Students struggle to gain UT’s attention on sexual misconduct

Hector Mendez

UT’s handling of cases of sexual misconduct is yet another example of how the administration has failed to live up to their own code of honor. 

As UT President, Greg Fenves stated at the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct public forum Jan. 27, “We have failed you.” 

After learning that UT decided to keep two professors who were found guilty of sexual misconduct, it was clear to students that there had to be an effort to push the University to hold faculty who have violated UT policy accountable. 

The first of the sit-ins that the students who would come to form the coalition hosted was an important moment that kicked off the fight that we still see ourselves in today. 

This was a big event. From what I had been told by older students, not much action had ever been taken by UT when students voiced concerns about sexual misconduct. 

As other sit-ins occurred in later weeks, I could tell that there was a mounting tension that would inevitably lead UT to take action. Through my position as communications director of University Democrats, I made sure to publicize the efforts of this first sit-in, including the image of all of the handwritten sheets of paper denouncing the Provost.

On Nov. 8, 2019, the sit-in group for that day was threatened with arrest by the provost’s office and UTPD. I knew that this escalation would lead to serious repercussions. I hoped the community’s outrage would be enough to finally get UT administration to take the concerns of the protesters seriously.

Flash forward to December 2019 when the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct was finally formed. It had been a monumental effort to get to this point. After a third sit-in, UT administration finally resolved to host a forum on the issue of sexual misconduct that would take place on Jan. 27. 

While many were skeptical of how this would turn out, the general atmosphere in the air was hopeful that finally UT administrators would address the concerns of students who had made tremendous efforts to establish a dialogue with the coalition organizers and UT administration.

It is unfortunate that after this forum things have not changed as many students hoped they would. Associate professor Coleman Hutchison and professor Sahotra Sarkar are still teaching courses at UT.

It is a shame that it has taken so much to just get the ear of UT administration. Many have had to sacrifice their mental health and academics to get some semblance of attention from UT’s administrators. It is my hope that UT can learn from this experience and see that the concerns of students are important.

UT’s slogan states, “What starts here changes the world.” The students of the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct have certainly been living up to that, starting change that will make UT a much safer college.

Mendez is a government sophomore and former communications director for University Democrats.