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The following is an op-ed written by the officers of the nonpartisan political organization UT Votes at the University of Texas at Austin Arielle Cardona, Catherine Benavidez, Zachary Foust, Cheleas O'Hara.

Nonpartisanship and the need for Civil Discourse

If you were to do a Google search of “The University of Texas at Austin,” you would encounter many recent articles about the University’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) and its attempts to host a game called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” in which participants would have been awarded $25 gift cards for “catching” mock illegal immigrants. After virtually unanimous disapproval from university officials and prominent Texas Republicans, the event has since been called off. Yet despite this controversy, the chairman of the organization claims that the purpose of the game was to spark discussion about the issue of illegal immigration.

We at UT Votes believe that a respectful and informed dialogue about policy serves democracy better. While we can understand and appreciate the intent to promote the conversation of a political issue, the proposed event would have had the opposite effect (as the negative responses have proven). These types of actions that do nothing more than incite emotional and inflammatory responses degrade the quality of discussion.

UT Votes strives to be nonpartisan with our events and meetings. We feel the intent of nonpartisanship is to initiate discussion without polarization. A nonpartisan organization aims to extend a hand across the political aisle, not isolate groups from ever engaging in discussion.

At the same time, we recognize that being nonpartisan has its challenges. In what has been a one-party state for several decades, open and honest conversation across party aisles that protects everyone’s opinions and voice can be a challenge. However, obviously uncivil and polarizing events cause people to withdraw within themselves. This is especially worrisome given how disengaged our generation is. Unfortunately, events like this only deepen political cynicism. While remaining respectfully nonpartisan is a surprisingly complex mission, the potential effects of student organizations on campus openly listening to students’ diverse views could create a more educated and engaged student body.

In the past, UT Votes has hosted “Conversation Cafes,” relaxed settings open to students of all viewpoints to share their ideas and discuss issues without fear of condemnation or partisanship. With guest speakers, we work to have both political sides represented. While it can be more time consuming and challenging, UT Votes members and attendees appreciate the civil discussion produced. People walk away feeling accomplished and a part of a larger community. In a sense, we aim to be not just nonpartisan, but “omnipartisan” as well – respectfully inclusive of all groups and viewpoints.

We hope this recent controversy makes student organizations aware of their immense influence in the community, and further encourage groups to be responsible with this power.  We at UT Votes urge campus leaders to find more effective ways to make dialogue of controversial political topics inclusive and approachable for students of all backgrounds and viewpoints.

Clockwise from top right: Arielle Cardona, Catherine Benavidez, Zachary Foust, Cheleas O'Hara.

UT Votes is one of the few nonpartisan political student organizations at the University of Texas at Austin. They hold voter registration drives and nonpartisan events throughout the year. UT Votes does not endorse any political candidates or issues, but encourages respectful discussion with all views and opinions represented. For more information about the organization and future nonpartisan events, “like” UT Votes on Facebook at Facebook.com/UTVotes.

 

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