Our unity is our strength: On the struggle for a DREAM Center at UTRGV

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

Originally published in The Rider, December 4, 2017

“If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., October 1967.

by: Jonathan Salinas

Photo Credit: Luis Olveda

On Nov. 9, over 200 students marched across the UTRGV Edinburg campus for a Solidarity Walkout calling for a DREAMER Center. Despite actions by the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) at UTRGV since late 2016, no concrete progress has been made on this issue either on an administrative or student governance level.

Despite SGA President Alondra Galvan’s gestures to work with student organizers in supporting the creation of a DREAM Center, SGA passed a DREAM Act resolution the day after the walkout, which student organizers did not want. SGA continues refusing to work on a DREAM Center resolution, according to student organizers.

Not having the support of the Student Government Association (SGA) has made some of the organizers question if it can be reformed to better represent student rights. This has been argued since SGA’s founding on the Edinburg campus in the early 1930s. But in our present situation, this discussion, and the administrative difficulties surrounding it, can be traced back to the inception of UTRGV.

Campus protests became a common thing in November 2014, originally as a pushback against UT System policies, when student activist Stevie Luna organized a march against labeling our university with a racist, sexist symbol, as many students saw it. The student senate at the time voiced support for the protesters and organized a referendum to put the vote over the “Vaquero” directly to students. After months of work, it was derailed in the spring of 2015 by then-Interim University President Havidán Rodríguez, who told the committee there would be no referendum under any circumstances, despite established policy by his predecessor allowing student referenda under certain circumstances

As the pro-organizer faction of SGA became demoralized and therefore destabilized as a result of this intervention, a new UTRGV student government constitution was being written by a convention of UTPA/UTB students, controlled by the Dean of Students Office. Disallowing discussion over the constitution with fellow senators or students outside the convention, an untransparent process was formed. Amendments disallowing non-full-time students from office, and an unprecedented provision giving the dean final say over any changes to the constitution, were passed.

Luis Olveda

An overall lack of resistance to UT System on the part of SGA made community members and students (even those within SGA) lose faith in student governance.

Associations are meant to represent a population before those in power. One that depends on those in power for its legitimacy, therefore, creates a conflict of interest. Disallowing students who may not be able to afford full-time tuition (especially as it increases) further allows SGA to become an elite social group that is disconnected from the everyday struggles of working students.

This and the creation of a culture of fear among faculty, makes up the depressing mood on campus that one still hears about to this day. But, students and faculty taking up each other’s struggles, like the action on Nov. 9, gives the campus life again. Whether progressive reforms can come to SGA or not, is up to everybody to decide for themselves. As a former senator, I say these actions are more powerful than any SGA resolution ever passed during my two-year tenure.

“A campus united will never be divided,” we declared. Students opposed to the center say DREAMERS are a small portion of the student body that shouldn’t get special treatment. But, the special treatment is having a question mark placed over your right to education just because of where you were born, not to mention that such rhetoric ignores lessons we should have learned from World War II. We should not let shallow criteria, such as birthplace, divide us.

Why? Because when tuition goes up, it goes up for all. When the price of parking permits and additional fees increase, they increase for all. Since the dissolution of UTPA in 2015, executive salaries have doubled, while faculty and hourly wage campus jobs remain stagnant.

Institutional progress always comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. A more democratic university where the community dictates policy to an institution meant to serve our interests, and not the other way around, cannot come without collective action and solidarity among working students, faculty and staff. For this, policies enacted with the creation of UTRGV, which have divided student against student and faculty against faculty, community against community, must be transcended, for there is more that unites than divides us.

Special thanks to Luis Olveda, Bianca Castro, Alejandro Sanchez, Aileen Garza, Fay Cazares, and their organizations (LUCHA RGV, URGE, TFN and YDSA) all of whom mobilized over 200 students with less than 3 days to plan.

Jonathan Salinas was an SGA senator from Fall 2013 to Spring 2015, and served on the UTRGV SGA Constitutional Convention. He attended the walkout on Nov. 9 and now works as a community organizer.

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