University owes students direct responses to racist incidents

Janhavi Nemawarkar

Last week, tensions ran high at the university-wide town hall event on campus climate — specifically, in response to the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fliers posted around the UT Austin campus in the past several weeks. Students, frustrated with the lack of strong condemnation for the incident from the university, as well as a perceived pattern of weak action on other discriminatory occurrences, made their concerns known, loud and clear, to the top officials of UT. 

But students have every right to be frustrated and angry with their perception that the administration is not doing enough to take action against those who perpetuate these racist incidents, and should continue to pressure the administration and make them uncomfortable. And their allies — and certainly, anyone who feels like they’re in a place to continue to work with the administration — should continue to advocate for their behalf to the university.

Student frustration began with the administration’s feeble response to these posters — noting that the responsibility for these fliers (some that bore the words “imagine a Muslim-free America”) was claimed by a group called American Vanguard. Although they defend free speech, these posters were taken down because “only students and student organizations are allowed to post signage in approved spaces on campus.” 

It’s not unfair to administrators, then, to see where students are coming from. By not explicitly denouncing the vile sentiments expressed in the posters, and instead focusing on how simply the placement of the fliers broke university policy, they reveal to students that UT doesn’t particularly mind the existence of these people on their campus. While administrators have noted that they have a different process for dealing with registered student groups that put up posters that displayed similar messages, they must still take strong statements, and publicize the process so that it is absolutely clear that these sentiments are not welcome on campus from anyone. 

Intolerance and racist incidents have certainly always existed on college campuses (for instance, the UT campus has seen the “catch an illegal immigrant day”, hosted by Young Conservatives of Texas and the bleach bombings in recent years) but they have spiked with the election of President Donald Trump as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim people are vindicated in their beliefs by the man who occupies our highest office. Opponents, especially on the internet, like to claim that university students are “snowflakes” — that we’re too delicate, too fragile to deal with the ugly realities of the world and we want to shut down any other perspective that might seem “offensive” to us. But these incidents go beyond causing offense — they incite fear within our very students.

As students and lecturers and professors of this university are intimately affected by Trump’s (series of) travel bans aimed at stopping people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, they don’t know when they can see their families again — and oftentimes haven’t seen their family in years — or what’s going to happen to their immigration status. As undocumented students wait with bated breath at whatever Trump’s administration decides to do with their residency status, they live in constant uncertainty. These students deserve a university that will stand up for their right to exist, in this university and in this country.

If anything, the town hall demonstrated that UT administrators certainly want to help, but fail to understand how to interact with those who are the most affected by the university’s lack of substantial and public action. There are a range of things the university must continue to work on, especially with students and allies who are still up for working with them, including safety and mental health resources for students who feel threatened. While a range of political factors in the state of Texas might stop UT from declaring itself a sanctuary campus, taking a stand and letting students know that their priorities lie with all of their students is necessary.

As Fenves said: This is our campus. We take classes here, we practically live in the PCL come midterm and final season. And when a student is terrified to be on campus because they might be targeted based on the way they look, the way they choose to present themselves to the world based on their gender identity or their religion, this should automatically signal to the administration that they have work to do.

Nemawarkar is a Plan II and government sophomore from Austin. She is a candidate for Daily Texan Editor-in-Chief.