For Emma Huff, fundraising with UT’s annual 40 Hours for the Forty Acres campaign Wednesday was not the priority. Instead, Huff, a theatre-dance performance and business senior, was remembering her friend Haruka Weiser on the third anniversary of her death.
The campus-wide fundraiser is planned by the annual giving team within the University Development Office and allows any official UT college or organization to raise money in 40 hours.
Bianca Bellavia, executive director of marketing and communications at the University Development Office, said the fundraiser is traditionally held on a Wednesday and Thursday in April, and it was not intentional that the first day of the fundraiser coincided with the anniversary of Weiser’s death.
“The anniversary of Haruka Weiser’s death is on the minds and hearts of Longhorn nation,” Bellavia said in an email. “The anniversary of Haruka’s death was not discussed during the planning of 40 for Forty.”
Huff, who said she lived in Weiser’s dorm and performed shows with her, said it was insensitive for the University to hold the fundraiser on the same day as the anniversary of Weiser’s death without also holding a memorial service.
“(To) not do any kind of memorial service for Haruka ... very much feels like (the) administration and the powers that know the class she was in is about to graduate, and it’s like they are ready for us to leave so that they can forget her completely,” Huff said. “It would have been much better if they had (dedicated) 40 for Forty ... in honor of Haruka Weiser and her legacy and perhaps even donated a percentage of their fundraising resources to improving campus safety, improving lighting, installing 360 (degree) cameras and those things.”
Huff is not alone in feeling the decision to host 40 for Forty on the day of the anniversary of Weiser’s death was insensitive. Lorri Moreno-Ellis, secretary of safety advocacy nonprofit SafeHorns, said UT should have pushed the fundraiser back one day out of respect for Weiser.
“What is one more day? They’re still going to raise their money,” Ellis said. “The day that Haruka’s life was taken — we’re not celebrating that day, we’re remembering. It’s more important to honor this young woman and remember her because her life was taken away, but she had done so much in what little time she was here.”
Weiser was murdered on campus April 3, 2016. Meechaiel Criner was found guilty of capital murder in her death in July 2018 and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 40 years.
Huff said immediately following Weiser’s death, campus safety measures — like increased police patrol and a cleanup of Waller Creek — improved significantly but then went back to the way they were three months later.
UT has not hosted any memorial events for Weiser this month besides the dance choreography commissioned every spring in her honor by the College of Fine Arts. SafeHorns president Joell McNew said the organization was planning a memorial walk in Haruka’s honor, but UT administration said because SafeHorns is not an official UT organization and they were not invited to campus by one, they would not be allowed on campus out of safety precautions.