As the University prepares for the Civil Rights Summit, a number of student organizations agree that civil rights — including issues of immigration, LGBTQ rights, human trafficking and equality for African-American students — are still a topic for discussion today.
Heriberto Perez, historian for the University Leadership Initiative and radio-television-film and computer science senior, said he hopes students will consider immigration issues after the three-day-long event, in which Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will reflect on the history of civil rights since the Civil Rights Act passed 50 years ago and discuss what can be done to improve the rights of Americans today.
In November, the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas attempted to host a controversial mock immigration “sting” on campus called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant.” The group was going to offer students $25 gift cards if they were able to catch individuals wearing “illegal immigrant” labels on their clothing, but the event was canceled because of the backlash it received.
Perez said he was impressed by the number of students who stepped up to denounce the game but felt that more needed to be done nationwide.
“I’m really hoping that more students realize that, even though we are having the Civil Rights Summit celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that there are still civil rights violations occurring every day,” Perez said.
According to an investigation by The New York Times published Sunday, since Obama took office, two-thirds of the two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions or had no criminal record at all. Perez said this number was alarming to him and needed to be discussed at the summit.
“President Obama is giving a speech on Thursday, but it’s pretty pointless if he is talking about civil rights but not doing anything about it,” Perez said. “President Obama’s administration deported so many people, and that, to me, is violating their civil rights.”
Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance and marketing junior, said she was happy with Obama’s support for gay marriage and believes the summit will educate students about gay rights.
“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the future of the queer movement right now, with a lot of the legislation that has been passed and having the backing of the president,” Kent said.
Kent said the event was a good step forward for students on campus.
“I think that it will open students’ eyes to what’s going on around campus,” Kent said. “It’s also one of those things giving college students access to hear and understand why this is important.”
In December 2013, Obama issued a press release shining the spotlight on human trafficking and promised to crack down on traffickers. Obama also proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Maureen Clark, global chair for Against Cruel Trafficking and government junior, said she saw the fight against human trafficking among Obama, Clinton and Carter and hopes these issues of civil rights will be addressed at the Summit.
“I think, unfortunately, they will be relevant for a very long time, and it’s only when we say they’re not relevant anymore that it gives people room to act in a way that’s not appropriate,” Clark said. “I think we need to keep pushing. The fight is never over.”
Among other student organizations pushing for continuous discussions of civil rights is the Black Student Alliance.
Reva Davis, Black Student Alliance president and African and African diaspora studies senior, said the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act brings the chance to address the racial tensions she has noticed on campus.
In the fall, there were 2,337 black students enrolled at UT out of a total of 52,059 students — or about 4.5 percent — according to the Office of Information Management and Analysis.
“The retention of black students has been somewhat mediocre,” Davis said. “However, the University has promised to uphold its standard of diversity and ensuring its students have the opportunity to learn in a diverse atmosphere.”