The Daily Texan best serves UT by improving its representation

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Photo Credit: Laura Hallas | Daily Texan Staff

Student media has always strived to adequately cover topics that concern campus. But now, talk of the digital age pales amid shouts of fake news, and speaking of “student issues” means directly grappling with the realities of executive orders, healthcare and hate crimes alongside traditional student concerns over tuition rates and registration. 

Our mission as a college newspaper has taken on a sense of urgency. To respond to the world around us, to hold our city, our University, and ourselves accountable amid uncertainty, The Daily Texan must assert more strongly than ever that it is a place where students of all backgrounds, political affiliations, and interests are welcome to express their voice. Only with an open door and strong foundation can the opinion department hope to effectively serve the UT Austin community. 

The Texan provides a snapshot of students’ experiences and ideas, serving as a direct line to the administrators, student leaders and other change makers who read The Texan, well, daily. Whether the topic is textbook prices or immigration, you, as a student, have valuable insights and life experiences that the Texan can help articulate and disseminate like no other source.

But this means little if students don’t feel comfortable to even approach the threshold of our office. Even just a few years ago, the opinion department had lost the trust of large student communities, weakening its legitimacy as a student voice. For example, following the publication of racist content in 2012, black students felt so alienated that several students founded an entirely new publication to fill the void created by a non-representative opinion department. Others have expressed concerns about the polarity of political opinions on campus or have even simply written off the department altogether as biased. 

While previous Texan leaders have made great strides in improving the climate of the department, the next editor-in-chief needs to take concrete actions to ensure students of all perspectives feel comfortable expressing their opinions in our pages. Without representative staff, The Texan cannot be a true voice for the student body. There are several concrete initiatives I hope to enact as editor-in-chief that I believe will strengthen our ability to promote all students’ voices. 

Inclusion begins with access — students cannot join staff if they are not aware of critical tryout periods. If elected, I will expand current limited tabling to more areas on campus and reach out to all colleges and academic programs. In addition, I will directly reach out to student groups and campus organizations. Only by literally reaching out to students where they are can the Texan appropriately represent those who are historically underrepresented in our pages.

If elected, I will also ensure that anyone who writes for The Texan can do so, regardless of financial situation. A work-study program has been proposed in the past but was never executed, despite several students citing compensation as a barrier to contributing their opinions. Establishing such a program would be an important precedent for student media and serve as a more permanent structural improvement to ensure that the opinion department is representative of campus. With 42 percent of students relying on some kind of financial aid, it would be absurd to allow additional barriers to prevent these students from voicing their perspectives. 

Finally, I want the opinion department to more actively engage with other branches of student media. There are many more opportunities to take advantage of cross-departmental projects and mutual goals for campus coverage. For example, one of the central topics I heard discussed in Wednesday’s campus climate town hall was the need to track the administration’s response to hate crimes. This is ultimately the responsibility of administration, but if information isn’t forthcoming, student media should collaborate to track cases’ progress through judicial systems and present that information directly (and clearly) to students — an option I have already begun to explore. It is through initiatives like these that I promise to respond to student concerns, hold public figures accountable and adhere to truth.

When writing, columnists usually include a call to action that the writer thinks could improve readers’ lives in some way. The next editor-in-chief has the inverse challenge — to build a strong foundation, and then let student voices take the lead.

Hallas is a Plan II, economics and health and society and sophomore from Allen. She is a candidate for Daily Texan Editor-in-Chief.