Meet Alejandrina Guzman, UT’s First Latina Student Body President

As the first Latina student body president at UT and the first student with a disability elected to the position in the Big 12, Alejandrina Guzman is ready to lead.


After a grueling last couple of months, UT student body president Alejandrina Guzman can finally stop and catch her breath. Sitting in her office at the Student Activity Center, surrounded by photos of friends and brightly colored paintings she’s made herself, the Mexican-American studies senior is enjoying the quiet that summer brings to campus—a stark difference from the unusual school year that ended just weeks ago. She’s sporting her ever-present smile, and a yellow crossbody purse hangs to her side, containing a small digital camera she uses to capture at least one moment every day. She’s just returned from a photo shoot at the University Co-op and she’s ready to dive into her daily administrative duties. “Right now, there’s not too much happening,” she says. “We’re recharging for the upcoming school year because I’m really going to pick up the bridle.”

Since the day she was sworn in as student government president in April, Guzman has had to lead her fellow classmates through one fire after another.

First, it was the threatening and Islamophobic posters that were anonymously posted on campus, leading to a town hall with UT Austin President Greg Fenves where students expressed their outrage. Then came the vandalism to UT fraternity houses, messages spray painted on the brick accusing members of being “rapists” and “racists.” And then, it was the tragic death of student Harrison Brown, who was murdered on campus during the UT stabbing in May. But through it all, Guzman reassured the student body by staying positive and taking a genuine interest in her fellow classmates. “It was just a nonstop go, go, go,” Guzman remembers.

Guzman’s tenure as president is already history in the making. Not only is she the first Latina student body president to be elected in UT’s 100-plus years, she’s also the first student body president in the Big 12 to have a physical disability. Guzman, who refers to herself as “differently-abled,” was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare disorder that causes dwarfism and other abnormal developments like scoliosis. Since she was a little girl growing up in Azle, Texas—a small city near Dallas that’s predominantly white—Guzman says she’s been learning to navigate her world as a wheelchair-bound, first-generation Mexican-American. And it’s those experiences that helped form the platforms on which she and her vice president, Plan II and business honors junior Micky Wolf, launched their campaign: accessibility, inclusivity, and unity.

“When I got to UT, I originally didn’t like Student Government,” she says, laughing. “I thought it was useless.” But Guzman’s sophomore year, a friend suggested she run for a position, telling her that Student Government (SG) needed to open its doors to more students. An extrovert who eventually joined organizations like Texas Orange Jackets, the Multicultural Engagement Center, and the Friars Society, Guzman ran for university-wide representative, a position elected by the entire student body. During her time in that role, she began to see SG for what it could be: “A way to empower students,” she says.

Following in the footsteps of past presidents like Kevin Helgren, BS, BSA ’17, and Xavier Rotnofsky, BA ’16, Guzman decided to pursue student government’s highest office, eventually receiving 54 percent of the student vote in April. Since then, Guzman has already made good on one of her promises—the acquisition of a handicap-accessible van for UT’s SUREWalk program, an SG initiative to partner students with companions for their late night walks home.

For a campus as large as UT, where 4 percent of the student population has a physical disability, Guzman says she’s surprised by how little is done to accommodate them. From having to add 12 minutes to her daily routes due to construction to, as Guzman says, being “turned away from an organization because of the wheelchair,” she has endured it all. She specifically remembers an instance when she was dining on the second floor of Jester dormitory and the elevators stopped working. More than an hour passed before a UTPD officer finally arrived to help—only to say that carrying her down the stairs would be a liability. In the end, they found a service elevator for her to use, but when Guzman went back to Jester the next day, she noticed the elevator still hadn’t been fixed. “What kind of message does that send to students?” she says. “Are you saying it’s not a priority?”

Now, as she prepares for the school year to begin, Guzman is ready to make some changes. She plans to create monthly events to get students connected with one another and push past the small talk; form a new SG position that collaborates with the Gender & Sexuality Center and Multicultural Engagement Center; focus on ending campus sexual assault; work on affordability of student housing, living, and textbooks; and even collaborate with UT and Texas A&M athletics and Aggie students to revive the Texas-Texas A&M football game. “We want to provide spaces for students to communicate and get engaged,” says Guzman, who hopes to someday work in education policy or potentially even run for Congress. “It’s all about having that ‘yes’ attitude and asking, not, ‘Can we make this happen,’ but, ‘How can we make this happen?’”

Heading toward the door, she stops by a wall lined with portraits of past SG presidents. Looking at the empty frame where Guzman’s photo will inevitably hang, she says that if there’s just one thing she wants the student body to know, it’s that they have a friend in her. “I want everyone to know, whatever it is they’re going through, their struggles are real,” Guzman says. “They’re validated. They’re not alone. There’s support out there and there are resources. And I want them to know that they have so, so much power.”

Photo by Eileen Wu.

 

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