Baylor student testifies at Texas House hearing

Mansfield junior Sierra Smith stands outside the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, where she testified regarding House Bill 3142. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

Mansfield junior Sierra Smith testified at a Texas House of Representatives Committee on Higher Education hearing with the goal of helping representatives understand what it is like to be a woman in college who was sexually assaulted.

“I was terrified to testify,” Smith said. “There were only two women on the committee, and I was afraid the men wouldn’t be able to understand where I was coming from. But in the end it was worth it, and I am so glad I shared my story.”

Smith testified regarding House Bill 3142, which would require all Texas colleges and universities receiving state funding to mark the transcripts of students suspended or expelled for any reason, including sexual assault, even after they transfer to another school. In addition, the bill would keep the institutions from releasing the transcripts of students who are under investigation for sexual assault while the investigation is still underway.

Some schools, including University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, already have similar policies.

“Baylor looks forward to continuing to provide input regarding this potential legislation with members as it is in the initial stages of review,” a Baylor representative said in a statement to the Lariat. “Our top priority remains the safety, security and well-being of our students and campus community.”

Smith told the committee she was sexually assaulted last year, and while the Title IX office was investigating her claim, her assailant transferred to another school. Her assailant was able to transfer to another school. By the time he was found responsible several months later and would have been given a punishment of three semesters suspension, he was already at another university in another state.

“It’s not fair that he got to transfer and will never be punished for his actions,” Smith said. “There is nothing on his record saying he was found guilty or would have been punished. It’s not fair, and I have gotten no closure or justice.”

Smith expressed her concern for women at the university her assailant transferred to, pointing out that repeat offenders for sexual assault, especially in college, are extremely common.

“I would not be surprised if he assaults another girl, and there will be no record that she isn’t the first one,” Smith said. “It’s sad and scary.”

Rep. Chris Turner authored the bill and said he decided to write the bill after hearing stories of people committing sexual assaults at college and then transferring to another school before any disciplinary action could be handed down.

“This is being done by several Texas schools already and is a valuable tool to help ensure that sexual assault offenders won’t be able to just drop out and move on to a new school, where more students may be victimized as a result,” Turner said in a statement to the Lariat.

The bill passed through committee unanimously and, if approved by the state House and Senate, would be in effect by the fall 2017 semester.