2nd February, 2016
For Immediate Release
The University of Texas, Austin: “Grad Students say ‘Don’t Waste Your Breath’ to Tabled Measure”
On January 27th, in an unexpected and surprising action, the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) refused to cast a vote on a proposed resolution (G.R.16(S)1) that opposes concealed handguns in classrooms at The University of Texas at Austin. The GSA Legislative Affairs Committee, which introduced the original resolution, authored by chair Michael Barnes, called for an amended version of the resolution to be reconsidered by GSA on Wednesday, February 3rd in a special session. The Legislative Affairs Committee worked last week with vocal critics of the original resolution in drafting the amended version.
In advance of the special session, we are calling for direct action in order to ensure graduate student voices are recognized and respected. UT Graduate Students Against Campus Carry, working in partnership with the Legislative Affairs Committee, invites all graduate students to an event titled “Don’t Waste Your Breath” (Wed., Feb 3rd, 3:00-5:30 pm on Gregory Plaza). We will put our “hot air” to use by asking each graduate student to blow up a balloon as a visible “vote” for or against implementation of Campus Carry (SB11) at UT. We will then haul the balloons — our collective breath — to the GSA Special Session to visually represent our strength in numbers.
The disappointing indecision within GSA last week comes as a very unwelcome surprise to nearly 1,800 graduate students who join the voices of 1,700 faculty members, the Faculty Council and 40 academic departments, centers, and schools who support making classrooms “gun-free zones.”
The concerns of graduate students regarding SB11 were evident during the first forty minutes of the GSA meeting, during a discussion with Vice President Vance Roper about the Campus Carry Working Group’s Report. Graduate students overwhelmingly raised concerns about the implementation of SB11, and specifically about the Campus Carry Working Group’s recommendations that guns should be allowed in classrooms, and that graduate students who share offices should not be allowed to ban guns in those spaces.
One student stated that she would not have come to UT if she had known that SB11 was a possibility and asked what kind of options graduate students who have just commenced their doctorates are left with, and whether her only remaining option now is to withdraw completely from PhD process. Another graduate student questioned the logic of the recommendations that guns should be prohibited from laboratories but not classrooms: If it is not safe to have guns in labs, why is it okay in classrooms? Isn’t “accidental discharge” equally concerning in a class full of students? Another GSA representative explained that it was becoming apparent that graduate students and others concerned about SB11 are not being heard on this issue – especially with regards to the Working Group’s recommendations – and stated that a group of graduate students are prepared to engage in acts of civil disobedience.
Last Wednesday’s event follows a steady march of recent activity among graduate students at UT Austin in the campus carry debate, and precedes the anticipated release in February of campus carry policy recommendations by President Gregory Fenves. Several public forums were well attended by graduate students in the Fall. On December 1st, 1,789 graduate and professional students across 132 programs in 18 Colleges and Schools wrote a public letter to President Fenves outlining their opposition to guns in classrooms at UT-Austin. In early December, the Legislative Affairs Committee hosted a campus carry conversation, inviting graduate students in particular to express their concerns and ask questions about SB 11. This conversation, and the forums that preceded it, led the Legislative Affairs Committee to issue two open letters on campus carry to President Fenves, which the committee delivered in person on December 9th, 2016. The first, An Open Letter Expressing Opposition to Firearms in UT Classrooms expressed opposition to handguns in classrooms, while the second, An Open Letter Addressing Graduate Student Questions on Campus Carry, raised serious questions and concerns regarding the specific details of implementing campus carry, beginning August 1.
Until last week, the GSA had not discussed legislation concerning SB11 since before it was signed into law, in June of 2015. This stands in stark contrast to the Faculty Council at UT Austin, which has already passed two separate resolutions, both of which outline opposition to guns in classrooms. Getting the GSA to pass a resolution now is key, especially as Fenves is due to make his decision by mid February – there may not be another chance for the GSA to pass a resolution on behalf of concerned graduate students. Will our GSA be able to reverse the current trend toward inaction, and deliver a strong statement concerning campus carry that represents UT Austin’s graduate and professional students’ voices? If you help us by participating in our direct action Wednesday, at the very least, the GSA will be required to engage with and consider the collective voice of the graduate student body that it promises to represent.
Coordinators for: UT Graduate Students Against Classroom Carry firstname.lastname@example.org
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