On Saturday, the citizen commission tasked with drawing the district lines for Austin’s new single-member City Council districts released a preliminary map. That map included the University-centric district called for by both this newspaper and Student Government in the past week.
It’s tempting to declare this development a victory for students, but the battle is yet to be won: There are six more meetings of the commission to gather public input before the maps are finalized in December, and students must continue to show support for a University-focused district if they want their voices to be heard. Perhaps more importantly, consistent advocacy for the student district now will help encourage the engagement necessary to make true use of the district should it become a reality.
As drawn, District 9 extends to include portions of West Campus, North Campus and West Riverside. Students from the ACC Rio Grande campus are also included. Physics graduate student Eric Anciaux, an advocate for the student district, estimates that the district will be 40 percent students, according to a news article published by the Texan on Saturday. While not a majority, 40 percent is more than enough for students to make a difference in a City Council election. But that near-majority will feel considerably smaller if few of those students show up to vote, leading us back to the original concern that civic engagement on behalf of students must be consistent throughout the process, no matter where the district lines are drawn.
The maps revealed on Saturday are a positive step toward addressing these problems from a student perspective. But we must be vigilant in advocating for student involvement in city issues, both in meetings of the re-districting commission and on the UT campus. Students feel keenly some of the most pressing issues in Austin, from affordability to transportation. Student district or not, students can’t make a difference if they don’t consistently speak up.