Why Aggies matter, in College Station and the Capitol

Laura Wright

We stopped playing A&M in football more than a year ago, but we are apparently still beating them to a pulp when it comes to not embarrassing our student body with student-led efforts to demean and marginalize members of the campus community. 

Yesterday, the Texas A&M Student Senate passed a bill that could allow students to opt out of paying fees for services they object to for religious reasons. The intention of the bill was clearest in the first draft. Titled the “GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill,” on the basis of potential religious opposition, the bill asked Texas A&M to refund students the portion of their student fees that support the campus’ Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Resource Center (GLBT). 

According to Chris Woosley, a member of the Texas A&M Student Senate and the author of the bill, the second draft of the bill is decidedly less contentious. 

“In its original form, it was a lot more controversial, because people thought that I was singling out the GLBT Resource Center,” Woosley said. “But the motivation behind the bill the whole time was protecting the religious conscience of the student.” 

To that end, the second draft of the bill calls for students to be allowed “to communicate their religious disagreements at the time of paying tuition and fees,” and for the university to evaluate whether or not the disagreement is valid and “refund” the student the amount in question if they deem it so. 

That college students, given the choice, would opt out of paying any fees at all did not seem to be a concern for Woosley. Neither was the suggestion that anonymous administrators might be ill-equipped to judge which religious objections are “valid.” Actually, not much seemed of concern to Woosley, who said that he felt the second version of the bill took into account many of the voiced concerns. If the bill hadn’t passed this session, he said, he expected to bring it up again in the next. 

Of course, UT is not A&M, and I don’t expect our student legislative organizations to bring up anything so discriminatory anytime soon. And without the support of University administrators, the actions of both schools’ student government organizations are largely symbolic. But symbolic actions still have consequences, and A&M’s LGBT students are no doubt feeling the effects of their classmate’s proposal. 

Today, a similar measure will be heard not in a student government assembly room but on the floor of the Texas House. Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, has filed an amendment to the state’s general appropriations bill, SB1, that would prevent public colleges and universities from funding “Gender and Sexuality Centers” with state funds on the basis that they “support, promote, or encourage any behavior that would lead to high risk behavior for AIDS.” 

Henry Kissinger once said, “University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” But as Zedler’s amendment demonstrates, the real problem with vicious university politics arises when the students participating in them leave campus — some of them wind up as elected state representatives. And at the Capitol, they legislate with live rounds and ill-conceived social policies that become more than just fodder for college newspapers. And there’s no Aggie joke that can make light of that reality.

Wright is a Plan II junior from San Antonio.