Why I Reported My Professor and How My University Failed Me.

Elizabeth Gutiérrez Mata
Sep 15 · 24 min read
A photo I took on one of my many late nights on UT’s campus.

I knew from the moment I submitted a grievance to my University about my professor that my institution would fail me, but nothing could have prepared me for when my case was completely mishandled and neglected by many insitutional offices within my University.

I am publishing this because 1) I am tired of screaming into voids of poorly run institutional offices that have time and time again shown me how little they actually care about or support their students and 2) if I don’t tell my own story, somebody else will for me, and they’ve already told it wrong once.

Reporting my professor — who was instructing me during the time I reported — for their egregious conduct and behaviour was one of the most difficult and emotionally draining experiences of my life. I do not regret it. What I do regret is thinking that people at my university in charge of overseeing cases of Title VII reportings were competent in their job and had my safety and well-being in mind.

I mean, isn’t that the most basic thing they can do? In the event that the final investigation is not in my favor, which it usually isn’t for complainants, at least they would not mess up getting me to the resources I need to resume my regular student life, right? Wrong, so unequivocally false. I had to fight tooth and nail, with the help of several faculty members in my department, to make sure that I was given any type of accomodation as a complainant.

Now that my investigation is considered closed by the University and I have received my final report, I am finally able to talk about what I reported, why I reported, what I went through, and why I am righteous in my anger.

In the Fall 2018 semester, I was enrolled in a four-credit advanced vector calculus course at the University of Texas at Austin as part of my degree requirements. This class, including recitation, met four times a week and took a significant amount of time out of my week. This also meant that I would spend at least three to four hours a week with my instructor and classmates learning about calculus. Prior to transferring to UT, I had taken a course that covered all the topics this course covered, so I was ready to just breeze through this class and get my four credit hours to count towards the sixty I need to graduate from UT Austin. The course that was supposed to be easy to complete became a complete nightmare to attend.

My instructor for this course was Kirk Blazek, Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Mathematics at UT. From my first impressions of this man, he immediately struck me as a professor who tries so hard to relate to his students and fails incredibly in the feat. His behavior was always erratic in his lectures. He would go in and out of different voice intonations that I knew could not be his actual speaking voice. He would swear and shout profusely, especially when he would make a mistake on the board during a derivation, which was often. The man put on a (comedic) performance during each lecture, and it was received positively by my largely white, largely male class who would laugh along to his unpredictable behavior.

Over time, the jokes and comments became insidious. Pray tell, why are references to white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan frequently occurring in a mathematics course? Why would anyone think it is okay to mention to their students during a mathematics lecture that he found a grand wizard robe for the KKK while cleaning one of his deceased in-laws belongings? What purpose does that serve to my calculus knowledge but to distract and disrupt my learning, especially as a marginalized student of color to whom white supremacy and the KKK is no laughing matter but bears real world consequences? Why did he think it was appropriate to bring up the KKK during an integration he was doing on ∫ k³ dk? The connection to the KKK and that integral never crossed my mind, until it crossed his and he voiced his fragility to the class in a “I swear that was by mistake, I’m not racist!” way. But wait …there’s more! We were learning about tangent vector fields in recitation, that look like so:

Example of a vector field (Paul’s Online Math Note’s).

The TA drew multiple arrows in a straight line from the origin and arrows tangent to the origin to demonstrate a vector field. A student raised his hand during recitation and asked the TA why he didn’t “just connected the arrows together instead of drawing multiple ones separately?” The TA responded, “Because last time I did that I accidentally drew a swatiska.” The class was silent. What were we to say after that? Now we were all thinking about Nazis while learning about vector fields.

There were other things that happened during that course where the main perpetrator was my calculus professor. Around mid-late October 2018, I had been contemplating about whether or not I should report him. He made that decision very easy for me when he joked about slavery in class. The egregious comment he made actually happened on Halloween, the day that is supposed to be full of scary ghosts, ghouls, and other fictious hideous creatures. The hideous creature I encountered that day was not fictitious; in fact, he looks like most every professor I have had in almost every single one of my STEM classes— white and male.

That day, in class lecture, we were learning about triple integrals. Usually, you learn about double integral before triple integrals. The difference between the two is just one more step of integration between double and triple integration. That’s exactly how my professor tried to explained it, but he should of stopped talking after stating just that. Instead, he said,

“Triple integrals are like double integrals, but with an extra step. Kind of like slavery, but with an extra step.”

I was mortified. I was angry. I was shocked. A white, male student audibly laughed out loud after the professor said this. How the fuck was the class okay with what was being said? I looked around the classroom to notice what I had already known since the start of the semester. The classroom, which was mostly made up of men and felt like a “boy’s club”, did not have a single Black student in sight. I felt my body shake in rage. Would the professor have felt comfortable saying that egregious comment in the presence of a Black student? I don’t know. I do know that I am glad that no Black student was there to witness this completely fucked up moment. Slavery is a very dark and horrific reality of the colonial history of the United States that has been shown to still affect Black Americans to this present day, and this white man just compared integration to slavery.

I decided that I could not let him get away with this repugnant behavior any longer. I filed of claim with the Campus Climate Response Team at my institution. Just shortly after hitting submit on my report, I had a meeting with my faculty research advisor, to whom I revealed in our meeting what I was experiencing and the report I had just submitted about my professor to the University. I was very upset and frustrated as I recounted to my advisor what I was experiencing in this class. I felt completely uncomfortable being in such a hostile learning environment created by my professor and wanted to drop the course.

As I had mentioned, I submitted the report on Oct. 31st. The last day to drop a class that semester was Nov 1st, the next day. I did not want to drop this class hastily without first meeting with a case investigator at my university to talk about what special accommodations can be made for me given what I had reported. So that’s what I did.

The following day, I received an email from a woman named Courtney Chavez at the Office of Inclusion and Equity (OIE). Courtney worked for the OIE and conducted investigations. She wanted to meet with me in person to discuss my complaint. I told her that I would only be comfortable seeing her if my advisor(s) came with me. Apart from the support of my advisors, I wanted witnesses to my conversations with Courtney.

I could be gaslit or have my conversations with her be twisted in the future. I knew that I had to be smart and intentional about my actions throughout the reporting process.

During my first meeting with Courtney, I recounted what had been happening in my mathematics course. She said the joke my professor made about slavery was “egregious”, and she thought this could be a formal Title VII investigation.

I don’t have the time nor energy to detail the difference between a formal or informal investigation, but I will try to be concise. Based on what I have gathered during my conversations with people in the OIE, a formal investigation investigates and reports if a University policy was violated and the discipline is severe, whereas an informal investigation gathers statements from the Complainant (me) and the Respondent (professor) and a closure memorandum is written to mediate conflict between both parties without formally reporting. Informal investigations usually mean a slap on the wrist for the Respondent and typically is not the resolution the Complainant desires.

There’s another complication to the reporting process that is not in the complainant’s favor: staying anonymous or reporting with your name. If I choose to stay anonymous during this investigation, I would not have transparency from the OIE. I would not have access to the findings of the investigation, unless I chose to report with my name. When my case investigator asked me if I wanted to move forward with the investigation anonymously or named during our first meeting, I told her that I needed some time to come to a decision.

I also firmly told her my need to be accommodated for the course, whether that be having another professor grade my work or to drop the course without academic repercussions and be financially reimbursed for the credit I didn’t receive. If I was going to report my professor and start an investigation now, I didn’t want him to have position of power over me while an investigation is in progress.

That following week, my research advisor and I met with Courtney again. I told her that I wanted to report using my name and that I wanted to proceed with the formal investigation process immediately. However, Courtney was the bearer of bad news. She told me that she was overloaded with cases because of a recent, controversial campus event; she could not realistically focus on my case until the Spring semester. You see, an investigation has to be finished 60 days from the date the Respondent is contacted and notified of an allegation made against them. If she were to start my case now, she would have until approximately the end of the year to finish the investigation report. She explained that she did not want to start that countdown until the spring semester started, but she lacked all the tact in the world when explaining her reasons to me.

I told her of my concerns with postponing the investigation. I did not know any students in the class, so I could not give any names for witnesses to the professor’s behavior. And even if she chose to randomly select students from the course to interview in the spring about the statements made in class, I feared that it would be lost in their memories after months had already passed. I expressed this sentiment to Courtney, and the best she could promise me is that she could ask around and do some preliminary research. I just had to accept that I was not going to receive justice anytime soon.

Since the investigation was decisively postponed by my case investigator, I asked her again about the course situation. I was still enrolled in that man’s class, he was still my professor, and I still had to go to class every single day. She assured me that she would place me in contact with someone in Student Emergency Services regarding the course, but no one from that office ever reached out to me about dropping the course or class accomodations.

Then, she put me in contact via email with a Title IX Confidential Advocate at my university. I found this odd, as none of my allegations were involving Title XI but Title VII. When my advisor and I met with the Confidential Advocate, she told me what I already knew — there was nothing she could do to help me because my case does not seem to fall under Title IX protections. She said she would do what she could, given that my case was outside of her job jurisdiction. Eventually, she placed me in contact with the proper folks in my university who had the actual administrative power to do something about this course.

I was referred to a CNS non-academic advisor. This happened a month after I had reported and stated that I wanted class accomodations. It was near the end of the semester, and I was running out of time to drop the course by the University policies. A student cannot drop a class where a final grade has been given, and there was less than two weeks until the end of the semester.

When I came into the CNS non-academic advisor’s office, I did not know what to expect. With the overwhelming frustration that I felt regarding my situation, I was very tense. The non-academic advisor asked me what was wrong. That’s an awfully loaded question for someone experiencing heightened levels of frustration and rage. I immediately broke down in their office after they had asked me that question. I had just met the academic advisor no more than a few minutes prior; we were strangers, and they were meeting me for the first time and seeing me at my worst.

I had told them the long and arduous story of why I wanted to drop the course, and they sympathetically asked me, “Why didn’t you come see me sooner?

I became more enraged.

That remark, though I’m sure well-intentioned, was a statement placing the blame on me, the student. I had spent a whole damn month trying to find the proper people to help me, but it took so long because the people who were supposed to be helping me (i.e. my case investigator) were incompetent at their job. How was I supposed to know that I had to meet with a non-academic counselor to do a non-academic drop for a course? The folks whose job it was to know how to help me failed me, and they are nowhere to be found to be held accountable.

The non-academic advisor told me that the non-academic drop is a process that involves proper documentation, like any University accomodation. The non-academic drop process involves filling out a physical form that details your current courses and your current grades in those courses (including the course you want to drop and your grade in that course), as well as a written statement for why you want to drop the course. These two materials are to be submitted with some official form. But wait — there’s a catch. My situation didn’t fall under any of the acceptable forms of documentation, such as medical or family related. When it came to Title reporting, no such reasons were listed on this paper. I also had a hard time limit to submit these materials. The next (and last for the semester) meeting where CNS advisors go over non-academic drop appeals was in a week, and everything had to be turned in before then.

The non-academic advisor and I sat there looking puzzled by this realization. How was I going to have acceptable documentation for this procedure? I had no option but to file it under “medical” by providing documentation of my visits to the University Counseling and Mental Health Center, even though my reason for dropping the course was not medical. I was referred to see a CNS counselor by the non-academic advisor that day because I was very emotional in their office. My meeting with the CNS counselor that day also was provided as “proof” that I was seeking mental health services. I also needed to submit proof by my case investigator in the OIE that I had submitted a complaint to the University and that they accepted jurisdiciton of my report.

I begrugingly gathered all the materials that were asked of me and submitted them in time for the next CNS advising meeting. I received a call later that week that my appeal was accepted and that I no longer had to go to class, which was comical given that there was only a couple class sessions left before classes ended and finals were starting.

I spent a whole semester going to a class I didn’t feel comfortable attending and was an incapable environment for me to learn, all the while paranoid that my professor would “discover” that I had reported him. It was an entire semester spent in emotional turmoil. My grades suffered (I had to repeat a course the following semester) and my (mental) health suffered (I started therapy again regularly).

By the end of the Fall 2018 semester, I felt extremely exhausted by the reporting process that made me feel alone in advocating for my needs. I was ready for Winter Break, but looming over my head was the OIE investigation that I was promised in the Spring 2019 semester.

I wish I could say that I experienced the biggest hardship in the reporting process the previous semester, but as my research advisor once said to me in conversation, “This [situation was] like a train wreck that only gets messier the more it slows down.”

A couple weeks after the Spring 2019 semester started, I decided I was ready to inquire about my complaint and the investigation progress to my case investigator. I sent Courtney an email asking about the progess of the investigation. I hear nothing back from her. A couple weeks after I sent the email, I had a meeting with my research advisor where he asked me if I had been in contact with Courtney. I told him I had sent her an email a couple weeks ago and have not heard back from her. We talked about what I wanted to do going forward, and I told him that I needed more help from him and my other faculty advisor this semester. Last semester really took a toll on my academics and health, and I needed to focus this semester.

My research advisor took note of my needs and promised me he would follow up and email the OIE for me. He didn’t receive a response back. The following week, he calls the OIE, and what he found was shocking.

Courtney had left her position in the University. My case investigator in charge of my report had left and no one from the OIE had made the effort to reach out to me and notify me, nor did Courtney’s email address return a message about her account/postition no longer being valid. My case, and presumably other students’ cases, fell through the cracks.

My advisor once again called the office and was referred to a woman in the OIE for further communication regarding my case. He sent her an email and received no response. He emails her again a few days later, and she finally responds, stating that she had “missed” his first email. He had a phone discussion with her, forwarded previous relevant email(s), and was told that the OIE would look into the status of my case and one of the investigators would get back to him soon. Two weeks pass without a follow up. He emails the woman from the OIE again asking for an update. No response. Another week goes by in which my advisor kept calling the OIE with multiple assurances that my case was being looked into and would be notified with update.

With an unrelenting advisor such as mine, the OIE could not avoid my case any longer.

My advisor was notified that they could not find any files related to this case in OIE office, other than an entry in a spreadsheet.

Courtney never documented anything by the OIE more than an entry in a spreadsheet. There was no documentation of what was spoken in our meetings. She had left the University, and now my case materials, like the notes she had written during our meetings, are considered to be effectively lost and unrecoverable. How the hell did the University allow this to happen? Is there no protocol for when a person in charge of investigating student complaints leaves their position? Is there no archive or repository in place for the office? Why did they let her leave without notifying the students she was assigned to and make an effort to preserve whatever work she had done toward cases? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK HAPPENED HERE?

It just so happened that the timing of this revelation led to an opportunity for accountability from someone in the university. A faculty advisor in my department who knew about the case and was supporting me notified me of an opportunity to bring my troubles up to my department chair (who is no longer the current but former chair, as I write this). The chair was on a committee that was overseeing and reviewing the Title reporting process in the University. They sent an email asking faculty if they had any input regarding the reporting process. My faculty advisor thought that this was a good opportunity to talk about the (mis)handling of my case.

I was hesitant, at first. When I first reported, I wanted to have the least amount of people knowing that I was reporting. I didn’t want people in my department knowing about my business. At that time, I was only comfortable with two faculty members in the astronomy department, whom I trust, knowing that I was reporting my mathematics professor. However, I knew that allowing my department chair, a person with more administrative power, to be involved in my case would help me tremendously. I decided to let the department chair become involved.

Once I gave the okay — almost immediately — the chair set up an appointment that week with people in the university who have high administrative positions in Student Emergency Services, the Title IX office, and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement.

I was not invited to the meeting, but I did help prepare for it. My advisors and I gathered all the email communications between me and Courtney and anyone else regarding my case. My research advisor printed all the emails and made a timeline (similar to the one posted at the end of this article), detailing my/our experience reporting through the OIE.

Since I wasn’t present at the meeting, I can’t say I was able to see the look on the university administrators’ faces as they were presented with indisputable evidence of their offices’ failings in my case. My advisors told me that they had nothing to say for themselves other than that they were very apologetic and agreed that what I went through was unacceptable. They told my faculty advisors and the chair that I would be contacted no later than the following day by a new case investigator. To my surprise, I was contacted as promised.

A woman named Donna Reddix from the OIE contacted me, telling me that she was assigned to my case and that she wanted to meet with me. I scheduled a meeting with her for the following week, accompanied by my research advisor. In that meeting, I had to recount the Donna everything that I had stated to Courtney when I first came to the OIE. Moreover, I demanded to know the Fall 2019 instructors for the same course so that I would not be in a situation where I would take course with same instructor and demanded to be reimbursed for the course from Fall 2018.

Donna asked me what I wanted as a result of the complaint. In retrospect, this felt like a trick question. It was purposely open-ended so that I could demand as little or as much as I wanted. Of course, it would be in the University’s best interest that I demand less instead of more. I asked her if she could give me examples of what I could demand, but she told me she could not, which only feeds into my belief that the University hoped I would ask for less in reparations.

Instinctively, I wanted to say what was on my mind, which was to have this professor fired. He’s only a math lecturer, and he’s not tenured, so it felt like a possibility. However, I gaslight myself and settled for less than I deserved. I told her, first and foremost, that I wanted a formal investigation where I wanted to be notified by her when she is about to reach out to the Respondent so that I can know for my own physical safety. After all, I am reporting with my name. That wasn’t too much to ask. I stated that I would like an apology letter from the Respondent, trainings for the Respondent, and trainings for faculty in either the College of Natural Sciences or the UT Mathematics Department. These demands were made with intent to have the Respondent understand that his behavior is unprofessional and unacceptable; he needed to have boundaries in his professional life. However, I was not content with what I was demanding. I knew that whatever I requested would not be promised, as the Provost’s Office ultimately decides what the disciplinary action will be, if any at all.

Donna was writing in a notepad that entire meeting, which made me think that she was documenting what I was recounting and demanding. But by now, the reader should know that nothing in this whole process has gone according to plan.

After leaving my meeting with Donna Reddix, I did not hear back from her for a couple months. When she had finally emailed me, she told me she had already spoken to the Respondent and was in the process of finalizing the report.

Hold up!

Didn’t I tell her that I requested to be notified before she reaches out to him? Here I was reading an email that she had already talk to this man more than a month ago! It happened in early-May, when classes were still in session and unwanted contact with this man by virtue of working in the same building was possible. It’s not ludicrous to say that I would have come in contact with him. Since I reported in October 2018, I had run into Respondent a few times waiting for the elevator in the fourth floor of the Physics, Math, and Astronomy building. His office was in the 13th floor, the same floor I used everyday to access the astronomy kitchen and office supply room. My personal safety was in question, and Donna did not contact me so that I could take extra safety precautions.

It’s not that hard to put a face to a name in this digital age. With one well-refined search result, you can find pictures of the person you are seeking. I was in a vulnerable position by reporting with my name, and Donna did not take my safety as a student into account.

Less than a week later, I received an email from Donna with the final investigation report. The document that I received that day is posted below:

From the beginning of the document, there were inaccurate statments. Donna had me listed as a student in the School of Social Work, which I am not. Donna’s job as an investigator is to report the facts. Donna could not even correctly report under which college in the university I was a student. There does happen to be a student at UT with the same exact legal name as me, but she was not the one who reported a mathematics professor. The report contained many inaccurate statements, actually. Didn’t I see Donna write down notes during our meeting? How could she get my statements and information this wrong? She also wrote inaccurately about the story with Courtney and the reasoning for the late investigation, making it seem like I asked for the investigation to be done this late.

Then, I read the Respondent’s statement. He admitted to every claim that was made against him, even ones that he never did (see TA vector fields and swastika anecdote from earlier in the article). In our meeting, I told Donna that the swastika comment was made by the TA during recitation, but here was the Respondent was admitting to it in the final report. I was at a loss for words. A Respondent owning up to everything that was said? What was his strategy in admitting to every allegation, even ones he didn’t commit? This felt all too surreal. His explanation of his behavior and comments in class was full of excuses and white fragility and white guilt. That’s all I will say on that or will give the time of day to what he said in the final report. There’s Google for that.

The final investigation report also stated that the “[I] requested [an] informal resolution”. I told both Courtney and Donna that I wanted a formal investigation, not an informal one. With the document stating I requested an informal resolution, any serious reprecussions for this professor was no longer going to happen.

I was livid. The object of my anger was my case investigator Donna Reddix.

I emailed Donna about the inaccuracies in the final report. She emailed me back stating that she would bring them up with the OIE and get back to me in a week. A week later, I received an email from Donna, which read:

“Dear Elizabeth,

Upon review and based on OIE’s analysis, we see no substantive discrepancies that warrant revising the closure memo. However, we will include your comments in the OIE case file, and provide the Provost’s Office with this information as an attachment to the closure memo.

Best regards,

Donna Davis Reddix, JD

Receiving that email felt like the final blow to my spirits, the one that made me think that I was finally done trying to fight this institution. The OIE reviewed my comments and said that they wouldn’t change a damn thing in my report, but they did make sure to correct my college affiliation within the University. My corrections, the truth about the early months of my investigation and the demands I made in my meeting with Donna, were dismissed. It felt like I was being called a liar, and I was seething with rage. Once again, I broke down.

How much could this institution take from me? They took my damn story and distorted it beyond comprehension.

Below is the final iteration of the investigation report with an addendum of my comments on the inaccurate statements I found that were sent to the Provost’s Office for disciplinary action:

Because the professor admitted to the allegations, I was able to do a retroactive delete-drop through the university, which effectively deleted any indication on my student records as having taken that course. Through this process, I was also promised a tuition reimbursement of over one thousand dollars, which I have yet to recieve. Months have passed since I did the delete drop and it was approved, and I have not yet been given the money my university owes me. As the icon Robyn Rihanna Fenty herself has eloquently said in one of her many hit records, “Bitch better have my money! … Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot!”*

UT Austin considers this case closed, which is why I am able to speak about it now and share these documents. It is within my legal right to share the results of the final investigation.

Since the investigation ended, I have been dealing with feelings of gross negligence involved in my case. Instead of feeling angered by the Respondent’s behavior, my anger is now directed towards my case investigator and the OIE.

This semester, I am retaking the math course from a year ago with a different professor. The math professor I reported is currently an instructor for courses this semester. Donna Reddix was a final candidate for the Title IX Coordinator at UT. To my satisfaction, she was not selected for the position.

I am thankful for my research advisor, faculty advisor, and former department chair who stood up for me, took initiative, and demanded things on my behalf when I needed them and when it mattered. I could not have been this persistent and come to any type of closure without them.

I started seeing a therapist back in March of this year. She knows about The Journey™ I’ve had in reporting. My therapist posed to me these questions, “What if what you are going through in this process is to serve a purpose? What if you are the one person, as persistent as you have been, to make actual change happen in the reporting process?”

I wish that were the case, but the reporting process is far too broken for any single person to “fix it” or make actual change happen. I knew that reporting would be hard, so I had set the bar to the floor. But the floor was too high for my expectations. What I came to experience was Hell. I think about the other students at UT, the ones who weren’t as persistent as me, the ones who didn’t have the support of two faculty members and their department chair. Even with that support system, I still feel without justice. If I were a student without the support I had behind me, what would have become of me more than what has already transpired? My heart aches for any student who courageously decides to report. This process is not for the faint-hearted.

Below is a chronology of my reporting process at UT Austin.

*As of September 19, 2019, I have received my tuition reimbursement.

Elizabeth Gutiérrez Mata

Written by

Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy student at The University of Texas at Austin. Chicana. First-gen. Chingona.

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