North Texas Daily

Students, faculty protest President Smatresk’s response to recent events involving trans community

Students, faculty protest President Smatresk’s response to recent events involving trans community

Students, faculty protest President Smatresk’s response to recent events involving trans community
March 04
20:33 2022

Editor’s note: This story is a collaborative effort from a team of 30 North Texas Daily reporters and photographers. The contributors’ names are listed at the bottom of the story.

Students gathered outside the Hurley Administration Building this afternoon to protest and display dissatisfaction of university President Neal Smatresk’s response to recent events on campus. 

“[Smatresk] either needs to stand with us or we need a new president of UNT,” said Tara Olson, protest co-organizer and political science and history senior.

Chants such as “trans rights are human rights” and “step up or step down” were heard as more than 100 students gathered outside the administration building, using sidewalk chalk and holding signs to express messages of solidarity with the transgender community. 

On March 2, a protest took place in and outside of Curry Hall in response to a Young Conservatives of Texas event, “Criminalize Child Transitions.” Texas House candidate Jeff Younger, whose platform condemns gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children, spoke at the event but was cut short as protestors inside the room gained traction

“I and other trans students are angry as [Younger] is notorious for the misinformation he spreads in order to make our community appear to support ‘child abuse,’” theatre design/tech sophomore Sylvester Girard said. “We don’t and will never condone abuse of children, especially as many of us have been abused ourselves for being queer.”

Younger was escorted off campus by university police, who reportedly later struck a protester while escorting away YCT member Kelly Neidert. Denton Police Department Public Information Liaison Amy Cunningham said the vehicle incident will be investigated by a third party which has yet to be determined.

Tensions were first heightened on campus in late February when a video of Neidert printing flyers for the event went viral. This prompted Smatresk to send an official notice titled “Embracing all of our community members,” in which he recognized the “intolerant views” towards transgender individuals and said the campus honors First Amendment rights. 

After the Younger protest, Smatresk sent another official notice on March 3, stating that “last night’s behavior by some individuals is not reflective of the UNT [he] [knows] and [loves].” Several students and faculty were upset by this response, saying he was “victim-blaming,” and giving “hate speech an active platform.”

Our president decided to victimize the people who were spouting bigotry and hate speech and were allowed on campus to do so,” anthropology sophomore Janet Shuey said. “[He] basically just portrayed the protesters as being aggressive. […] We need a president who will actually protect and defend the LGBT community, and their existence should not be threatened.”

Smatresk was reportedly not in the building during today’s protest and Olson said maintenance workers were “running people through the side doors, then locking all the doors” of Hurley right before 3 p.m. Smatresk and other university administration members were not available for comment.

“So there’s no one in this building, but that’s fine because this is our campus,” Olson said. “If we need to do this outside of another building next time, we will.”

Denton City Council member and English professor Deb Armintor also spoke to the crowd. Armintor recently published an email she sent to Smatresk criticizing his March 3 response.

“I had written to [Smatresk] before the event, telling him that I don’t understand why an event by a group that has a pattern and practice of harassment of trans people and people with disabilities as well should be allowed to hold an anti-trans event that is again against people’s very identities,” Armintor said. “Not their opinions or their politics but their identities, saying they should not exist.”

Co-organizer and political science senior Maya Isola said where Smatresk “failed” in allowing a controversial speaker on campus was not having a mediator at the Younger event. Isola also referenced Smatresk’s previous explanation of trying to ensure students’ mental health when asked why universal online class options were not offered to those who wanted it. 

“Now the trans community, their mental health is going to deteriorate because you’re diminishing their voice, because you’re allowing a hate group on campus,” Isola said.

The protest lasted nearly two hours. While campus tours were rerouted to avoid the Hurley Administration Building, it is standard protocol when there is increased traffic anywhere on campus, Eagle Ambassador Ethan Gillis said.

The student organizers plan to gather weekly until they see change, as Olson asked students to re-rally next week.

A protestor holds up a sign on March 4, 2022. Photo by Jami HitchcockJami photo --3Owen Photo --2Owen Photo --3Javier Weems speaks into a megaphone on March 4, 2022. Photo by Sonia HuertaSonia photo--3Sonia photo--4Sonia photo--5Maria Crane protest photo--9John Anderson protest photo-Sonia photo-Maria Crane protest photo-Maria Crane protest photo--2Maria Crane protest photo--3Matt photo--2Maria Crane protest photo--4Jami photo --5Maria Crane protest photo--5Jackie photo-Maria Crane protest photo--7Maria Crane protest photo--8John Anderson protest photo-0232Jami photo --2Matt photo-Jami photo --4John Anderson protest photo-0265John Anderson protest photo-0295John Anderson protest photo-0328John Anderson protest photo-0353John Anderson protest photo-0373John Anderson protest photo-0398John Anderson protest photo-0049Owen Photo -John Anderson protest photo-0060John Anderson protest photo-0074John Anderson protest photo-0123John Anderson protest photo-0135John Anderson protest photo-0155John Anderson protest photo-0199John Anderson protest photo-0213
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Denton City Council Member and university professor Deb Armintor holds the corner of a transgender flag infront of the Hurley Administration Building during the walk out protest against the UNT president on March 4, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

Featured image: Amanda Coral holds up a sign during the walk-out protest on March 4, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

Featured video shot and edited by Madeleine Moore. 

Contributors:

Alex Reece
Anvitha Reddy
Ayden Runnels
Connor Patterson
Ian Cropper
Ileana Garnand
Jami Hitchcock
Jeffrey Ruiz
Jillian Nachtigal
John Anderson
John Fields
Kaitlynn Hutchins
Kelly Tran
Kevin Diaz
Madeleine Moore
Maria Crane
Maria Lawson
Matt Iaia
Michelle Monari
Miranda Thomas
Natalie VanDerWal
Owen Oliver
Paul Witwer
Reed Smith
Rhema Joy Bell
Rose Wright
Sofie Carlin
Sonia Huerta
Susan Moore
Tyler Luker

About Author

North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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