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Yes, everything is political — but some things should not be partisan

Photo by GUY COCHRAN | and GUY COCHRAN The Rice Thresher

By Justin Onwenu     4/25/18 8:55pm

All members of our community — faculty, students, and by extension Rice as an institution — have a duty to uphold our institutional values. These values are RICE: responsibility, integrity, community and excellence, which have long been established and are values that must continue to be supported and affirmed. While some have called on Rice to avoid taking sides in all political topics, it is naïve to believe we can operate in a world free of the consequences of intentional silence.

Throughout the past year we have faced many defining local and national events that put our values to the test. It’s important that we recognize that, while all topics of consequence may certainly be understood as political, we do ourselves a disservice by distancing ourselves from Rice’s core values in an attempt to appear nonpartisan. My view: Standing tall on the topics of gun violence, global warming and protections for DREAMers are questions of humanity, not partisan politics.

A couple of weeks ago, while organizing the March for Our Lives Houston Town Hall, I was struck by how easy it was for us students (Democrats, Republicans and Independent student organizers) to work together. With this student-driven movement, we represented a wide spectrum of political beliefs and recognized that gun violence is a human issue, not a partisan one. As a group, we recognized that certain policies, like universal background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases supported by 97 and 87 percent of Americans respectively, are not partisan stances. The fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, support common sense reform should not be overlooked. So, when Rice students or administrators take a stance on this issue, as we did a couple years ago in opposition to campus carry, it is with the understanding that silence is an endorsement of the status quo; we speak out because not doing so directly conflicts with our core value of responsibility. In a time when America remains the only country that faces issues of gun violence at such an alarming level, we all have a responsibility to speak out.

Two weeks ago, Anson Fung wrote in an op-ed that President Leebron and Dean Hutchinson should “reverse their official stance on proposed DACA legislation.” When pushing the Student Association to take strong stances to support refugee, international and DACA students, I myself received a fair number of requests to “keep politics out of the Student Association.” But Rice speaking out in support of DACA is, again, nothing short of affirming our value of community. We learned very early on that no matter our background, we are all Rice Owls. While it is certainly important to recognize how DACA students contribute to our community every single day, our strong position in support of DACA is both smart public policy and humane policy. While fringe political leaders may refer to Hispanics and other immigrant groups in the most demeaning of terms, we have an obligation to stand tall in opposition of this toxic national discourse. Certainly, we do so because it is the civil and humane thing to do but we also do so to uphold our own values of community.

Lastly, global warming is another major topic that some have chosen to paint as too polarizing to warrant strong public stances. This past fall, former Vice President Al Gore’s presentation on global warming pushed us once again to affirm one of our central institutional values: integrity. Gore challenged us to tap into our political willpower, something he described as an abundant renewable resource. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that illustrates the role humans have in driving global warming, should we turn a blind eye to avoid stepping on toes? We should recognize that we have a responsibility to care for our planet for future generations, that we all must take active steps to address this global emergency, and that corporations, institutions and policymakers must be held accountable to contribute to the urgent movement of environmental sustainability. We may be located in the heart of Houston, the oil and gas capital of the world, but we are an institution of intellectual integrity. In this sense, we must stand by scientists by taking active steps to address global warming through a wide range of environmentally conscious policies.

No matter your political ideology, we all have a duty to uplift humanity by supporting responsible solutions. We have a duty to act with intellectual integrity and not ignore the data, facts and established positions of the scientific community. We have a duty to uplift all members of our community, no matter their background. Working to make our campus more environmentally friendly, rejecting NRA propaganda by supporting common sense gun reform, and standing in support of all members of our community may certainly be viewed as political stances, but they are common sense stances worth fighting for. They affirm our highest values of responsibility, integrity, community and excellence that we all have a duty to uphold.

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