North Texas Daily

University event in response to student protests scheduled for fall semester

University event in response to student protests scheduled for fall semester

University event in response to student protests scheduled for fall semester
April 22
10:30 2022

A discussion with student protestors previously suggested by university President Neal Smatresk has now been officially scheduled for the upcoming fall semester, according to administration.

The idea for the event initially came during one of the multiple student protests in early March calling for Smatresk to “step up or step down” following campus unrest after an event held by the Young Conservatives of Texas that some felt promoted hate speech and intolerance. The discussion, now labeled as a First Amendment and free speech discussion by the university, will reportedly feature guest speakers who have extensive knowledge of the topics.

“I can say that the president is committed to substantive and respectful discussions on the First Amendment and free speech and planning will begin once we get past Commencement and continue during the summer,” said Jim Berscheidt, vice president for university Brand Strategy and Communications.

Smatresk could not be reached for a comment regarding the protests or the planned discussion.

While the event is now scheduled for next fall semester, statements shared with the North Texas Daily made via email to student organizer Tara Olson from Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Joanne Woodard said the university had planned to schedule events for this semester, but ultimately became “keenly aware that the semester is winding to a close.”

The decision to move the discussion to next semester was made two weeks ago, according to a statement given to the Daily by Berscheidt. He also said no firm plans have been developed regarding the specifics of the event, including who would be speaking.

Among those hoping to be involved with the discussion include some of the university’s own staff, including Teresa McKinney, the new assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion.

“I definitely hope so,” McKinney said. “I have communicated to [Smatresk]. I know my vice president has communicated on my behalf to him and to several others that we are here, we want to get involved and that I want to help in these efforts.”

McKinney said she hopes the fall discussion will be just one of many opportunities for university officials to sit down with students and address their needs.

Berscheidt also said the university will consider adding students to the panel of speakers during the event, giving organization leaders a chance to voice their concerns and share their perspectives on the topics of free speech and Title IX issues. Some student leaders are hoping the university makes good on that claim.

“I’d be open [to] hold [Smatresk] accountable to that since he made those comments,” Student Government Association President-elect Jermaine “JT” Turner said. “I would actually love to see him do that, and not only just for our trans community but also all of our marginalized communities. We all need to have a conversation, a real conversation.”

Some students are still skeptical about how serious the university is about holding the event.

“I just feel like them waiting until fall shows that we aren’t priorities and we don’t matter,” said Olson, a political science and history senior. “It really makes us out to be checkbooks and our concerns don’t matter to them.”

In response to the university moving the discussion to the fall, Olson is meeting with fellow student protest organizers Friday to hold their own discussion on their shared response.

Featured Image: Neal Smatresk meets with students outside of the Hurley Administration Building on March 10, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

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Ayden Runnels

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