Jefferson Davis statue

One of President William Powers Jr.’s central goals for his presidency was to achieve a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. While the goal has not yet been reached, Powers said the University has made “tremendous progress.”
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss President Powers' record on improving graduation rates, the Jefferson Davis statue being vandalized, potential changes to the Hazlewood exemption, Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu's platform goals, and rising rent prices in Austin.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss Greg Fenves who has been named the sole finalist for the position of UT Austin President, campus-carry, roundup, and SG advocating the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue.

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government legislative Assembly sent legislation to the Student Affairs Committee on Tuesday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.

SG executive alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky, Plan II and linguistics junior, and Rohit Mandalapu, Plan II and economics senior, co-wrote the bill, and Braydon Jones, their presidential opponent and government senior, co-sponsored the resolution.

“Jefferson Davis is someone whose values and ideals directly contradict the values of the University of Texas at Austin,” Mandalapu said.

Several students who were present at the assembly asked the statue of a Confederate leader be taken down.

“It’s telling that it took [Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s] satirical campaign … to get something as obliquely and disgustingly racist as the statue of Jefferson Davis statue removed off this campus,” computer science senior Mukund Rathi said. ”I think that statue has absolutely no business being here.”

Some members of the Assembly expressed concern that other Confederate symbols would still remain on campus following the removal of the statue. Rotnofsky and Mandalapu said the Davis statue would be the first step.

“We have a list of things we want to work on,” Mandalapu said. “Not all three ‘Toy Storys’ were made in one day.”

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates in the Student Government Executive Alliance runoff, filed a resolution to SG on Friday that would support the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.

Braydon Jones, who is running against Rotnofsky for the presidency, was one of the resolution’s three co-sponsors.

“We might be one of the first candidates to author a resolution that will go to Assembly,” Mandalapu said. “We want to leave our mark, regardless of whether we win.”

The statue’s removal was one of Rotnofsky-Mandalapu’s original platform points. Rotnofsky said the team did not want to wait until after the election to start lobbying for the statue’s removal.

“To put him on a pedestal, quite literally, is wrong,” Rotnofsky said.

The statue’s presence on campus has sparked controversy in the past because of Davis’ status as a Confederate leader. Last weekend, the statue was temporarily defaced with the word “CHUMP” written on the statue’s base in blue chalk.   

“Whereas, Jefferson Davis argued vociferously that the institutions of American slavery were beneficial; and ... whereas, The University of Texas at Austin as a public institution of the State of Texas that represents a diverse student population should not condone or promote Jefferson Davis’ values that are offensive to the student body … be it further resolved, the University of Texas at Austin Student Government fully endorses the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus,” the resolution read.  

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, who wrote the resolution with Chris Gilman, editor-in-chief of the Texas Travesty, and Plan II senior Ciaran Dean-Jones, also cited historical precedent for altering campus symbols that “do not align with the values and ideals of the student body.”

In 2010, 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 solider who was also a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader.

After three pages of factually-based arguments in favor of the statue’s removal, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu also cited former Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh.”

“Be it resolved, that Drake and Josh was one of Nickelodeon’s most celebrated TV shows…they would have never supported a Jefferson Davis statue on the program,” they wrote.

Jones, who is currently speaker of the SG Assembly, said the resolution ties into his campaign, although it was not a part of his and his running mate Kimia Dargahi’s official platform.  

“I think it’s a perfect example of what our campaign stands for,” Jones said. “I think it’s a great example of listening to students. Now we’re going to look into what students want. … I’m looking forward to the conversation.”

Dargahi is not currently in SG but served as the federal relations agency director in 2013. Neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu are currently involved in SG. Any University student is allowed to author a resolution.

The resolution will be presented to the SG Assembly on Tuesday and sent to a committee after. If the committee approves the resolution, the Assembly will vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.   

“With all the talk that has been going on, with all the attention that [Xavier and Rohit] brought to this issue, I think this is a great time,” Jones said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Grace Gilker

The Jefferson Davis statue on the South Mall was temporarily defaced by a blue-chalk “CHUMP,” with an arrow pointing up to Davis, scrawled on the statue’s base early Friday morning. It has since been removed. 

The statue has long been a source of controversy for the University because Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

SG Executive Alliance candidate Xavier Rotnofsky, a Plan II junior, said he and his running mate Plan II senior Rohit Mandalapu, made the removal of the Davis statue on the South Mall a major part of their platform. 

“I’m running for student body president with this satirical campaign, [but] we made it one of our platform points to remove the Jefferson Davis statue,” Rotnofsky said. “We said we want to take down the Jefferson Davis statue because it’s not okay that it’s still on campus.”

After University Democrats distributed a survey to all Student Government candidates asking about their stance on the statue’s presence, Executive Alliance candidates Braydon Jones, a government senior, and Kimia Dargahi, an international relations and global studies and Middle Eastern studies senior, said they also support the statue’s removal.

“Braydon and Kimia do not support the vandalism of university property, but we do understand that it represents a part of US history that is not inclusive and creates such a culture on the Forty Acres,” they said in a statement to The Daily Texan on Sunday. “As we have said, statues on campus represent a part of history, for better or for worse … Whether it is physical monuments or the intangible cultural climate present on the Forty Acres, we will continue to advocate for an inclusive campus.”

Executive Alliance candidate David Maly, an economics and journalism senior, said although he does not support graffiti in any situation, he also does not support the presence of Jefferson Davis on the South Mall.

“I think that it’s wrong for UT to celebrate the racist past of our nation,“ Maly said. “I don’t think graffiti is ever okay. But I think that displaying our nation’s racist past with a statue does put students in a difficult position. I don’t condone defaming public property ever, or support it.”

University Democrats communications director Ashley Alcantara, an international relations and global studies senior, said UDems included the question regarding the Davis statue to find out the Executive Alliance candidates’ opinions of the statue remaining on campus. 

“We were actually inspired by Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s inclusion of the issue in their platform and wanted to know what all of the candidates’ positions were on the issue, as these statues are construed as offensive to many people,” Alcantara said.

Plan II freshman Grace Gilker said the graffiti pushed her to think critically about the statue’s presence.

“In terms of the word choices, it was so anachronistic — the people who graffitied it used chalk,” Gilker said. “They were smart protestors — not just hooligans with spray paint they were trying to make a statement.”