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Assistant general counsel for UNT System resigns following usage of slur during panel discussion

Caitlin Sewell, the assistant general counsel for the University of North Texas System, resigned effective immediately over her use of a racial slur, administrators said Friday.

“We strongly believe in a culture that embraces, and vehemently defends, inclusion,” Chancellor Lesa Roe and UNT President Neal Smatresk said in a statement sent to students, faculty and staff. “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 during 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.”

Caitlin Sewell

Backlash to Sewell’s comment was swift, and the dean of students issued an apology to students near the end of the panel discussion.

“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,” Dean of Students Maureen “Moe” 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.”

Sewell apologized during the event, saying she didn’t wish to offend anyone.

“I wish I had censored that word, it came out without thought,” she said, according to The Texas Tribune. “I sincerely apologize. I literally have never said that word in a public setting before. … I did not mean to, I was trying to be real.”

UNT Student Government Association Sen. Daniel Ojo told The North Texas Daily that Sewell used the “f-word” in an attempt to censor herself, but didn’t seem to worry about using the “n-word.”

“So you didn’t censor the n-word, but you definitely censored f--k,” Ojo said. “Like, what’s more damaging to people? There is no word that I can say to describe a white person that is completely damaging to their character ... that has like big historical context to it that can damage someone, but there are a plethora of words that can describe and damage minor marginalized students.”

Roe and Smatresk said in their statement that counseling resources are available for UNT students, faculty and staff should they need it.

“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.

The Student Government Association also released a statement in response to Sewell’s resignation and listed five demands seeking to create institutional change in the UNT System. The demands include “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum” for all faculty, staff and administrators, a cultural competency course for all students and increased funding for the multicultural center and the Division of Equity and Diversity.

The association also calls for UNT to create “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,” and to boost “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.”

{span style=”background-color: #ffffff;”}SGA Vice President Hillary Shah also took to Twitter to release a statement of her own.{/span}

“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.”


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Three people killed following crash, explosion on Interstate 35W

There were three confirmed deaths Friday afternoon following an explosion on Interstate 35W in Denton involving two semis and four passenger vehicles, Denton police said.

Three other people were taken to a Denton hospital with injuries, a police spokeswoman said.

The crash was reported before 1:30 p.m. Friday. By about 6 p.m., the northbound lanes were still closed to traffic, and authorities expected them to remain shut until later Friday night or early Saturday.

A number of tanks could be seen on one of the semis at the scene, and a safety placard on the truck indicated it was carrying liquefied petroleum gas.

Mark Finley / Jeff Woo/DRC 

Firefighters contain a fire from a fatal crash in the 2300 block of Interstate 35W on Friday. Denton police said at least three people were killed in the crash and an explosion that involved two semis and four passenger vehicles. 

The cause of the explosion was still being investigated Friday night. Denton police spokeswoman Khristen Jones said no citations or charges were given Friday. She said speed could have played a role in the crash.

The number of fatalities changed multiple times Friday afternoon as Denton police and fire spokespeople confirmed three people were dead, later announcing two were dead, before amending that number again to three Friday evening.

Some motorists drove onto nearby residential streets as they were diverted from the interstate onto FM2449 as authorities worked the scene. At 3:50 p.m., Denton police tweeted that the southbound lanes of interstate were open, but the northbound lanes remained closed.

By about 6 p.m. Friday, Denton police had not said whether the fatalities came from the passenger vehicles or the semis.


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Jane Nelson, Sue Bancroft recognized in new namings on TWU campus

Texas Woman’s University recognized a pair of powerhouse leaders Friday by naming its women’s leadership institute and a new exhibition hall for them.

The Board of Regents on Friday voted unanimously to honor state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and former regent Sue Bancroft. Board President Jill Jester said the university was proud to create the designations, citing Nelson’s continued support for TWU and Bancroft’s initiative in kick-starting the leadership program.

The program will now be known as the Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership. The institute has three specialized centers to help women in business and public service: Center for Student Leadership, Center for Women Entrepreneurs and the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy.

Jane Nelson

“I am deeply honored to be recognized by TWU and to have my name attached to this leadership institute, which is doing a fantastic job of helping women succeed in business and public service,” Nelson said in a statement. “Texas has been identified as the top state for women-owned businesses, and this institute will help even more women achieve their professional goals.”

Sue Bancroft

A former schoolteacher and businesswoman, Nelson has served in the Texas Senate since 1993 and is chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee. She is the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate and was the first woman in Texas legislative history to chair a standing budget-writing committee.

With the second designation, the institute’s primary exhibition hall will now be known as the Sue S. Bancroft Women’s Leadership Hall. A community leader in both education and the arts, Bancroft is a retired University of North Texas music professor and a former chairwoman of TWU’s Board of Regents.

The exhibition hall is set to open next spring in the Old Main Building and will include an interactive digital history exhibit.

Bancroft was demure after being asked for her comment on the naming, praising instead Nelson and TWU President and Chancellor Carine Feyten for their continued leadership.

Both namings followed the recommendation of the institute’s 23-member advisory council. During the board meeting Friday morning, Kimberly Russell, the vice president for advancement, read resolutions about the two women into the record and the university issued a statement later in the day.

“Jane Nelson and Sue Bancroft have played key roles in the development of Texas Woman’s and their contributions to the university will inspire and be appreciated by generations of our students to come,” Feyten said in the statement. “We expect the Institute and the exhibit hall to be vibrant entities that will advance the already significant legacies of these outstanding women.”


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Ex-boyfriend is arrested on murder charge in stabbing death of woman found at creek

A man was arrested and charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Jade Harris, whose stabbed body was found on the bank of a rural Denton County creek on Sunday.

Tanner L. Brock, 21, was arrested Friday, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Friday afternoon. He is charged with murder.

The sheriff’s office obtained a warrant for Brock’s arrest on Thursday, the same day Harris’ mother said in an interview that her gut feeling was that Brock is her daughter’s killer. Sorena Herrington, Harris’ mother, said Brock, an ex-boyfriend of Harris’, brutally assaulted Harris about three years ago.

Chief Deputy Dewayne Dockery said the sheriff’s office arrested Brock in Alvord at about 1:30 p.m. Friday. By about 6 p.m., jailers were still working Brock through the booking process at the Denton County Jail. His mug shot and bail information were not available by Friday evening.

The sheriff’s office said people out fishing found Harris’ body at about noon Sunday near Denton Creek, where the creek meets FM2449 west of Ponder. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said her death was a homicide and she died from stab wounds.

Before she was discovered, Harris’ family had been looking for her for days. Her husband, John Harris, found her car abandoned in Carrollton on Nov. 1. Herrington said the family had police do welfare checks on Jade. Days of searching came to an end Tuesday, when the authorities confirmed the body was Harris’.

Harris’ family is asking for help paying for her funeral. A fundraiser has been set up to accept donations at www.gofundme.com/f/jade-monique-harris. She was the mother of two children and had recently taken a turn for the worst in her life as she grappled with drug addiction, family members said.

Brock’s arrest Friday came at the end of what one family member described as a “fast-moving investigation” by the sheriff’s office.