• Greater urgency needed in recognition of injustices done at home

    In his most recent column, Jeremi Suri notes that we have become increasingly divided because of global inequality. This polarization, Suri says, has left little space for healthy disagreement. The “incivility” he accuses of undermining democracy, however, is largely rhetoric.

    Politicians use incendiary, uncivil words to appease the interests of their constituencies. But mainstream dialogue is reactive and fleeting – often rendering it ineffective. Contemporary civil rights “movements” have diffused into hashtags and clicktivism. Their words are uncivil, but the discussion is still neutered.

    The incivility Suri sees is targeted. “Human rights abuses” is an uncivil phrase that has become largely empty rhetoric for the mainstream public. It conjures up images of starving children in third-world countries when these abuses are brutally present only hours away from our own University. The phrase is almost never seen in the same headlines as due process violations and police brutality in the Third Ward of Houston. The contemporary immigration debate has not made space to talk about for-profit detention centers. We are much too civil in these conversations.

    Police brutality is uncivil — there is no civil fairness in a trial where the police are investigating a crime of which one of their own has been accused. Yet, two years from now, the Department of Justice report on Ferguson will fade out of the nation’s consciousness. African-Americans will continue to get jail time for late payments, while police officers are punished with misdemeanors for beating prisoners. Sexual abuse in the immigrant detention centers in San Antonio is uncivil.

    Yet, with little national attention, Texas continues operating under the influence of these for-profit prisons with federal dollars, capacity quotas and heavy campaign contributions. Their stocks will continue to soar as they "cash in" on the detainment of incarcerated illegal immigrant children in South Texas. Laws that cause disproportionate burdens are uncivil. And as long as voter turnout stays low, restrictive voter ID laws could set subtle precedents for a return to poll taxing, making it more difficult for marginalized populations to vote.

    This trend will continue as long as we stay "rhetorically uncivil." Our dialogue is detached and academic. It is the imperative of the conferences, symposia and panels at this University to foster depth, honesty, and controversy. Even at the expense of civility. Without recognition, there is no justice.

    We are much too civil about the wrong things.

    Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.

  • Smiling election gods give students a second chance to get involved

    On Thursday, democracy did a crazy thing. The Student Government election for executive alliance resulted in a runoff election between Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi and Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu.  

    The Jones-Dargahi alliance received 46.34 percent of the student vote, less than the outright majority needed to win, and Rotnofsky-Mandalapu received 26.9 percent. According to Nicholas Molina, Election Supervisory Board chair, 9,108 votes were cast in the election, an increase of 14 percent in voter turnout over last spring. 

    This means two things: one, that this spring's election season — most likely due to Rotnofsky-Mandalapu's participation — has attracted nontraditional voters; and two, that the gods have granted UT's voters a second chance to get involved and take an active role in deciding who gets to be student body president and vice president. If you didn't vote this week, now is your chance. 

    Every vote matters. Take the time to read about each candidate and make an informed decision. Even voting for a friend is better than nothing at all. I challenge each and everyone of us to cast a vote next week. 

    Berkeley is an associate editor.

  • Graduate Student Bill of Rights has lost its original purpose

    The Graduate Student Assembly passed the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities on March 3. 

    The bill, which was introduced more than a year ago, outlines students’ right to voice their grievances and be treated respectfully and professionally by the university administration. 

    However, the bill lost its original purpose in the process of negotiating with university administrators. Several rights in the May 2014 draft such as the “right to compensation that meets the standard of a living wage," “right to affordable and comprehensive health insurance and housing” and “right to advising guidelines and accurate information in selecting advisors and committee members,” do not appear in the passed version of the Bill of Rights. 

    Former GSA President Columbia Mishra, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, started the Bill of Rights believing that graduate student stipends are below the poverty line for Travis Country and, if adequate, can reduce stress associated with graduate school.  

    During an interview with Inside Higher Ed in early 2014, Mishra stated, “The idea for the whole baseline conversation is to help students have an appropriate cost of living standard.”  

    According to Pathik Joshi, an urban design graduate student and architecture teaching assistant, he received approximately $700 a month after taxes last year.  

    “$700 a month is not enough to pay the rent and live comfortably,” Joshi told the Texan. 

    Apart from trying to improve compensation that meets the real living-wage standards of a graduate student, the GSA also wanted to address issues such as the wide variation in college stipends and extra working hours assigned to teaching assistants. This is a serious concern, especially for TAs in the College of Liberal Arts, where a TA Task Force recently released its recommendations on how to improve working conditions for TAs in that college.  

    Those are the real issues that need to be addressed by the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, they have been deleted from the current version or worded very carefully so as to avoid disputes with administrators.  

    Since Gage Paine, the vice president for student affairs, challenged the feasibility of a University commitment to providing new graduate student housing during the GSA's February meeting, the organization added an amendment to the Bill of Rights changing the phrase “university commitment to affordable housing accessible via public transit, and in reasonable proximity to campus” to “university commitment to a basic standard of living." 

    “We found that in conversation with people that if we included the living wage in the original propositions, that will be the end of the bill, and it will never get passed,” Beth Cozzolino, GSA student affairs director, said. “So I am actually really happy with the current wording of a University commitment to a basic standard of living." 

    Since Texas does not permit unions at public universities, graduate students have to rely solely on the GSA than other states to voice their concern and demand their rights. Instead of caving into “suggestions” that was given by the administrator, GSA should better represent the student body and ask what we truly deserve. 

    Liu is an associate editor.

  • SG election is an easy opportunity to vote

    Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu compete in the executive alliance debate against candidates David Maly, Steven Svatek, Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi in the Union Ballroom on Monday night.
    Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu compete in the executive alliance debate against candidates David Maly, Steven Svatek, Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi in the Union Ballroom on Monday night.

    Today, I cast my vote in the University elections being held throughout today and tomorrow. I made my selections for Student Government, Texas Student Media (including the editor of the Texan) and other posts as a part of my civic responsibility as a student here at UT. The entire process was conducted online, at "Utexasvote.org," and took a grand total of 30 seconds. It would quite literally be impossible to vote with any more ease.

    Sadly, barring unusually high turnout, for every one student who chooses to vote, four will choose to not vote. Turnout in student elections here on the 40 acres hovers around 15 percent, give or take a few points. Given Texas' reputation as the single worst place in the country for civic participation, I suppose one could infer that the apathy starts from quite a young age.

    Braydon Jones, one of the SG Presidential candidates, appeared strangely complacent with this lackluster participation rate at the Executive Alliance candidate debate last Monday. In comments quoted by the Texan, Jones noted that "Fifteen percent of students turned out to vote in last year’s election, as similarly, 17 percent of people voted in national elections and midterms last year," adding "We’re spot-on."

    No. We're not spot-on.

    According to estimations by the United States Election Project, more than 36 percent of voting-eligible individuals voted in last year's elections, with even higher participation among the registered population. All UT students are ostensibly registered to vote for campus elections, by comparison. Additionally, if voting were as easy in a city, state or federal election as it is at this University, then the rate would be exponentially higher.

    Big things happen on campus every single day, and students are lucky enough to give input into that process. The tradition of actually giving a care about that process is one that should be learned young. Only then will we truly be "spot-on."

  • Snow Day

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