Looking Forward, Looking Back: It’s always students who create change

In the past, looking forward, looking back editorials have been dedicated to calling on the administration to do better. While this is a necessary aspect of our role, this edition will be a little different. Though change is long overdue and this University still has a long way to go, we’ve made that abundantly clear — over and over and over and over again. 

This time, we want to look back at student efforts to make campus a more equitable place and dedicate this piece to commending their hard work. After all, this University has a plethora of issues, and students are repeatedly forced to advocate for themselves and others — advocacy that is too often overlooked by the administration. 

Over the past two years, amid debate on the University’s racist alma mater, students voiced their disapproval of the school song. The Longhorn Band refused to play “The Eyes of Texas,” and Black students in the Longhorn Band formed LHBlacks to condemn the song and advocate for increased diversity and inclusion. The song is racist and bigoted, and most students know that.

Instead of removing the song, the University announced plans to create “separate but equal” bands in fall 2022. “The Eyes of Texas” still plays loudly and proudly at far too many UT events.

Black students on campus have been advocating for inclusion and equity for years. A collective of Black student organizations on campus released a list of demands, and these efforts led to the addition of things like the Student East Mall Advisory Task Force, the renaming of RLM to PMA and campus commemoration projects. 

Aside from this, the bulk of the demands — divestment from the UT Police Department, required modules, renaming Littlefield and more — remain unfulfilled by the University.

Since fall 2020, disabled students have advocated for the creation of a disability cultural center on campus. Their efforts were furthered by both the Disability Advocacy Student Coalition and the Natural Sciences Council. A survey released by these entities gathered over 855 student signatures. 

Though UT has not publicly affirmed a commitment to creating this center, the initiative has garnered support from the vice president for student affairs and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Students and administration are still in the process of finding a space and ​​​​approving funding for a director position. We commend those who worked so hard to bring this initiative to life.

Sexual misconduct continues to be a prominent issue on campus, and the charge for a safer environment has always been led by students. The Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coalition has continually dedicated itself to supporting survivors, advocating for better policies and working with Title IX to establish initiatives (including those recommended by Husch Blackwell). Last fall, the Tejas Club was accused of mishandling sexual misconduct allegations and not implementing prevention training. Students protested several times outside the Tejas house and called for the spirit group to be disbanded.

The University, however, has not stepped in to disband or even condemn the Tejas Club. 

During Student Government elections this semester, the past failings of SG members remained in sharp focus. Students questioned the role and necessity of SG, and the need for structural change became apparent. Student concerns led to a vote of no confidence for this year’s SG executive board, and the resulting vote led to executive board members being asked to step down. 

Instead of supporting the student body’s wishes, the University decided to intervene, with the Office of the Dean of Students halting the proceedings. 

Off campus, students living in Riverside this semester had to deal with inconsistent bus schedules along with a general lack of connection to the University. After months during which the University did little more than encourage professors to be lenient with absences and late arrivals due to busing issues, Riverside students formed a coalition and released a list of demands. These demands included amendments to UT’s current contract with CapMetro to ensure more consistent bus schedules and an expansion of campus shuttle services. These students are fighting for the right to live in affordable housing without facing unnecessary difficulties as a result. 

UT has not committed to these students’ demands or established a plan to better connect Riverside students with the University. 

In March, student leaders released an updated State of LGBTQIA+ Affairs report. This report included 48 recommendations to create a more inclusive campus, including the addition of gender-inclusive bathrooms, the expansion of both the Gender and Sexuality Center and the Multicultural Engagement Center and divestment from UTPD. The report is almost 100 pages long and displays the enormous amount of collective student effort it took to gather this research. 

Units like the Counseling and Mental Health Center and University Health Services have reviewed these demands, and University Housing and Dining has announced plans to create gender-inclusive housing. But this isn’t enough. The University has still not publicly affirmed its support of the recommendations and hasn’t shared concrete details for implementing them.  

These are not all of the student advocacy efforts from this year. The Senate of College Councils has consistently worked to protect student interests. Beyond this, there have been countless other student efforts this year and every year before. 

In most of these movements, there is a clear throughline of fervent student advocacy followed by the University’s negligence. That isn’t to say that student efforts have gone to waste; if anything, they’re wholly responsible for any progress that has been made so far. 

UT, start listening to students and taking action. Student advocacy has made clear where the University is lacking, and it’s frankly insulting to continue to ignore their efforts. 

Creating change too often falls squarely on the shoulders of student organizers and activists.

It’s because of your collective action that this campus has improved. Thank you for working tirelessly. We know it’s taxing, and we know our thanks isn’t enough. It’s well past time for the University to care for its community as much as its students do.

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Mia Abbe, Faith DuFresne, Sruti Ramachandran, Julia Zaksek, and editor-in-chief Sanika Nayak.