North Texas

UNT Students Stage Peaceful Sit-In, Demand Changes following Racial Slur Used by University's Legal Staffer

The University of North Texas is directing faculty and staff to come up with ways to improve diversity and inclusion after a member of UNT's legal staff used a racial slur during a panel discussion.

Calls for changes also came from students who staged a peaceful sit-in during the UNT Systems Board of Regents meeting Thursday afternoon.

Close to 200 UNT students marched into the meeting.

They walked in silently, some wearing all black, with tape on their mouths and signs saying 'Show Us We Matter' or 'Not My UNT.'

"We are occupying this space to show, 'Hey, y'all need to recognize that we matter and we need to see that from y'alls eyes too," said Yolian Ogbu, president of the UNT Student Government Association.

UNT President Dr. Neal Smatresk greeted Ogbu and other students before they walked into the meeting held inside the UNT Student Union.

"I admire the commitment and passion of the students who are here, who are seeking equity and an inclusive campus and I just salute you," Smatresk said during the regents' meeting.

The sit-in was organized after a member of the university's legal staff said the 'N-word' during a panel discussion about free speech last Thursday.

She apologized and later resigned.

Ogbu said the issue of racial equality doesn't end simply because one staff member quit.

"While I truly believe that our university administration is being truly supportive I think we need to stop looking at these things as isolated but rather a string and a slew of incidents that we honestly need to start addressing systemwide," she said.

The SGA will be introducing a list of demands to the board of regents that include: mandatory cultural sensitivity training for all faculty and staff, allocating money toward the expansion of the multicultural center and the entirety of the Division of Equity and Diversity, increasing percentage of minority faculty and staff members by 2022.

Smatresk said he is open to all suggestions and is taking immediate action, directing his campus vice presidents to engage staff and faculty in discussions on culture, climate and ways to build a more inclusive campus.

"Across the campus we're going to talk about how we can do better individually and collectively," he said. "Collectively bringing ideas forward and just making a difference in how we interact and engage with each other."

Smatresk said some changes would likely take more time because they would involve finding funding.

"I'm really excited to see someone like our president say he wants to support us and he wants to see these changes happen," said Ogbu. "I hope this is just another nudge in the right direction."

The students will return to present their list of demands to the UNT System Board of Regents on Friday at 10:45 a.m.

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