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Assayer of Student Opinion.

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#UTEPDeservesBetter movement demands a better candidate

Glenda Avalos

After the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously selected Dr. Heather Wilson as the finalist for the next president of University of Texas at El Paso, concerns were brought to light by current UTEP students and alumni. The decision has been controversial among the student community, creating the movement #UTEPDeservesBetter.

Since the announcement, UTEP students decided to take action on the decision. UTEP alumna Cristina Calvillo-Rivera initiated a campaign that collected more than 9,600 signatures to try to reverse the decision of Wilson taking on UTEP’s presidency.

“To bring forth a candidate whose actions have spoken louder than her words, in that she has a horrible track record against the LGBTQ community, indicates she won’t serve in the best interest of all students,” Calvillo-Rivera said in an interview for KTSM.

The UTEP Student Government Association (SGA) released a letter by SGA President Cristian Botello, with the help of Vice-President of Internal Affairs Carlos Chavira, to the student community.

“The intention of the statement was not to take a stance, or represent the Student Government or represent the student body. It was my statement. It was made to inform the student body, to let them know that we were working on the concerns, that we were listening to them and we were trying to do something about it,” Botello said about the letter.

After Botello’s letter was publicized, SGA Senators Raneem Karboji and Kaelin Walker released a response to Botello’s letter in which they invited the students and student organizations to join the SGA senate meeting.

“I continue to stand by what I said, because I don’t agree with the letter…honestly, student government has failed to the students and I continue to stand by the students in regards to the opinions,” Karboji said.

SGA held an open forum March 14, where students had the opportunity to express their concerns against Dr. Wilson. The forum was transmitted via live stream on the UTEP SGA Facebook page.

At the forum, Botello explained the selection process for the next UTEP president. The UT system selects a committee that is formed by one student (Christian Botello), several faculty members, business leaders, Mayor of El Paso, and three regents to vet the candidates chosen by a search firm and make recommendations to the Board of Regents. However, the decision is ultimately made by the regents, who will vote on Wilson after the mandatory 21-day waiting period after a finalist was announced.

During the forum, Botello was asked about the candidates for the UTEP Presidency, however, because of a disclosure statement he signed, Botello is not permitted to reveal certain details about the process.

Concerns about Wilson’s voting record arose in the forum and attendees criticized Botello’s leadership. The students questioned Botello’s research about the ideology and controversies of Wilson and his knowledge of them during the committee’s process.

“I was aware of some of the issues, not all of them,” Botello said when questioned about his knowledge about Wilson.

“We just want to let you know, that based on the decisions that you made to put these candidates on the board of regents, you have put the Latino/Latina community at risk, you have put the LGBTQ community at risk,” said Hira Ali, a member of We the Student Coalition.

UTEP students demanded more transparency of the process the Board of Regents used to select Wilson as the sole finalist. Also, the students requested a formal sit down with the Board of Regents to voice their concerns directly to them.

Since the meeting, Botello announced to  SGA members that SGA Senate would be required to meet on Monday in order to discuss the next steps to move forward as an administration, and to give a resolution to the UTEP student community.

“I cannot say what students should expect from SGA after our statement is released. I imagine it might just be a statement of neutrality given the conservative ideals many of the senators hold,” Walker said. “They were greatly offended by the students who do boldly hurt the senators’ feelings. I can, however, speak for myself and say that I will never stop fighting for the enfranchisement of marginalized and oppressed people and groups.”

The #UTEPDeservesBetter movement decided to hold a press conference in San Jacinto Plaza March 21 to further its efforts to change the decision on the next UTEP President.

Walker said the group shared its views at the protest and delivered the more than 9,600 signatures to UT Board of Regents Vice-Chairman Paul Foster in Austin, Texas.

“Paul Foster declined to meet with us when requested previously and would not schedule an appointment. So, we were denied when we got into the building,” Walker said. “However, we still consider the petition drop somewhat of a success, because it was publicized and we got our point across.”

Walker said she would personally endeavor to hold Wilson accountable and will demand solidarity from her for marginalized groups, even if it is insincere.

“I want her to show up for every QSA (Queer Student Alliance) event, every Latinx celebration, every women’s health event, every pride event,” Walker said. “This might be outside of the job description of a university president but with her record, I am not going to accept less. She will become an involved ally or I will keep opposing her. She can say that she’s for inclusivity and diversity but her past proves she’s not and she can’t just talk the talk, she needs to walk the walk.”

UTEP student organization We the Students Coalition will host a gathering at noon March 27 at Centennial Plaza. The purpose is to hand out fliers that will inform the students and it is open to students and the general public.

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#UTEPDeservesBetter movement demands a better candidate