Education

UT town hall on campus climate reveals student anger

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- University of Texas student voices rose in anger and deep rooted concern Wednesday over the view campus authorities are not addressing their safety seriously enough.

"I think the lackluster and evasive statements that the administration has released are actually part of a much larger issue of this administration continually turning a blind eye to the oppressive realities of students on this campus," said one passion-filled student who stepped up to the microphone in a packed auditorium in the Student Activity Center.

When students and staff showed up to class or work at UT last week, they were inundated with fliers aimed at Muslims, undocumented immigrants and minorities.

The fliers were taped to buildings and poles throughout campus. A white supremacist group called American Vanguard claimed responsibility for the fliers.

In his statement to the campus, President Greg Fenves said the fliers were "hateful, divisive and deeply offensive." The school says posters from non-UT organizations are not allowed to be posted around campus. That drew the ire of students who believe Fenves' statement should have gone farther and specified Muslims were the target of the messages.

"Your first response to the fascist organizations was to basically say they weren't allowed to put up posters because there were not a student org and they put them in the wrong places. So if they were registered as an org, would you allow it?" asked another young woman wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf.

The anger and frustration goes back years to other alleged racist incidents:

  • Nov. 2015: a Muslim student says she was spat on
  • Aug. 2013: Black students say they were hit with water balloons they thought were filled with bleach.

"There's no action to punish any of these [attacking] students. Students are just left to deal with the consequences of these actions," one young woman told the crowd.

UT Austin's Dean of Students says she hears these voices. "We do take that information seriously and follow up according to our disciplinary process. We do that," responded Soncia Reagins-Lilly UT, VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students.

UT administration is expecting to complete what is being called a revised Bias Incident Policy by spring break. Dr. Reagins-Lilly says it will bring reporting of racist and other complaints "into this century."

President Fenves said the school's International Office is there to provide support for students concerned about the Trump administration's new immigration orders.

To view the entire town hall we've linked it here. Student activists say they are planning their own town hall Friday Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. in the Gordon-White building on campus, 210 W. 24th St.


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