North Texas Daily

UNT assistant general counsel resigns less than a day after saying n-word at a free speech event

UNT assistant general counsel resigns less than a day after saying n-word at a free speech event

UNT assistant general counsel resigns less than a day after saying n-word at a free speech event
November 08
12:54 2019

Caitlin Sewell, the assistant general counsel for UNT, resigned effective immediately, the UNT Chancellor Lesa Roe and UNT President Neal Smatresk said in a statement sent to UNT students, faculty and staff on Friday morning.

“We strongly believe in a culture that embraces, and vehemently defends, inclusion,” Roe and Smatresk said in the statement. “While Ms. Sewell was trying to make a point about First Amendment speech, the references used are never condoned in our community, which prides itself on our diversity and caring nature.”

Sewell came under fire after saying the racial slur at a panel discussion called “When Hate Comes to Campus” on Thursday night.

“If I said something offensive … you know, you can say a lot of offensive things in here because it’s impossible to talk about the First Amendment without saying horrible things,” Sewell said. “Um, you know, ‘You’re just a dumb n—-r and I hate you.’ That alone, that’s protected speech.”

Backlash to the comment was swift and the Dean of Students issued an apology to students later that night near the end of the panel.

“I’m sorry, and you need to hear me say that, and every student in this office needs to hear me say that I should not be speaking for Caitlin,” McGuinness said. “I should not be speaking for you. I hope you know I’m every student’s biggest supporter. And I will tell you, you’re the reason I do my job. If you read an email from me, students are not an interruption to our work, they are the purpose of it. And we need to all remember that and I value each of you individually, as well as collectively, and I am sorry.”

Roe and Smatresk said in their statement that counseling resources are available for all UNT students, faculty and staff should they need it. Counselors are available from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Union room 381, according to a follow-up email sent by Student Affairs.

“In the coming days and weeks, it is our intention to engage in a dialogue with student and campus leaders regarding ways we can continue to foster a culture of diversity that is UNT,” Roe and Smatresk said in their statement.

SGA also released a statement in response to Sewell’s resignation and listed five demands that aims to create institutional change in the UNT System.  

The five demands are listed below: 

  •  We DEMAND that the UNT System creates and enforces comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments and units, mandatory for all faculty, staff and administration. This curriculum must be vetted, maintained and overseen by a board comprised of students, staff and faculty of color.
  • We DEMAND that the university institute a mandatory cultural competency course required of all students either in a first year seminar or a standalone course integrated within Orientation and Transition Programs.
  • We DEMAND that the university creates a specific outline to address diversity and inclusion practices in the strategic plan that will increase retention rates for marginalized students, sustain diversity curriculum and training and promote a more safe and inclusive campus.
  • We DEMAND that by the academic year 2021-2022 the University of North Texas increases the percentage of black, brown and other marginalized identities among the faculty and staff campus-wide to match the demographic representation of our student population.
  • We DEMAND the university will allocate new financial resources towards the expansion of the multicultural center and the entirety of the Division of Equity and Diversity. We believe our students deserve a building just like the Greek Life Center to accommodate the needs of individual minority groups.

SGA followed up their statement by tweeting out a link to a petition on asking for a more inclusive UNT. As of 3:48 p.m. on Nov. 8, the petition had 535 signatures. 

“We are the students,” the SGA statement concluded. “It is not our responsibility to have the knowledge and expertise on how to execute these demands – that’s what we pay you for. Will the university stand for its students? This is not a teaching moment, but one that deserves swift action.”

The SGA vice president Hillary Shah also took to Twitter to release a statement of her own. 

“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this organization than today,” she wrote. “Sewell’s resignation is not nearly enough, and speaks to the change we need to change institutionally going forward. I urge everyone to read our demands and sign the petition… to show your support.”

In an email sent to students, Vice President for Student Affairs Elizabeth With said there is “no place in our community for the comments made during last nights When Hate Comes to Campus event.”

“Today I listened to student leaders and began the process of addressing their concerns and will continue to do so in the coming days and months,” With said in the statement. “The DSA Diversity Council and I will be working closely to ensure that our staff is equipped with the resources to support you. I am here for you and I will continue to work on ensuring that our community remains one that supports everyone.”

The Daily has sent a request for comment to the Dean of Students.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct several misspellings, update the number of people who have signed SGA’s petition and to include comments from Elizabeth With, UNT’s vice president for student affairs. 

Featured Image: Assistant General Counsel Caitlin Sewell speaks at the “When Hate Comes to Campus” event on Nov. 7, 2019. Image by Quincy Palmer

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Lizzy Spangler

Lizzy Spangler

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Rebekah Schulte

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