Graduate students continue to fend for themselves as they seek gun-free office spaces

Rebecca Stanley

When two guns were left unattended in UT bathrooms last month, the issue of campus carry was ushered back into the spotlight, and some graduate students — who act as teaching assistants — are voicing their discomfort with current policy regarding their office spaces. 

Professors possess the autonomy to declare their private offices a gun-free zone, whereas graduate student TAs — who share their office spaces — do not have this authority. As a result, many graduate students hold office hours in designated gun-free zones such as the Cactus Cafe and the Student Services Building. History graduate student Rebecca Johnston said that for the past two years as a TA, she’s made this choice. 

“I’ve been TA’ing, and I’ve chosen to do what I can to have a space where no one can bring in a firearm,” Johnston said. “My advisor lets me use her office because it counts as single occupancy. Changing my office space was one of the ways I’ve wanted to assert that I think this is an unacceptable law in a civil society.” 

Johnston, who has been an active member of Gun Free UT, said the University has not addressed graduate students’ concerns on the issue. 

“We were constantly advocating for a provision that would allow teaching assistants to have some kind of space that would be gun-free if they chose,” Johnston said. “We made ourselves very clear. It would be obvious to allow graduate students who do share offices to have that space be gun-free.”

Nathan LeClear. a plant biology graduate student, said there should not be a difference in policy between permanent and limited term faculty members.

“If faculty (has) the right, then graduate students should also have the right to make their offices gun-free,” LeClear said. “I don’t see a fundamental difference between those two classes of employees having different rights in terms of their protection … I know my office mate, and I would be in alignment if we had the option to make our office space gun-free. We would.” 

Jimmy Johnson, interim associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, said the policy was meant to be fair to all students while also conforming to the law.

“Not all grad students have accessibility to their own private office,” Johnson said. “(It was) a matter of being systematic in an approach that was equitable. While we have some campus constituents who do not agree with it, that’s the policy.”

Johnson said the University is very open to a dialogue about campus carry and that a “tremendous amount of effort and input” has been put in so far to foster a conversation.

“(Campus carry is) another optic that provides for people to have constructive dialogue,” Johnson said. “The thing I would say for our student constituency, is to go to the website … (where there is a) tremendous amount of information.”

Smaller changes to the policy may have some wiggle room, but overall, Johnson said he feels campus carry is unlikely to go anywhere.

“Policy probably isn’t going to change,” Johnson said. “Every two years the University (reports) to the Board of Regents, and the state, their findings. (This fall) the legislature will decide if they want to implement changes. Both of those groups have been very hesitant (to alter policy.)”