Heather Kerstetter

Ana Hernandez, UT Amnesty International chapter vice president, standing, hosted a forum discussing racism, guns and assault in Benedict Hall on Tuesday evening.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Different student organizations focused on human rights discussed campus racism, gun safety and sexual assault at an open talk Tuesday at Benedict Hall.

UT’s chapter of Amnesty International, a global human rights movement, hosted the event, which sought to educate students about the three topics and begin a wider discourse on campus, according to Amnesty International Vice President Ana Hernandez. 

“These three topics affect the daily lives of students, and they are issues that we have here on the UT campus,” Hernandez said. “As students, it is our responsibility to have honest conversations about these issues. As a human rights organization, we feel that it is our role to help facilitate those conversations about the rights that students have to their bodies, property and well-being.”

In a presentation to the 15 people gathered, Hernandez reviewed the University’s past problems with racism, highlighting racist fraternity parties beginning in the 19th century, alleged “bleach bomb” incidents at UT in 2013, a series of controversies that have surrounded the Young Conservatives organization and a party the Fiji fraternity hosted this semester which guests said was themed “border patrol.”

Hernandez said leaders at UT have not stepped up enough to take stands on these issues, making accountability by students critical.

Accountability for sexual assault has also plagued campuses such as UT, according to a different presentation given by Amnesty International members. According to the presentation, 81 percent of students at universities in Texas report experiencing sexual harassment, but presenters said statistics show many incidents go unreported.

First-year law student Heather Kerstetter, who said she experienced sexual assault at while UT and reported it, said she believes the University was not there enough in her time of need.

“I feel like UT kind of brushes things under the rug as far as sexual assault goes,” Kerstetter said. “From my own experience, the person who I’ve had an issue with still walks the campus, and I still see them. The University needs to have better policies set up so [students like me] feel safer.”

On-campus safety, including sexual assault, should be further discussed because of campus carry legislation passed that could allow handguns on campus, said Hannah Guernsey, a member of Students Against Guns on Campus who spoke at the discussion.

While Guernsey argued that guns on campus would make the University more dangerous because of factors such as binge-drinking, drug abuse, mental health issues and accidental shootings, she said students need to more openly debate this issue to form a student voice legislators can hear.

“The rights to security of people has to be open to argument,” Guernsey said. “This debate directly impacts [us].”

More students need to participate in these dialogues to create change, Kerstetter said.

“I wish more people knew about [events such as these] and had access to them, because I really think the more communication there is around campus and society, the better,” Kerstetter said. “These topics aren’t
discussed enough.”