Statement from Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin
On Wednesday, the UT chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) held a bake sale on the West Mall, where they sold goods to students at varying prices based on their race and gender. In doing so, they join a handful of student groups at other universities who over the years have used the same reductive tactic to garner the spotlight for their views on affirmative action. (For an example of a similar incident at the University of California, Berkeley, see the Chancellor’s open letter to the campus community written in 2011.)
Such methods are inflammatory and demeaning. Yet focusing our attention on the provocative nature of the YCT’s actions ignores a much more important issue: they create an environment of exclusion and disrespect among our students, faculty and staff. The choice of a tiered pricing structure creates the misperception that some students either do not belong at the university or do not deserve to have access to our institution—or worse, that they belong or deserve only to a certain degree. Nothing could be further from the truth. The YCT’s approach to this issue also ignores the fact that demographics are just one of many criteria taken into account when applying for admission to UT, a fact that the university has repeatedly and staunchly defended in the Fisher v. UT case.
The university honor code entreats students to abide by the core values of the university, one of which is freedom, but two others of which are individual opportunity and responsibility. The West Mall is a place where free speech is exercised by all students, and rightly so, because it is meant to be an arena that inspires dialogue from diverse viewpoints. However, it is also meant to be a space where students exhibit respect for each other while holding those viewpoints. Although it is their right to do so, it is deplorable that a few students took advantage of this open forum to direct negative sentiment toward their peers.
In seeking an audience for their ideas, the YCT resorted to exercising one of the university’s core values to the detriment of others. Such actions are counterproductive to true dialogue on our campus, and it is unrepresentative of the ideals toward which our community strives.