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Revenge of the Art Students: UTRGV students slam football referendum

If there is a single lesson UTRGV administrators will take away from this referendum shenanigans it is that you can only screw art students for so long before their mediums become weapons of resistance.

By Jonathan Salinas

Just days before UTRGV students head to polls, to vote on whether athletics fees for future students should be raised in order to principally fund a college football team, droves of dissenting student opinion has been hitting both social media and media in general. The more UTRGV tries re-gaining control of the narrative the more forcefully, and artistically, students rebel.

Unete 956 reported earlier this week on dissenting opinions registered by students, Juan Antonio Almaguer and Bruno Rosales, at October's student government town halls held in Edinburg and Brownsville. The most recent tribune of dissent, making her views and struggles known as a woman and an art major at UTRGV-Brownsville, Danielle Perez (social media editor for The Rider) passionately weighed-in against allocating more money to athletics when art students face such disgraceful learning conditions.

In an essay addressing safety concerns, lack of classes in Brownsville compared to Edinburg and lack of resources for a successful academic career titled, "Art majors matter," Perez wrote, "As terrifying as it is walking in the dark to your car, sharing a restroom is, too. I have had enough of having to put down the toilet seat or having to flush it every time I walk in because a man was too inconsiderate. These may not seem like big issues to athletes but try being in our shoes: How would you feel if the court was too small, or water came inside the gym or weight room every time it rained," juxtaposing the decrepit conditions art students regularly face at their respective "art buildings" at both "main" campuses.

Perez drew a vivid picture of what the first day of the semester can be like for an art student in Brownsville. "In the first week of school this semester, I entered my sculpture class in Rusteberg Hall, so excited to get started. But little did I know, I would want to be out in the first five minutes. The air-conditioning unit was broken, the professor was dripping sweat and classmates were taking off their masks because it was too hot for them to handle," Perez wrote.

"I guess the university forgot that COVID-19 exists and did not think students would remove their masks. We were provided bottled water to “help” with the issue but to this day, I am not sure if they came from the university or one of our professors. Either way, it should not have come to that," Perez continued. "My head was hurting from the heat and I could not concentrate on my artwork. Some students chose to stay in that room, while others, including myself, moved to another classroom. About two or three weeks into the semester, they decided to “fix” the sculpture classroom by installing an AC window unit that does not cool off enough in our garage-looking classrooms. When I returned to the classroom, I did not know I would only have about elbow-length space in which to sculpt."

Perez ended with some pointed questions and an ominous reminder to administrators. "I understand that creating new programs will help the school grow, but how are we supposed to grow if we cannot even fix what is already broken? I have heard time and time again how art students are tired of trying to make a change because they feel like they are talking to a wall. Why do we need to take that extra step and sign a petition or write letters to the provost? Why are we not already being taken care of just as Athletics is? Does our art not matter? Just keep this in mind: We are the ones who create your graphics, logos and designs. So, you need us, too."

Fellow art student, Almaguer who spoke up in Brownsville against funding football when art students have nothing, designed a graphic expressing his views on the referendum.

So did Bruno Rosales.

Pretty good graphics.

Given this backlash to ever-increasing fees and ever-decreasing academic quality, and our article explaining the costs of college football going viral, things could not get worse for referendum proponents. Yet, they did Tuesday when the Student Government Association amazingly broke with administration's agenda and rejected a resolution introduced by SGA executives (no doubt to give the unpopular referendum a boost before voting) which affirmatively urged students to vote in favor of increasing athletics fees. It failed by a vote of 10 to 4.

As a former student government senator at UTPA from 2013 to 2015, and someone who's reported on UTRGV's SGA as a journalist in subsequent years since graduation, it is not very often that an SGA senate dissents with executives on something this major. SGA is designed to discourage dissent. "Unity" inside SGA means no disagreement and is also discouraged by "advisors" who work for administration but are embedded into SGA. Perhaps the last time an SGA senate disagreed with an SGA executive administration on an issue this big was in Fall 2014 when our senate embraced student protests on campus against edicts passed down by President Bailey during the merger, dissenting against the Alberto Adame administration who sided with university officials at every turn.

SGA Brownsville Vice President Yahia Al-Qudah, who presented the resolution at the senate meeting, spoke in favor of the referendum at the October SGA town hall in Brownsville. When pressed on the question of whether it was ethical to saddle future generations who've no say in the matter with higher fees to fund football, he finally conceded, “As a student, I have five other siblings and I want all of them to come to UTRGV one day,” Al-Qudah said. “I am the oldest, the oldest in the family. And right now I have my younger brother. He’s going to UTRGV. Of course he won’t accumulate this fee, but later siblings once they get older and come to UTRGV, they’ll have to pay this fee and I am conscious of this fact. Actually, I would say, you know this is something that will help them. So, this is a pocket of my own family, so I would say it is morally ethical.”

On Tuesday Al-Qudah said, “This is our time, as an SGA, to participate and do something that will affect UTRGV students for the future,” The Rider reported. But senators reminded Al-Qudah that the decision was up to the students and that SGA should not try to influence their decision.

Karitza Garcia, senator for the School of Nursing and chair of the internal affairs standing committee, voted against the resolution and said, “So, I voted nay with rights, reason being is because I do not believe that SGA should take an official position and just allow students to make an informed decision no matter how good the cause is,” Garcia said after her vote.

The Rider also reported that College of Fine Arts Senator Brandon Navarro also voted “no” with rights, saying, “I believe that, as [the] Student Government Association, as the leaders within the UTRGV, that we, as a whole, should not be supportive of this as one. We should remain [unbiased].”

A recent ad campaign posted to YouTube, featuring students Liz Ortiz, Dariel Arostegui and Zack Borjas, strongly emphasizes “only future students will pay” as repeated in each segment. This gimmick was also used by Cameron County officials, who recently and unsuccessfully asked voters to allow “tourist taxes” to be used in order to build a sports stadium.

George Orwell famously said all art was propaganda and thus our task was to differentiate between good and bad propaganda. Although this writer would maintain that not all art is propaganda, as some of it can be agitation, I prefer the art highlighted here to that presented and paid for by UTRGV. Leon Trotsky, Andre Breton and Diego Rivera once characterized art as a spontaneous manifestation of necessity. The best art isn't commissioned, it's inspired.

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