To address challenges, I want to listen to you

Sanika Nayak

Editor’s note: Sanika Nayak is currently running unopposed to become the next editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. For this column, she was given the following prompt: The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the way The Daily Texan operates and produces content. With almost a year of unprecedented change behind us and no clear timeline moving forward, how will you address the challenges the pandemic poses, for the Texan and beyond, as editor-in-chief?

In the past year, much has changed at the Texan. We no longer print a daily paper. We no longer debate edits while clustered in an office with our Kin’s Market snacks. We no longer have  the occasional basement-wide pizza dinner to look forward to in the middle of our scramble to meet deadlines. I haven’t sat on that old, albeit very comfortable, opinion-department couch in almost a year. 

These changes, though difficult, were necessary. We now operate completely remotely, and as editor-in-chief, I’ll always be ready to make any sacrifice to make the Texan safe and accessible. The only thing I won’t forgo is the quality of our content: an opinion page that highlights and advocates for students. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown me that we don’t have to be physically present to make a representative and respectful paper. But it has also shown me how immensely important it is that we listen to the UT community, now more than ever, to fully and inclusively address the challenges ahead. 

By listening, I know students have had to face a multitude of pandemic problems. Reopening. No mandatory testing. No regulations of large off-campus gatherings. No tuition decrease. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the structural inequities that persist at this University. It’s shown the student body how much (or how little) UT actually cares. COVID-19 has undoubtedly brought about unprecedented change. But unprecedented issues? Not always. 

By listening, I recognize that we can’t let the pandemic become an excuse to forget the important work of student activists. The University has yet to take enough action to condemn its racist past. “The Eyes of Texas” is still our school fight song. T.S. Painter Hall and the Littlefield buildings have not been renamed. Black students have been talking about the hurt they have experienced on this campus for years, and they deserve to feel heard and valued. Why have these indisputable changes not been implemented? 

Students also deserve to feel comfortable in their classrooms, whether it be in person or through a Zoom screen. Professors Sahotra Sarkar and Coleman Hutchison remain on the course schedule despite the student activists who tirelessly protested their employment. We have yet to see any comprehensive sexual misconduct policy changes. Where is the transparency we were promised?

These issues are only the tip of the iceberg. Just last week, the winter storm made it clear that student mutual aid was the most effective means of assistance. It’s unfortunate that the burden of help fell on students, and the University should be held accountable for offering inadequate support for student communities, especially in the Riverside neighborhood. 

To me, the opinion page should be used as a mode of accountability and advocacy. It’s a place to highlight the issues students face by focusing the narrative on those who are impacted. It’s a place that can assist in the important process of fostering change. 

I understand that I can’t do this on my own. This pandemic has challenged everyone differently, and I may not know your perspective right now, but I intend to listen. Inclusion and representation are the backbone of good news coverage and constructive dialogue. Your voice is important to me, and I encourage you to apply to be a columnist, submit a forum piece or provide me feedback here so we can better represent you. 

Pandemic or otherwise, there are challenges we need to address on this campus. I hope to make the opinion department a productive platform for you to hold conversations and advocate for the changes you want to see. I can’t wait to listen to what you have to say. 

Nayak is a speech, language and hearing sciences junior from Austin, Texas.