Assault victim criticizes University alert system

Wynne Davis

After being assaulted while walking to her office on June 26, graduate student Cindy Walter-Gensler recounted the event for her students and said she wondered why there had not been an alert sent to the student body about the event.

Walter-Gensler said she was walking down Dean Keeton around 8:30 a.m. when a man blocked her path and then grabbed onto her, leaving bruises on her arms and hands.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that helpless in my whole life,” Walter-Gensler said. “I was so paralyzed I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t try to get away … or anything. And he just laughed at me … and it was not a good feeling. I really didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

Walter-Gensler said she reported the incident to UTPD and was told they had already taken the man into custody. 

According to the Campus Crime Watch email from UTPD, the man had touched others on campus and was exhibiting odd behavior.

Walter-Gensler said she was told by UTPD that an alert was not sent out because the man had been caught and no one had pressed charges before her.

The previous week, UTPD sent an email to all faculty, staff and students after a sexual assault was reported at San Jacinto Hall. UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said notifications depend on which category an incident falls under.

Posey said the University is required to send out alerts about sexual assaults because of the Clery Act, but in other situations, UT tries not to inundate the campus body with text and email alerts.

“We send out an emergency notification any time we think people on campus are in danger,” Posey said. “We try not to over-send because we don’t want people to become desensitized. We definitely will send them when we think there’s a threat.”

Posey said threats of immediate danger include an active shooter on campus, a bomb threat or any event that could harm the UT community.    

While UTPD offers students a choice to sign up for alert text messages and the Campus Watch daily summary, the department of Campus Safety and Security sends emails to all people on campus when an immediate threat occurs.

One such event was a bomb threat in fall 2012 that warranted an emergency alert to be sent to the entire campus. A full campus evacuation was ordered after the threat was received.

Neuroscience junior Rachel Concha said she had received the message that morning. Concha said it was the first emergency text she had received from the University, and she hears about emergencies in a timely manner.

“I think the University’s alert system is effective,” Concha said. “People are encouraged to sign up to receive emergency messages during their first moments at UT.”

Concha said, while she has never felt unsafe on campus, she thinks it would be good for students to be updated about events such as the assault that took place last month, but said she wouldn’t want to have too many notifications.