UT must foster welcoming community to increase black student enrollment

As of 2014 our school’s freshman class reported a racial breakdown of 45 percent white and 23 percent Asian, with American Indian and Pacific Islander making up the smallest percentages.

Just above that, though, lies the meager black population of approximately 4 percent. Historically, the University denied admission to colored people, yet the door has stood open to undergraduates since 1956.

Fifty years after the Bloody Sunday events and famous civil rights march in Selma, reflection on the current state of black America is necessary to facilitate progress.

In the post-civil rights movement age of integration and newfound opportunity, the percentage of black students at UT increased drastically, but it has since peaked and begun to decline.

The disproportionately low number of black students on campus in comparison to the black population of Texas is alarming and should be examined to further the diversity our school already boasts and to advance the socioeconomic status of black Americans.
Although it it cannot be measured definitively, many students say the primary source of fear for students of color comes from disturbing incidents in social settings, most notably and recently the culturally insensitive Fiji party, which was followed by overwhelming backlash from various students and organizations.

Unfortunately, events and attitudes like these aren’t isolated — cultural stereotypes are donned quite often at parties. While there lies an issue in itself, the way the University handles happenings like reports of bleach bombs, racist parties and discrimination gives the entire school a negative reputation. No one wants to go somewhere they don’t feel welcome.
Aerospace engineering freshman Cameron Rose understands the harmful effects that a few students’ actions can have on the demographics of the school.

“Before I came to UT, I read [the reports of] bleach balloons being thrown at students,” Rose said. “If people are reading about that as they’re applying, it causes a seed of doubt in minority students.”

Like the bleach bombing incident Rose refers to, the University responded to the more recent Fiji event with nothing but a statement. This lack of action could make minority students feel excluded from the University.


Black government senior and Society for Cultural Unity member Bryan Davis has felt this exclusion before.

“Unfortunately, people are tired and would rather go somewhere where being treated with dignity and respect is the norm (non-predominantly white institutes),” Davis said.


A secondary source of fear for students of color is a more systematic issue. UT students are accepted through the top 7 percent rule, while a smaller percentage go through the holistic review process.

For a variety of reasons, the achievement gap specifically between black students and their white counterparts has left black students who go to predominantly white high schools outside the top 7 percent, and they may be persuaded by societal and cultural expectations to find a career in a field without delayed income — often in jobs not requiring a degree. Continuing the cycle, minority students who make up large proportions of lower-income areas receive subpar high school teaching, also lacking guidance and resources to advance to rigorous schools like UT.


Finally, a continuing barrier for prospective black UT students and middle- to lower-class ones alike continues to be funding and fear of debt. The rising cost of tuition paired with a high cost of living in Austin and fear of debt pushes many to go to less expensive schools for a higher education, if they decide to pursue it at all. The cost of living in close proximity to campus pushes many to live in cheaper, less convenient locations, like Riverside, limiting the full experience and advantages a higher education has to offer.
In addition to fighting increased tuition, we should seek out prospective students in disadvantaged areas. Leonard Moore, the University’s associate vice president for academic diversity, pioneered a recruiting program beginning this past year to target disadvantaged and low-income students, bringing together outreach centers, recent graduates, the Admissions Office and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.


“We have outreach and recruitment efforts underway to address both of those issues,” Gregory Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement, said in an email. “And even though UT Austin represents an excellent educational value for the money, economic factors are often the reason students decide not to attend UT Austin.”
Rose believes strongly that in addition to the administration’s new efforts, current black students should actively recruit high schoolers of color from their own individual cities, acting as ambassadors for the University. Black professionals and students have a responsibility to their communities. Everyone who comes out of a marginalized group or low socioeconomic status ought to serve as a beacon of hope for those like them.

If the black community as a whole can benefit from social mobility and the American Dream, fear of discrimination or endless debt must not be an obstacle. The best thing we as students and as an institution can do to foster an environment where everyone feels they have a chance to be accepted and thrive is to be proactive about the image we portray and welcoming in the message we send out.

By establishing a base of student recruiters and continuing to foster a protective and inclusive environment, the school will inevitably increase its black enrollment.


Net neutrality evens online playing field between large companies, small businesses

Published in The Daily Texan. 

Finally, the left and right wings can agree on something. Recent bipartisan and presidential support behind net neutrality in addition to the FCC Chairman’s sudden announcement of full support Feb. 4 brought the U.S. several steps forward in the battle over the Internet, but stirred up controversy within the government and much debate online. While the discussion over what Internet service providers can and cannot do to users’ Internet access might not be on every student’s radar, net neutrality should be enforced to promote free speech and take strides toward equality.


For those who don’t know, net neutrality is the term used to describe a limit on companies’ control of what Internet users have complete access to. As of now, large ISPs like AT&T and Comcast can make access to certain sites faster or slower depending on their popularity and how much sites are willing to pay for a faster speed. This leaves smaller pages stuck with a slow connection when users attempt to gain access.


It may not seem like a pressing issue to all until the question of who actually benefits from this deal is examined. Large companies in opposition want to give the benefit of speed to those backed by money and leave behind those who may not have the ability to pay. That leaves everything from social justice blogs trying to make a change in the world to independent labels attempting to start up their career unable to reach those they aim to. When giving a voice to the voiceless or even attempting to stop injustice, paying extra for people to go to a site can be a burden.


Under Obama’s proposal, the Internet would have utility-style regulation under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. With regulations against paid speed prioritization, Internet conditions would improve as the FCC would have more legal control over the discriminatory actions of Internet companies. Section 202 of Title II prohibits any “discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service.” This would prohibit ISPs from creating internet fast lanes with certain sites loading at a different rate than others, leveling the playing field for all sites, no matter their budget. This means any business or person, from startups to bloggers, can get their name out there with no trouble or restrictions from ISPs.


Opponents argue that net neutrality would be a step backward from the freedom Americans have gained over the years. In a point made by UT alumna Chelsea McCullough on the Texas Enterprise blog, she claims, “Title II means that apps like Instagram, your Kindle, anything that transmits Internet connectivity could be subject to an intense level of regulation, taking us back 80 years.” What really takes us back, though, is a situation wherein powerful people side with the rich, trivializing the customers’ experience. Limited access to sites not backed by money causes a shortage in what individuals are exposed to, again meaning those using their First Amendment right to freedom of speech to call out wrongdoings or expose crooked corporations may not be heard — or heard after an unnecessarily slow buffering time. According to Director of University Media Relations, Gary Susswein, “The university itself  is network neutral for users of our networks. As individual consumers of information — including some information that may be required for coursework — our students will navigate the same issues as all Americans.”

Slowing small sites down if they can’t pay up could make a huge difference in income and job opportunity. Nowadays, most Americans access information and ideas online — circumstances different from when the Internet was originally created. With this shift in popularity, laws and regulations need to be modified in order to protect users and keep the Internet free and open. ISPs don’t have the right to control how much or what knowledge their consumers have access to. In order to further win the fight for equality, internet elites shouldn’t have the ability to hold bias in their services.

Obama’s community college plan is the wrong way to fix higher education

Published in The Daily Texan. 

As the Texan recently reported, President Barack Obama has proposed a plan for free tuition at community colleges. As predicted, it didn’t go over well with his critics, who criticized the plan as excessive government intrusion into local affairs.

The plan would cost $6 billion per year and provide tuition, but not other costs associated with attendance, for community college students looking to transfer to a four-year university or those who are on track to complete an associate’s degree. However, it doesn’t appear to take into account other financial factors that could potentially stop Americans from getting degrees. It also ignores present state of some community colleges. Contrary to the belief of the editorial board, which came out in support of the plan, a free associate’s degree may not be the solution to America’s education issue.

While not everyone is a slacker student, we don’t want college to become a high school 2.0 — a major talking point of the Obama administration that conveniently leaves out the layabout attending just to bide their time. Besides, students who attend four-year universities are far more likely to graduate on time and in general than those who begin at a community college. Only 25 percent of community college students actually end up transferring to get a bachelor’s. If that number stays the same, the two years of instruction would go toward a degree that wouldn’t get people much farther than a free high school one. Before offering a program for free the federal government should first examine the workings of current community colleges which students already pay to attend.

My biggest concern is whether community college classes adhere to the same standards as four-year universities. It’s no secret that even the best of us opt for summer community college classes not only to get ahead, but to take an easier, less intensive route. With that in mind, does it really make sense to give people a free education if it won’t match the quality of a four-year degree? It just creates yet another problem for students who may not be able to afford a potentially better education, limiting them to the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. As the editorial board stated, Americans may get thousands of dollars off their debt with reduced load on faculty and staff, but will the instructors, curriculum and quality of what’s covered be the same?

Those who can’t even afford community college don’t simply need help in their first two years. Post-associate’s degree, the full cost to attend a four-year university, including fees like books, housing and food, still acts as a barrier to a bachelor’s degree. The few thousand dollars off are nothing compared to the total debt they would still graduate with. As a master’s degree is becoming ever more necessary to enter the job market, underprivileged people will still be held even further back for lack of funding. Not to mention, the workforce isn’t the most stable, with many in fear of the number of guaranteed careers available to college graduates.

Rather than making the basic requirements free, the ridiculous cost of higher education overall should be re-examined. Even at our school, on average, students incur almost $20,000 in debt even if they graduate on time, adding an additional $6,000 for every year beyond that.

This plan is designed to give everyone equal opportunity, an idea great in theory but often not implemented correctly.The government cannot fill the achievement gap with empty rhetoric. It can inspire the country, make citizens think about the way the system works, but it won’t level the playing field as they attempt to use it for. By looking at the issue in a more pragmatic way, they would see that much more than part of 2 years’ expenses is needed to give Americans a boost. This proposal is a start, but if implemented won’t make as huge of a change as it seems. The real issue lies in affordability of education, without compromising quality or the overall experience and skills that accompany attending a 4 – year university.

In wake of Ferguson decision, groups need to stand together peacefully to stop injustice

Published in The Daily Texan. 

After the Nov. 24 decision by a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, tensions ran high among the citizens of Ferguson as well as across the nation. The majority of protesters have no personal connection to the Browns but recognize a bigger issue at stake. While there are mixed opinions on whether Wilson was justified in his act, there is an undeniable trend of black males being killed by police. Reactionaries have the right idea in mind, but could potentially be more effective with different approaches.


The majority of protest coverage came from the neighborhoods of Ferguson, with a stream of images and video of burning buildings, looting and seemingly out of control crowds. An expected symptom of contemporary sensationalized news, many media outlets portrayed Brown supporters as criminals and animals, although the majority of the protests were peaceful. While the surface level showed violence, even a cursory examination reveals the fervor is an outlet for long-felt pain and suffering. This story is bigger than Brown. In the eyes of protesters, it’s the thousands of others like him — unarmed, with only their race as a trigger.


Although instances of arrest and police brutality occur against every racial and ethnic group, the percentage of African-American and Latino victims is disproportionately high in relation to their make-up of the population, especially in drug-related cases. There aren’t statistics proving the racial motivations or bias in these cases, but the racial correlation supported by the data is eerie. After months of protesting with only heavy military and police force as a response, these people wanted to be heard in any way possible. But instead of compassionately portraying the hurt that the protesters feel, the media painted them as monsters, wild and out of control rather than merely exasperated.


An unspoken yet ubiquitous societal mantra teaches that African Americans are not entirely human and therefore more dangerous, just another reason intentionally or unintentionally racist officers, in fear of their lives, will grab for the gun in lieu of using a slower, less lethal method. Violent revolt will only reinforce racial stereotypes and worsen the situation. Everyone has a right to be angry about the loss of human life, but it’s the reaction that defines individuals, and even an entire cause.


The variety of protests over the decision mirror those of the Civil Rights Movement a little over 60 years ago, with the peaceful petitioning aligning with Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy and the more radical opposition with Malcolm X’s. The two symbolize what can be seen as a nonviolent versus violent approach to change. Both men were great leaders in the movement, although King’s ideology was arguably more effective with its perseverance and refusal to give in to anger. We see the same stark differences today between the various protests in response to Ferguson and other similar incidents. And again, King’s methods will prove to be more effective in combating the racial prejudices that spark police violence against racial and ethnic minorities.

Austinites and UT students were perfect models of how to put King’s teachings into practice as they organized and stood in solidarity last week. The chants of “Protect black life” and “Black lives matter” not only diffused the message of their marches to passersby, but demanded the attention of the Austin Police Department, which has its own record of using lethal force against black and Latino men. Writing letters to local and state officials, peacefully protesting and most of all exercising patience and perseverance are key to eroding the system of bias that perpetuates the continued loss of young black and Latino lives.  Racial prejudices weren’t formed overnight, so it can’t be expected that their extinction will be a swift process. Clearly the peaceful widespread opposition is making a difference, as Wilson recently announced his resignation from the police department. Again, the most important motif in these events is solidarity to address the widespread issue of racism. The anger and hurt of one demographic alone cannot change the status quo. Every group needs to stand together to stop injustice and do so in a peaceful manner.

Supreme Court should rehear Abigail Fisher’s case, put the issue to rest

Published on The Daily Texan. 

Fisher v. University of Texas, a 2013 case that began when Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant, sued the University in 2008 for violating the 14th Amendment, questions the validity of using race as a factor in school admissions. Unfortunately for Fisher, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently declined to rehear her case after ruling in July, for a second time, that UT’s use of race in its admissions policy is constitutional, leaving her to appeal, again, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether the public agrees with Fisher’s stance in the case is irrelevant; she has the right to see the highest U.S. court for a second time.


While Fisher claims she was the victim of discrimination in the holistic review process applied to UT applicants not admitted to the University through the Top Ten Percent Rule, her grades just weren’t enough to secure a spot with the 42 white students who were admitted despite their class rank. The University claimed it would not have accepted her even if she were any other race. Hailing from a Longhorn family and growing up with the aspiration to follow in their footsteps, I understand her sense of injustice. Critics said the courts that ruled in favor of the University were not strict enough in their examination, affirming the University’s case without considering Fisher’s fairly. Both Fisher and Edward Blum, who funds the case through his legal defense fund, simply want a hearing by an en banc court (meaning the full 15-judge panel would hear the case) that would examine the case without bias, rather than the skeleton courts they’d appealed to before in which only three judges heard the case.


This case is reminiscent of the famous 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case in which a white student applied to University of Michigan Law School and was denied under similar circumstances and the 1978 University of California v. Bakke case in which a white student experienced something similar in his application to medical school. Fisher is the Grutter/Bakke of our generation but isn’t getting the same opportunity for retrial in high courts as they did. All three cases question affirmative action policies as a violation of Equal Protection Clause and Civil Rights Act of 1964. All three include instances in which a white student wasn’t accepted over minority students. However, in this day and age, affirmative action is being called into question where it was arguably more necessary in the past. So, as the two before it, Fisher’s case deserves an end at the Supreme Court.


Most of all, the court should rehear her case in order to put it to rest for good. Six years and several appeals later, Fisher and her family don’t seem to be letting up at all. Although Fisher has already earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and currently works as a financial analyst in Austin, her rejection from UT isn’t something she’s taking lightly, even to this day. Having the highest of courts to tell her she’s wrong would not only end this particular debate, but emphasize to students of every race the importance of working hard to get accepted to your school of choice.


Fisher and her supporters seem to be confused about the fact that universities can’t let everyone in. Class rank, test scores, essay quality, resume and recommendations all go into the review process and everyone, regardless of race, must exceed certain requirements in order to earn admission to the school. If the Supreme Court agreed to rehear the case, and even the more conservative members ruled in favor of upholding diversity over mediocre academic achievements, perhaps the young people of the nation would be motivated to work harder in their studies. It would reinforce the idea to Americans that belonging to a minority race is typically less helpful and more hindering to academic and career success.


Racial basis for admission is being challenged by many in modern society, but the strict scrutiny of the Supreme Court deciding on the Fisher case could put a legal end to the question once and for all.


University needs to cut ties with VF Corporation

Published in The Daily Texan.

On Oct. 29, the halls of the Tower echoed with chants, yells and finally a banner drop calling on students and faculty to join United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in their demand that the University cut ties with VF Corporation, the company that supplies our school with imagewear and garments sold at the Co-Op and various stores on The Drag. While the VF goods made in Bangladesh don’t go directly to UT, the workers who are part of any corporation we’re associated with deserve respect. The University needs to terminate its contract and look elsewhere for suppliers, specifically for ones that care about the conditions their workers must face.


Unfortunately, mass production, while convenient for consumers, often comes with a steep price paid in human lives. Following the devastating Bangladesh garment factory collapse in 2013 that killed 1,135 workers and injured 2,500 more, more than 150 companies with ties to that country’s garment industry signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which ensures the protection of workers from accidents in hundreds of buildings. In a nutshell, this agreement would ensure regular inspections and safety training to prevent another horrific incident from happening. Unlike the many signatories, however, VF Corporation refused to comply with the terms for their Bangladeshi factories and associate with the Accord. While the company may be trying to protect its bottom line, it’s unconscionable that impoverished men and women working excessive hours to make ends meet have to fear for their lives during their shifts.


The garment workers in Bangladesh are paid the lowest wage in the world, hardly enough for a reasonable standard of living. These same factories that VF Corporation uses to produce their garments have come under fire as even children as young as nine are employed in the shocking conditions. The high demand for cheap apparel forces many children into the business for life, leaving them illiterate as they cannot attend school if they want a roof over their heads.


While VF Corporation claims to care about worker safety, little is done until outsiders cause a scene. While VF is a member of the Alliance For Bangladesh Worker Safety, this group is operationally weak in comparison with the Accord and has performed only mediocre inspections, leading to yet another factory collapse in June which left 29 workers injured. The Alliance does training and inspections but forces the local factories, also under financial pressures, to take out loans to pay for the necessary remodeling of unsafe buildings. In stark contrast, the Accord legally binds parent companies to pay for remodeling, permanently employs local engineers and inspectors to check 50 factories a week and even performs regular checks on the work of the inspectors for an added measure of accountability.


According to USAS, the Worker Rights Consortium achieved victory earlier this year after a 14-month campaign to convince UT to affiliate humanitarian group. But the fight isn’t over. Now, USAS emphasizes the desperate need to advocate for foreign workers by simply switching to another, safer garment provider. So far, student-led labor rights groups have found victory in the same request at 14 other universities — most recently at Cornell University, which saw a similar protest against that school’s involvement with JanSport just this fall.


To aid in the solution beyond merely elucidating the problem, USAS suggests an alternative to VF: Alta Gracia, a Central American company that makes campus gear while paying salario digno – a wage with dignity. While President William Powers Jr. has yet to respond, weeks later, to the letter requesting a contract termination, the group patiently waits while continuing to spread word of their cause.


It’s unsettling to see such a request for change in a humanitarian effort be denied in the recent response from Powers. The apparel industry has no shortage of suppliers. If the University is truly committed to their core value of responsibility, they can seek out another apparel provider. It is not a question of whether it is right to make garment workers work in conditions where they constantly fear for their lives. Rather it is a question of what we can do to change it. UT can start here by terminating their contract with VF Corporation and change the lives of people half a world away. “What starts here changes the world” is plastered all over campus to inspire students, but it means nothing if the University as an institution is not willing to do something so fundamental as end their direct support of human rights violations.


Feminism course could display modern outlook on feminism

Published in The Daily Texan.

The announcement of a new African Studies/Women’s and Gender Studies course, “Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” was met with praise, confusion and most of all, online opposition from students and alumni. Proponents say the course is revolutionary and long overdue. Opponents claim these women aren’t positive influences and don’t deserve the honor of “the f-word.” Feminism today has a new face. New age feminism takes multiple forms, varying from individual to individual. While feminists can all agree on the need for equality and change, the ethnic counterparts to the much-praised Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence are rarely given the same accolades, and are even criticized for similarly speaking out.


One of the course’s titular subjects, Beyonce, has been subject to such derision – most recently facing criticism after the release of her self-titled fifth album in which she bravely declares herself an avid feminist — she proclaims her ability to bear a child, marry and have a career all the while embracing her sexuality and flaunting her body, a testament that women really can “have it all.” Straying from traditional feminism, Beyonce outwardly expresses her sexuality in songs and onstage. She even even pays homage to her roots using African dance moves many mistake as attempting to sell sex. Young African-American girls and grown women alike find empowerment in her work, reinforcing the ideals of feminism in a modern way.


Comparatively, Rihanna unapologetically displays herself on the red carpet and the stage to show the confidence in her body and embrace sexuality while speaking of her self-made success. Her use of expletives and refusal to stray from her lively persona puts her on the same level as her male hip hop counterparts, an equality for which feminists work tirelessly to make the norm rather than the exception. Rihanna and Beyonce both embody the ideals of modern feminism, so why do mainstream feminists make it their mission to exclude them from the movement?


They’re ruled out as feminists simply because of their ability to contribute to the movement in a modern, sensual manner. The flaw in the opposing argument lies in unintentional prejudice and internalized racism that often goes unnoticed. While we can all relate as women, social activists or feminists, the black feminist experience is unique and needs its own leaders who can empower this subgroup. Black feminism differs from the mainstream in liberation characterized by emphasizing rather than suppressing sexuality. Black women have long been directly and indirectly taught by society that their only worth is defined by their sexualization by men. These women defy this tradition by embracing their sensuality and defining its worth in their own terms,while influencing others to follow suit — a true act of feminism. Herein lies the irony in mainstream feminism: It encourages the liberation of women but only under specific terms, echoing the exact mindset that oppresses women in the first place.

A modern feminist can embrace her (or his) identity by wearing a pantsuit, a romper or barely there clothes. Modern feminism doesn’t judge solely on outside appearance. A feminist can be conservative like Emma Watson, radical like Rihanna or find a balance like Beyonce. This New Age movement creates a cognitive dissonance as women want to let loose while maintaining a professional image. They should be allowed to twerk, work, get degrees and maintain a collective equality. This course will not only analyze the subtle, and not so subtle, womanism that Rihanna, Beyonce and other black women artists embody, but it will open the minds of those who limit progress by narrowly defining who can and can’t be a feminist.