I thought student petitions didn’t do anything. I was wrong.

Daisy Kielty

Call me a cynic, but I never thought petitions did anything. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost hope in the power of public opinion against administrations and governments. Maybe it’s because some petitions are so broad, they will never cause tangible change. Maybe it’s because I know petitioning the government of Yemen will not end the famine.

But I changed my mind, and you should too. 

The problems of Yemen will not be solved by a petition, nor will all of the issues on our campus. But that’s not the point. 

I was so caught up on finding the “right” ways to protest that I forgot that there really is no “right” way to protest.

Petitions, especially those generated by students to push for action from school administrations, have the ability to raise awareness about issues not regularly publicized to a large audience. Petitions are powerful, and we must support them however we can.  

Days after the murder of George Floyd, a group of UT students started a petition to raise awareness of UT’s racist history and press the University to both acknowledge UT’s past and take concrete action to separate itself from it.

Biology sophomore Fariah Mahmood is one of the founders of the petition titled, “Have UT Austin Acknowledge its Racist History and Vow to make Reparations.” 

“We thought it wasn’t fair that a lot of the common things on campus were so racially charged,” Mahmood said. “Even though UT is a place that aspires for inclusion and diversity, that isn’t necessarily supported by the things that (UT) does.”

Their calls for change, which include renaming the Robert Lee Moore and T.S. Painter halls and University recognition of the racist origins of “The Eyes of Texas,” were echoed in the demands for change from student athletes on June 12. 

“When we first started setting up the petition, I started advertising it on Reddit, and one of the users said, ‘Don’t waste your time, nobody cares about this,’” Mahmood said.

That user was wrong. Within one day, the petition received 3,000 signatures. Now, weeks later, the petition has over 19,000 signatures. 

Whether it was the petition, the athletes or the sheer publicity of the demands students addressed to UT administration, it doesn’t matter. Together, they used student power to make change.

“There is no one right way to push for change, but successful efforts are often those that build wide support across campus,” Soncia Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said in an email. “All change in our community depends on willingness and commitment to work together.”

On July 13, Interim President Jay Hartzell announced UT’s intent to recognize the histories of  “The Eyes of Texas” and T.S. Painter Hall, as well as rename Robert Lee Moore Hall.

These changes are the result of widespread backlash from the UT community, thanks to the awareness generated by petitions and calls for action. But Mahmood said the impact of the student petition is not only measured in the response from administration but also in how much students learn about campus issues. 

“At the very least, it’s getting people thinking about why is Painter a racist name? Why is RLM racist? Why is ‘The Eyes of Texas’ racist?” Mahmood said. “It gets the conversation started.”

I thought petitions had to have actionable solutions and that the petition’s success relied on whether or not it affected tangible change. I was wrong. Positive change can be delivered in a number of ways and always starts with creating a conversation. 

Maybe we can’t solve the problems Yemen faces, but we can definitely bring much needed awareness that will eventually lead to change on our campus.

So next time you see a petition, sign it. It can only help.

Kielty is a government and sociology junior from Concord, Massachusetts.