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#BlackAtUNT needs to be the beginning of a commitment to long-term change

#BlackAtUNT needs to be the beginning of a commitment to long-term change

#BlackAtUNT needs to be the beginning of a commitment to long-term change
June 18
12:48 2020

This story has been updated. 

The June 18 cover story about UNT’s response to Black Lives Matter incorrectly stated that a faculty member used the n-word at a campus forum last fall. The speaker who used the word, during a discussion of hate speech on campus, was an assistant general counsel of the UNT System, Caitlin Sewell. Sewell resigned the next day.

Following the death of George Floyd, protests have flooded the country and the world that demanded justice and accountability for the treatment of Black people at the hands of the police in the United States. Black students at UNT took to Twitter to post their experiences using the hashtag #blackatunt to express frustrations about the lack of accountability when it came to making the university inclusive. 

The experiences ranged from encounters with campus police to microaggressive experiences with professors. The common thread with the tweets and stories shared is the lack of action behind the outrage. Although the university has responded by hosting town hall meetings and promising a listening ear, more has to be done to ensure responsibility on the university’s part to make sure that students are comfortable. 

The only institutions that have taken on the responsibility for providing inclusiveness to its fullest extent are student organizations. Student organizations guarantee the voice that the university refuses to take seriously, but they can only do so much and eventually fall short at the hands of the university because the promises made to them only become true behind PR stunts and false hopes that never are accompanied with action.

When an assistant general counsel for UNT used the n-word at “When Hates Comes to Campus” last fall, the university responded by saying that faculty members will be required to participate in mandatory diversity training. Later, it was reported that only the president’s cabinet was to undergo the mandatory training and UNT President Smatresk later dismissed this solution by stating that it would be another “compliance-type activity” and that “it doesn’t actually incur ownership and enthusiasm on the topic.” 

This approach and response translate to the desire of avoiding the uncomfortable conversations about the experiences that Black students have no choice but to endure in order to receive an education. Not only does this show that the university is not ready to take more action, but it shows current and prospective students that the diversity preached at orientation is another institutional facade, thus leads to a total loss of credibility. 

Following the incident, students demanded more change to be done by the university. They held silent protests and former UNT SGA president Yolian Ogbu spoke to the Board of Regents fall 2019 and asked that the university respond in a manner that provides a long-term change. This included a list of demands. This response from students and student leadership shows that they have the competence and consistency to help the university make the change. The elements are there, it just takes the university taking them seriously. 

When the Dean of Students introduced the CARE Team, they claimed that the mission was to “assist in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the students and members of the UNT community.” One way they could show this to be true is to expand the resources available to Black students while also receiving training that educates them so they know how to better serve their students instead of being potentially led on by their bias. Diversity in these departments could be a solution, but there is no guarantee that the appropriate changes would be made and that their influence would be seen as they are a part of the university. 

The amount of power that the university holds has become increasingly disproportionate especially as social media platforms like Twitter allow students to have more of a direct line to officials. If anything, backlash and honest recounts of Black students on campus just show the awareness that Black students have and that they need to have more of a say when it comes to making sure that the change demanded needs to be seen through for the rest of the university’s history.

There is no room for university officials to not take any action when it comes to campus’ racial climate. It is imperative that they make the appropriate changes and apply pressure where it is needed. Inclusivity will ultimately determine whether the university does care about the diversity it claims to be proud of. 

It’s important to not treat this as a moment in time but as an essential element to a productive experience for Black students.

This story was updated June 19 as the June 18 cover story about UNT’s response to Black Lives Matter incorrectly stated that a faculty member used the n-word at a campus forum last fall. The speaker who used the word, during a discussion of hate speech on campus, was an assistant general counsel of the UNT System, Caitlin Sewell. Sewell resigned the next day. June 18 cover story about UNT’s response to Black Lives Matter incorrectly stated that a faculty member used the n-word at a campus forum last fall. The speaker who used the word, during a discussion of hate speech on campus, was an assistant general counsel of the UNT System, Caitlin Sewell. Sewell resigned the next day.

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Jasmine Hicks

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