Throughout the past year, our campus culture has been forced to take on several of the more difficult discussions it has encountered in decades. In the run-up to the election of President Donald Trump and since then, threats against Muslim, Jewish, and immigrant students have crept onto our campus. Mosques in Lake Travis and Victoria have been burned to the ground. Texas Hillel, the spiritual home of many students on campus, was vandalized over the weekend. President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from several majority Muslim nations and his expanded use of ICE to deport undocumented Austin residents have left many students wondering whether the nation they call home considers them to be welcome.
During this time, Kevin Helgren and Binna Kim have acted as the voice of the students, encouraging the university administration to act more forcefully to protect members of our community from undeniably real threats. As students prepare to succeed them during campus wide elections this week, we would hope that this year’s candidates for executive alliance would also bring with them the qualities that made Helgren and Kim successful: A belief in taking up contentious positions to protect every student on this campus, and the willingness to do everything within their power to craft reasonable solutions to difficult problems.
Instead, we have a difficult choice to make between executive alliance candidates who have breached our trust in a variety of different ways.
Blake Burley and Robert Guerra have organized many of their proposals through a New Testament Christianity that places the highest value on unconditional love for fellow Longhorns, which is a solid ideological grounding for leadership. But their campaign bungles many of the details that would make this effective. They have positioned themselves as outsiders to SG despite Burley’s work as the Leadership and Service Policy Director, a higher post in the current administration than the position fellow presidential candidate Alejandrina Guzman holds. And more troublingly, their campaign has failed to mention that Guerra served as the president of College Republicans last fall, the same semester that the organization endorsed Donald Trump for president.
These issues with their background could be forgiven if their policy proposals showed more substance. Instead, their platform name-drops issues worth solving and initiatives in need of explanation, leaving the details to our imaginations. We have strong doubts about what they bring besides a fresh view — and even that promise comes with an asterisk.
Isaiah Carter and Sydney O’Connell would seem to counter that view with what seems to be a reboot of Helgren-Kim in some respects. Carter served as their chief of staff and can claim credit for inspiring many of the positive policy moves from this year and would enter the job prepared to take on its challenges immediately. O’Connell lacks experience just as Kim did, but also comes from Not On My Campus, a student-led sexual assault prevention movement.
While we would want another year of Helgren-Kim, Carter-O’Connell has eroded our trust in them to uphold Helgren-Kim’s example. Their decision to use Carter’s position in SG to access a list of emails from students who indicated that they were interested in SG over the summer, and then cold-email them to join his staff outside the campaign period against campaign rules, makes us question what other corners they would be willing to cut for their own benefit in this position. Having helped run Helgren-Kim’s campaign last year, Carter should have known better. And we don’t want to put ourselves in the position of questioning the ethics of our next SG president.
Alejandrina Guzman and Micky Wolf also come from firmly within the SG establishment, but bring different kinds of baggage. Wolf has spent the past two years as a representative, and Guzman served from 2015-16 before taking over as the Disabilities and Inclusion Agency director. With the bulk of their experience in an assembly that has been responsible for as much public embarrassment as progress over the past two years, we are not sure their experience is necessarily a boon.
And in those two years, Guzman and Wolf have clashed on two of the most divisive issues the assembly has fought over. Guzman voted for a resolution in favor of boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel in 2015, then co-authored a resolution in favor of kicking Young Conservatives of Texas off campus last fall. Wolf vociferously opposed both. While Guzman flipped on both of these stances when pushed at our debate, their lack of a greater effort to bridge this divide in the eyes of voters suggests a devaluation of issues that students actually care about. Their concurrence on the largely agreeable issues on their platform is clear (including a laughable promise to bring back the football game against Texas A&M, which even Chancellor Bill McRaven can’t make good on), but we question whether they have the shared ideology necessary to quickly and adequately respond to pressing issues on campus.
And in this upcoming year, that shortcoming is one of the largest any ticket can have. We expect every ticket to know the bounds of their position and then stick up for all students when conflict inevitably arises during their term. We should prepare for more physical and verbal threats against Muslim students and efforts to deport undocumented students — and we should expect our leaders to be prepared as well.
Carter and O’Connell raised more red flags to readers when they offered a ban on hate speech in an op-ed last week. Especially when they explain it as a ban on speech offensive to any race, gender, religion or creed, this would be clearly unconstitutional. While there are exceptions to freedom of speech for directly threatening or inciting violence, harassment and other crimes, the First Amendment protects speech that is offensive, divisive, and problematic. We would be scared to imagine President Donald Trump or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with the power to ban speech they find offensive, and stand against the idea that we should give President Fenves that power. Both the Carter-O’Connell alliance and Alejandrina Guzman have demonstrated that urge at some point in the past four months.
While Carter-O’Connell’s proposal isn’t the solution, Burley-Guerra and Guzman-Wolf have failed to mention the town hall or the issues that precipitated it altogether. While ducking the hard discussions may have been passable in 2013, it can’t be now.
Although all students are constitutionally entitled to free speech, SG is expected to speak up against any sort of offensive and hateful rhetoric. It is the responsibility of the president and vice president to address the problems that marginalized groups face by working toward ensuring their safety, while actively battling the discrimination of fellow students. Perpetrators of hate should be condemned by the executive alliance and warned that their views don’t belong at one of the largest public universities that thrives on diversity. Students must be able to expect an environment that condemns hateful rhetoric against any student.
All this said, one of these tickets will win, either Thursday or after a runoff. These issues do not preclude their success, but make it impossible for us to endorse any of them.
We do hope that the eventual winner will adopt the best of the other tickets. Burley-Guerra’s guiding belief that we should love every student on campus goes beyond policy, and we would hope to hear that voiced again. Carter-O’Connell’s purple pipes proposal and sophisticated understanding of sexual assault are essential parts of a successful administration. And Guzman-Wolf’s textbook argument that we should adopt sanctuary policies without labeling ourselves a “sanctuary campus” to avoid being politically targeted is undoubtedly the right move.
The new SG administration will be challenged to stand up for students in a divisive political climate. We hope they will look beyond their platform points and the walls of their offices to empathize with and address the pressing needs of a diverse student body. We offer no endorsement, but we hope that you will cast your vote at utexasvote.org to elect the administration you believe will bring positive change to this campus for us all.