Sadie Hernandez, a political science junior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said she opposes allowing guns on Texas campuses amid the recurring school shootings across the nation.
“People that I know are all attending the Campus Carry [Town Hall] meeting,” Hernandez said last Thursday. “Everyone that I know is opposing it because it’s an infringement on our First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Having a threat of a concealed weapon and not knowing how someone is going to react to your freedom of speech infringes on your personal liberties.”
Political Science Assistant Professor Michelle Keck said she is going to attend Thursday’s meeting, which is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Union’s Gran Salón in Brownsville.
“I want to see what are going to be the ramifications,” Keck said. “I have concerns about differences in opinion leading to escalations between professor and student, student versus student. As a professor, if there’s a problem with the student, are they going to be able to come into the office and pull out a weapon?” Keck said her main concern is the ease of accessibility a person will have to their gun, not necessarily to use it but to have it as a threat.
Ben Reyna, associate vice president of security and campus affairs for UTRGV, said he wants to see more students attend the town hall meetings this week. “We have a better understanding of what to expect,” Reyna said. “We definitely want more students to attend to hear their feedback.”
During the first town hall meeting on Senate Bill 11, held last Wednesday in the auditorium of the university’s Harlingen campus, a professor asked UTRG officials what will be done to help her feel safe when guns are allowed on the university grounds.
Megan Kruer, a UTRGV lecturer in literature and cultural studies, was one of six people who spoke during the first of five meetings on SB 11, which takes effect on Aug. 1, 2016.
“I’ve had students yell at me, get in my face,” Kruer said during the town hall meeting. “I don’t like the idea that that could escalate. … That puts a tremendous damper on how I feel and how I conduct myself toward students.” Reyna said the purpose of the town hall meetings is to hear concerns and receive feedback from the campus community regarding the campus carry law.
SB 11, which was signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on June 13, allows license holders to carry a concealed handgun while on the campus of an institution of higher education in the state and takes effect next August at universities and Aug. 1, 2017, at junior colleges. University and junior college presidents have until those respective dates to adopt rules and regulations.
“It was a good conversation,” Reyna said after last Wednesday’s meeting. “It allowed students and members of the staff to express their concerns [aboutSB 11]. We want to ensure that we take all that information into deliberation as we start developing the policies and procedures and defining the exclusion zones where handguns on campus will not be allowed versus those where they will be allowed.”
As previously reported by The Rider, UTRGV President Guy Bailey established a Senate Bill 11 Campus Carry Working Group that includes representatives from UTRGV and the local community to lay the framework for the development of the implementation plan for SB 11.
Reyna, chairman of the working group, and UTRGV Chief Legal Officer Karen Adams responded to concerns and suggestions.
In an interview with The Rider last Wednesday, Kruer said she still has many concerns about SB11 but that the town hall meetings are a good idea.
“It’s great that they’re following the law and asking the faculty, staff and students to share their opinions,” she said. “I still have a lot of concerns. … The political decision has been made and passed down so, right now, it’s a matter of, you know, my concerns will not be addressed. So, I don’t like this law.”
Luke Donahue, a UTRGV literature and cultural studies professor, asked if there is a way professors can know which students in their class have concealed handguns.
“Remembering that our faculty members are state employees as well and there are certain few locations for asking certain questions, no,” Adams replied. “We’re not encouraging our faculty members to ask the students, ‘Do you have a license?’ … That information is generally not considered public information. It’s not something that we’re going to put into accessible databases.”
Kip Austin Hinton, a UTRGV bilingual and literacy studies professor, told Adams, “You said that we’re state employees, so state employees have access to that information.”
Adams replied: “Understand that state employees, there’s information that is made public by the virtue of the Public Information Act, but there are exclusions or exceptions on the Public Information Act as well. Generally speaking, [concealed handgun license] holders are excluded. That’s not public information.” Donahue argued, “Neither is the [grade-point average] or a student ID number, but we can have access to those.”
Neither Adams nor Reyna responded to the comment.
That is when Kruer asked what the university is going to do to make her feel safe.
Bailey said that the university’s main goal is to follow the law while maximizing the safety of the campus community.
“This is all new to us,” Bailey said at the end of last Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re trying to figure this out. Your ideas, suggestions or things, we’ll look at and take seriously. We won’t know, for a little while, how this will exactly work its way out. … We do understand legitimate concerns. It’s all new. None of us know exactly how this plays out. Our goal is really simple: We want to follow the law in ways that maximize safety of our campus.”
Campus and community members may send feedback and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.