Carissa Kelley

Student representatives from different campus-wide minority groups collaborate together Monday evening to finalize plans on the Decision 2012 election night watch party. While originally aiming to bridge different partisan groups, the representatives decided instead to create an environment for students of all cultures and political preferances to watch the election together.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Public relations and political communication senior Antonio Guevara first approached Carissa Kelley, the current president of the Student Events Center, with the idea for Decision 2012 last year. The Student Events Center is the arm of the University Unions that puts on programming for students.

Guevara wanted to put on an “epically huge” Election Night watch party, public relations senior Kelley said. Kelley liked the idea. She envisioned a screen in front of the Tower to broadcast election results and a party on the Main Mall in which all major campus organizations from every cultural and political group would take part.

The event, called Decision 2012, will take place Tuesday in the Student Activities Center Ballroom, but it will not be the campus-wide party that Guevara and Kelley originally imagined. When they approached partisan political groups like University Democrats and College Republicans, they found that those groups, like many others, wanted to watch the election individually at events that were openly partisan. 

When Kelly and Guevara couldn’t bridge the divide between political parties, they turned to bridging cultures. The watch party may not be truly campus-wide, but it will be an event that brings together students from the African American Culture Committee, the Asian American Culture Committee, the Black Student Alliance and Longhorn League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), to name a few of the many participating organizations.

“It really turned into a minority-driven thing, and I think everyone’s happy with the way that it turned out,” Kelley said.

The event will “make sure the campus has a place that is multicultural and nonpartisan for students to watch the election,” said Chelsea Jones, a journalism sophomore and chair of the African American Culture Committee, which like the Asian American Culture Committee and the Mexican American Culture Committee, is a subset of the Student Events Center that deals with cultural programming.

Although an election watch party certainly can’t ignore politics, the organizers of Decision 2012 have attempted to make the event engaging and celebratory rather than divisive. The event will feature three screens, two of which will show live election coverage. The central screen will show a live Twitter feed. Event attendees will be told a hash tag (tentatively #Decision2012UT) as they walk in the door and will be encouraged to tweet questions they have about the election or the election coverage. These questions will be answered via Twitter by the event’s organizers.

If attendees want to show their political affiliations, one wall will be covered with a large piece of butcher paper divided into sections for the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green parties. Students may sign their name on the paper to show support for their party or submit an anonymous pre-cut “handprint” to be taped to the wall under their party’s name.

“Something I always wanted to do was blend the cultures here on campus,” Guevara said. “It’s a very minority-heavy event, but at the end of the day, this is the first event of its kind [at UT], at least since I’ve been here, and I’m going on my fifth year ... but what we’re all hoping is that we’re kind of laying the foundation for more events like this, so you don’t just have to come together for the watch party, and it’s not just centered around minority groups. [The whole campus] can come together like this any time of the year.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 as: Watch party unites cultures

Students Cameron Woods, Marzavia Crayton, Montrail Neal and Jeremy hills play dominoes in the Malcolm X Lounge Thursday.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff


Editor’s note: This story is the third in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

Walk into the Malcolm X Lounge any given day to find a heated discussion, a study session, an organizational meeting or a prayer group.

Some say a peek between the alabaster blinds lining the room provides a look at the makeup of University’s black community.

“I would say it’s ‘our space’ because we can talk about what we want to talk about,” said former UT student Chas Moore, who visits the lounge for at least two to three hours each week. “We can have events in there, play dominos or cards — it’s the black spot on campus.”

At UT there are many organizations centered on cultural interests, Moore said, and the X Lounge is the place where black students can come and be around people from the black community. People who identify as black are the ones who most frequent the lounge, Moore said, and those who do not will often stare at the lounge but not come in.

The lounge first opened in 1995 on the ground floor of the Jester Center after black students pushed to create an area for their community on campus after the University closed their unofficial meeting space. Black students petitioned former UT President Robert Berdahl for a new area where black students could gather and were approved for the space. Today, the X Lounge is run entirely by students and provides a space for organizations to hold meetings and events, student study sessions and storage, among others. It is open for reservation by all students.

Choquette Hamilton, associate director for development of African-American diaspora studies, said the lounge was always intended to be an area for the black community but is open to all. Hamilton said there have been many points in time where black students did not feel safe on campus, both physically and in terms of respect for their culture.

“If you’re a black student and you’re in a classroom filled with people who don’t look like you and may possibly say things that are offensive, it’s frustrating going through that day in and day out,” Hamilton said. “[In the X Lounge] people don’t have to worry about dealing with those things because the people that hang out in that space relate to your experiences.”

Hamilton said even today many black students do not feel welcome in all parts of campus, and while there are often many organizations tabling on West Mall, it is rare to see black organizations there. She also said some black students do not feel welcome in the South Mall, which contains statues of former U.S. leaders known for spreading racist ideas.

Carissa Kelley, Student Events Center president, said she does not go to the lounge much and spends most of her time in the Texas Union. She said most black students have gone to the lounge at least once and those who do not go are probably disconnected from the black community. Kelley said if people are absent for a while, many in the lounge will begin asking questions.

“People expect for all black organizations on campus to table there, put their fliers there and put their face there because that is how you show you’re involved in the community,” Kelley said. “If you’re not there, you’re not [involved].”

Ethnic studies sophomore Jarius Sowells said he visits the X Lounge about three times a day for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. Sowells agreed with Moore that there is a stereotype that only black students can go into the X Lounge. Sowells said the majority of non-black people that go in the lounge do so to use the microwave and often do not interact with black students there. He said there is often conversation in the lounge on how to break down that stereotype, comparing it to the assumption that only white people go to the Roundup philanthrophy event.

“The X Lounge situation is indeed the counter opposite to the Roundup situation,” Sowells said. “I was encouraged by my black brothers not to go [to Roundup], but I went because I wanted to experience it for myself.”

Brenda Burt, a UT diversity and community engagement officer, said she has worked as an adviser for students who frequent the X Lounge since it officially opened. Her office is in the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies located above the lounge on the second floor.

“If I want to know what the hot topics are I will just go in there,” Burt said, adding that recent topics have included the Trayvon Martin case and a controversial Daily Texan editorial cartoon about the shooting. “That’s their space and it’s not for an adult to be in there. There are times they’ll come and get me if they want my input.”

Burt said if a student who is not black tried to visit the lounge, no one would stop them, and that she recommends the lounge to new black students.

Mauricio De Leon, a human development and family sciences junior, said he identifies as Latino and first went into the X Lounge during summer orientation. At the time, he said the lounge was filled with Latinos and he did not realize the lounge was normally frequented by black students. De Leon said he disagrees with the notion that only black people go into the X Lounge and has seen people from other races visit.

“I don’t think there are racial barriers,” said De Leon, who visits the lounge at least once a week. “It’s just people choose not to go in there. Everyone is welcome to go in and people are welcoming when you go, it’s just whether they want to or not.” 

Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Malcolm X Lounge offers safe haven to students of all races

Actor Brian White talks about his experiences and the people that motivated him in the Student Actvity Center. The event was sponsored by African American Culture Committee.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Brian White brought lessons from his successes, not only as an established actor, but also as a certified stock broker, youth activist, author and professional football player to the UT community Monday.

White came to speak about the principles behind building a successful career, regardless of the profession or field, at a talk sponsored by the African American Culture Committee.

“As we’ve grown up, the world has changed drastically,” White said. “The changes haven’t been necessarily for the best, and youth have been taught how to replicate success instead of creating their own.”

White defined success as having an identified ultimate goal and accomplishing it with continuous achievements.

“Life is a marathon, and achieving success takes multiple steps,” he said. “We cannot get to one point then stop. It has to be through constant effort.”

Through various undertakings during his life, White said he has learned where his passions lie and what does not work for him.

“While I was successful on Wall Street, I realized I had no passion for it,” White said. “Lessons like those are necessary in finding what works for us and where our destiny lies.”

Carissa Kelley, outgoing chair for African American Culture Committee and public relations junior, said having White on campus is interesting for students and he is someone they can identify with.

“Brian is an entrepreneur and has gone through various endeavors to get to the point in his life where he can reach out to a younger generation,” Kelley said. “Our students are eager to go after what they want, and Brian is someone that can serve as an inspiration for them.”

Biology freshman Kenera Colley said she was amazed to hear White’s advice and apply it to her personal goals.

“His humility and ability to relate to a younger generation is awesome,” Colley said. “He is not only an accomplished actor, but also has countless other successes that inspire us to go find our own passions.”

Because he arrived to the field of acting with other achievements in his past, White said he was able to take the lessons he had learned with him and create new success.

“Our community is a team, and we are only as strong as our weakest link,” White said. “I was fortunate to have inspirational people motivate me throughout my life, so I want to pass those tools on to the younger generation.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as: Actor reached success by setting goals

With all the recent rumors and gossip surrounding the Student Government elections and our team, we wanted to share our story and address the issue of our team’s disqualification. We selected around 40 students representing all communities from across campus to be in a group photo to reflect our mission to bring students together. Three weeks later, one of the students, Carissa Kelley, became a candidate for the president of the Student Events Center. She did not intend to run when the photo was taken, and we were not even aware that she was going to run until weeks later. We had no contact with her during the campaign, and neither of us publicly supported each other in any way outside of her participation in our photo. At the time of the photo, and even after becoming aware of Kelley’s intent to run for SEC President, we never felt that we were in violation of the election code because not only did the Election Supervisory Board approve our media — including our group picture — but the clause the ESB convicted us of violating is under the SG-specific election code that led us to believe that this clause only applied to associating with SG candidates.

After the disqualification ruling by the ESB, we tried to appeal to the UT judicial court on the grounds that the specific code only applies to SG candidates and that our alleged violation did not warrant a disqualification. The four-member judicial court voted to not hear our case and denied us our right to voice our concerns regarding the ESB’s ruling. Given the fact that we were denied our appeal, we chose to meet with the Dean of Students’ representatives who oversee SG. After meeting with them, we realized we had very limited options moving forward. We filed one last appeal to the judicial court based on procedural errors and were again denied before being heard.

At that point, we had the options of bowing out of the race or pursuing legal action in hopes of getting back on the ballot. We are passionate about this University and this campaign really means a lot to us.

We understand that many people may criticize our recent actions or question why we are continuing to get back in this race even after being disqualified. We would like everyone to know our true intentions. We are not suing the University for anything monetary. Instead, we filed a temporary restraining order to delay the presidential and vice-presidential election until after our case was heard. We would like a judge to reconsider our case and put our name back on the ballot because we feel that our constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association were violated.

We hope that everyone can understand our story and know what truly has been happening past the headlines. This decision is not motivated by revenge or any selfish reasons but rather it stems from our passion, love and belief in our cause.

Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara are former SG presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Recently disqualified SG candidates Madison Gardner, right, and Antonio Guevara, left, sit in the Travis County Courthouse shortly before a hearing Tuesday afternoon which issued Madison a temporary restraining order against the university - effectively postponing executive alliance elections for two weeks.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A Travis County judge issued a termporary restraining order postponing the Student Government presidential and vice presidential elections for at least two weeks Tuesday.

Judge Tim Sulak will next review a suit filed by former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara to decide whether they will be put back on the ballot. The Gardner campaign filed the suit against UT and SG on Monday claiming the Election Code the Election Supervisory Board and the SG Judicial Court used to disqualify them on Feb. 22 is a violation of their First Amendment rights to association under the U.S. Constitution.

The campus-wide elections for all other positions will still be held today and Thursday as planned, according to the official board opinion from chair Eric Nimmer.

The Board disqualified the campaign for associating with Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley by including her in photos, videos, website banners and other campaign promotional materials. Under the Election Code, candidates are not allowed to associate with one another and any violation can result in immediate disqualification.

Sulak granted Gardner’s request for a temporary restraining order and said he granted it to give the parties who wish to be on the ballot, parties who are on the ballot and parties who wish to vote an opportunity to have the merits of the Election Code considered by the court. Gardner voted in favor of a version of the code that included the rule forbidding association between candidates for different races when he was a University-wide representative in 2010-2011. Gardner said when he voted for the code he was confused on the intent of the association provision and does not agree with the harshness of the penalty for violating that rule.

Austin lawyer Jason Snell is representing Gardner while Leo Barnes, associate vice president for legal affairs, is representing UT. Assistant Texas Attorney General Daniel Perkins is representing SG.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, said Barnes expressed neutrality on behalf of the UT administration and requested guidance from the Court.

At the hearing, Snell said there will be no form of compensation for opportunities lost if Gardner and Guevara do not get a chance to run.

“Once Mr. Gardner graduates, there is no adequate remedy of law and there is no money to compensate them for lost opportunities to put [it] on their resume, transcript, applications,” Snell said. “All these good things that could result from being the president and vice president of one the greatest universities in the world.”

Gardner said he just wants the experience of serving the University for a year and representing students. Gardner said his campaign did not deserve a disqualification because Kelley is one of 40 people in the promotional materials and is not an SG candidate.

“We really believe in our cause,” Gardner said. “I really care about this and this University and the things I was looking forward to doing over the next year. I believe in it so much, I want to make sure I did everything I could have done to be on the ballot.”

On Sunday, Gardner said the majority of students are not represented by the presidential candidates John Lawler and Thor Lund, the only candidates remaining on the ballot after the disqualification of Yaman Desai and Ryan Shingledecker’s withdrawal.

Guevara is not named in the title of the suit, and he said Sunday he was uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing legal action.

SG President Natalie Butler said she found out about the lawsuit this afternoon and may be subpoenaed as an agent for SG. Butler said although Gardner serves as the external financial director for her executive board, this is not an act by her administration. This is the fourth consecutive year SG has faced problems in presidential and vice presidential elections.

“I don’t know if the Election Code is unconstitutional because it’s functioned before,” Butler said. “So I don’t know why it’s coming up now because it’s been in use for several years.”

Butler said this lawsuit is a poor reflection of SG that decreases voter turnout and gives students the impression SG is all about winning elections.

Candidate John Lawler testified at the hearing and said postponing the presidential and vice presidential election would hinder his campaign because he does not have the funds or resources to continue campaigning. Lawler said this lawsuit was putting students’ democracy at risk for the sake of two individuals.

“We feel if you grant this injunction you’re giving people who have the most money the [advantage],” Lawler said. “You’re favoring people who have the most time and resources that the typical student does not have.”

— Additional reporting by Audrey White and Thomas Allison

Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 as : SG presidental vote delayed

Student government candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara listen to Thor Lund and Wills Brown speak at Monday night’s debate. The Gardner campaign appealed to have its disqualification overturned, but the SG Judicial Court chose not to hear their appeal.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara will be unable to reenter the Student Government presidential and vice presidential race after the SG Judicial Court declined to hear their appeal of the Election Supervisory Board’s disqualification.

The Election Supervisory Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara on Wednesday for including Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley in their promotional materials, which include pictures, fliers and media on their website. Gardner and Guevara appealed the decision Thursday night and claimed Kelley told them she had no intention of running when the media was produced on Jan. 21. With Gardner’s disqualification, along with the disqualification of Yaman Desai and the withdrawal of Ryan Shingledecker, John Lawler and Thor Lund are the only remaining candidates in the SG presidential race.

Students had until Feb. 12 to sign up to run in the campus-wide elections and could begin campaigning Feb. 15.

Alexander Jones, Gardner and Guevara’s campaign manager, defended the campaign on Wednesday and said the complaint filed did not have genuine intentions, according to the board’s minutes. Jones also said the board had approved the campaign materials before they were distributed, so the Gardner campaign had no reason to believe they were problematic. Jasmine Kyles, who supported former candidates Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston, submitted the complaint on Tuesday.

“Since the disqualification, all the Yaman and Whitney media [produced] under Kyles has remained up online,” Jones said, according to the minutes. “This is evidence of her continued loyalty and support of said campaign.”

Jones said Desai and Langston continue to publicly oppose the Gardner and Guevara campaign. He said although Gardner and Guevara knew about the violation beforehand, it would have been difficult to completely rectify the damage or remove the materials.

“We believe that this complaint is an attack intended to hurt our campaign, not to ensure universal campaigning fairness,” Jones said. “We admit that it was a mistake that Kelley is included in our media.”

In a statement, Gardner said the campaign believes the board made the wrong decision and will continue to pursue its goals for the student body.

“We believe that the ESB was self-evidently incorrect in their decision,” he said in the statement. “Our team is not satisfied but are so very proud of our effort. We will continue our campaign to Unite Texas.”

Kyles said she had removed herself from the Desai and Langston campaign and she filed the complaint because she found it to be a violation of the code.

Kelley said she does not endorse Gardner and Guevara publicly and she had no intent to run at the time of the photos. She said she participated as a friend and the alleged violation was not deliberate.

Under the Election Code, only the presidential and vice presidential candidates may campaign together and any association between candidates of any kind will not be tolerated and can result in immediate disqualification.

The board stated the complaint had been filed in a reasonable amount of time to justify disqualification. It also said Gardner and Guevara have been in violation since they began campaigning on Feb. 15 and have made no known effort to remove or distort Kelley’s presence in their media.

Board chair Eric Nimmer said he was not surprised the SG Judicial Court had chosen not to grant Gardner and Guevara the appeal because the board had already gone through the disqualification procedures correctly. The Judicial Court can only act in situations when the board acts improperly. They have no authority to reverse decisions or alter sentences based on the content of a case.

“Everything [we] did I deemed as reasonable,” Nimmer said. “You do not have grounds for appeal unless there was a procedural error.”

Lawler said it was unfortunate that the race had to come down to this point and offered sympathy for those who participated in the Gardner and Guevara campaign. Lawler said he feels the disqualification will have a negative impact on voter turnout and SG’s image for next year.

“It’s unfortunate SG had to face these scandals yet another year,” he said. “But we encourage student voters to look past the scandals of today and look forward to what the two remaining campaigns will offer tomorrow.”

Lund said the disqualification was unfortunate but he will continue to move forward with his campaign. Lund said he offered his best to Gardner and Guevara.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Court denies Gardner, Guevara appeal

Madison Gardner listens to his running mate Antonio Guevara speak at Monday night’s SG debate. Gardner and Guevara were disqualified by the Election Supervisory Board for associating their campaign with Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley, but will be appealing the ESB’s decision.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

Update on Feb. 23 at 11:37 p.m. - The SG Judicial Court has declined Gardner and Guevara's appeal of the ESB decision. The ESB decision stands and Gardner and Guevara are officially disqualified from the SG presidential race. As of now, John Lawler and Thor Lund are the only remaining presidential candidates.

Update at 1:30 a.m. - Gardner said his campaign plans to appeal the decision. "Our friends and supporters agree that this is the right thing to do and that the next student body president and vice president should be decided by the students," he said. "I will be the first to recognize that we made a mistake but I strongly feel that the resulting disqualification was excessive."

Gardner said his campaign took the picture for his promotional materials on Jan. 21, at which time Kelley told them she did not have the intent to run. Gardner said he does not know when the hearing will take place yet.

Update at 11:45 p.m.- Jasmine Kyles, who filed the complaint against Gardner and Guevara, released a statement on her website reading she did not act with malice when she submitted the complaint. SEC presidential candidate Carissa Kelley declined to comment. ESB vice-chair Truc Nguyen said it was not clear whether Kelley would be disqualified as that case has not reached the ESB.

Student Government presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara were disqualified by the Election Supervisory Board for associating their campaign with a candidate in another race.

The campaign came under fire for including Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley in their promotional materials and online website. Only the presidential and vice presidential candidates are allowed to campaign together, according to the Election Code. All candidates in the campus-wide elections must campaign separately and any violation of this can be subject to immediate disqualification.

Broadcast journalism junior Jasmine Kyles filed the complaint against Gardner and Guevara, and the Election Supervisory Board heard the case Wednesday afternoon. The ESB said the Election Code did not mandate an immediate disqualification, but under the circumstances the action was appropriate.

In the official opinion delivered by ESB chair Eric Nimmer, the ESB stated the complaint was filed in a reasonable amount of time and Gardner and Guevara had been in violation since their campaign materials began distribution.

The ESB also stated the Gardner campaign did not demonstrate an effort to remove the incriminating promotional materials and media after being made aware of the violation. Gardner and Guevara allegedly knew about the violation before the complaint had been filed, according to the ESB.

Gardner and Guevara claimed it would have been difficult to remove the promotional materials already distributed on their flyers and website. However, the ESB declared the lack of any substantial action taken to remove the item as justifying the disqualification.

Gardner and Guevara have not responded to requests by The Daily Texan for a statement.

“Its unfortunate that the campaign was disqualified. However our campaign will continue forward with a positive message - changing Student Government and producing results next year,” said presidential candidate John Lawler.

Lawler and candidate Thor Lund are the only presidential candidates left if the SG Judicial Court does not overturn the ESB’s decision as candidate Ryan Shingledecker withdrew Tuesday. Lund said it was unfortunate that Gardner and Guevarra were disqualified, but rules are rules and he wishes the pair the best in the future.

Nimmer said Kyles was part of the Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston campaign before that campaign was disqualified Monday. Nimmer said Gardner and Guevara were planning to appeal the decision.

“It’s one of the simplest interpretations of the rules. If you read the language it is very strong,” Nimmer said. “No association between candidates will be tolerated. I do not believe the decision will be overturned.”

Printed on Thursday, February 23, 2012 as: Madison, Antonio under fire