University of Texas Students Stand Up for Racial Justice and Immigration Reform

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University of Texas Students Stand Up for Racial Justice and Immigration Reform

By Christian Cabazos
Development Coordinator, YWCA Greater Austin

“We are here today because this fight is personal,” – America Ferrera, actor

America Ferrera speaking at the University of Texas rally.
America Ferrera speaking at the University of Texas rally.

Celebrities, students, activists, staff and faculty joined for a noon rally at the University of Texas denouncing the (now canceled) anti-immigration event orchestrated by the Young Texas Conservatives. The student organization originally planned to stage a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game, in which student volunteers would be marked with identifiers as illegal immigrants, and other students could turn in these students and receive a $25 gift card from the Young Texas Conservative group.

“Catch an Illegal Immigrant” was canceled after an outcry from the University of Texas community. UT at Austin President Bill Powers responded to the event with harsh criticism.

“The proposed Young Conservatives of Texas event is completely out of line with the values we espouse at The University of Texas at Austin. Our students, faculty and the entire university work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas,” said Powers.

Advocacy Co-Chair Rocio Villalobos.
Advocacy Co-Chair Rocio Villalobos.

Yesterday, hundreds of university students gathered at noon on the West Mall to create a new dialogue about immigration, immigration reform and dreamers at the university. The YWCA Greater Austin’s board member and Advocacy Co-Chair Rocio Villalobos spoke at the rally to inspire students to recognize the power they hold in guiding the dialogue surrounding immigration.

“Today, students at UT are making history because they are recognizing their power and standing up for each other in a way that nobody could have imagined. The power to make a difference and to demand change is something that’s inherent in each and every one of us,” Villalobos said.

Students attending the event were concerned about the message the YTC group was sending to students and the community. Priscilla Valdez, a UT sophomore, is not an immigrant herself; however, she does have close family who are undocumented immigrants.

Rally-goers at the University of Texas.
Rally-goers at the University of Texas.

“There was a lot of talk around the campus on Monday. At first I felt very upset,” said Valdez. “I am a citizen, but, you know, I do have relatives who aren’t as fortunate as I am. And they would be so grateful to be in my position. If they had the opportunity they would give it their all but they can’t. I was very upset, I felt that it was very degrading and dehumanizing, what the Young Conservatives of Texas did,” Valdez said.

The YWCA Greater Austin will offer counseling, support, and group services to University of Texas students, faculty, and staff, as well as any community members impacted by the egregious actions and statements made this past week that were targeted at students and people living in the U.S. who are undocumented. The negative psychological impact of racism and discrimination on an individual, group, and on society is immense. Anyone in the Austin area who needs help with experiences of discrimination and racism can call to make an appointment.

YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Because racism is perpetuated on a regular basis towards immigrants, people who are undocumented, and people of color in general, counselors at the YWCA have already been preparing workshops for immigrant students. These workshops will be focused on discussing personal experiences of racism and discrimination. This group was in the planning stages in order to address non-publicized accounts of racism that have occurred prior to this most recent incident.

The YWCA also works to address challenges faced by female migrants in the Central Texas area, particularly those who find themselves isolated due to their immigration status. Currently, counselors provide support groups for immigrant women seeking asylum at the Don T. Hutto Residential Center.

In addition, the clinical team at the YWCA challenges one another by discussing internalized racism, the psychological impact of racism, and how racism plays out in professional/therapeutic relationships. These discussions will be opened to community professionals in early 2014.

Yesterday’s rally illustrated a valuable lesson to students and the community as whole. While the dialogue on immigration reform is sure to continue on the national, state, and local level, University of Texas students took the first brave steps toward reframing the dialogue.

“UT’s slogan is: ‘What starts here, changes the world,’ Villalobos said. “Your presence, your recognition and demonstration of your power; that is what has the potential to change our world for the better. You are power, you are hope, and you are change.”

Christian Celeste Cabazos is the Development Coordinator at the YWCA Greater Austin. She received her M.A. from Texas State University with an emphasis on Organizational and Interpersonal communication. With 7 years of communication expertise under her belt, she crafts relevant, concise, and impactful messaging concepts for non-profit organizations, advocacy initiatives and private communication consulting. As the first Development Coordinator for the YWCA Greater Austin in over 10 years, Christian has restructured messaging, donor interactions, increased online involvement, and pushed a new community involvement plan. Contact Christian at  

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