Students deserve opportunities to engage with Austin community

Sam Thielman

Roses are red, OU still sucks, I hope you like campus because it looks like you’re stuck. 

Putting our rivalry with OU aside, students really do get stuck on campus. Austin is a great city with lots of interesting places to go, but it feels like I still haven’t experienced Austin even though I’ve lived here for two years.

College is more than just going to classes — it’s most students’ first time living alone, and they’re expected to learn all sorts of “adulting” things. While most people think of tasks such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and paying bills, being an active citizen in your community is also an important part of adult life and should be encouraged during students’ time at university.

New Student Services is working to address this disconnect. Its aUsTinite program, launched last year, sets out to accomplish many of these goals, but it’s still a new program and its scope is limited. It puts on four events each semester that each set out to accomplish a particular goal. One is meant to help students explore Austin, one to give back to the community, one to help prepare students for living alone and one to help students engage with other citizens of the city. Each of these events intends to help students in some way feel more at home living in Austin. UT should devote more resources to the aUsTinite program and other initiatives to help UT students actively participate in the Austin community.

“I think this is the part that students kind of forget about a little bit,” said Paige Muehlenkamp, off-campus and outreach coordinator at the Office of the Dean of Students. “You’re an Austinite now. You live in the city of Austin, and that comes with rights and responsibilities, so just better understanding all those resources that are available to you off campus is important, too.”

Students genuinely want to experience everything that Austin has to offer. 

“There’s so much that Austin offers outside of the campus,” said Anna Marlatt, international relations and global studies freshman. “I just haven’t had someone help me explore that, so if (UT) did implement (some way to help students explore Austin) I think that would be really fun.” 

Personally, I rarely eat out anywhere more than two blocks from campus despite Austin’s legendary food scene. I’ve never found time to volunteer at Zilker Botanical Garden even though I’ve been on the email list for nearly a year. I feel like I’m supposed to know all the neat little idiosyncrasies of the city, but I’ve never had the chance to learn. 

The aUsTinite program is on the right track. The events it coordinates every semester provide amazing opportunities to students who want to be more active around the city. However, the program currently can only accommodate a few dozen of the more than 50,000 students on campus. 

Because of the logistics of the program, such as transportation and the difficulties involved in keeping a large group together while wandering around the city, some of the events the aUsTinite program coordinates can only support around 30 students. This program needs to expand so that it can help more of UT’s student population. If Austin is such a selling point for the University, the University needs to follow through.

Thielman is a history and rhetoric and writing sophomore from Fort Worth.