Category: University Issues

NEW STUDY SHEDS LIGHT ON SEXUAL ASSAULT AT UT

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 Find the full story here: https://texasnonosvamos.squarespace.com/

 

After Zoë was raped by her coworker, she went home to her empty apartment and cried for hours.

She felt confused. She didn’t think of the incident as rape until weeks later. She still doesn’t like to say the word aloud.

“It just sounds, like, so horrible,” Zoë, now 22, said. “I can’t bring myself to say even though I know that’s what it is.”

In the weeks following the incident, Zoë, who at the time was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, found herself calling UT’s crisis hotline.

I think I remember being like my room in my apartment and having a panic attack,”  Zoë said. “They were trying to talk to me, trying to calm me down and give me resources.”

With the hotline’s help, she scheduled an emergency meeting for the next day at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center.

 

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Third year neuroscience major Jackie Roth was friends with Haruka Weiser prior to Weiser’s disappearance and death in April of 2016. Weiser’s murder shocked the UT community and jump started discussions about campus safety. Jackie says that Weiser’s death was not a reflection of holes in the UT’s safety policies, but rather a rare event that is a result of wider systemic issues facing the community.

 

 

The counseling center is one of many small pieces that make up a great puzzle of prevention programs, counseling, advocacy services and reporting options at UT. In addition to asking why students often choose not to report incidents of sexual assault or rape, our reporting team set out to make sense of this puzzle and ask whether these programs are effective.

Sexual assault and rape are not rare incidents among college students. In March, UT released a survey showing that 15 percent of undergraduate women at the university say they have been raped. The survey of 280,000 students found that 18 percent of students said they experienced “unwanted touching,” and 12 percent said they experienced attempted rape.

The lead researcher of the survey and many of the people interviewed for this article have stated the statistics provided by the report are unfortunately unsurprising. They are reflective of national data, both on college campuses and of the general population.

“UT is a microcosm of what’s happening around country, the world,” said Katy Redd, the associate director for prevention and outreach at the CMHC. “Gender based violence is all too common.”

The survey also says very few victims — 6 percent — disclosed incidents to someone involved with the university. Of the 32 percent of victims who said they told someone about the incident prior to taking the survey, 4 percent reported to the CMHC. Just one percent reported to the University of Texas at Austin Police Department.

“I think there’s a whole host of reasons [for non-reporting],” Redd said.

Breall Baccus is a Title IX prevention coordinator and confidential advocate at UT. She said students may feel hesitant to come forward “because they don’t know what the next steps would be.”

“They might also not realize what happened to them was assault,” Baccus said.

 

 

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The university hired Baccus in January to fill a gap in the Title IX office. By law, the university must comply with Title IX, which “prohibits sex discrimination in education,” according to UT’s Title IX information page. Unlike other members of UT’s compliance team, Baccus is not required by law to open incidents for investigation. When students come to her to disclose an incident, Baccus can explain their options, which could include filing an official report depending on how the student chooses to go forward.

The university amped up security and sexual assault prevention efforts following the on-campus sexual assault and killing of freshman Haruka Weiser last spring. In addition to increasing police presence, the university’s Be Safe campaign has used social media and student art to promote safety messages such as walking in well lit areas and not walking alone.

“It’s just a softer way of addressing things that are going on in campus and the way to increase their safety,” said UTPD Sgt. Samantha Stanford.

Stanford’s hire, like Baccus’s, was in part to address issues of interpersonal violence on campus. As a detective, she has received specialized training to help victims of sexual assault or rape. UTPD also offers free self-defense courses for women upon request, and Stanford said the department is looking into holding separate self-defense classes for men.

UTPD’s jurisdiction ends beyond the campus borders, and Stanford said that incidents in a private residence or in West Campus might be transferred to the Austin Police Department. Stanford also said sometimes the legal definition of sexual harassment or sexual assault differs from what the university or community may use. Despite these limitations, Stanford said she is available to meet with students to answer questions or explain the legal process.

“We’re trying to… brainstorm on how we can make the process a little bit easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and feel comfortable with reporting to us,” Stanford said.

“I think that every student should have a right to feel safe and get the education that they want to get,” Breall said, “and not have a traumatic experience get in the way of that.”

 

 

Greeks Give Back

By Lauren Florence, Caroline Hall, & Jack Vrtis

The aromas of smelly crawfish and cheap beer wafted through the air, mixing with the sounds of country music and the lighthearted chatter of the hundreds of University of Texas students gathered at the Sigma Chi fraternity house in final celebration of Derby Days, a weeklong event that culminated in $31,000 raised for charity.

“It’s important for the Greek community to participate in philanthropy because with so many people and resources, we can really make a difference,” Tim Davis, the Derby Days Chairman, said.

Derby Days, which concluded festivities on April 23, is only one of a multitude of philanthropy events held annually at the University of Texas and put on by UT Greek organizations. There are 14 official sororities at UT, governed by the University Panhellenic Council, or UPC, and 28 official fraternities, governed by the Interfraternity Council, or IFC. Individually, these 42 Greek organizations hold various philanthropy events throughout the year, raising a combined hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.

“In 2015 alone, all 14 sororities combined within UPC raised over $647,000 for their charities of choice,” McKenna Phillips, the UPC Vice President, said. “ These charities include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Ronald McDonald House, and Prevent Child Abuse America, among others.”

Sororities raise money through events ranging from flag football tournaments to frozen yogurt profit shares. One popular event held year after year is Kappa Alpha Theta’s “Pancake Party.” Hosted at the Theta house, students line up for all you can eat sweet and savory pancakes, including flavors like sausage and Oreo, and the proceeds are donated to Theta’s philanthropy, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, which advocates for abused and neglected children in the legal system.

“Pancake Party is our most attended philanthropy event,” said Emily Johnson, a senior Theta. “It’s great because through events like this, we have the opportunity to impact the lives of people we’ve never met.”
Fraternities also do their part to give back. So far in 2016, the IFC has already raised $95,444 for the B+ Foundation.

In addition to fundraising events, the Greek community also plays an active role in volunteering with their specific charities.

“Aside from financial contributions, chapter members participate in a variety of volunteering efforts towards their charities, ranging from helping out with local Austin schools to working on national philanthropic endeavors,” Philips said.  Through these various events and contributions, the UT Greek community is able to use their resources to impact the Austin area and beyond.

“Philanthropy allows the Greek community to come together for the betterment of the community,” freshman Tri Delta member Megan Uhr said. “It has made my Greek experience such a positive one.”

 

Greek Philanthropy Infographic

What Starts Here… Really Changes the World

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.  Photo courtesy of Humanity First

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Humanity First

 

 

Anahita Pardiwalla, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

With hundreds of student-run humanitarian groups at the University of Texas to choose from, Irenla Bajrovic did not think she’d have trouble finding one that would be willing to help a cause close to her heart. Bajrovic, a natural-born Bosnian, wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide by organizing a fundraiser. She did not anticipate finding her answer in the merely days old organization, Humanity First.

Coordinating a fundraising dinner is a feat for any organization, never mind a newborn one with just six members. Yet, founder and executive director, Usama Malik, was eager for Humanity First to make its grand debut. About $10,000 later, Malik and his peers were excited about the future of their new Texas Chapter.

A year later, 102 members stronger and with numerous successful events under its belt, Humanity First is more confident than ever. Under its motto “serving mankind” the international organization promotes peace and provides aid to victims of natural disasters and human conflicts.

Malik, however, has tailored the Texas Chapter to stand for more than just the humanitarian relief drafted in their motto.

“One that provides a platform for other organizations and other students to accomplish similar goals,” said Malik.

Through this idea of diversifying the Texas Chapter, the organization has been able to work for a number of different causes—all outside the traditional realm of Humanity First’s mission statement.

These causes have ranged from fundraising for victims of domestic violence to raising awareness of childhood cancer, from feeding the homeless to volunteering at elderly rehabilitation centers. Most recently, the organization assembled hygienic kits for homeless veterans.

 

A few of Humanity First's milestones. Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

A few of Humanity First’s milestones.
Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

The group’s scope is wide and limitless; and members are proud to be a part of an international organization that still maintains a local focus.

“You’re touching someone’s life, and it doesn’t matter how big the scale is, as long as you’re helping someone,” said member Marina Khaled.

Upcoming events include a charity fashion show and a culture appreciation night. Learn more at http://www.humanityfirsttx.org/.

 

Humanity First has worked for numerous causes since its birth last spring. Check out a timeline of some of their past events here:

 

Learn more about the Humanity First – Texas Chapter in the video below. The members of Humanity First made hygiene kits for homeless veterans and are currently in production for a fashion show in partnership with Voices Against Violence.

Deep in Diversity: How Ethnicity & Class Backgrounds Matter at UT Austin

Cassandra Jaramillo | Jade Magalhaes | Sandy Marin | Jan Ross Piedad

As the oldest of her four siblings, Cecilia Flores said she wanted to be a role model to her sisters and go to college but knew money would be an issue for the family of six.

“I had no idea as to how we would pay for college considering we were a big family and my parents were barely making enough money to sustain us,” Flores said.

Flores is one of hundreds of students at the University of Texas who will benefit from its relatively new initiative called Texas Advance, a program aiming to increase socioeconomic diversity on the Forty Acres.

The initiative, which began in August 2014, aims to help under-resourced students in the state who are at the top of their class. With the help of federal and state grants, students in the Texas Advance initiative receive can receive award amounts up to $15,000 a year. Scholarship programs like the Presidential Scholars and University Leadership Network help students cover tuition and fees and offer outreach programs for students.

Last year, the university said it committed $15 million for the program to help 750 students throughout four years. In a release, UT said the initiative expanded to $20 million and will now help about 1,000 students over the next four years.  

For the 20-year-old from Eagle Pass, Texas, the initiative gave her the opportunity to pursue a dream of higher education.

“Money was going to be the deal breaker in this case,” Flores said. “I was either going to UT or I was staying in my hometown to start community college.”

Flores graduated from C.C. Winn High School, which lies in a small border town. As a first-generation college student, it was difficult to transition to the challenging workload.

“I come from a really small town and when I got here it was a huge difference. It was really difficult to adjust to that. But ULN helped me,” Flores said. “I really had no idea how to manage my time. They were the ones who guided me to getting used to the college experience.”

But despite the challenges, Flores excelled.

Video: Minority Enrollment at UT

 

She is currently a junior and a double major in psychology and Iberian and Latin American languages and cultures. Flores is one of the several Longhorns who will be in the first graduating class benefitting from the Texas Advance initiative in May 2017.

Carolyn Connerat, associate vice provost for student success initiatives at UT, said the admissions department, financial aid services and UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement all collaborated to create and market the program.

“It’s important for the university, being the flagship public university in the state of Texas, to make sure we have opportunities for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to be able to attend UT if they would like to,” Connerat said.
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The university identifies students from low-income families in multiple ways. Diane Todd Sprague, director of financial services at UT, said one criteria includes students who qualify for federal Pell grants.

Students receiving Pell grants accounts for 25 percent of the student body this year at UT, Todd Sprague said. Compared to other Texas universities, she said the population of students who receive grants is relatively normal. 21 percent of Texas A&M’s student body, for example,  received Pell grants for the 2015-2016 year, according to Todd Sprague.

“We are here for a purpose. We want to serve the citizens of Texas. Obviously we pay attention to the demographics of the state,” Todd Sprague said.

The initiative is paid for with legislative funding and thanks to the Houston Endowment this year, $8 million dollars will help sponsor 125 students from the Houston area for the next three entering classes at UT.

On the Whole: Texas Colleges

Connerat said when the Houston Endowment learned about the Texas Advance initiative, they were interested in helping the program.

“They were very excited about the program and how we are really focusing on helping these students to come to UT to develop leadership skills and professional training,” Connerat said.

With the help of the endowment, the university will be allowed to free up funds to help more students as well, Connerat said.

“It’s a $8 million grant to cover the costs of those students from the Houston area. Because of the Houston endowment, that allows the university to use funds that would have gone to pay for that  to give to other students through the Presidential Scholars program or whether it’s through financial aid,” Connerat said.  

For the entering class of 2016, the deadline to submit an application for admission and to be considered for a Texas Advance award is Dec. 1.

Video: Affirmative Action Lawsuits at Universities

West Campus Construction Impedes Usual Bus Routes

Taylor Wiseman, Celina Fontenot, Katherine Recatto, Lucy Chen

The idea of construction disrupting the daily flow of life is nothing new to the residents of west campus. Large drills breaking through concrete at 6 a.m. can be heard two blocks over. Detour signs found on two-way streets effectively change them into one-way streets forcing buses and cars to alter their routes.

The drive to build newer and larger apartment buildings has created a problem for students and drivers in the college neighborhood.

Sneha Patel, a resident at Chelsea Condos, an apartment complex next to a hub of construction, said that she doesn’t use the west campus bus system to get to school.

“In theory, riding the bus would be a faster way to get to class,” Patel said, “But now with all the detours, I actually get there later than I would if I just walked.”

The average time to walk from Chelsea Condos to her class on Dean Keaton St. is 10 minutes. It takes about 25 minutes by bus.

The Old Bus Route
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The New Bus Route
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Juan Gonzales, a construction worker for JeDunn Construction, said that the small space in which he’s expected to work in has been a challenge.

“Trying to move a large cement truck into the construction area is difficult because there are many cars and people also on the streets,” Gonzales said, “People only care about themselves.”

Nastassja Hutchinson, a west campus bus driver, said the changing of the bus routes has extended the time it takes to drive to campus.

“Turning onto 24th St. is particularly difficult because there are no lights,” she said, “I have to wait until there are no cars and pedestrians in order to turn and that might take a while.”

This was the first time Hutchinson experienced a change in the bus route, and she said some students have not been happy about the increased route times.

“Sometimes students get mad at me for not getting them to class on time,” she said, “But at the end of the day, there’s not much I can do about it.”

Construction that impedes the usual west campus bus route is not expected to finish until next July.

Racist Roots: An inside look at UT landmarks

By Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, Danny Goodwin, & Danielle Vabner

In front of the main tower at the University of Texas, there is an empty space where a statue of Jefferson Davis once stood. Appearing indifferent toward its absence, students walk by on their way to class, cell phones in hand.

The university made the controversial decision to remove the statue after South Carolina took down its own Confederate flag. Some disagree with its relocation, arguing that the statue is simply part of the school’s history, and that to remove it from its original location is to deny its history and its ties to the Confederacy. Others, however, are relieved that the statue is no longer on display, and feel that the time has come to bid adieu to the prejudiced past it is associated with.

“I think that’s kind of what the university allows for in this space is for these kind of conversions and controversies,” said Dr. Simone Browne, an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies. “But in the end, at least for me, the right thing was done, and for other people they want that to remain so that we can understand these histories.”

The history of the university and its landmarks goes deeper than Jefferson Davis. There are still other figures on campus that remain at the center of this debate, figures who have had an influence on the university for years. One example is George Littlefield, who was a donor to the university and had ties to the Confederacy.

“He established a Littlefield Fund for Southern History, which would basically archive a history that was a celebration of the Confederacy,” Browne said. “[He] gifted not only this archive, but also gifted the money to create what we have as the six-pack…and so his name is still continually on the campus.”

Though Browne said that she agrees with the removal of the statue, she does not believe that awareness of the university’s history and keeping these landmarks up for all to see have to be mutually exclusive.

“[We need to understand] the university, its architecture, and its formation as a…memorialization to the Confederacy as an enterprise,” Browne said. “That’s what it was about. That’s why basically the, the university’s back is facing the north, why we’re facing the Capitol, why we have everything around that fountain.”

Dr. Leonard Moore is an example of a UT faculty member who feels that the statues and other landmarks originating from can serve as learning tools for students, and that they should not be taken down.

“I’m a historian, so other people may see a Confederate statue as problematic. I value them for their historical value, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I like to use things like that as a teachable moment. I wish they had left them up, because I think it reminds people of the history of this place.”

Moore also said that he does not believe that the statues have a profound effect on minority students at UT. He said that in his experience, students are looking to get more support from the UT community.

“They would’ve probably said some more scholarships, some more outreach efforts, some more outreach programs out of the College of Business and the College of Engineering,” he said. “And so the fear was, when they put the statues down, now we can’t get anything else.”

 

Take Back the Night

By: Judy Hong, Becca Gamache, Jewel Sharp and Anderson Boyd

The University’s Take Back the Night event, a community rally supporting survivors of sexual assault, is a far cry from tradition.

Around 250 students milled about in front of the Tower, eating free pizza and listening to local Austin band Messages play, instead of marching through the Austin streets with banners decrying sexual assault. Tables from various student and LGBTQ support groups bordered the rally’s perimeter, handing out information on mental health counseling and support groups instead of placards and signs. It may not be a traditional Take Back the Night, but Erin Burrows said the style works for UT.

“We have adapted it to our campus,” said Burrows, the prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence. “Typically it’s a march throughout the community, but we really stay here on the main mall, and we focus on our resource fair and speak out for survivors.”

Burrows said Voices Against Violence, which spreads awareness and provides support for on-campus survivors as part of the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, has held the event at UT for well over a decade. But she said Take Back the Night as an organized event started much earlier.

“It actually started in the 1970s as part of the women’s liberation and feminist movements,” Burrows said.

According to their website, the Take Back the Night Foundation formed in the late 1960s as a joint coalition between European and American community organizers. The foundation organized early marches in 1973, protesting pornography in San Francisco and the serial murders of women of color in Los Angeles.

The first official “Take Back the Night” march occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1975, after microbiologist Susan Alexander Speeth was stabbed to death while walking home alone at night. After a similar yet unrelated “Reclaim the Night” march in Belgium in 1976, marches and rallies spread across Europe and Asia, reaching India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Keynote speaker Paula X Rojas, a Chilean community organizer who herself is a survivor of sexual violence, said organized rallies like Take Back the Night are important for the community because they break the silence surrounding sexual assault.

“Gender and sexual violence is often private, and because of patriarchy and the way society works we tend to want to keep it private because it’s ‘shameful,’” Rojas said. “And so making that leap of going public, sharing our story, really cracks the system in a way that services and brochures and programs don’t. It cracks the problem in a deeper way.”

While the march began as a women-only event — and has taken flack from critics about its treatment of other survivors, particularly male — Take Back the Night is now inclusive of all sexual assault survivors, regardless of gender. Burrows said the University’s event is no different, even though only one male survivor chose to speak.

“We talk about sexual assault no matter what the gender of the survivor is,” Burrows said.

The amount of support for survivors of sexual violence, along with the insistence that the event is a “safe space” for them to feel comfortable in, attracts many LGBTQ organizations both student and local. Brin Kieffer, a member of local LGBTQ organization StandOut!, said she’s attended the event for the last three years.

“I love this event because it provides support for survivors, and thus my organization and I decided to table this year,” Kieffer said. While she said she enjoys the speakers, her favorite part comes during the performances beforehand.

“There’s usually a lot of profound poetry that goes on,” Kieffer said. “I find it inspiring.”

Not On My Campus comes to UT


Words By Jacob Kerr, Video By Jewel Sharp and Megan Breckenridge

Not On My Campus from Megan Breckenridge on Vimeo.

A student movement aimed at preventing sexual assault has been gaining steam at college campuses around the country. And now, it has arrived at UT.

NOMC handIn late March, three students launched Not On My Campus at UT before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The campaign first started more than a year ago at Southern Methodist University and has been spreading to other colleges in the state and the country.
“This issue has been present on campus for a while, and it was never talked about. It was never a topic of conversation,” said Caroline Bennett, Not on My Campus volunteer and UT senior. “Actually after all the success we’ve had in bringing awareness to the issue, we now realize just how big of a problem it was.”

According to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men are victims of sexual assault. Furthermore, 80 percent of rapes occur before age of 25.
As part of the campaign, the group has been encouraging students to sign a pledge vowing to help end sexual assaults on campus. According to Bennett, the pledge has more than 1,600 signatures.NOMC Names
“That’s going to be one of ongoing initiatives and goals is to continue getting more signatures,” Bennett said.

Using social media, the campaign has passed along its message by posting photos of supporters writing “Not on My Campus” on their hands. Participation hasn’t been limited to just students, even UT President Bill Powers took part.

“It’s been able to show people what our message is,” said Meredith McDonald, Not On My Campus volunteer and UT freshman. “This is kind of like a stop sign. We want to stop sexual violence.”

 

Not On My Campus has partnered with other campus groups working to prevent sexual assault such as Be Vocal and Voices Against Violence, which offers resources to students.Last month, an organization, "Not on My Campus" was formed at UT. Representatives from the group attended the event.

“They have given us so much support,” Bennett said. ”We really like that our message aligns with their efforts and all that they have done thus far on campus.”

While the group has plans going forward to offer self-defense classes and support legislation in line with its goals at the Texas State Capitol, McDonald reiterated that main goal is to make UT a safer place to be.

“I’m hoping that we are able to build a more safe and aware campus,” volunteer Meredith McDonald said.

@notonmycampus

Take the Not On My Campus pledge here