Perhaps the most challenging aspect of any campaign process is finding that which sets you apart. To Student Government executive alliance candidates Simona Gabriela Harry and Lynn Huynh, what makes their candidacy unique is simple — they’re both relentless in their quest to keep “Messin’ With Texas.”
Both women have spent the last three years “pushing buttons and breaking down barriers.” Most recently, this has involved joining the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct and orchestrating student protests. Simona, a third-year English and Black Studies major running for president, is also a member of numerous other student organizations and organizing groups, including Latinx Community Affairs, Foundations Communities, and Orange Jackets.
Vice presidential candidate Lynn, is also a third-year. She is a Women’s and Gender Studies and advertising double major, and, like Simona, is heavily involved in campus life. She is a Research and Analysis intern at the Institute of Urban Policy, the Creative Director of theQueer and Trans People of Color Agency at the Multicultural Engagement Center, and a member of Orange Jackets.
However, more than anything else, it is the candidates’ time with the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct that has inspired them to run for executive alliance.
“Coming off the sexual misconduct incidents, we saw how hard it was for our voices to be heard,” explains Simona. “We didn’t have a legitimate voice and had to rely on student leaders.”
A large part of Simona and Lynn’s platform revolves around the idea of “shifting culture around how student leaders take accountability.” Both women’s time working with various organizations on and around campus has made them very familiar with UT’s administration and policies. Simona contends that this familiarity with campus bureaucracy is what will ultimately aid their efforts to overcome the difficulty that previous executive alliances have faced in getting their legislative agenda past administration.
“The administration can work in the interest of students if the students are unrelenting enough,” Simona says. “It’s about persistence, really. They have to see that people care enough. They have to be convinced.”
Another way Simona and Lynn plan to shift the culture around accountability is by giving other student leaders and organizers on campus “a leg up.” The sheer size of the student body makes it nearly impossible for an executive alliance to truly represent every student’s voice, but Lynn argues that instead of striving for the unrealistic, her and Simona’s campaign aims to “give everyone a platform to advocate for themselves.”
Lynn elaborates further, adding that providing this “leg up” to create a platform for all students involves “personally dedicating up to half” the stipends she and Simona would receive as executive alliance.
“We understand how hard and overwhelming the process of applying for funding can be,” Simona adds. “We’ve been through it, too.”
Other aspects of their platform include accessibility, affordability, and diversity. Simona and Lynn emphasize how essential they believe accessibility is to improving UT’s academics and campus resources. One way they seek to address this is by creating a “barrier-free UT.” Some of the changes they propose are requiring subtitles in all classrooms, requiring professors to post all slides and other relevant information online, and passing a campus-wide policy that requires a minimum of two unexcused absences per class.
Lynn also stresses the value of mental health accessibility.
“We think that it’s unrealistic to expect students to only use their allotted five free CMHC counseling sessions,” she says. “We want to create a bank where students can donate unused sessions for other students. We also want to create a mental health screening service like the one recently implemented at Harvard.”
In addition to accessibility and empowering students to advocate for themselves, the candidates hope to tackle affordability, specifically as it applies to textbooks. This platform point, monikered “This Mad Expensive,” seeks to systemize the use of the Open Educational Resources (OER) service, which provides free access to online versions of textbooks and other academic resources. Ideally, this would eliminate textbook expenditures.
“We also want to encourage the retention of undergraduate and graduate students of color, as well as other marginalized groups in academia,” adds Simona.
A few ways they plan on accomplishing this goal is by decreasing the cost of printing and/or sending transcripts, implementing a free-swipe system at UT dining halls for income-insecure students, and expanding the Gender and Sexuality and Multicultural Engagement Centers at UT.
The last item on Simona and Lynn’s agenda is addressing the “smart housing epidemic.” By advocating for affordable housing for students in areas around campus to try and force housing and zoning policy changes, the two women hope to lower the cost of rent near campus. They also hope to “work towards gender-inclusive housing in dorm life at UT” and improve the living environments for students who live in university-owned subsidized housing.
Both candidates acknowledge the size of their agenda and admit that their campaign has a lot of ambitious goals.
“I know we’re being idealistic in trying to accomplish all of these things,” Lynn says.“But I think we have to be.”
“All of these issues are important, and they all need to be pointed out and addressed” Simona adds. “We see the potential in Student Government, and we want to capitalize on it.”
In the meantime, the two plan to continue using their current positions to spread their message and encourage others to join them in “Messin’ With Texas.”. Within a week, the two will see how effective their efforts have been.
Click here to learn more about the Simona/Lynn platform