The Graduate Student Art History Association (GSAHA) at the University of Texas at Austin stands with the faculty and staff of the Art and Art History department in opposing the implementation of Texas SB11. We believe sanctioning concealed handguns on our campus will be intellectually, physically, and emotionally detrimental to our community. As graduate students, we assume greater levels of risk as we are both students and staff, acting as graders, museum and gallery interns, research assistants, teaching assistants, and assistant instructors. Moreover, most of us are women and many of us are from marginalized communities–groups that are disproportionately victims of gun violence. Indeed, Texas SB11 institutionalizes violence in our society, endowing a huge and grossly unrepresentative portion of the civilian population to have rule over the life and death of others.
Allowing firearms on campus will stunt the academic rigor of our classrooms. Largely object-based, the discipline of art history requires in-depth visual analyses and critical deliberation of art objects. We closely examine objects to discuss and interpret what we see in an effort to understand and appreciate the world views and value systems of past and present civilizations as expressed through their visual cultures. Whether familiar or foreign, these objects have the power to incite strong emotions in viewers. Therefore, cultural understanding and sensitivity are required in our classroom discussions; and educators and students must feel supported, encouraged, and safe to express their views. This is fundamental to our practice as art historians and, thus, it is critical to our academic success. The threat of gun violence in the classroom will intimidate both educators and students. It will hinder free speech and narrow the intellectual scope of the classroom.
In addition, concealed weapons on campus will put women and marginalized communities at increased risk of harm and act as a constant threat of violence. Colleges and universities are places where educated women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQIA communities often question, examine, and dismantle systems of power and inequity. It is these very demographic populations who are most likely to be the victims of targeted violence. In fact, homicide is the second most likely way for women to die in the workplace, after car accidents. The Art History graduate student body values our diverse identifications of gender, race, nationality, religion, and sexuality; and we denounce intimidation of and violence against women and marginalized peoples.
Lastly, we are concerned about the impact of sanctioned concealed handgun carry on the well-being of students, staff, and faculty who suffer from mental health disorders. Tragically familiar with the intersection of mental illness and academia, the Art and Art History department has been affected by two suicides in the last six years. The concealed carry law will allow guns in dormitories and classrooms; this increased access to firearms is a danger to those who suffer from depression or other mental health issues, especially those with thoughts of suicide. Students are under a lot of pressure, especially at the flagship University of Texas at Austin, and an overwhelming number suffer from depression. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between access to firearms and increased suicide, with guns being the most lethal means.
Recognizing that the law is now in its implementation stage, we ask the President of the University to establish broad exclusionary zones in which guns are banned on campus including classrooms, faculty and teaching assistant offices, graduate student lounges, all libraries and dormitories, all performance halls and sports complexes, on-campus daycare and other child education centers, buildings that include health services, and any building where alcohol is served.
Jason Alan Goldstein
Claire F. Howard
Robin Kathleen Williams
Graduate Student Art History Association
University of Texas at Austin