What’s the point of structural opinion columns?

Mihir Gokhale, Associate Editor

Sift through my columnist portfolio, and you’ll find I’ve written extensively about on-campus structural changes. In fact, I’ve pretty much run the gamut of structural opinion pieces, from calling for walkway canopies and increasing bike racks, to building more emergency call boxes. Some Texan staffers even joke that I deliberately constrain myself to the structural beat. 

I never intended for things to be this way. When I joined the Texan’s opinion section, I was eager to write about more abstract, thought-provoking columns associated with politics or government. I would be the Texan’s literary muse. But like the mythological sirens who led Odysseus’ ship astray, the siren calls of structural change bashed my initial plans. Now, I’m a structural convert. 

I genuinely and truly resonate with structural columns. They instill purpose in my work and mold opinion departments into forums for productive discourse. Despite their perceived futility, I will gallantly defend structural columns until my final keystroke.

Boring. Infeasible. Pointless. I know the laundry list of connotations associated with columns focused on structural issues. I hear near-identical arguments from friends and family who question my attachment to these narratives. In their eyes, structural columns are well-intentioned but toothless — a step up from outright complaints but unlikely to be implemented.

“I don’t understand why you would waste your words writing about topics the University will either look at once and never implement, or never look at in the first place,” one particularly skeptical friend once told me. 

I’ll admit she makes a fair point. Why write for people who don’t always listen? After all, administration is often notorious for off-handedly labeling student concerns as trivial or untenable. It’s easy to become disillusioned with structural columns when your primary audience — University administration — remains painfully unresponsive.

But dismissing structural columns for such a narrow reason overlooks their inherent value.

On a college campus rife with infrastructural imperfections, structural columns are much more than fruitless call-to-actions for UT administration. While undoubtedly directed toward the University, tactfully executed structural columns naturally cater to a broader campus community. 

On the one hand, structural columns enlighten those unaware of existing issues. On the other, they validate and advocate for students facing pressing on-campus problems. Collectively, structural columns unite students around shared experiences and facilitate grassroots conversations on issues the University often forgoes.  

Writing structural columns is a trade-off: you sacrifice instantaneous change for less certain but equally-important future outcomes. At best, your words may one day come to life; at worst, you’ve agitated the status quo. I’ve learned that there’s true power in sparking concerted movements through these mediums. 

Make no mistake: I suffer no delusions about the structural works I’ve written for this paper. It’s unrealistic to expect UT administration to wake up tomorrow and decide to install walkway canopies or bike racks or emergency call boxes just because a college freshman said so. While immediate implementation is unlikely, the seeds planted by structural columns germinate over time and eventually breed voices the University cannot ignore. 

An opinion is far more than its end result. Infrastructural changes take time — mired in protracted procedural hurdles and University inaction. Structural columns provide an invaluable impetus to move the process along. These cogent pieces impart a valuable lesson: being seen doesn’t immediately translate to being heard.

And that’s precisely the point. 

Gokhale is an undeclared business freshman from Allen, Texas.