Citizens of character should seek out professional successes

Engaging people who are making positive contributions is a step toward the sacrificial quality Jeremi Suri refers to in his recent column about developing citizens of character. Accepting sacrifice, Suri says, builds character because it makes citizens strive for what they really value. While developing your interests and passions, develop yourself as an advocate. When your passions align with advocacy, sacrifice no longer seems like the burden it’s often made out to be.

Doing well and doing good requires a balancing act. Doing well for yourself is something most undergraduates think about. We are programmed to look at job prospects. That’s the way our educational system is structured — you pay in and eventually you need to be paid back. Schools are ranked by job placement and salary, which encourages students to pick their majors based on postgraduate statistics. But meaningful work does not always come with a salary.

That being said, doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive things. The latter just requires a bit more creativity. There’s so much we can do as students, outside of our majors, to find our means of advocacy.

To begin with, discover your interests and stay curious. This is a research university, and the professors here do more than teach. They research. They’re activists. They’re innovators.

Our professors have done anything from helping develop a late-stage cure for exposure to anthrax to serving as national security advisers under the president. If you’re interested in something, there will be a professor who writes about it or has done work in the field.

Eureka, an online UT database, profiles faculty members with information about their research interests. Professors are great resources for academic, professional and personal guidance. They’re plugged into the University, so they can refer you to organizations and other interesting people. Find the people making positive contributions, doing things you’re interested in and engage them.

Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.

Achy Obejas, a distinguished writer at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., gives a lecture on queer issues in Cuban culture. 

Photo Credit: Remy Fine | Daily Texan Staff

At a talk discussing queer issues in Cuban culture Monday, Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American writer and LGBTQ advocate, noted the achievements of Cuba’s movement toward equality but said there is still progress to be made.

Naomi Lindstrom, acting director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, said Obejas brings a well-balanced perspective to the discussion of Cuban issues.

“She’s not at all what you would think,” Lindstrom said. “She’s not totally critical of the Cuban government. She’s not totally supportive. She takes what I consider [to be] a very measured outlook of everything that came out of the Cuban Revolution.”

Obejas said that since the early 21st century, treatment of the LGBTQ community in Cuba dramatically shifted from a place of persecution and marginalization to a place of tolerance. According to Obejas, tolerance does not mean acceptance. 

Obejas said that most of the changes could be attributed to Mariela Castro, founder of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body that advocates for LGBTQ issues.  

Mariela Castro is the daughter of current Cuban president, Raul Castro. 

“What makes Raul Castro’s daughter’s pet project of homosexual acceptance truly ironic is that he is who is widely credited with being the driving force behind the creation of Cuba’s most notorious anti-gay campaign, the Unit for Military Production, also known as the UMAPs,” Obejas said.

Obejas said the Units to Aid Military Production, otherwise known as UMAPs, formally unacknowledged by the government, were detainment facilities for homosexual citizens as well as other political dissidents.  

Obejas said that despite the government’s silence on the subject, Mariela Castro was able to make gender issues part of the national conversation.

CENESEX pushed for a law that provides government-funded gender reassignment surgery to Cuban citizens who request the procedures. Obejas noted that, while the center’s accomplishments have made significant strides toward tolerance, there is still progress to be made within the movement.

According to Obejas, the ability for citizens to surgically change their anatomy doesn’t release them from societal gender pressures, just as the existence of an LGBTQ movement hasn’t eradicated homophobia. 

“The truth of the matter is that the harassment of gays is a pretty continuous and daily event in Cuba, particularly in Havana, where the capital police are notoriously violent,” Obejas said.

David Glisch-Sanchez, a sociology graduate student, said he enjoyed the fresh perspective given

Last spring, I interned at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, an interdisciplinary center housed at the University of Texas School of Law. Their 2013 annual conference, which I attended, focused on “Impunity, Justice and the Human Rights Agenda” and included a speech by Fredy Peccerelli, a Guatemalan anthropologist who exhumes the bones of victims of the Guatemalan Civil War. These bones, however, are more than artifacts. They have been used as evidence in the recent genocide trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, the Guatemalan head of state who presided over the deaths of an estimated 60,000 Guatemalans, mostly Mayans, from 1982 to 1983. 

The ongoing legal saga of Ríos Montt may seem far removed from the UT campus. However, as I move toward earning my master’s in Latin American studies at the University, I realize that academic research can promote understanding, bring our international neighbors closer and help the University to play the role of an advocate for the marginalized. 

When I visited Guatemala recently, I encountered the land of polarized opinions talked about in UT lecture halls, a polarization exemplified by an argument between my taxi driver, who supported Ríos Montt, and our indigenous guide, who was glad that Ríos Montt “was finally going to pay.”

The UT-run Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive, a collaborative effort of the Rapoport Center, the Benson Latin American Collection and the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, helps us explain the complicated country of Guatemala. Part of an agreement formalized in January 2011 between UT-Austin and the Guatemalan Police Archives, it contains records that span from U.S.-backed syphilis experiments in the 1940s to the Guatemalan Civil War that ran from 1960 to 1996. This archive allows us to document the crimes of others, but also to come to terms with our own role in those crimes.

As we travel, we notice that this University is not just known for burnt orange-clad football fans or Bevo’s iconic horns. Those are necessary parts of UT’s identity, but UT at its best is both an advocate for the oppressed and a repository of knowledge. While sectors of our University promote power, both political and economic, parts also champion those who suffer the consequences of power’s dark side. This institution should strive to help students understand their lives and neighbors better and help them expose uncomfortable truths about U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic.

Knoll is a first-year masters student in Latin American Studies from Dallas.