UT leaders outline eight key areas for Diversity Action Plan

The Daily Texan – November 4, 2016

UT leaders and stakeholders are collaborating to develop the Diversity Action Plan, which aims to increase diversity and inclusion among University students, faculty and staff.

This summer, Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, and Sonica Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs, began constructing the plan, which focuses on eight areas of improvement: University leadership, students, faculty, staff, K-12 partners, alumni and supporters, and communication assessment and accountability.

“The Diversity Action Plan is meant to be the blueprint for action around diversity and inclusion for the campus,” Vincent said. “It is meant to bring resources together across campus and to give the University some direction.”

Vincent said the plan is currently being drafted, and the University is receiving feedback from key stakeholders in the eight different areas through interactions with students and the community. The plan will work with K-12 partners, alumni and supporters to build communication, assess progress and hold leaders accountable for diversity across campus.

“We want to make this a student-centered process to make sure students are getting the benefit of learning in a diverse environment,” Vincent said.

Vincent said when it comes to University leadership, the deans of individual colleges will play a major role in developing the plan.

“I anticipate that schools and colleges will have, for example, equity and diversity committees that would help address these issues at school and college level,” Vincent said.

In his annual State of the University address, President Gregory Fenves said diversity is among his top priorities.

“I want every student and every member of this campus and community to feel like they belong, that they are respected and that their voices are heard,” Fenves said. “Every student benefits from being educated in that diverse environment.”

One area of the plan works to recruit and retain diverse students. Over the last 30 years, the black student population has increased from 3.5 to 4.2 percent. The Hispanic student population has increased from 8.9 percent in 1985 to 22.1 percent currently, while the Asian American student population has increased from 4.2 percent in 1986 to 19.9 percent today.

The number of American Indian students has remained stable at around .2 percent since 1986. On the other hand, the foreign student population has decreased overall from 6.5 percent in 1985 to 4.9 percent today.

Jasmine Barnes, director of operations for Students for Equity and Diversity, said her organization creates spaces to hold important conversations about diversity, such as the My Black UT Matters event Thursday night.

“Through conversation, we can teach other,” Barnes said. “Both white students and students of color need to be in on the conversation about race and inclusion.”

Vincent also said he hopes to facilitate a well-rounded learning environment through employing a diverse faculty. Vincent said he thinks the University has done well in terms of recruiting faculty from a wide variety of backgrounds, but there is more to be done.

While 2016 faculty data is not yet finalized, in 2015, 77.3 percent of faculty members were white, 10.2 percent were Asian American, 7.3 percent were Hispanic, 3.6 percent were black, 1.2 percent were mixed-race, .4 percent were American Indian and .1 percent were unknown.

Vincent said the numbers for certain demographics may be depressed, since the data does not account for adjunct lecturers, only full-time professors.



Nonprofit RideAustin tries to replace Uber and Lyft

The Daily Texan – June 16, 2016

A new nonprofit ride-hailing service, RideAustin, launched its app Thursday morning in an attempt to replace the departed Uber and Lyft.

Uber and Lyft left Austin last month after Proposition 1 — which would get rid of the ordinance passed in December by the Austin City Council, requiring fingerprint-based background checks and vehicle identification with a company-specific emblem — was defeated in a citywide vote. To provide the city with a riding-hailing service that complies with city regulations and gives back to the community through charity donations, RideAustin was created by local entrepreneurs Joe Liemandt and Andy Tryba. It began by serving the downtown and airport areas but will eventually expand to all of Austin.

“The night Prop 1 failed was the first conceptual development of RideAustin,” said community engagement director Joe Deshotel.

For many in Austin, ride-hailing services are the preferred way of traveling around the city, rather than taking the bus or driving themselves.

“To get to work, I used Uber or Lyft, which was easier for me because I work [downtown],” said psychology sophomore Yasmine Carter. “Now I have to drive myself”.

RideAustin differs from Uber and Lyft in two main ways.

The new service gives riders the option to round up their fare price and donate the difference to local charities of their choice. There are currently six charities users can choose, with more to come. The app also includes a feature allowing riders to pay a “boosted ratio” to get rides faster at their convenience. Riders who opt out of this will not face any price surging, which was done automatically by Uber and Lyft during peak usage times.

RideAustin will also create a roadmap for other cities and ride-hailing services by allowing all of their data to be available to the public, Deshotel said. This way, other cities can use similar models for ride-hailing services.

Through free fingerprinting vouchers for drivers and the conduction of free vehicle inspections, RideAustin covers many of the fees for drivers, Deshotel said.

Before launching its full service, RideAustin was operating in beta, servicing users with free rides, while the app functionality was being tested and drivers were being recruited.

UT alumnus Alberto Altamirano, who regularly used Uber and Lyft, said he has used RideAustin a few times since its app launch during the beta period.

“I strongly recommend it. The drivers were attentive and friendly,” said Altamirano. “It’s great to see local Austin entrepreneurs develop productive alternatives to ridesharing services.”

The RideAustin app is available for download on iOS and an Android version is in development.

“We hope that the community will embrace us,” said Deshotel.


Study shows teaching teens about social, personality changes helps cope with stress

The Daily Texan – July 3, 2016

A new study by a UT psychology professor and graduate student concluded stress among teenagers can be alleviated by teaching them that social and personality traits can change.

David Yeager, UT assistant psychology professor and lead author of the study published in Psychological Science, suggests teaching high school students that socially relevant traits are not fixed and capable of changing can make them feel better prepared to face the social challenges of being a teenager.

“Adolescents are very focused on peer social hierarchy and status and when they transition into high school, they are put into a situation where they have to figure out where they stand,” Yeager said. “Often, teenagers think ‘If it’s hard now, it’s going to be hard forever.’ That’s stressful for them.”

Business freshman David Xia said the most stressful thing for him during high school was balancing school and his social life.

“Whenever I spent too much time with my friends, my grades would slip,” Xia said. “Whenever I only focused on [school] work, I found that my friends would change. Finding a balance took a while and it was definitely not easy.”

In the study, which also included work by graduate psychology student Hae Yeon Lee, researchers conducted two double-blind studies in which they monitored teens’ physiological responses to stress.

The first study involved monitoring the cardiovascular responses of 60 teenagers, ages 14 to 17, who prepared and delivered a short speech and completed mental math problems after they had been talked to about the possibility of personality changes. Participants reported feeling less threatened by the task and experienced higher cardiac efficiency.

The second study tracked 205 ninth-graders for an entire school year — half of whom were taught about personality changes. Teens who were taught about this notion had higher grades and were able to better cope with stress.

Researchers have cautioned that a problem in the study may be the potential ineffectiveness of parents or teachers telling the teens how people change, Lee said. She hopes to find solutions to this problem when she and Yeager conduct more studies during upcoming high school orientations.

“It will be important in future research to examine how parents and teachers tend to socialize children and adolescents,”Lee said. “We are very excited about what we will discover in our new study.”


New housing options in West Campus

The Daily Texan – July 5, 2016

Among all the construction around campus are new modern mid and high-rise apartments, creating new living options for UT students.

Several new housing projects are underway in West Campus, a popular area for many UT students. These new projects include The Ruckus, University House, The Corner at West Campus and Skyloft, adding a total of more than 1,500 beds to West Campus, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Realtor Samuel Njigua who works for West Campus Living, a real estate agency that offers free service to students, said leasing season begins in November and continues through July.

West Campus is very popular to UT students because of the location and amenities, Njigua said.

The Ruckus will be a seven-story building at 2502 Nueces St. and have 45 units ranging from two to five bedrooms. Construction begins this summer and is expected to wrap up August 2017.

University House, at the corner of West 21st Street and San Antonio Street, is nearing completion and set to house students for the upcoming fall semester. The 20-story apartment building was built on land that had belonged to the University Lutheran Student Center since 1971, according to the Statesman.

Exercise science sophomore Isabel Alvarado said she chose to live at University House for the upcoming year because it is a part of the Safe Mixed Income Accessible Reasonably Priced Transit Oriented (S.M.A.R.T.) Housing program, which is designed to stimulate the production of housing for residents with low and moderate income. Students can qualify for S.M.A.R.T. Housing based on financial aid and scholarships.

“I think one of the main pros is the fact that it [University House] is very close to campus,” Alvarado said . “One con is that it is pricey.”

The Corner at West Campus located at 2504 San Gabriel St., is an eight-story building with two underground stories of parking also set to open for the fall semester. Sixty-two apartment units from one to five bedrooms will total 207 beds.

Skyloft, at 507 W. 23rd St., will begin construction soon and is expected to open in summer 2018, featuring a total of 212 units with 677 beds.

Rheana Thakkar, psychology junior and leasing agent for Housing Scout said most students want to find cheapest place to live that is closest to campus, but location often outweighs all other living preferences. She also added that close-proximity to campus is the greatest benefit of living in West Campus.

“[Students] tend to enjoy certain amenities such as free parking, a washer and dryer, and furnishings, but time and time again the most important thing for students tends to be location,” Thakkar said.



Austin advocacy groups host gathering after police killings of two black men

The Daily Texan – July 8, 2016

In response to the police killings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the Austin Justice Coalition and Black Lives Matter Austin hosted a vigil and meeting in east Austin at Givens Park, with an estimated 400 people in attendance. What began as a peaceful discussion ended in argument and anger for some.

Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who have been placed on administrative leave. Philando Castile, 32, was pulled over for a busted tail light and shot to death in Falcon Heights, Minnesota on Wednesday as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter watched from inside the car. Both incidents were caught on video and sparked controversy and protests across the country.

“I know change is possible, but it takes hard work,” said Sukyi McMahon, an organizer and member of the Austin Justice Coalition. “[These shootings] are emotionally draining, but I feel compelled to never look away and to make people aware of this problem.”

McMahon said the purpose of the event was to recruit and empower members of the community, as well as to speak the truth about what is happening.

Also in collaboration for this event were Sisters of Austin and the Nation of Islam Austin. The Black Chamber of Commerce donated drinks and community members provided a PA system and candles. Austin Community College’s School of ASL provided sign-language interpreters.

“Givens Park is on the east side of Austin, with the black community,” McMahon said.

The organizers chose this location to make it convenient for members of the black community to gather for mourning, decompressing, strategizing and channeling energy in the best way possible, McMahon said.

UT associate English professor Snehal Shingavi was a speaker at the gathering.

“I think all of our hearts are heavy having seen what has just happened and having watched for now years and years and years … as black people are gunned down in the streets,” Shingavi said.

Shingavi also offered three takeaways from the work of the Black Lives Matter movement. The first lesson Shingavi listed concerned the “blame” placed on African-Americans for “all of the problems that this society has faced.” The second lesson addressed systemic problems with police forces.

“Lesson number three: The reason that we know all of the names that [were] listed for us, is because ordinary people took to the streets to demand justice … That is the only way we are going to get it,” Shingavi said. “Ordinary people in this country can make a change because we have changed the conversation about racism and police violence in the United States.”

Antonio Rivera, a 19-year-old attendee, said he was at the gathering to pay his respects. “I want to be around people who want change,” Rivera said.

Rivera was holding a sign with several names of black men and women killed by police, such as Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice. He said there needs to be justice and people need to be held accountable for their actions. Rivera drove from San Marcos to attend the gathering.

APD Police Chief Art Acevedo was present at the gathering, which caused some tension. At one point during the meeting, speakers acknowledged Acevedo’s attendance and challenged him to come to the stage. Shouts of “Bring Acevedo out!” could be heard from the crowd.

“I want y’all to turn to Acevedo and tell him what you want him to do,” a speaker said from the stage. Acevedo did not address the crowd, but released a public statement following the deadly shooting of five police officers at a protest in Dallas in which he referenced his presence at the gathering in Austin.

Acevedo tweeted, “As I watched our community come together at Givens Park to peacefully gather and demand police accountability in this nation, I learned of the attack in Dallas against officers protecting the First Amendment rights of their residents.”

“I started this day with a heavy heart like many Americans and I end it with a heavy heart,” Acevedo said.

Note: This story has been updated since its original publishing.


First living wall on campus completed

The Daily Texan – July 12, 2016

After five years of planning and research, UT’s first living wall, a 10-by-25 foot honeycomb structure with carefully selected native plants, is complete.

The project, shepherded by former School of Architecture Dean Frederick Steiner and Assistant Professor Danelle Briscoe, was completed by students and volunteers from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The living wall is at the Northwest corner of Goldsmith Hall facing Guadalupe Street and was funded by Dr. Patricia Clubb, vice president for University Operations office and UT’s Green Fee Award, a $5 fee billed to all tuition-paying students.

“I love this project,” Steiner said. “It has the ability to make the ugly more attractive and has ecological climate mitigation potential.”

Other than the wall’s aesthetic and sociological benefits, it will provide building cooling, city cooling, storm-water mitigating, noise buffering and serve as a natural air filter.

Steiner collaborated with Briscoe, Clubb and Mark Simmons, who was director of research and consulting for the Ecosystem Design Group at Wildflower Center. Briscoe led the project while Simmons provided ecological knowledge.

During the project, Mark Simmons died from leukemia and Michelle Bright, an environmental designer at Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center and UT alumna, took over his duties.

“The living wall was a pilot project for the Guadalupe Parking Garage and was my last major project as the dean,” Steiner said. He resigned from his position because of the new campus carry law and took over as dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

“I remain a big supporter of the project. I’m really happy we finished during my last month [at UT],” Steiner said.

Briscoe said she hopes the wall will make students think alternatively about ways to take care of the planet.

“For the most part, you’re going to be seeing something like a honeycomb wall that happens to have a plant system to it,” Briscoe said. “Hopefully, it will let people see that when you talk about architecture, it doesn’t have to mean concrete.”

Data from the wall will be gathered and analyzed to determine whether other walls can be implemented on campus or throughout Austin.



Campus masturbator targets women throughout West Campus

The Daily Texan – July 17, 2016

Austin Police Department received a report of a man driving around West Campus and asking for directions while masturbating on July 1.

The incident occurred at 2700 E. 22nd St., was categorized as an indecent exposure offense and is being investigated by APD investigator Erin Truho. It was not an isolated event.

On July 2, after reporting the incident, anthropology senior Olivia Benton posted her experience to a private Facebook group of UT female students, Walk Together UT, to warn other women. The post received a lot of feedback, including a couple of women who said the same thing had also happened to them.

“I was out walking my dog, when a man in a silver sedan pulled over and asked for directions … After about a minute, I realized he was masturbating in the car and had no pants on,” Benton wrote in the Facebook post. “I reported it to APD, but basically be vigilant, and if something similar happens to you, try to get the guy’s license plate, because this was clearly something planned.”

UT alumna Larisa Manescu is one of the women who commented on the Facebook post to say she had a similar experience a few years ago.

“I was waiting with a friend of mine … at the intersection of 25th and Pearl Street, when a man pulled up to ask for directions to a park,” Manescu said. “It was strange because she [my friend] was giving the clearest answer she could give and he still had questions. Then the realization of what he was doing sunk in … the man was stalling time to masturbate.”

Manescu said the man drove away before they were able to get his license plate number, so the incident was not reported to police.

UTPD Officer Samantha Carter said the department has not received any similar reports, but they are always monitoring the APD radio. Carter also explained what to do in this situation and how to prevent being caught off guard.

“If this happens to you, get somewhere where you feel safe, immediately call 911, give a description of what you saw and a location,” Carter said. “Always be aware, stay off of your phone and always walk in pairs, whether it’s daytime or nighttime.”


Gone To Texas introduces UT’s biggest class ever

The Daily Texas – August 24, 2016

This year’s Gone To Texas program welcomed more than 8,500 incoming freshman and transfer students, the largest student influx in UT’s history, on Tuesday night on the Main Mall.

President Greg Fenves along with Student Government President Kevin Helgren and Student Government Vice President Binna Kim greeted the students. 

“Gone To Texas is a rite of passage for every new student,” Fenves said. “Welcome to the Longhorn family, and welcome to the journey that will shape the rest of your lives.”

President Fenves also took a selfie while on stage, documenting the large audience. 

Helgren then took the stage to greet the new Longhorns.

“Whether you are an incoming freshman, a transfer student, a Dell Medical student … you all from this point moving forward have something in common,” Helgren said. “You all have Gone
To Texas.”

Helgren said Gone To Texas is the start of what will hopefully be an incredible four-year journey.

“It’s really a giant pep rally that aims to excite the incoming class,” Helgren said.“This marks the beginning of their opportunity to go out and change the world.”

Sergio Cavazos, president of the Senate of College Councils, spoke about the core values of the University and the student honor code, something he said he is very passionate about.

“You are now a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” Cavazos said.

Prior to speaking, Cavazos said as a freshman, Gone To Texas was the first moment that he truly felt a part of the campus.

“It really builds that sense of community that we all find here on the 40 Acres,” Cavazos said.

“Be comfortable in your own skin on campus and really get involved as much as you can. Know that it’s okay to fail. If things don’t work out, eventually they end up working themselves out,” Cavazos said.

Acting freshman Brandon Pegram said he went to Gone To Texas because of the tradition.

“During my first year at UT, I expect a lot of changes in my life,” Pegram said. “I expect to move forward and to progress as a person.”

Pegram said he is a bit nervous about his classes, living on his own and the new campus carry law, but is excited to be a Longhorn.

“I just love being here and I’m glad that I came to Texas.” Pegram said.

Rhetoric and writing freshman Paige Kubenka said the event helped her feel more connected to her classmates.

“It was a really amazing experience to see all of my incoming class gathered together in front of the Tower,” Kubenka said. “It made me feel like part of this community, this family, to be able to sing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ with my classmates as the Tower was lit with our graduation year.”


LGBT UT orgs show support for Austin PRIDE

The Daily Texan – August 25, 2016

The 26th annual PRIDE celebration this week concludes tomorrow with a festival and parade.

Several LGBT organizations at UT are showing support for Austin PRIDE by hosting special events, collecting donations and participating in the parade.

“Pride is about making relationships,” said Austin Dennis, network chair of the Pride Alumni Network for Texas Exes. “Our network exists to keep LGBTQ alumni connected with the University and to connect current LGBT students in order to build relationships and advocate for issues.”

Dennis said the Network will be tabling at the festival and will participate in the parade this upcoming Saturday.

“At the festival there will be tons of groups, organizations and businesses promoting themselves and showing support for PRIDE, in addition to vendors, rides and performers,” Dennis said. “It’s great to hangout and enjoy the community.” 

Dennis said that one way UT could work to be more inclusive is to include more gender options on University applications.

“Make it more welcoming for people who don’t fall in the binaries, and let them apply as who they are,” Dennis said.

On Tuesday, the Gender and Sexuality Center held an open house to inform students of upcoming events and introduce them to other student groups. 

“Austin Pride has been a refuge for members of the LGBTQ community, with its festive joy and resilient march,” said Liz Elsen, interim director of the Gender and Sexuality Center. “It is an outlet to express who they are and a safe place to celebrate who they love. LGBTQ existence in and of itself is an inherent form of resilience, and Austin Pride ensures that its existence be more than acknowledged — that it be celebrated and felt.”

Elsen said attendees of the festival and parade can expect to be showered in glitter, communal support and love.

UT’s Queer People of Color and Allies hosted its annual welcome event, the BLOQ Party on Thursday, with free T-shirts, music and food.

“Austin pride is a celebration of our communities and thus, different organizations take part in the festival and parade,” said Javier Rivera, director of operations for Queer People of Color and Allies.

“QPOCA contributes to the self-empowerment and visibility of people of color and queer people and their communities at UT,” Rivera said. “UT has a lot of work to do to become more inclusive of all its students. A big way UT can work to be more inclusive is for its resources it provides is to be more competent in the areas involving gender identity and sexuality.”

The PRIDE Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, with an entry fee of $17 for adults and $10 for children. The parade begins at 8 p.m., which can be watched at no cost.

On Aug. 31, Texas Queer Student Alliance will host their first event of the semester, Splash Party, at the Gregory pool. They will distribute free pizza, T-shirts and Tiff’s Treats as they welcome students to the organization.