Student Government Assembly

Bryan Davis, government senior and co-author of AR 6, answers questions during the Q&A session regarding the resolution.
Photo Credit: Jackie Wang | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly voted 24–1–1 in favor of a resolution, AR 6, which supports all student-led efforts to raise awareness and stop the repetition of racism and sexism at UT.

Several representatives voiced concerns about the resolution’s suggested pamphlet, which would include examples of previous instances of racism or sexism at the University and would be distributed to students in cultural diversity-flagged courses. But co-author and government senior Bryan Davis said the resolution is intended to focus on all student-led efforts that raise awareness of discrimination on campus.

“A lot of people in the African-American community are watching Student Government right now,” Davis said. “There is a sentiment that Student Government does not care about issues that are facing us as a demographic. I want that to be known that a lot of eyes are on us as an institution, and a lot of people are hoping SG does pass this resolution tonight.”

Evan Barber, economics sophomore and member of the Society of Cultural Unity, said this resolution is important to educate students about culturally sensitive topics.

“We need to make sure our students know what’s culturally sensitive,” Barber said. “Many students around campus don’t know that what they’re doing is offensive.”

Since the pamphlet has not yet been finalized or approved, a handful of representatives opposed the resolution. Dylan Adkins, business representative and business freshman, asked whether having a pamphlet would alienate certain organizations, such as fraternities or spirit groups.

“I don’t want alienation of any organizations on any standard,” Adkins said.

Lizeth Urialdes, ethnic studies junior and co-author of the resolution, emphasized that the pamphlet is simply a draft.

“It’s going to change consistently through the higher levels,” Urialdes said. “[We want to] make sure that we see it through and hope to maintain consistency or positive change that the message is going to be taken the way we want it to. The point is to find a way to end sexism and racism on campus. You are doomed to repeat history if you don’t know what history is.”

The members of the Assembly also voiced their concern in ensuring SG’s involvement in the pamphlet’s creation. Barber clarified that the purpose of the bill was to show SG’s support for combating racism.     

“SG, by passing this legislation, will be saying we like the idea of students combating racism,” Barber said. “You would not be passing a specific pamphlet. You would be saying it’s a good idea to have a pamphlet. If a pamphlet comes about saying fraternities are terrible places, that’s not what we’re trying to do. But SG also has nothing to do with that pamphlet. We like the vague idea of students combating this. … You guys are promoting the idea that something should happen.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly heard a resolution Tuesday in support of a pamphlet that would be distributed in courses carrying a cultural diversity flag. 

As the resolution stands, the pamphlet outlines historical incidents of racism and sexism at UT. The authors of the resolution said the pamphlet would help stop the repetition of this racism and sexism in the future.

“We understood that talking about these things wasn’t going to make people comfortable,” said Bryan Davis, government senior and author of the resolution. “But given the history of things that happened at UT over the years, … we kind of want [the pamphlet] to drive home the point that these are issues that need to be taken very seriously.”

The resolution was originally not on the agenda because an SG representative did not turn a copy of the resolution in on time. After several students spoke during open forum and asked the Assembly to hear the resolution, the Assembly voted to add the resolution to the agenda.

Davis said he wanted the Assembly to hear the resolution so it could have the chance to approve the resolution before the end of the semester.  

“I came in here thinking that the bill was dead,” Davis said. “I’m at a loss for words. I didn’t think this was going to happen.”

The resolution will move to the Student Affairs committee and, if passed, will be taken to a vote in SG next week. If SG approves the resolution, the University would still have to approve the pamphlet before it could be distributed in courses with a cultural diversity flag.

At the beginning of the spring 2015 semester, we, the Society for Cultural Unity, wrote Student Government Assembly Resolution 31, which asked for assembly support of “student-led efforts to raise student awareness and help stop the ugly history of racism and sexism from repeating itself at UT Austin.”

Through distribution in every Cultural Diversity flagged class, these efforts would expose all UT students to archives that make strong visual connections between historical prejudice and today’s racism and sexism. The archives include police reports, newspaper articles and photographs of racial and sexual violence, blackface parties and protests, all from UT’s history, from the early 1940s through the 21st century.

It took SCU nearly a month to shepherd the resolution out of the highly subjective and politicized committee “process,” where representatives modify the underlying messages of sponsored resolutions to their own liking.

SCU endured the representatives’ indignation because we refused to dilute the language of the resolution. Not bending to make the message of the resolution more palatable for certain West Campus interests resulted in the strong opposition and scorn of various committee members. When the resolution finally escaped committee and came to a vote in favor of or against passing AR 31, the majority of the 108th Student Government Assembly voted to table the resolution largely because making students learn about UT’s historical struggles with racism and sexism might make an irreparable negative first impression in the minds of UT’s freshmen.

If need be, take time to read that sentence again. When that argument was made by AR 31’s opponents during what was a quasi-Lincoln-Douglas debate over the resolution, neither I nor the representatives next to me could believe our ears. Some of them even whispered to me that the representatives who were attempting to make such arguments were not the people they had been working with this past school year.

More embarrassing was the fact that during the debate, arguments became so vitriolic that various minority and women supporters of AR 31 had to leave the Assembly room before the vote could even be held.

A room is veritably hostile when certain people feel targeted and threatened after they thought they were in a safe place. At another point, the debate became such a caricature of itself that one member of the opposition “pointed out” that his posturing against AR 31 wasn’t biased in any way because he was “Mexican American.”

At no point during the 108th Assembly’s last meeting was there room for civil or respectful discussion about the resolution or the various “issues” opponents had with it because of those types of outbursts.

After AR 31 was essentially defeated by a small cadre of student representatives, many of them left the meeting laughing and with smug grins, having no idea how ironic and historically significant their actions were that night. As far as they were concerned, AR 31 would be left stuck in yet another one of their “editing processes.”

Many of the people we read about in history books who perpetuated or condoned racism and sexism were ordinary citizens like you and me.

Outside of why we read about them in the first place, they loved music, movies, politics, books, laughing, dancing, singing and those values of hard work and integrity in the pursuit of the American dream.

But at the end of the day, we don’t learn about those people for their otherwise ordinary qualities or even for the color of their skin. We read about them because they represent the cautionary tale of what happens when society accepts a status quo that condones the inhumane and senseless marginalization of people with darker skin tones or different genders.

When historians 50 years from now read about our ancestors who perpetuated or condoned the status quo, the ugly stain of ignorance will mark over most of the positive aspects of their otherwise normal legacies. After the Supreme Court stated in Dred Scott v. Sanford that people of African descent “were not intended to be included under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution,” its credibility as a system of authority would forever after be in doubt.

The Student Government Assembly is far from having the authority of our nation’s judicial branch, but the importance of the statements it makes in the form of the resolutions it passes still matters very much. When Student Government passes or rejects a resolution, it is making a statement about which values it represents. With AR 31, student representatives had an opportunity to say how much they cared about and understood many of the issues that minority students and women face every day.

Since they didn’t take that opportunity, the Society for Cultural Unity is banding together with various student groups to give the 109th Student Assembly, recently convened, not only a chance to redeem the organization’s reputation but to also prove itself worthy of its affiliation with the word “government.”

On Tuesday, we will be approaching Student Government to make a motion to bring AR 31 out for reconsideration. We are only changing its name, which will now be “In Support of Student-led Efforts to Raise Student and Student Government Awareness and Help Stop the Ugly History of Racism and Sexism from Repeating Itself at UT Austin.”

All students are invited to come out and show support as we plead with Student Government on Tuesday in SAC 2.302 at 7 p.m. Interested students can also visit the Society for Cultural Unity on social media, where they can see examples of the historical archives, message us about involvement or share their stories of racial or sexual marginalization here at UT. The aforementioned Student Government meeting minutes can be found at the following link: utsg.org/minutes/.

Davis is a government senior from Lake Arlington. He is a founder of the Society for Cultural Unity.

 

AR 31

SG votes against divestment resolution AR-3

After weeks of debate, the Student Government Assembly voted against a divestment resolution, which would have asked the UT System Investment Management Company to pull investments from five corporations that the resolution claimed “facilitate in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”  The Assembly voted against the resolution by a 11-23-1 vote Tuesday night. 

The resolution asked UTIMCO to divest specifically from Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter and Gamble and United Technologies because of “human rights violations,” according to the resolution.   

Katie Jensen, a graduate student representative, said the campaign to pass the resolution led to important dialogue, even though it did not ultimately pass.

“[Regardless] of the vote, it is a victory,” Jensen said.

Ethan Black, a Plan II sophomore who testified at Tuesday's meeting, said the resolution singled out Israelis.

“I truly want an end to settlement expansion as the authors of this resolution do, but divestment is not the way,” Black said.

UTIMCO CEO Bruce Zimmerman said UTIMCO makes investment decisions solely based on the financial interests of the University, and so would not have taken the resolution into consideration even if had passed.

Former SG leaders sign open letter in opposition to BDS resolution

Seventeen former Student Government leaders signed a letter addressed to the current SG executive board and Assembly, urging them to oppose a divestment resolution set to be voted on Tuesday night.

The resolution calls for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from corporations that authors said “facilitate the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”

The former leaders, who served SG terms ranging as far back as 1983, said SG should not associate with the boycott-divestment-sanctioning – known as BDS – movement upon which the resolution is based.  

"The BDS movement is rooted in a philosophy that rejects Israel’s very existence," the letter read. "While reasonable people can debate the merits and faults of Israel's specific policies, supporting BDS necessarily means supporting a philosophy that advocates the destruction of Israel and its inhabitants. We do not think the Student Government Assembly should align itself with such a philosophy."

Seven of the eight most recent SG presidents and vice presidents signed the letter, including last term's president and vice president, Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland.

The leaders also said Texas has kept close ties with Israel, regarding similarities in agricultural and policing policies.

"There is much that the state of Texas and Israel share, and the BDS movement attempts to undermine that relationship," the letter read.

The Assembly will vote on the resolution Tuesday night.

To read more about the debate surrounding the resolution, click here. 

To read about the resolution as it stands, before it heads to the Assembly for a vote tonight, click here. 

Read the letter here:

Former SG Leaders in Opposition to BDS and AR-3

The Student Government Assembly elected Tanner Long, a liberal arts representative and government senior, on Tuesday evening as Speaker of the Assembly.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly elected Tanner Long as speaker of the Assembly with a 33–2 vote Tuesday night.

Long, a liberal arts representative and government senior, said he thinks SG has failed in the past to fully represent students and said he wants to include more student voices during his term.

“I want to foster a better connectedness between Student Government and the student body,” Long said. “Everyone is a member of Student Government on this campus, and it’s about time we started treating it that way.”

Long said he hopes to implement a program in which representatives will speak at more organizations’ meetings on campus. He also said he wants to help improve the SG assembly meeting livestream and oversee the creation of more ad-hoc committees.

“My ideas may seem ambitious, and I will be held accountable to them,” Long said.

Long said he feels the speaker position has typically served as a stepping stone for future SG presidential candidates, but he said that is not his intention.

“Since I’m graduating next spring, that gives me the ability to focus 100 percent on the duties of speaker,” Long said.

Long ran against Kallen Dimitroff, University-wide representative and government junior, in the race. Dimitroff failed to gain the nineteen votes needed for a majority vote with a 17–18 vote in the Assembly. Long also failed to receive a majority with a 18–15–2 vote.

The Assembly recalled the vote, but Long again failed to gain a majority with a 18–16–1 vote. The Assembly would have then re-voted on both Dimitroff and Long, but Dimitroff withdrew her candidacy for the position. After Dimitroff’s withdrawal, the Assembly elected Long.  

Dimitroff withdrew her candidacy because of the long process involved in electing a speaker of the Assembly. The initial votes and recall took more than 30 minutes.

“I don’t want to make us do this [vote] again,” Dimitroff said.     

President and Vice President Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu were also sworn into their offices Tuesday night. The meeting, which took around three hours, culminated in a pizza delivery.

“The meeting went longer than most meetings, and I hadn’t eaten since 11 a.m.,” Rotnofsky, Plan II and linguistics junior, said. “Because of that, I figured, why not get a pizza delivered to Rohit and me?”

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, Plan II and economics senior, are in the process of selecting an executive board and the President’s Student Advisory Council. They have received 105 applications, which will equate to over 30 hours of interviews.

Rotnofsky said he is excited to start his term and work with all of those in SG.

“I’m looking forward to working with the Assembly and seeing how we can work together and make SG more present on campus than just at a Tuesday meeting,”
Rotnofsky said.

The Student Affairs Committee discussed the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus Sunday night.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly will vote Tuesday on legislation supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus. The Student Affairs Committee passed the amended resolution, which will now head to the full Assembly for a vote, Sunday night.

SG President-elect Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President-elect Rohit Mandalapu co-authored the resolution with Plan II senior Ciaran Dean-Jones and Chris Gilman, Texas Travesty editor-in-chief and radio-television-film senior. The statue’s removal was one of Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s campaign platform points, and the two presented the resolution to the Assembly before they were elected.

“Students approached us after they saw the platform point,” said Rotnofsky, linguistics and Plan II junior. “As president and vice president-elect, we fully intend on getting this done.”

In the resolution, the authors said the statue’s presence on campus is not consistent with the values of the University. Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. The statue’s presence has been debated in the past, but no action has been taken to remove the statue.

Attendees of the committee meeting inquired as to whether Rotnofsky and Mandalapu would push for the removal of other Confederate images on campus, such as the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee also on the South Mall. Mandalapu, economics and Plan II senior, said the removal of the Davis statue is their current priority, but taking action on the other images is something he and Rotnofsky will consider.

“It’s a premier statue of the University facing the South Mall,” Mandalapu said. “What we aim to do with this legislation is put this forward first.”

Rotnofsky said one option the University might consider is moving the statue to a museum instead of destroying it.  

The committee also amended the original draft of the resolution, removing the title “Bump the Chump” and removing a clause stating that the Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh” would not support having the statue on campus.

The legislation additionally noted a precedent from 2010, when, at the request of UT President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted to rename Simkins Residence Hall to Creekside Residence Hall. The hall was originally named for William Simkins, a UT law professor and Confederate soldier who was also a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader.

The statue’s presence received much attention following Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s release of their platform points. In early March, the statue was temporarily defaced with the word “CHUMP” written on the statue’s base in blue chalk. 

Amber Magee, public health sophomore and chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Agency, said the statue is a problem but is often overlooked.

“This is a recurring issue, and this [resolution] is a really awesome first step,” Magee said. 

We started this semester with a close examination of President Kori Rady and Vice President Taylor Strickland’s platform points and goals for their administration. Since their terms had begun in April, we evaluated their progress and also looked to establish a conversation on their actions so that they could be held accountable throughout their tenure.

Now, as the semester winds down, we return to that theme and once again assess their successes, failures and chances of notching a few extra wins next semester:

Perhaps the signal achievement of Rady and Strickland’s year in office will be the opening of the Flawn Academic Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This long-frustrated goal of a student named Alexander Dickey was taken up by Rady and forwarded to the Student Government Assembly and administrators. At the time, we lobbied for this change and believe that it will deliver a great deal of good to students.

Rady and Strickland also won big with their successful implementation of Safe Ride, a late-night car service that ferries students home to select areas from their weekend revelry downtown. As the Texan reported in August, the program got off to a slightly bumpy start as the contract with uRide, the company that provides the service, was not signed in time for the originally desired start date of the first week of school. Around the same time, uRide 24-5, which since October of last year has powered a late-night ride-home service from the Perry Castañeda Library, was expanded to West Campus.

The duo have also won chits with the student body by their support of embattled University President William Powers Jr. over the summer as well as their work toward extending Thanksgiving break to the Wednesday of that week.

Unfortunately, however, the team’s good works have, to a certain extent, been drowned out by an intermittent racket of political dramas.

We saw this most recently in the scuttled attempt to impeach Chief of Staff Chris Jordan. Such a move would have done more harm than good and, although apparently popular among a majority of Student Government Assembly members, was clearly a demonstration of political heft and ill-will on the part of certain Jordan detractors. The charges laid against him, while unflattering, do not amount to anything impeachable in our eyes.

One of those charges is his supposed complicity in the “cover-up,” as some have called it, of the internal and external appointees’ interview notes. Previous Student Government internal rules required that they be disclosed to the Assembly, but in August, the UT Office of Legal Affairs determined that releasing them would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This requirement has thus been removed from the new governing documents, which were adopted earlier this month. Whether Jordan should have released the notes remains a point of contention, but given the decision by the University’s lawyers, it is clear he had good reason to be concerned about the propriety of such an action.

That does not absolve Jordan of all blame, however. There are many areas in which his behavior could stand to improve next semester. First of all, he absolutely must improve his tone of communication with certain members of the Assembly and the student body. Politics can at times devolve into a blood sport, but Jordan can’t let his own personal animosity toward certain people affect his everyday business interactions with them. Not only does it lower the tone of the body he represents, but it also poisons the atmosphere.

Another issue, not mentioned in the articles of impeachment, is Rady’s likely inadvertent release of a number of internal and external appointee candidates’ GPAs by not blacking them out on their resumes, which were released to the media. If Jordan was erring on the side of caution, then Rady erred on the side of recklessness, a much worse crime than the former.

Rady and Strickland have a great opportunity to finish out their terms strong next semester. They will finally have the chance to enact certain state legislative goals that will really be able to gain steam in January. Some of these include their desire for a state-approved student ID that could be used at the polls as well as, more generally, a more robust presence for Invest in Texas, a nonpartisan campaign designed to advocate on behalf of UT students and students at other institutions of higher education across the state.

Next semester, Rady and Strickland should try to move on from the drama of the past and focus solely on doing substantial good for the student body.  

Student Government President Kori Rady speaks about extending the FAC’s hours at a meeting Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly approved resolutions at a meeting on Tuesday regarding the city’s proposed urban rail route and opening the Flawn Academic Center on a 24/7 schedule.

The assembly also passed a resolution in support of the city’s Proposition 1. If approved by voters, the proposition would dedicate $600 million in bond money to an urban rail route, which would run from East Riverside to ACC-Highland. The route would stop three times on campus along San Jacinto and Trinity streets. The proposition also requires to city to acquire $400 million toward road projects and corridor studies. 

University-wide representative Taral Patel said the rail would give students who live off campus more transportation options. SG passed resolutions in April and October 2013 in support of the line running by campus on Guadalupe Street.

“By bringing this infrastructure, we have the option to reach out and explore the routes that we do want,” Patel said.

The assembly unanimously passed a resolution in support of the University operating the FAC on a 24/7 basis. Patel said the plan to implement the change is ahead of schedule and the project may be funded sooner than originally anticipated.

“It’s really important that this happen so we have a solid 24/7 study space on campus like a lot of universities do,” Patel said. “I have a lot of friends at other universities [with] exams going on right now, and they are very happy that they get to stay on campus all night. Well, I mean they are not happy about the tests, but at least they have a place to study for it.” 

SG President Kori Rady said he anticipates the new FAC hours may start by next month.

“I don’t want to get too much into detail or make any promises too early on — but potentially before November,” Rady said.

The Perry–Castañeda Library will begin operating on its 24/5 schedule Sunday at noon.

Also at the meeting, Melysa Barth, Rules and Regulations Committee chair, said the SG’s code of rules and procedures was still under review in committee. The code is being formatted into a single, detailed document that clarifies SG rules, removing contradictions and adding compliance with the Dean of Students’ office.

“We recalled the vote per a few requests, and it is still in committee, which is why we are not hearing it tonight,” Barth said. “There were a few edits that were brought to our attention that were not brought to the last meeting, which is why we recalled the vote.”

In a fast-track vote, SG members also approved a resolution standing by Relationship Violence Prevention Month, hosted by Voices Against Violence. 

“It’s finally becoming a mainstream conversation where people are coming together and saying that we will not stand for sexual assault or domestic violence,” Patel said. 

A new resolution was proposed at the meeting that called for equal access to all course materials. The resolution proposed that students registered with Services for Students with Disabilities have access to course materials that accommodate their needs. 

Student government representative Stephen Vincent voices his concerns regarding the AR 16 resolution at the Student Government Assembly meeting Tuesday evening. The AR 16 resolution passed and represents UT’s support of undocumented students.  

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

A resolution regarding undocumented students was passed by a vote of 18-9-2 at the Student Government Assembly meeting Tuesday, where over 50 students were in attendance in the gallery.

The resolution in question, entitled AR 16 — “In Support of Undocumented Students and Undocumented Longhorns Week” — outlines SG’s recognition of the importance of all undocumented students at UT and Undocumented Longhorns Week, which took place last week. It was first introduced on Oct. 8, when it was referred to the Legislative Affairs Committee. The resolution was re-referred to the committee at the meeting the following week.   

Leaders from Young Conservatives of Texas, Longhorn Libertarians and Republicans of Texas submitted a letter addressed to SG representatives asking them to vote against AR 16 Tuesday in order to provide a voice to the “silent majority” on campus.

During debate, Andrew Houston, architecture and urban studies senior and chair of the rules and regulation committee, moved to amend the resolution and change the title to “In Recognition of Undocumented Students and Undocumented Longhorns Week.” The amendment failed by a vote of 11-20.

“I believe that there are other ways to support undocumented students, both within the resolution itself and by actions taken by student government,” Houston said.

Government freshman Kallen Dimitroff said she thinks that by voting to pass the resolution, the assembly would be supporting an impassioned portion of the community.

“I think saying ‘yes’ speaks a lot louder of us and our character as student leaders than saying ‘no’ does,” Dimitroff said.

Christopher Jordan, McCombs representative and business and English major, said he thinks representatives opposed to the legislation fully support undocumented students but have issues with the wording of the resolution.

“I support this cause,” Jordan said. “What I don’t support is this resolution — this alarmingly partisan resolution.”

Jordan said he attended the Legislative Affairs Committee meetings discussing AR 16, and said members of the committee and authors of the resolution did not allow representatives opposed to the bill to make any amendments. Economics junior Stephen Vincent proposed an amendment during the final debate Tuesday to alter the wording of the resolution. The amendment failed following a vote of 9-21.

Danny Zeng, government and finance senior and president of College Republicans, said he thinks the resolution should be put up for a referendum.

“Take [this] into consideration: This is a political opinion, and I challenge the proponents of the resolution to tell me straight to my face that this has nothing to do with being political,” Zeng said.

In the debate, Ugeo Williams, SG vice president, said one of his close friends is an undocumented student.

“I honestly just believe that they’re asking for support. Remember, we don’t make laws,” Williams said. “They’re just asking for support.”

 

Watch a Daily Texan multimedia presentation on undocumented students here