Student engagement with the Student Government campaign cycle spiked this year — but not entirely for good reason. Students espoused hateful rhetoric, ultimately abusing and berating three women of color for their identities. And, we cannot accept this.
As women of color, Guneez, Hannah and Mehraz used their exclusion from institutions on this campus to spur activism. They uplifted underrepresented voices in order to etch a place for their communities in SG. It is a self-serving endeavor at its core, but a diversity of identities and opinions can only benefit all students. Reactionary respondents, alternatively, used their selfish and fearful reactions to dismiss healthy critique of the communities they occupy.
For the first time, students watched how marginalization plays out on this campus. Candidates set a precedent for all students to further educate themselves on the challenges facing our peers. But we didn’t.
We failed to support the voices of marginalized communities who have little to gain from a governing body operating under a system that is universal in its benefits — critiques of these familiar institutions were silenced. But, acting to only support a bigger picture under the guise of universal inclusion perpetuates white supremacy.
Let’s take The Daily Texan’s endorsement for example. Excluding the editorial board’s decision and the result of the election, we tried to endorse based on the feasibility of project completion and achievement of tangible change on campus. Prior to Executive Alliance filing, we outlined a framework for supporting an objectively beneficial candidacy and decided that accounting for campus climate implications and our personal politics would’ve only made for an unnecessarily reactionary argument.
We made a decision that would benefit as many students as possible, striving to be deliberate in outlining the kind of change that needs to happen at this university no matter which candidate might be proposing it.
But looking out for the interest of the “typical” student means looking out for the interests of the white and wealthy.
Universality does not benefit black and brown students whose experiences are silenced by our white peers who “don’t see color.” Universality does not benefit disabled students who are disadvantaged because we see ramps and deem our campus accessible. Universality does not benefit all Longhorns because we are not all treated equitably. A belief in such can only be practiced from a place of privilege — through willful ignorance of marginalization that never happens to you.
My own attempt to reconcile my roles as a black student and member of the Texan Editorial Board came down to determining what is more valuable: listening to underrepresented groups or making objectively good changes that are within SG’s realm of ability. But my eventual encouragement of the latter meant submitting to complacency around systemic flaws — no matter how well-intentioned expensive initiatives are, or how many students they will benefit.
Sometimes the most important change is a conversation between a non-homogeneous group of people. We all must be honest about how we as individuals fit into university institutions, for the good and the bad, if campus climate and diversity are ever going to be more than just buzzwords and cute campaign platform points. But this time we failed to have a real conversation, and students devolved to dismissal and vitriol.
Vowing to be more kind to one another steadily perpetuates deep-rooted, systemic inequality that is bigger than an endorsement, bigger than an election. Don’t ignore the fact that three of our executive alliance candidates were women of color. Don’t ignore the reactions to their critiques of exclusionary institutions on this campus. Don’t pretend that they were not berated for encouraging change that did not directly benefit white students. And don’t pretend that this process — the islamophobia, the racism, the sexism —would’ve happened the same way if they were white.
Campbell is an English junior from El Paso.