Texas A&M is no exception. In fact, when I was touring the university my senior year of high school, I distinctly remember students marching through campus in protest of the Muslim Travel Ban the Trump Administration had just enacted. More recently, students called for the Lawrence Sullivan “Sully” Ross statue to be taken down due to the school icon's questionable history regarding race relations. Now, students are calling for College Station’s proposed Restricted Occupancy Overlay, or ROO, to be stopped from going into effect.
The ROO is a housing policy that’s potentially harmful to students and low-income families since it sets a cap on the number of unrelated individuals who may live together. A group of students recognized the harmful implications of the policy and decided they wouldn’t let it come to fruition without a fight.
International studies junior Alexia Hernandez is one such student. Hernandez is no stranger to student activism. She has experience organizing events in support of Black Lives Matter and most recently took part in the student-led COVID-19 vigil honoring all lives lost to the virus.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Hernandez and ask her what made her want to start this group. She said she admired the way the COVID-19 vigil was organized, saying, “The way they created it was basically a very decentralized, nonaffiliated group. I figured, looking at the success of how that was organized, we should definitely use that kind of organizing to get some momentum on this ROO.”
The group soon gained momentum the way everything seems to take off these days: social media.
“Essentially how I started this is I just put a tweet out there and I said, ‘Hey! There's this ROO [and] it harms students, would anyone care to organize to stop this?’ So, initially it was just me kind of putting it out there on social media,” Hernandez said. “It's a very social media-driven group [and] it’s open to anyone who is interested.”
In only ten days, over 30 members have joined the group.
Hernandez also made an astute observation about the ROO, saying, “It’s not a partisan issue. I’m on the left side of the political spectrum. There [are] people on the other side of the political spectrum who I've seen oppose it for different reasons. But we both opposed it regardless of where we stood. It affects students no matter where you live.”
I also spoke with engineering freshman Jessica Williams, a member of the student group fighting the ROO. When I asked why she was against the ROO, Williams said, “I am a college student and I need access to affordable housing just like everyone else, so I wanted to fight for that.”
Williams also noted that the ROO, “is a one size fits all, very powerful solution to a problem that's extraordinarily complex and requires more care.” She said she believes “the ROO will actually decrease the affordable housing costs, which leads to bad outcomes for both renters and landlords.”
The goal of this group is simple. They want to keep housing affordable and make sure students are heard and their interests well-protected. That doesn't seem too crazy, right? Well, unfortunately for students and low-income families, this is unthinkable to much of the College Station City Council as well as the main driver of this policy, the College Station Association of Neighborhoods.
Change, especially involving the government, typically happens slowly. It takes a group of dedicated individuals who are passionate about a cause to make things happen and that is precisely what this group is doing.
My favorite quotation is “Decisions are made by those who show up.” It suggests that if you want something to change — whether it be rights for all people regardless of their skin color or stopping a disastrous local housing policy — you have to show up. Students like Hernandez and Williams, along with many others, are doing just that.
Sam Somogye is a political science senior and columnist for The Battalion.