What the Buzz is All About

Meet the university’s unlikely student leaders.

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This spring, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu delivered a surprising upset, winning Student Government’s top two spots in a runoff election that saw record turnout. Once seen as joke candidates—indeed, they produced an attack ad against themselves—the duo has pushed a number of serious issues, including advocating for the removal of Confederate statues on campus, all while retaining the absurdist sense of humor that made them the darlings of the campaign. • We spoke with them about the statues, their leadership style, and Mandalapu’s deep love of a certain animated film.

The Alcalde: Tell me about your decision to run.

Xavier Rotnofsky: I was shopping at H-E-B and thought about the election. So I texted Rohit about running and he was very down. The next week we went to the Student Government office to sign up, and we still hadn’t decided who would run for what position, so we flipped a coin.

Rohit, you’ve been called the “Indian Jonah Hill.” How do you feel about that?

Rohit Mandalapu: It’s great. I’m a big fan of his. I wish he was in the movie Click, starring Adam Sandler, but Jonah’s great.

You can’t win them all.

XR: He is in Funny People, though.

RM: Yeah, Funny People is no Click, though. It’s also no Bee Movie.

XR: Some would say Funny People is a “clique” of funny people, though.

RM: Let the record show that I’m a huge fan of the 2007 animated film Bee Movie.

XR: Oh, who’s that starring?

RM: Jerry Seinfeld and Renée Zellweger.

XR: And when did it come out?

RM: 2007. November 2.

XR: And what’s it about?

RM: Bees.

 

University of Texas alum Renée Zellweger.

RM: She’s an alum?

I think so. I’m not in charge of knowing all of them.

XR: Since we’ve become president and vice president, we’ve memorized every single student’s name. Graduate and undergraduate.

 

What’s the core function of Student Government?

XR: The word “government” is misleading, because we don’t govern the students. The power, I think, lies in our ability to meet with powerful people who can make decisions.

RM: You’re a channel between students and administrators, the legislature, the governor. How we mediate that channel is up to us, and I think we do a good job of being able to relate to both sides. And that’s where humor helps a bunch.

 

Do you see that humor helping already?

XR: Yeah. We’re also very honest about ourselves and with people, so if things fail, we’re just going to be honest about the way things happen.

RM: And we didn’t come in with an agenda of getting to the top or anything—

XR: Speak for yourself.

RM: OK. We’re here to have fun and advocate for students.

 

Voter turnout increased when you were elected. Do you think some students have not been involved in the past because candidates seem like they’re trying too hard to look good?

XR: And the question is, look good to whom? The people who have traditionally occupied the space have looked good to, let’s say, administrators, or to future employers. But to the general students, they’ve been unknown. I think we’ve switched that around. We look good to students. We’re not afraid to bring up issues and make fun of them, if we need to.

RM: We take the issues seriously, but not ourselves. I wore flip-flops and shorts to meet the president of the university, and when we went to the Capitol today, and they don’t care. They just want to talk about what’s real and what can get done, you know? And that candidness is way more important.

 

You called for removing the Jefferson Davis statue months before Confederate symbols became a national conversation this summer. Should the statues on campus necessarily reflect the people on that campus?

RM: Of course. Statuary is supposed to reflect the ideals and values of whomever they depict, and in this case, Jefferson Davis isn’t someone who’s in line with the core values of the university. We advocate moving [the Confederate statues] to a museum or a place on campus where they can be studied in context, but not put up literally on a pedestal on the Main Mall of the university.

XR: When you take a history class or read a book on the Civil War, you’re going to come to the conclusion that these men shouldn’t be honored.

 

If you were on a reality show, say, The Real Student Government Alliance Members of the University of Texas at Austin, what would your sassy catchphrase be?

RM: “Bzzz!”

XR: I think mine would be like, “Oh, no! Get away! I’m allergic to bees!”

 

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