texas Western and the University of Texas to end segregation in Texas’ higher education.
Today, women comprise 54% of UTEP’s student body.
College of Mines catalogs.
El Paso Herald, April 21, 1919.
The Prospector, April 30, 1919.
UT Presidents Papers.
UT Regents Minutes.
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