The candidates’ columns: Voting for a voice

Laura Wright

Editor’s note: Per the TSM election code Section 7.45B, Daily Texan editor-in-chief candidates have the opportunity to publish two columns during their campaigns. The candidates were asked to write one column on the topic specified below and another on a topic of their choice. The columns had to be between 580-620 words. The candidates were responsible for writing their own headlines. For their second column below, the candidates wrote on a topic of their choice.

It’s hard to know exactly how to navigate the West Mall during election season, which ends when voting closes this Thursday at 5 p.m. As the campaigners pass out fliers, call out names and wave signs, it seems as if most students are occupied by questions more along the lines of  “Is it appropriate to throw a flyer away immediately after I receive it?”, “Where the hell is the nearest recycling bin?” and “If I put headphones in, will they leave me alone?” than the question of who they should vote for. 

The student frustration with elections is understandable. In the past week, I’ve been campaigning for campus wide office as a candidate for editor-in-chief of this paper, and in that week, I’ve become newly aware of how difficult it is to reach and interact with students on all corners of campus. It’s understandably hard for the average student to feel a part of a campaign when he or she is one in over 51,000 students, and the low number of students who actually vote reflects this sentiment. Last year, only 8 percent of students voted in the Executive Alliance election. Granted, last year’s election seemed to involve every type of scandal short of drug running and national treason, but the turnout for the previous year was low as well, with only 16 percent of students voting for Student Government president and vice president.

The problem is, whether students vote or not, persons outside our University will look to our elected student leaders to explain, defend and represent this campus. If our Student Government president might be appearing on the nightly news to talk about what UT students want, we might as well elect him or her as the entire 40 Acres and not as a voting block that spans around four acres in all.

Historically, the ability of student leaders to stand up for UT’s values when forces challenge those values has been incredibly important. Back in 1900, for example, Texas Gov. James Ferguson’s disdain for the campus uphill from the Capitol nearly resulted in UT’s closing. When Ferguson vetoed the bill that appropriated funds to UT and attempted to fire the current UT president, student leaders conspired with the president to hold a rally against the governor. Students got their way. Ferguson backed down; our doors are still open today.

In the 1960s, Student Government voted 22-2 to integrate the dormitories, setting the stage for a showdown with the integration-opposing UT System Board of Regents. Students in the same representative positions you’ll elect Wednesday and Thursday cast those 24 votes. And again, the students won, though the battle was hard-fought.

More recently, when the UT Board of Regents started talking about cutting funding for research, then-Student Government president Natalie Butler, along with other student leaders, spoke eloquently about student opposition to such changes in interviews with the media and in an open letter to the Board of Regents.

You may be skeptical that the candidates have the power to bring about promises like better food in dining halls or more parking options on campus. And the truth is, we won’t know if they can until they take office. But one thing’s for certain. Student Government has its greatest moments not when it’s making good on platform points but when it’s standing up for UT students. When changes come to the UT campus, be they from the Tower, the Legislature, or the governor’s office, elected student leaders will be called upon to speak for you. Voting is your chance to make sure you like what they’re saying.

Wright is a Plan II junior from San Antonio.