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

Semester of SB 17: Future librarian manages end of graduate student organization

Kennedy Weatherby
Graduate student Megan Cockett stands for a portrait in front of the “Make It Your Texas” sign on the PCL on April 21, 2024. The recent university changes due to SB-17 shut down iPride, an organization Cockett started.

Editor’s Note: The implementation of Senate Bill 17 meant the loss of diversity, equity and inclusion offices, positions and resources throughout campus. The Texan’s projects department reached out to various members of the UT community to find out how SB 17 changed their experiences on the Forty Acres. These are their stories.

When Megan Cockett, a second-year master’s student studying information sciences, enrolled at UT Austin for their secondary degree, they thought things would be different here. Coming from a small, rural area of Wyoming, Cockett expected Austin to be a safe haven.

“This is a place that will be diverse and good and accepting,” Cockett said.

The Forty Acres seemed like the perfect place to prepare for their dream career: working as a children’s librarian to give young people the opportunity to find comfort through books, especially for kids grappling with their identities.

Last year, Cockett and other information students took on the task of rekindling the School of Information’s queer master’s student organization, iPride. In doing so, Cockett said they hoped to build a safe space for information students.

“(Graduate information students) didn’t really feel that their place existed within these undergraduate organizations (at UT) …  which is why we wanted to have iPride,” Cockett said.

After the School of Information encouraged the organization’s registration, iPride took all the necessary steps to become a school-sponsored group last year. By this time, Cockett acted as the organization’s president.

The organization’s membership was small but valued. For many international and older students, Cockett said iPride provided the opportunity to embrace their queerness.

“We have a lot of students who come here, and it’s the first time in their life that they can be openly queer because they’ve lived in places that they can’t be,” Cockett said.

But at the start of this semester, Cockett said iPride, along with several other student organizations, found out they would no longer be sponsored by the School of Information due to SB 17. The organization’s officers decided it wasn’t plausible to manage iPride without the continuity provided by their school-sponsored designation, and so the “small flame” of their organization went out.

“It was just not feasible for us to meet the requirements of being a registered organization without the support of our program,” Cockett said.

Although they’re no longer a sponsored organization, iPride is still listed as sponsored and active on the Division of Student Affairs website. There are 117 student groups currently listed with that designation.

Cockett said the end of iPride was a “quiet death” — just an email sent out to the adviser and a message in the School of Information discord server. 

“There were these students that were really excited to be a part of a queer organization for the first time,” Cockett said. “It was rough to tell people, ‘Sorry, you can’t be an officer for this (organization). We don’t exist.’”

iPride is likely one of many smaller organizations who have been impacted by SB 17, Cockett said, but the end of iPride as well as the broader effects of SB 17 sent a clear message to them.

“‘We don’t want you’ has been the message that I’ve been receiving,” Cockett said. “‘We don’t want your diversity. If you don’t fit into our box, we don’t want you.’”

And Cockett said they probably aren’t alone in this sentiment.

“This is not just a thing that I’m dealing with as the former president of an organization,” Cockett said. “It’s a thing that people are going to be dealing with for a long time.”

Thinking back to when they first enrolled, Cockett said they no longer recognize this version of the University. They said they would tell queer people considering UT to decide whether this is an environment they can feel comfortable in.

Cockett is also disabled. On top of worries related to gender and sexual identity, they said they’re also concerned for students next year who need support and safe spaces to manage their disabilities.

“UT no longer feels like a safe space for me,” Cockett said.

Cockett looked up and laughed at the “Make it Your Texas” signage above their head.

“This is not my Texas,” they said.

As Cockett prepares to graduate at the end of this semester, they said they feel more passionate than ever about fostering safety for themself and other queer people. As a librarian, Cockett said they think their dreams of helping kids find comfort through books can still create rippling effects, even with laws like SB 17.

“(This semester has) definitely made me more passionate when it comes to my career and having that diversity in other ways,” Cockett said. “Somewhere, there are people for you, and they might be fictional for a while, but that’s okay.”

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