More than 30 students chanted, hung signs and called University officials outside the provost’s office Wednesday while protesting the University’s handling of faculty sexual misconduct.
Sit-In for Student Safety 3.0 is the third student-organized protest against the University’s employment of two professors found in violation of misconduct policies: English associate professor Coleman Hutchison and Sahotra Sarkar, integrated biology and philosophy professor.
Protest organizer Simone Harry said today’s protest was specifically against the University’s lack of response to student concerns.
The organizers demanded the University release reports naming professors found guilty of misconduct and host a town hall led by the provost. The organizers also requested long-term solutions, such as an increased investment in interpersonal violence prevention and the formation of a program similar to New York University’s restorative justice program by 2021.
“This is more in response to the lack of tangible action, immediate solutions,” said Harry, an English and black studies junior. “Everything seems very delayed. A delay is a disservice to the students.”
In a campuswide email, UT President Gregory Fenves announced Tuesday the University was forming a new working group to address sexual misconduct and hiring an outside law firm, Husch Blackwell, to review UT’s Title IX policies.
“We understand that students feel the university can do better, and we agree,” University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said in an email. “We look forward to the findings of the external review and receiving further input from the Misconduct Working Group.”
Protest organizer Shelby Hobohm said the email did not satisfy student demands.
“(Title IX policies are) not the issue that we’re addressing here, and we weren’t asking for that specifically,” said Hobohm, mechanical engineering and government junior. “What we are asking for is pretty straightforward — for them to be transparent about sexual misconduct at UT.”
Protest organizer Lynn Huynh said while they wanted faculty found guilty of misconduct fired, they also wanted an effective long-term solution.
“Firing someone is just going to be a Band-Aid, in a way,” said Huynh, women and gender studies and advertising junior.
Hobohm said the organizers spoke with deans and faculty members to invite them to the sit-in. The protest’s Facebook page also includes a petition for faculty members to sign, which they plan to send to the provost’s office.
“It’s given us a good perspective on the fact that there are faculty on our side, and they’re having meetings about this,” Hobohm said. “We need to get faculty involved with us to show this united front.”
English associate professor Snehal Shingavi attended the beginning of the protest, and said the problems of sexual misconduct and harassment do not just affect students but also faculty and staff, Shingavi said.
“It is important for us to break open the whole conversation about sexual harassment and misconduct so the issues can be addressed in a holistic fashion,” Shingavi said.
Brittany Blackshear, protest attendee and undeclared freshman, said she was a victim of sexual assault and feels threatened by the possibility that she might be in class with a professor found guilty of sexual misconduct.
“You shouldn’t have to be in a class with a predator,” Blackshear said. “If I have to walk into class everyday and question whether my professor is one of those people, that inhibits me. That should not be UT’s reality.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include quotes from protest attendees.