Campus politics need a do-over. SG can help foster discourse

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Photo Credit: Charlie Hyman | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This guest column is in response to last week’s Forum page about discourse on campus.

The only story necessary to understand Student Government on the Forty Acres: The most popular proposal in SG history was undoubtedly a representative’s attempt to replace the entire student assembly with visiting speakers from a Dallas community college. 

No wonder why he and so many others want a change. At its best, SG can be a launching pad of great ideas and programs that help Longhorns succeed, stay safe and find a home on our campus. But at its worst, it can suck the air out of a room and turn a healthy debate into something that doesn’t serve anyone or fix anything.

Our assembly hasn’t handled every issue perfectly. There are certainly important issues that, for one reason or another, we have not addressed or have not addressed adequately. However, we’ve done a lot good, too. I proudly point to our efforts to increase interpersonal violence prevention training on campus, or  the fight for more financial literacy education, as important first steps to building a campus that helps everyone succeed. 

But I’ve also seen the worst of our campus political culture. Demonstrations that create a sense of otherness. Disgusting graffiti on mosques and synagogues where Longhorns go to worship. Hurtful comments, sometimes meant as jokes, about who a person loves or who a person is. Violence, in acts big and small, against those who don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of what a Longhorn is "supposed" to look like.

The solution is not to restrict expression, but rather establish a political discourse based on what we have in common, instead of on the differences that divide us. When we choose to look at issues, such as the rising cost of student living, as our enemy instead of each other, I believe we can fix the issues that affect us all.

The solution is not empty statements. The solution is the recognition Student Government cannot possibly be the sole voice of students. Instead, voices from West Campus to Riverside must speak up for our common interests.

The solution is not arbitrarily-drawn battle lines in which students from one segment of campus cannot work together to solve issues without fear of backlash. On the other hand, the solution is not to ignore these issues altogether either. The solution is to realize that good politics requires an insistent belief in our common humanity. A realization that sometimes the most unlikely of coalitions can bring about enduring change. That a Jewish student and a sorority girl are both at a loss when West Campus isn’t safe.  

Barbara Jordan famously said, “I get from the soil and the spirit of Texas the feeling that I, as an individual, can accomplish whatever I want, and that there are no limits.” I couldn’t agree more. When I first stepped foot on the Forty Acres, I fell in love with this spirit of possibility. It keeps me hopeful that we can create a campus where everyone is welcomed into the fold.  

This vision is bold. These challenges are immense. But I truly think that a political culture that prioritizes respect for each other is not only possible, but coming sooner than we think.

Rizvi is a government junior.