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University of North Texas Students Government Association President and panelist Yolian Ogbu, right, reacts to a racial slur spoken by UNT System assistant general counsel Caitlin Sewell, left, during the ”When Hate Comes to Campus” event in November at the student union. Also on stage is Maureen “Moe” McGuinness, UNT dean of students. During Thursday’s regular Board of Regents meeting at UNT Dallas, Smatresk and others addressed diversity and inclusion efforts underway at the system and the campuses.

DALLAS — When students protested in November demanding action to better support students of color, University of North Texas President Neal Smatresk said he learned the school could do better.

The protests in November at the last Board of Regents meeting occurred days after a white UNT System employee used a racial slur during a free speech event on campus. It also came with clear demands from students, with more than 150 sitting in on the meeting.

“The event that occurred that prompted the demonstration was just a trigger, it wasn’t the reason they were there,” Smatresk said. “The reason was they had long-standing feelings of being marginalized at times, not being respected, not feeling like they had equal access, and the more I understood we had to make changes.”

During Thursday’s regular Board of Regents meeting at UNT Dallas, Smatresk, Chancellor Lesa Roe and the other school presidents (UNT Dallas, UNT Health Science Center) all addressed what diversity and inclusion efforts were underway at the system and the campuses.

Smatresk’s presentation was just one slide highlighting new efforts while speaking about how the event and protests impacted his thinking about campus culture.

He also highlighted ongoing efforts: Faculty aren’t eligible for merit raises if they haven’t completed diversity training and all vice presidents are creating “contextually relevant” trainings for their teams.

Smatresk also said he is hoping for better conversations and more deep training at student orientation. He added that requests for diversity and implicit bias training from deans and other campus leaders have surged.

Roe also highlighted an event happening at UNT in Denton next week that System leadership will attend, an all-day training session led by Joanne Woodard, vice president for institutional equity and diversity.

“You’ll see that what we’re working on is different cultures at our university and preserving those and making sure we move forward in a really good way,” Roe said.

For Smatresk, the student response was a realization that the campus wasn’t as inclusive as he thought it was, and prompted him to learn about diverse student experiences to implement institutional changes.

“The big message is — that changed us,” he said. “And change is important. Growing is to be changed and that matters. I think for all of us, that is now more true than it ever has been before.”

In other action

Both Roe and Smatresk also got contract extensions after a lengthy executive session to evaluate both administrators. The contract extensions and details of any pay increases or amendments will be negotiated and executed by Laura Wright, chair of the Board of Regents.

During the meeting, Smatresk also announced that TAMS, the elite high school on campus, was going to be changing into STEAM, adding music and arts students starting with the fall 2020 class.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @jennafduncan.

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