This interview has been edited for clarity and readability. I have attached the unedited audio recording of the interview to the end of the article.
Disclaimer: The Texas Orator receives $200 in funding from student government. This article does not imply an endorsement of any candidate for student government.
So I think the best place to start is with an introduction into who you are as candidates and what your years have been like at UT.
Izzy: I’m a junior double major with psychology and speech pathology and a minor in studio art. I have made it my goal throughout college to get as involved on campus as possible so I dove headfirst into interpersonal violence prevention. I’ve been in several organizations, chaired others, and am the president of Deeds not Words. We are also both in Not On My Campus as Vice Presidents. Other than that I am in NISHLA, which is related to speech pathology, I’m a research assistant, and I was the president of Sailing Club last year so I just try my best to get involved in as many things as possible on campus.
Elena: I am a junior studying Plan II, public health, and government. When I first came to UT I wanted to get involved but I didn’t really know where to start. And then one of my good friends from high school was telling me “Oh, you are interested in policy making and education is one of your biggest passions” and she told me to join Senate. Senate works on academics at UT and I was like, “Oh, this is really cool. I get to impact change right when I’m a freshman even before I even know what kind of change I want to make.”
Currently, as Vice President of Senate, I have been able to work on initiatives that I’ve been working on since my freshman year and it’s taken three years to actually see them through. We just created a pre-law certificate for students to be able to take classes and get a certificate to put on their transcripts. It takes years and years to get these things done and by running for Student Government, we can ensure continuity and make sure that these initiatives continue.
So what is the elevator pitch for your campaign?
Izzy: One of our main focuses is on interpersonal violence prevention. But separate from that we have five different platform points on interpersonal violence prevention, all the way from prevention and Title IX policy changes in the light of Betsy Devos’ proposed changes that are highly controversial for survivors’ rights, access to resources, expanding Legal Aid and rebranding Be Safe. So it’s not just language. It’s not just words of support or guidance, it’s actual tangible preventative measures.
Elena: So within the mental health realm, we want to offer virtual counseling through the same agency for students. We also want to expand the CARE counseling program to ensure that every single college on campus has a CARE counselor. There are currently 21 colleges and we want to ensure that each one has a CARE counselor that students can meet with. We also want to institute validating parking at the SSB for students who want access to UHS services or scanned or CMC services.
Within peer inclusion, we want to make sure that we have gender-inclusive restrooms in every single building on campus. We also want to ensure that room reservations have an accessibility marker so that students who need an accessible room for meetings or for organizations or for events have the opportunity to reserve that through the reservation system. And then we’re also trying to renovate the East Mall fountain and change that very inaccessible part of campus to have ramps and stairs so that students can easily access that part of campus and also make that space safer by including additional lighting.
You highlight interpersonal violence prevention in your campaign. What experiences at UT have informed that decision to make IPVP central or what problems have you seen in your time here that you are trying to solve?
Izzy: When we arrived on campus in 2016 the CLASE survey came out stating that 15 percent of women were raped on campuses and that one in 16 men experience rape in their time at college. That is not acceptable.
So after that came out, I got involved with the interpersonal violence prevention coalition, which was headed by Bina Kim at the time. After that semester, she appointed me to the chair position. I headed that for the next year and worked with all of the prevention organizations on campus to compile resources and do everything we can together so that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes or trying to reinvent the wheel where it’s not necessary.
Then I helped the Colton-Mehraz campaign to create the point of consent education for FIGs and TRIGs. Over the last year as interpersonal violence prevention policy director within Student Government, I worked with administrators, Colton-Mehraz, and FIG and TRIG mentors to successfully implement content education for all incoming UT students next fall.
Elena: I think this also comes from personal experience. I’ve had countless friends come up to me and tell me what happened to them. They’ve been sexually assaulted by other students on campus. This is a prevalent issue. This isn’t just something you hear about in a survey and you think, oh, wow, that’s a big percentage. But what does that actually mean?
When you’re in that conversation, and you don’t have the resources or you don’t know what to tell the other person that’s very scary for both you and for the survivor and going from that I knew that I wanted to educate myself better and then address the issue at large by working with interpersonal violence prevention organizations such as NOMC and educating students on what consent is, what resources are available, what UHS provides versus what off-campus resources provide is so important to just get that baseline education. Beyond that, we can start addressing the systemic issue of why sexual assault is happening on campus and how we can prevent it. What resources are currently working and what is not working? What is disadvantaging students? We want to make sure that we are addressing those problems and helping survivors because that is our ultimate goal. There are so many survivors on campus, and we need to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to help them.
Under that umbrella, you talk about expanding the legal services for survivors. What does that look like specifically and what problems do you think that really addresses at UT?
Elena: So currently, legal services for students cannot, according to UT policy, address or take cases of sexual assault or cases falling under Title IX because it creates a liability for the University because it involves a student versus another student or a student versus a faculty member. However, this is really detrimental to students who need legal support.
So what we want to do is equip and speak with LSS and talk to them about potentially having resources there. So they can talk to them and then refer them to off-site resources like lawyers and then to legal help like Safe Alliance.
You mentioned earlier the changes to Title IX that have been proposed by Secretary Devos. Under an Izzy and Elena exec-alliance, what would be the role of Student Government in expressing the opinions and representing the interests of students with regards to those changes?
Izzy: This past semester we passed a legislative bill within Student Government expressing support for survivors and acknowledging the issues within the proposed changes. Under Betsy Devos, within this last notice and comment period on the Title IX changes, there were over 104,000 comments critiquing the changes. If that doesn’t say that there need to be major alterations to the proposed mandates then I don’t know what does. On our platform, we specifically stated that we want to follow Senator Watson’s “Texas IX” proposal which is currently going to be a Senate bill within the Texas Legislature. The bill combines both the precedent of Title IX that is currently in place and the changes that Betsy Devos is trying to propose. So it’s still allowing survivors to seek the help and the legal aid they need while providing an equal trial and equal treatment on both sides for the accused and the accuser.
Elena: I actually just had a meeting with President Fenves last week where I brought this up with him. We asked that the administration file a comment on behalf of the University, which they did and from our conversation, it seems the administration is on board. They agree that the changes that Secretary Devos is proposing are not conducive to current Title IX investigations and are not helpful for survivors and they would support us in making sure that we are providing all the resources for survivors that we can in the Title IX process.
According to the most recent report, discretionary spending in the Student Services Budget has not increased for seven years. Additionally, many of the allocations are simply copied and pasted from previous years and don’t reflect a dynamic approach to student interests. What is your plan to work with the SSBC to tailor the budget to student needs and also work to increase the amount of spending on student interests?
Elena: The vice president actually serves as the chair of the SSBC so I would have a direct role in advocating for students through the SSBC. While it depends on the particular allocation, usually the money in that budget is already allocated. So you get “X” number of dollars to give to student initiatives, the question then becomes how are you going to spend that?
I think we need to really analyze the initiatives that we are funding. Are they still beneficial? Are they still doing their job? Have they, you know, exceeded their usefulness? We want to speak to stakeholders and determine can the budget be decreased? Can we make room for new initiatives while advocating for increased spending overall?
One of Student Government’s functions is to allocate money directly to student organizations. The process for that application is infamously clumsy and inaccessible. How do you plan to address the transparency of that process and make it more accessible for student organizations?
Izzy: I know firsthand how complicated and almost kind of intrusive that questionnaire can be. It asks “how exactly are you going to spend this money?” and make funding contingent on using the money for very specific purposes. That is simply not something you can predict within an organization.
Say you have 10 more people join, your organization still need shirts for those people. So I think the best avenue to go about this is working with our financial director to understand how we can renovate this process, how we can change the form so it’s easier for organizations to fill out but also being transparent with organizations. We have a certain process that we have to go through legally and it has to be fair, right? Absolutely. But we still want to make it a more streamlined process that’s less complicated.
Elena: I think that a lot of students, especially students in smaller organizations, aren’t aware that SG and Senate get funding to give them directly. So whenever new organizations are created we can give them a notification through Hornslink saying “Oh, you are eligible for Senate and SG funding.” This will increase transparency about the funding process and then give organizations that may not traditionally have received funding from the Student Government an opportunity to get that.
To turn to something of a hotly debated issue, both you and the members of your executive staff are eligible to receive stipends, $6,840 for both the President and Vice-President and half of that for each staff member. Additionally, you are both eligible for $5,200 in tuition allotments. For frame of reference, tuition allotments and stipends comprised the single largest line item expense in SG’s budget this year, outstripping funding for student orgs and agencies. Do you plan to take these stipends in full and what justification can you offer students for this expense?
Izzy: I am not somebody who has received financial aid through UT. I maintain a 4.0 and I work very hard in my classes and I work hard at home a lot to pay for my own college and I pay for housing and everything I do on campus. A lot of people will assume our financial backgrounds based off of what we look like quite frankly.
And I do want to say that for the people who fill these positions, it is a job. It is so much time out of your schedule and out of the academic time that you could devote to studying. You have so many requirements.
I do understand that there is a financial incentive and for me personally all I would “take,” so to speak, is what would pay for my tuition, what will help me graduate. I don’t even know the exact that would be, but at the same time, I’m still paying my own housing and for everything else, but you can’t knock people for being paid for doing what is, ultimately, a job.
Elena: I come from a background where we just don’t have the financial means to pay for an education. So my parents told me when I got here, you’re paying for it yourself. And I’ve spent every single summer working and one semester I was holding three jobs and still trying to be involved on campus, which was something that was very important to me.
In Senate, if you’re president or vice president, you spend at least 10 hours a week in meetings and then an additional 10 hours. On the other hand, you do you get a small stipend of $150 a month, to be transparent, but that’s it, no tuition forgiveness. Honestly, that is part of the reason why I’m not continuing Senate next year is because I do not have the financial means to dedicate what I can to this position while still holding the jobs I work currently and while taking 20 hours of classes.
This financial incentive will really help with making sure that, given my class load, I can take it a little bit easier and finish up an extra semester. It will help us fully dedicate our time to this job, to advocating for students, to attending all meetings, and to not be too busy with trying to go to work just to pay our way through our time here at UT.
We’re happy to have that conversation with everyone about this. Is it too much money you are giving us? It has been abused in the past and the system has been abused. So we are happy to have that conversation with students.
I think the conversation that we’re having emphasizes a broader point about the affordability of college for students. You know, in the past campaigns have made rather grandiose claims about increasing affordability, but what kind of feasible measures are you going to be taking to prompt that conversation amongst the administration or what specific policies do you have to work toward a more affordable college experience?
Izzy: I think one thing that people don’t really realize is how many scholarships there really are on campus. And there are so many different portals through different colleges, you can access a ton of scholarships, which I’ve personally gone through so many and will continue to go through so many.
I just think the most important thing is advocating on behalf students and listening to anybody who comes to us and says, “I have an issue with affording my books” or “I have an issue with affording tuition or housing,” whatever it is. We want to help them through the Office of Financial Aid while also working to expand the resources available to them.
Elena: So there are a couple of things I want to add. First is that Student Government does have discretionary spending that can be used directly for students. We can create scholarships that students can access directly.
Second, next year is going to be a tuition setting year. So next year, the tuition policy advisory committee will be getting together and making a recommendation on whether or not to raise UT tuition. This will also involve creating a survey for students to fill out regarding tuition and TPAC really emphasizes student responses. Last time they wanted 5,000 student responses to even take students seriously. So if we can create additional outreach for that survey, that will help determine what will happen to tuition.
Sure. So wrapping up here, you have said that your campaign is not about running against Camron and Amie but what is your final message to students? Essentially, why vote Izzy and Elena?
Izzy: The biggest encouragement I can give you to vote is that if you see something on our platform that resonates with you or you want us to hear your voice and work with the changes you want, vote for us. It’s that simple. If there’s an issue on campus that is on our platform and you feel empowered to change it or you want to be that person that makes that change, vote for us. Every Longhorn should have that opportunity to make changes while they’re here on the 40 Acres.
Elena: I am hoping that students, as they learn more about us and our platform, see that behind these proposals is knowledge and research and that these are feasible changes that can be made. We’re not just throwing out pie-in-the-sky proposals that would be great but would never happen. We want to recreate UT and move the culture of SG away from promising what they think students want but what they know will never happen to making proposals that maybe are not as “sexy” but are feasible. We are hoping that that message will resonate with students.