Megan ZerezMercury Staff
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information about the protest planned for Dec. 14.
UTD President Richard Benson announced Thursday afternoon that Jacob Walter Anderson, a transfer student who was expelled from Baylor University in 2016 after a sexual assault allegation, will still receive his degree if he completes the necessary requirements, but will not be allowed to walk at graduation. Additionally, Anderson will be banned from campus and will be barred from pursuing any further degrees at UTD, amidst national and local backlash.
Anderson’s case gained national attention on Monday after he was granted a plea deal in a Waco district court. Anderson will pay a fine of $400 and will not have to register as a sex offender, but will have to undergo sex offender therapy sessions.
In the statement, Benson stated that at the time of Anderson’s transfer in 2016, UTD was not aware of the accusations against Anderson. He added that the university would be reviewing its admissions process.
UTD’s admissions website states that applicants must be “in good standing with the last college or university attended.”
Rose Minjarez, a psychology and child development junior, who is organizing a protest on Friday, said she questioned the university’s claim.
“The nagging thing is that (the statement) doesn’t answer other questions and doesn’t address the issue of how (Anderson) was able to get on campus in the first place,” Minjarez said. “That’s something we need to talk about going forward.”
Minjarez said that she recalled extensive news coverage following Anderson’s expulsion from Baylor in 2016, and that she was surprised to hear that the case didn’t raise any flags within admissions.
“Either (Anderson) didn’t disclose the case or the expulsion, or UTD turned a blind eye,” Minjarez said. “My question is, is this what UTD sees as good moral standing?”
Last Monday, state representative Chris Turner filed HB449, which would require Texas universities to include students’ disciplinary history on official transcripts. A spokesperson from the Texas House Democratic Caucus, which Turner heads, said that the bill aims to prevent cases like Anderson’s.
Benson’s statement comes after student and community outcry, including an online petition, which has since garnered 29,000 signatures since its creation on Tuesday morning.
The petition called for Anderson’s removal from campus, a hold on his degree and a ban on Anderson’s participation in his upcoming commencement ceremony.
Psychology senior Kelly Ann Baker said that she and psychology senior Kelsey Casto formed the petition after hearing that Anderson had transferred to UTD after his expulsion from Baylor.
“I’m a victim as well, so when I found out (he was on campus), I was outraged,” Baker said. “I didn’t know that there was someone that predatory on campus. I was concerned that he exploited a loophole and UTD didn’t consider his background when admitting him. Those are huge issues.”
In 2016, when Anderson applied for transfer admission, UTD had a policy of automatic admission for candidates with test scores and GPAs above a certain threshold. University officials were unable to confirm whether or not Anderson’s admission was processed through this policy.
Baker said that it was not the plea bargain, but UTD’s apparent lack of oversight that shocked her most and played a large factor in the decision to start the petition.
“I wish I could say that I was shocked by the plea bargain,” Baker said. “But I know this is part of a bigger issue of leniency on college campuses for students like (Anderson). It wasn’t a shock, it was more of a disappointment.”
Baker said she was amazed to hear the university president responding to the situation and was surprised at the amount of media coverage they’ve gotten for the petition and the protest.
Baker said that she thought that one factor in the response to the situation is the fact that there isn’t a large fraternity scene at UTD.
“I’m kind of proud to be a Comet in this situation,” Baker said. “We came together so quickly to get this all moving.”
In light of Benson’s statement, Minjarez said that the students still plan to hold a rally on Friday, but that it will instead focus on supporting survivors of sexual assault and advocate for better education on consent.
Minjarez said she questioned the efficacy of the mandatory sexual assault safety training, first implemented in 2014.
“I used to think that the online training was enough,” Minjarez said. “After this, I don’t know. That’s why we’re still holding the rally — I think an on-campus presence sends an important message.”
Minjarez said that while much progress is necessary, she’s pleased with the decision, despite the university’s decision to allow Anderson to still receive his degree.
“The university’s hands were tied — Anderson did put in the time towards his degree,” she said. “It’s a compromise. He’ll get his degree, but he won’t be able to celebrate it, and he won’t be able to get a master’s degree.”
Baker said that she’s amazed at the student response on what she perceives as a largely apolitical campus and that she’s proud of the precedent UTD set with the decision.
“Even though the victim didn’t get justice in court, I think we’re sending a clear message — we’re standing by you,” she said. “We’re with you.”