Dean defends forum, discourse in face of criticism

Senate bill accuses speaker of promoting illegal activity

By Daniel C. Houston
Staff Writer

The dean for student development defended on Wednesday the department of multicultural affairs’ decision to sponsor the “Hispanic Civil Rights Forum,” a Sept. 21 event that has become the object of criticism in a recently introduced Student Senate bill.

The bill, to be considered at Senate’s Nov. 10 meeting, called for Baylor’s department of multicultural affairs and Dr. Elizabeth Palacios, dean for student development, to “cease promotion and/or sponsorship of any events or guest speakers which advocate violent rebellion and illegal resistance to the laws of the state and nation or the rules of the University.”

Wichita Falls senior Daniel Cervera, author of the bill, attended the forum and provided the Lariat with a recording of the panel discussion.

Palacios confirmed the authenticity of the recording.

Cervera’s bill centers on statements made by Jose Magaña, third-year Baylor law student from Phoenix, that Cervera believes called for disobeying federal law in order to raise awareness of attempts to reform federal immigration law like the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

The DREAM Act is a proposed federal law that would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students who meet certain requirements in the proposal.

“What [a lot of DREAM Act activists] do — and y’all might have heard of this — is they do a lot of civil disobedience,” Magaña said as a panelist at the forum. “So they’ll have undocumented students do sit-ins and block traffic and go into senators’ offices and refuse to leave, and then they’ll get arrested; and all that serves to draw attention and keep the spotlight.”

Palacios stressed the event was not intended to be a formal debate in which two opposed viewpoints would be presented, but rather was intended to be an open discussion. She disagreed with Cervera that an event of this nature should not be sponsored on Baylor’s campus.

“As a university, we are never going to be Tier 1 if we censor thoughts that are incongruent [with our beliefs],” Palacios said.

Cervera said he thought the viewpoints expressed on the panel did not reflect any significant criticism of the DREAM Act, a claim that neither Palacios nor Magaña disputed.

They did, however, say all information was presented in an objective and accurate manner, with which Cervera did not agree.

“I think a reasonable observer would conclude that this was a political organizing event where no opposing viewpoint was offered and invitations to get involved were issued,” Cervera said.

Palacios denied the forum was intended to organize students behind a political cause.

The department of multicultural affairs, the Hispanic Student Association and several other student organizations organized the forum as part of a broader series of events for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Palacios said the civil rights forum was intended to be strictly informational, saying it addressed a “social justice issue,” not a partisan issue.

Magaña said Wednesday his descriptions of the activists’ techniques on the panel were not intended to use Baylor’s forum to advocate such methods.

He did acknowledge, however, other members of the panel seemed to be “pro-DREAM Act, pro-immigration individuals” who spoke out in favor of a path to citizenship.

“I can honestly say it wasn’t a political-organizing meeting where we were all going to plan some sort of civil disobedience here at Baylor,” Magaña said. “We definitely talked about how some of the DREAM Act individuals used civil disobedience in the past; that’s true.

“I’ll freely admit that, but it was more along the lines of, ‘If this is something you do support, go ahead and inform other people about it or contact your legislators about it.’”

Cervera said regardless of intention, the event came across as promoting a particular viewpoint.

“The department of multicultural affairs sponsored an event which was highly partisan and, unfortunately, in this case, advocated for illegal methods,” Cervera said.

Palacios and Magaña both said members of the audience were given the opportunity to express alternative viewpoints and were surprised Cervera did not take the opportunity to criticize the panelists’ positions.

Cervera said whether he chose to participate in the discussion should be irrelevant because the university sponsored the panelists, not the audience members.