Special panel addresses sexual harassment awareness discussion

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UTRGV students on Thursday, Nov. 30, attended a timely panel discussion that focused on sexual harassment. The event was organized by students taking the Gender and Communication course taught by Dr. John Cook, associate professor and chair of the UTRGV Communication Department. Cook said he hopes students walked away from the event with more awareness of the significance of sexual harassment and the resources available to them. (UTRGV Photo by Veronica Gaona)

Texas Border Business

By Steven Masso

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – DEC. 1, 2017 – UTRGV students attended an increasingly important and relevant panel discussion Thursday that focused on sexual harassment.

The event was organized by students taking the Gender and Communication course taught by Dr. John Cook, associate professor and chair of the UTRGV Communication Department. The seminar was held from 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, in Main Building 2.502 on the Brownsville Campus.

Cook’s hope is that students walk away from the event with more awareness of the significance of sexual harassment and the resources available to them.

“I believe we’re at a watershed moment,” he said. “It’s possible – with all that has been publicized, in recent weeks especially – that we have more momentum to change the culture than ever before.”

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The panelists were:

  • Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, professor of communication and former president of UTB/TSC.
  • Douglas Stoves, associate dean of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Dr. James Whittenberg, assistant professor, counseling.
  • Camilla Montoya, lecturer, psychology.
Panelists for the UTRGV discussion on sexual harassment were (from left) Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, professor of communication and former president of UTB-TSC; Douglas Stoves, associate dean for Student Rights and Responsibilities; Camilla Montoya, psychology lecturer; and Dr. James Whittenberg, assistant professor of counseling. The event was Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 on the Brownsville Campus. (UTRGV Photo by Veronica Gaona.)

Up for discussion were subtopics ranging from gender equity to power distance, all aimed at encouraging students to be powerful and speak up against sexual harassment.

“We have to be very careful about who we give power over us,” Garcia said. “We have some responsibility to hold onto power and not give it up easily.”

The seminar was held at a time when a growing number of public figures have been accused of sexual harassment, sparking the hashtag #MeToo, which encourages victims to come forward and share their accounts.

“#MeToo is a positive movement from the standpoint that it is highlighting something that has been an ongoing epidemic,” Stoves said. “Now we have to ask ourselves, how do we change that dynamic and address the issue?”

The UTRGV Counseling Center offers free and confidential services to students to address mental health concerns and promote personal growth and well-being.

Lori Herrera, a senior communication student, said she was glad to hear of the services UTRGV makes available to people who have experienced sexual harassment.

“It was very important that they talk about the counseling services,” she said. “There are still a lot of students that don’t know that it’s free and available to them on both campuses.”

The University of Texas System spearheaded a special study – Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE) – conducted by UT Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of the prevalence of sexual assault and students’ perceptions on the issue.

The CLASE website says the study “is a proactive, UT-specific effort to better understand the prevalence as well as students’ experiences and perceptions of sexual assault and misconduct on its campuses.”

For more information or to report misconduct, contact the Dean of Student Rights and Responsibility at (956) 882-5141 or (956) 665-5375.