Campus leaders must dare to be boldly political

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Photo Credit: Chase Karacostas | Daily Texan Staff

I’ll preface this piece by reiterating — as I’ve done time and time again — that I have been, am and always will be able and willing to advocate for all students on our campus.

My approach to the office of student body president has been starkly different than the approaches of most — if not all — of my predecessors. That isn’t to say that my approach was better than others’ or that theirs were better than mine — but there’s a clear difference. I’ve had a number of people ask me about my tendency to take bold stances on partisan issues, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain myself publicly.

First, the claim that the student experience is impermeable to politics makes little sense to me. I’ve heard a handful of people say that Student Government leaders should spend less time talking about politics and more time focusing on student issues; however, as the philosopher Pericles once said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” The student experience is informed by the many facets of one’s identity, including skin color, sexual orientation, gender and faith. In light of this, I respectfully decline your request that I focus less on politics and more on student issues — the two are inseparable.

Second, I’ve had a few students ask me if I’ve ever considered the fact that taking bold, partisan stances on contentious issues may result in certain groups of students feeling isolated. To answer the question simply: Yes, I have considered that. But I’ve also considered the fact that nothing I say or do will ever make every single person happy. As soon as this dawned on me, I stopped trying to make everyone happy and started taking bold stances on controversial issues. I refuse to let the comfort levels of people who subscribe to opposing political ideologies take precedence over the teachings of my moral compass.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I am able and willing to advocate for all students on campus. Let me put this into context. I took a very strong stance against the hateful, offensive bake sale hosted by the Young Conservatives of Texas; however, if a student from this group reaches out to me and asks to talk about creating more accessible mental health resources on campus, I would gladly sit down and have that conversation. Similarly, I was relentless in expressing my opposition to and disdain for Donald Trump during the presidential election; however, if a Trump supporter sends me an email and asks to have a conversation about college affordability, I would welcome that dialogue with open arms. My willingness to sit down and engage in conversation isn’t the culprit; feelings of discomfort are. And it’s OK to be uncomfortable — that’s how we grow.

I’ll be the first to concede that I haven’t executed this position flawlessly. What I can say, though, is that I’ve brought every ounce of energy and emotion I have to this position. Even so, I’ve done and said things that have upset people. And that’s OK — because leaders who try to make everyone happy while occupying inherently political positions are lukewarm leaders.

Neutrality is a stance; silence is deafening. I implore you to do and say things that push you closer to the right side of history.

Helgren is a neuroscience and psychology senior. He serves as the president of Student Government.