At the end of last month, Austin city officials announced the formalization of a College Task Force that will represent student voices in city government matters. Many of UT’s student leaders are pushing for both campus administrators and Student Government officials to exercise control over the force’s member selection process — a move that potentially makes the most sense. That is, if such power is handled with care.
Much like SG itself, this task force must be comprised of representative voices. The non-SG voices will hopefully come through faculty appointments, but that doesn’t absolve SG of its responsibility in ensuring diversity in the force. Its appointments must reflect the student body and be cognizant of not only race and gender, but also where appointees are from. This is a city task force — it’s especially important to hear voices from various cities
Our student body comes from all over. One hundred and eighteen different countries and each of the 50 states are represented in our 18 separate colleges on campus. Each student carries a unique perspective, and while it’s impossible to be entirely representative in a more than likely small task force, SG must try its best to be as inclusive as possible.
Knowledge of how a city should operate and serve its population will vary depending on personal experience, and extensive discourse will ultimately lead to informed decisions. A homogeneous group of white males simply won’t cut it, nor will a group of people that all grew up in similarly wealthy Texan suburbs. For that matter, it’s even important SG’s appointees aren’t all from Texas. Different states structure cities differently, and we may be able to learn a thing or two from fresh out-of-state perspectives here in Austin.
Many SG officials fought tirelessly to get this task force finalized, fulfilling their promise to provide representation and advocacy for students. It’s SG in its finest form, and is undoubtedly a change that will better serve students. But it’s important that in their call for greater representation in city government, SG doesn’t forget representation on campus. SG officials have an opportunity to back up their claims about the importance of diversity.
Once a diverse selection committee is chosen, these select few must ensure they give heed to the student body’s opinions. There must not only be continual check-ins with students, but members of the task force must also be willing to listen. A small committee, no matter how diverse, is going to have a limited view and can only do so much. Collaboration is key.
This task force is an excellent opportunity for college students’ voices to be heard. UT’s campus alone is the size of a small city, and when you factor in Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University, Concordia and Huston-Tillotson, a substantial part of the city’s population — and the source of a part of the city’s income — is college students. We have a voice and we deserve to be heard. But it’s important that SG officials remember that “we” is the collective 40,000-plus students on campus. We come from all over, we have opinions and we deserve to be represented.
Vernon is an anthropology and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands.