On Tuesday, as the semester began, so too did the filing period to run for a position in Student Government, as well as in a host of other organizations. Between now and Feb. 14, every student on campus, regardless of previous experience, will be able to file to run to represent their peers.
Last year’s controversial election period inspired us to ask the student body to join us in pressuring SG to reform itself — to run ethical campaigns, promise important and achievable goals and then make good on those promises once elected. Daniel Chapman and Austin James Robinson’s campaigns, in particular, asked students to question whether SG should exist at all. While this year’s assembly deserves more time for the student body to make any decisions on that front, now is the time to consider what it is SG should be, before the next round of candidates for executive alliance color our views.
Like us, SG acts as a voice for change on campus that represents the students themselves. At its core, SG is able to place students in positions across dozens of boards and committees to advocate for solutions to many problems across our campus, and can spend some money to directly address those problems as well. While its resolutions and bills are its most apparent accomplishments, it is that behind the scenes work that perhaps matters most. In order for them to best serve us, we need people to run for its top positions who are aware of pre-existing problems, and equipped to handle the unexpected.
Since 2009, when the Student Government election code was revised to eliminate ‘tickets’ that were similar to political parties, 7 of 8 presidents have been men and most of those have been white. In that time period, the VP position has been filled with a diverse group of students — but the race and gender trends of the two offices’ holders over these past eight years at the very least gives potential candidates reason to believe that how they look will determine their success when they run. And at a university where lip service to progressive causes is a requirement to win, that is wholly unacceptable.
This isn’t to say that Kevin Helgren and Binna Kim have been ill-equipped to do their jobs. Helgren’s experiences as a gay man with Tourette’s have manifested themselves in an administration that has taken great steps to be inclusive and have spent significant time working on mental health issues. But while his administration has been on the side of students of color in the affirmative action fight, Helgren was not in the strongest position to lead a campus discussion on race following the Young Conservatives of Texas bake sale.
Moments like these should lead us to question whether we might have missed out on people who could have been better equipped to handle some of the most difficult situations we’ve faced. While it’s great that this abundance of white guys has supported initiatives that aimed to address problems like sexual assault on campus, we’ve missed out on having women lead this conversation and have the power to implement their own approach. And whatever the cause, that deserves to change.
Our campus is overflowing with talented, ambitious and driven individuals — and they certainly aren’t all white men. The consistent message that our executive alliances only look a specific way means that we’re missing out on all of the qualified women and people of color who could do the job.
Our University deserves the best qualified and most capable person to hold its most powerful student office. To women, to students of color, to people who identify as part of the LGBT community, to differently abled Longhorns — if you feel you have the capability to represent the student body, run at the top of the ticket.