Student Katherine Hareclerode, with the Undergraduate Business Council of the University of Texas, places bouquets of flowers on picnic tables Tuesday, May 2, 2017, on the Gregory Gym Plaza, the scene of a random act of violence by Kendrex J. White, who stabbed to death student Harrison Brown and injured three others on the UT campus. (Photo: Ralph Barrera, Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Students at the University of Texas-Austin gathered this evening to honor the memory of Harrison Brown, who was killed Monday on campus by a fellow student wielding a knife.
But many have also been expressing displeasure with how Longhorn administration communicated with students during and after the tragic stabbing attack, in which Brown was killed and three others were injured.
The stabbing took place at 1:46 p.m. Monday, but students did not release an official alert from the university until 2:15 p.m. Rumors were also swirling the same day about another stabbing on West Campus, which police said today was a false report.
Perceptions that communications from the university were slow — significantly slower than Twitter and group text — has sparked student frustration with the University of Texas administration.
If you have friends that don’t use social media please tell them to be safe since @UTAustin fails to give us updates
— so extra (@mellohorn21) May 1, 2017
There’s no excuse for this lack of communication. I don’t care if UT has an image it wants to protect, that image has already been shattered
Racially charged fliers posted on campus have also raised tensions at UT-Austin this week.
The knife attack comes barely a year after the murder of student Haruka Weiser — the first murder on campus since the infamous 1966 Tower shooting — and has reignited student safety concerns on campus.
Students have openly expressed disappointment and disapproval on social media this week, citing the university’s slow response time and criticizing UT for acting “like a business” instead of a school.
Y’know UT didn’t cancel classes the day after Charles Whitman killed 17 people on campus? UT is a business. They don’t care about us.
— raybert (@ratalope) May 2, 2017
Several videos circulated that appear to show a UT student voicing his concerns to President Greg Fenves and vice president for student affairs Soncia Reagins-Lilly, receiving a subdued response.
Josh Ellis, a sophomore African studies and government major, is the student in the videos. He told USA TODAY College that he wanted to know what Fenves was doing to help students feel safe, saying, “I feel unsafe as a student in general, unsafe as a black student.”
“I’ve grown tired of what I feel is a lackadaisical response to racial incidents,” said Ellis, who had a class with Harrison Brown, the student who was killed in the knife attack. He was disappointed in the president’s response, he said, and felt that Fenves and Lilly did not project appropriate concern.
Still, he noted, the videos posted on social media captured only a small portion of their conversation, and do not include a calmer part of their interaction, which started off, he said, as an “open” dialogue.
Ellis said that tensions on campus are currently running high, and urged the administration to be more transparent and communicative with students.
In a statement posted on the university web site, President Fenves acknowledged that responses to the crises had been “too slow” and vowed to “do better.”
He also alluded to conversations he had been having with students, like the one with Ellis.
“Also, as I walk around campus today, I am speaking with students to listen to their individual concerns,” Fenves wrote. “I want to hear how you feel. I want to see your faces. And I want to better understand the impact of this tragic event, and to listen to the positive steps that you believe we can take to make improvements.”
Susannah Hutcheson is a Texas A&M student and a USA TODAY College digital producer. Brianna Stone is a USA TODAY College digital producer and a student at the University of Texas-Austin.