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.