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UT students demand school improves support of sexual assault, harassment survivors

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some University of Texas at Austin students say they do not and will not feel safe in classrooms until UT leaders change how they handle sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Monday night, UT’s Misconduct Working Group held a public forum for the first time.

The group, made of administrators and students, was formed last year after a series of student protests.

The students were upset professors who were suspended or disciplined for sexual misconduct were back in classrooms teaching.

Between 2017 and 2019, UT found 17 staff and faculty members guilty of sexual misconduct. Most either resigned or were fired. Three professors were punished, but they are still teaching.

UT’s Misconduct Working Group holds its first public forum (KXAN/Yoojin Cho)

At the panel discussion Monday, several students shared their most personal stories.

One student told UT Austin President Greg Fenves, Executive Vice President and Provost Maurie McInnis and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly about how she had to file a report about stalking and harassment.

She said, “[There’s] a lot of shame coming forward, and there shouldn’t be.”

Another student said she has a pending Title IX investigation and said:

“I have nightmares everyday.”

The students said the school should better support survivors of sexual assault or harassment and make the consequences for the perpetrators tougher.

“These students were courageous,” Fenves told KXAN. “They put themselves out there to tell their story, their experience of being at UT. They were asking for us to improve, to get better.”

Fenves said the Misconduct Working Group has met several times and is now working on reviewing the school’s policies and procedures.

The group plans to make its recommendations by Spring Break.

“I think this forum and what we heard from our students today will have a huge impact on how we think about completing the work at hand,” Fenves explained. “Everything is fair game. We’re certainly looking at all of our policies related to sexual misconduct, a very broad set of violations. We’re looking at how we do investigations after a report is received, how we improve reporting. We’re looking at what are the penalties.”

Lynn Huynh, junior at UT Austin, said about the meeting, “It’s not every day that students get to talk directly to their administrators to say what they want. That being said, it’s not the end of things. This is a very very small victory. It is a victory, but it’s not enough.”

She said the students will continue to speak up until changes are made.

“If no one else is, who can advocate for us?” she said.

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