State Rep. Jolanda Jones holds town hall to address UH theatre incident
State Rep. Jolanda Jones held a town hall meeting on Feb. 9 to address the incident involving UHPD and the two theatre students and urge solutions.
Jones held the town hall after a previous meeting had an unsuccessful outcome with students’ concerns still not heard, she said.
Jones invited individuals in positions to help make students feel safer, including the dean of the School of Theatre and Dance, who was not in attendance, Chancellor Renu Khator and Student Government President Joshua Martin. Khator and Martin were not in attendance either but sent their representatives.
“I became aware of the situation Tuesday in the evening, learned of a town hall that was to take place Wednesday morning,” Jones said. “What we learned at the town hall was that the students didn’t feel heard. They didn’t feel safe.”
Graduate student Domonique Champion, one of the two students who had a gun drawn on them, shared his frustrations and trauma from the day of the incident. He shared that since then he is unsure if he would be able to practice his art the same way as he’s always done.
“What happened was on Nov. 4, and I’m only recently receiving correspondence from the administration of University of Houston three months and three days afterward,” Champion said. “The fact that if this happened to me, and I came that close, it can happen to anyone on that campus. It breaks my heart that change is difficult for the simple fact that people don’t want to take responsibility.”
Champion said that he was a Student Government Association senator for many administrations at the University and saw changes and renovations to make the campus a better space. However, he said that he has felt abandoned by the University and the administration.
“We are out here (at Emancipation Park) where not just myself, but also other artists and this community can be heard because things need change,” Champion said. “ Because we already know the issues that we have as far as Black men, bodies of color and mental health. And the fact that I had to seek it on my own before someone actually helped me from the University is an issue.”
Champion’s anguish filled the room with emotions, and Jones was moved as well. She emphasized throughout the meeting that the power in her office will be used to make students at UH feel protected and that the University’s administration responds accordingly.
Theatre senior Brandon Sanders reached out to Jones after many attempts to bring this incident to the University’s administration and raised awareness on social media on how the school responded by handing neon vests out to Theatre students.
“I was looking at this vest and I thought about what message the University of Houston was sending to its students specifically us at the School of Theatre,” Sanders said. “In that moment I marched to administration and I demanded that they send out some sort of formal announcement. I just wanted to spread the message of what happened to Domonique. I didn’t think it was right that they were trying to send us this message that we weren’t safe on our own campus and they have yet to find us a real solution.”
Jones said she met with Khator last week to discuss what actually happened and what solutions the University will make. Jones also said that she requested to see the UHPD’s footage from the night of the occurrence.
“Interestingly the body cam footage and the dashcam footage in the patrol car shows everything but the incident,” Jones said. “So there’s actually no evidence that I’ve seen today that shows a gun wasn’t pulled since the school’s official response when asked is that if a gun were pulled, they said no.”
Jones wanted this town hall meeting to be a platform for students and alumni to share their experiences at UH and many expressed how this situation has impacted their view of the University.
“I want to emphasize the fact that there is no space in the School of Theatre and Dance,” acting alumna Sophia Mobbs said. “I was there for four years and there were times when our scheduled classes had to be held outside because they needed the space to build sets.”
Mobbs shared a statement from Fine Arts Forward, on actionable items that they think can be done to make this situation better one being an apology from the decision-makers involved in concluding for theatre students to wear neon vests.
“A lot of this was really emotional for me because we’re supposed to protect our young people,” Jones said. “So I need to debrief, go back and look at the notes and make sure we stay engaged with the University to make sure they follow up and follow through.”