Students and UT administrators came together in an open forum Wednesday afternoon to discuss the current state of UT’s campus climate, but in a matter of two hours, the conversation became overwhelmed by shouts from the audience.
The town hall was hosted by President Gregory Fenves, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Gregory Vincent, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly and Provost Maurie McInnis.
This event was primarily inspired by posters containing hate speech that appeared around campus last week and were promptly removed by students and faculty.
Management information system sophomore Rachana Jadala said the posters were calling for a literal genocide of Muslim people, which the administration failed to both address
“There is no investigation that happens from the administration, or if this investigation takes place there is minimal transparency,” Jadala said. “Students are just left to deal with
Jadala said the University needs to give quicker and harsher punishments for individuals who have committed hate crimes.
Reagins-Lilly said the administration is here for the students and always takes action when needed.
“When we know who is posting flyers and the facts of posting those flyers are pervasive and they are to intimidate and they are promoting genocide, we will take action,” Reagins-Lilly said. “We need to figure out a way to convey a way to honor our limitations but also to push that boundary.”
In addition to the posters, students said they were frustrated by the general lack of action from UT officials regarding racist, Islamophobic and anti-immigration sentiments on and off campus.
Law student Mohammad Nabulsi expressed his outrage at the UT administration for failing to act when he said the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student organization for Palestinian rights, was physically confronted by UT Israeli studies professor Ami Pedahzur in November 2015.
After this incident in 2015, Fenves released a statement saying the University defends and supports free speech on campus.
Fenves also addressed the issue of immigration rights and said undocumented students are part of UT campus and have been for 10 years.
“I’ve spoken out in favor of DACA (and) students who are undocumented with DACA status have all been contacted working with the international office,” Fenves said.
History junior Nishiki Maredia called out from the crowd wanting to know who is involved in making these policies after she said she tried for three months to report a racist professor.
“I had to defend my humanity every day in class … What’s your answer to that?” Maredia said. “Your institutions are bullshit.”
When Fenves suggested he and Maredia talk after the forum, students urged the administrators to discuss the matter now as Reagins-Lilly moved on to the next question.
By the end of the event, no concrete plans were made to combat hate crimes on campus. Reagins-Lilly said the bias incident policy that has been in progress for a year is set to be implemented before spring break and will provide students with resources on how to report hate crimes.
“I heard, we all heard, and it’s heartbreaking,” Fenves said. “This will redouble our efforts, triple our efforts. This is a place of education and enlightenment.”
Nabulsi said a coalition of student organizations on campus are organizing their own town hall meeting called “ATXResist” on Friday afternoon in GWB 2.206.