As one of thousands of UT students minimally involved in Student Government, I rarely feel the organization’s impact in my own life; I’m usually clueless about its internal happenings, and legislation typically means nothing to me. Until this campaign season, I was equally unaware of SG’s negative aspects as I am ignorant of its positive impact. All this changed when the election shoved the good, the bad and the ugly down our throats. From a bird’s-eye view, I’d like to explain why Kevin Helgren and Binna Kim are the most responsible choice for Student Body President and Vice President.
While internal SG experience is important, leadership exists beyond the walls of the Legislative Assembly Room. Through their campus-wide experiences, Kevin and Binna have demonstrated the character and competence needed to run a successful Student Government — they have advanced inclusivity while redefining the culture of their respective organizations. Personally, I’m humbled by Kevin’s commitment to fund cancer research by biking to Alaska with Texas 4000. When the Texas Exes recognized Kevin with the President’s Leadership Award, they cited his leadership in Admissions Ambassadorship and Camp Texas; Kevin transforms the Longhorn experience before students even begin classes on the 40 Acres. Meanwhile, Binna’s female empowerment campaign “Operation Beautiful” garnered national press coverage. Binna also overhauled the purpose of Undergraduate Business Council’s elected membership to bring value where it no longer existed.
Student Government — especially the presidency — is more than a resolution or bill. Kevin and Binna understand that our culture precedes our success. They understand that unique, well-executed pathways to empowerment outsize even the most impressive SG legislative record.
It’s no secret that cynicism runs rampant in circles both inside and outside of SG. Campaign season often seems like the only time SG leaders care about exchanging communication with the student body — for attention and votes — so it’s not like we get the best picture. This year, Kevin and Binna are running an emotionally charged campaign in which students — including Kevin and Binna themselves — share deeply personal stories to evince a commitment to common experience. This vision has worked because it not only entices but also invites students with histories of apathy and marginalization to take a closer look at what Student Government could offer. The beauty of their campaign's slogan, “Share Your Story,” is that it establishes direct and genuine student engagement. Participants doubtlessly expect their engagement to be welcome beyond election day.
Their opponents — Kallen Dimitroff and Jesse Guadiana — have campaigned as the only “all-Greek ticket,” hoping to bring an end to discrimination against fraternity and sorority members. On Facebook, Dimitroff argued that “it’s time that greek life not only exist at UT — it’s time for us to thrive.” Kevin and Binna’s respect and concern for the Greek community is perhaps best evidenced by Binna’s dedication to Kappa Delta and the Panhellenic Council (here’s Binna’s blog about her time as an executive officer of KD, and this video created by the University Panhellenic Council was inspired by Binna and her committee). Kevin and Binna are hardly “anti-Greek,” so the suggestion that Dimitroff-Guadiana will be better stewards of the Greek community is misplaced. At the same time, it’s tough to accept Dimitroff-Guadiana’s implication that fraternities and sororities constitute an underrepresented class. Without privileging one voice over another, Kevin and Binna have given a platform specifically to those who don’t usually speak out.
Don’t dismiss #UTShareYourStory as the face of feel-good rhetoric. Both campaigns have promised to reform Student Government, yet Kevin and Binna are the only ones who’ve truly promised to hold SG accountable for bringing in more voices next year. By signing and endorsing former candidate Daniel James Chapman’s petition to have a referendum on SG’s abolition, Kevin and Binna asserted that we need an SG we can access and trust — or no SG at all. Their opponents have been unwilling to make such a pledge. Props to Dimitroff-Guadiana for taking the initiative to draft a revised election code, but if you’ve taken the time to read their proposal, you’ll see that it’s grounded in the same old style of thinking as the existing election code. Dimitroff-Guadiana did clean up some kinks; their draft is a clarified version of what we already have. But given the negativity of this election cycle, the last thing I’d use as a template is the old election code.
Dimitroff understandably points to her SG successes as arguments for the inherent good of the organization. But we must take a step back. The conversation shouldn’t be about moving the needle an inch here, an inch there. When Kevin and Binna promote a petition, it’s about the very existence of SG. Meanwhile, in the same style as Chapman’s petition, Dimitroff-Guadiana has started a petition for free transcripts — a bold move for a narrow cause.
We must question how we do SG. That is why I respect Kevin and Binna’s Day One promise for an Internal Reformation Committee. It’s time to take a look at all the core assumptions underlying SG. Can the Assembly actually be representative — and equipped to speak for students? Or, if SG isn’t a truly representative organization, would student referendums better reflect our voices on controversial issues like tuition rates, Arab-Israeli politics and historic statuary? Perhaps we should question the role of having three branches of government? Perhaps a completely fresh election code would punish pettiness and dirtiness while rewarding a commitment to dialogue and platform points? If Kevin and Binna are fortunate enough to win on Thursday, I trust they’ll tackle these big-picture questions first; they won't lose the forest in the trees.
Student Government is supposed to allocate money to scholarships and organizations, assist the University in making policy and speak for the student body. With their plans for long-term reformation, Kevin and Binna will include all students in those goals by cutting at the ambition and bureaucracy which paralyze the organization. I voted for candidates who actively work to make SG less about themselves and more about us.
Yu is a Business Honors Program and supply chain management senior from Katy, TX.