Written by Jacob Hood.
On November 8th, 2016, America saw a shift in the political atmosphere. On January 20th, 2017, a new national reality was ushered in, leading to an uproar of protest and political tension.
Central to the overwhelming anxiety surrounding this new administration is a concern about policy. The changes being made to policies already in place– and the threat of potential policies to come– have bred fear in the population, especially among marginalized groups.
Fortunately, worries regarding present and future legislative practices have been publicized by the people practicing their right to speak– as evidenced in the Women’s Marches that took place on every continent; quickly followed by protests against the controversial appointment of current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Now that a number of even more controversial executive orders have been issued, and concerns over forthcoming legislation arise, studying how policy can affect the most vulnerable communities is of utmost importance.
The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA) at UT, established in 2011, researches how pieces of legislation will affect marginalized groups– particularly people of color.
Their mission is to “advocate for equality of access, opportunity, and choice for populations of color and the poor through applied policy research.”
The work that IUPRA has previously conducted involves high-profile social concerns such as how Black voters view campus carry– now a reality at all Texas public universities, including UT– as well increasing transparency in fatal police interactions, organizing a conference regarding negative birth outcomes for Black women, and many others.
Especially as issues of race continue to be in the public spotlight, IUPRA helps foster understanding of these critical issues with their reports and investigations into issues affecting people of color.
The director of IUPRA, Dr. Kevin Cokley, also serves as a professor in the departments of Educational Psychology and African and African Diaspora Studies.
“Our mission is to use applied policy research to advocate for the equality of access, opportunity, and choice for African Americans and other populations of color,” Dr. Cokley said.
Dr. Cokly offered further insight into both the institution and possible policy changes on the horizon. Facing an unpredictably shifting American society, and with the rising concerns over how minority groups will be affected by legislative changes, questions over the exact nature and extent of these changes are plentiful.
For students, according to Dr. Cokley, changes to (and the possible elimination of) the Top 10% rule – the Texas law guaranteeing all students in the top ten percent of their high school class admission to all state universities – will likely disproportionately affect students of color and those of lower socioeconomic statuses.
Staying abreast in this new political atmosphere, especially for students at UT Austin, will be incredibly important in order to understand how life could change under a new administration.
Dr. Cokley advises active and interested students to visit the Texas Legislature Online website (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/) so as to stay better updated on Texas legislation.
“Students should use their knowledge about policies and legislation to stay in contact with their elected officials and voice their concerns over any policies and legislation that negatively impacts them,” Dr. Cokley said.
The benefit that organizations like IUPRA bring to the political arena is immense, often allowing for greater transparency and connectivity between the general public and seemingly inaccessible governmental bodies.
Marginalized people, especially, need to be aware of the laws that could be altering their lives.
“Policy research is critically important,” Dr. Cokley said. “You need facts and data to support, or fight against, legislation that affects all of our lives.”
No matter political affiliation – or lack thereof – there is little doubt that the framework of American government is shifting, and with that shift comes controversial orders and policies.
Dr. Cokley made his position, as well as the official stance of IUPRA, on the new administration clear.
“We see policies under the new administration that undermine democracy, threaten our civil rights, and promote a culture of fear and xenophobia.”
As the new administration becomes more of a reality, and policy changes loom on the horizon, institutes like the IUPRA remain committed to holding legislators accountable for their decisions. From the highly controversial wall and its economic and social ramifications to the widely-challenged travel moratorium, all eyes are turned toward Washington and other legislative bodies.
Now, as always, citizens must play a hand in holding those in power accountable.