Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Student Government sends representatives to Washington D.C., talks affordability, mental health

Kuba Bard

Student Government sent representatives to Washington D.C. for the Big 12 on the Hill conference from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. The conference let student leaders advocate for issues impacting their universities to state and federal leaders.

UT’s representatives chose to focus on academic freedom, mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion, housing affordability and food insecurity. Some issues brought by UT were also shared by other Big 12 schools.

“Being able to collaborate with other student leaders across Texas and the Big 12 definitely helps,” UTSG vice president William Ramirez said. “It’s a reassuring feeling that we’re all, to an extent, fighting the same battle for students.”

Despite the long-standing rivalry between UT and Oklahoma University, student leaders from both universities found common ground in the issues they brought to the table in Washington.

“We were bonding over the same things we were dealing with at the university level and seeing how we can both help each other along the way,” Ramirez said.

Although the representatives went to Washington as a group, each had their own issues they wanted to platform to state and federal representatives. Ramirez said one of his priorities was the preservation of diversity, especially given the recent passage of Senate Bill 17 that cut DEI offices at UT.

“They’re limiting what you can practice on campus in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ramirez said. “They could try and limit what you’re able to teach in a classroom too, and we’re trying to prevent that.”

UTSG President Helen Getachew said she spent her time in Washington advocating for better mental health resources. From talking to other university leaders across the nation, she said she found telehealth services to be less effective at supporting mental health than in-person services.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of my constituents and (even just) students as a whole have expressed issues with scheduling (and) finding counselors that they’re comfortable working with,” Getachew said.

Speaker Pro-Tempore Ryan Huynh said he focused on college affordability at the Big 12 Conference. As a first-generation, low-income student, the issue is “near and dear” to his heart. Beyond tuition, the issue of affordability extends to housing, food and other basic needs that impact students across the country, Huynh said.

The representatives said the conference allowed university leaders to bridge the gap between students and legislators in Washington to give legislators a better idea of what students need. Huynh said there is a similar gap between UT students and their representatives in Student Government that also needs to be bridged.

“It’s so important that students on campus come and talk to members in Student Government about anything,” Huynh said. “Stories and perspectives (are) what got us the farthest in our conversations.”

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