SXSW 2015: Plain White T’s Interview

Advertisements

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.

Holi festival brings the color to Austinites of all backgrounds

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My face froze as I felt a soft hand rub my cheek from the side. As I glanced, I saw the warm smile of a woman, covered in gulal powder and determined to shower me in it as well.

As a first time Holi-goer at Radha Madhav Dham temple in Austin, this unapologetic paint throwing combined with words of kindness and celebration puzzled me at first. Nicknamed the festival of colors, Holi day celebrates the “triumph of evil over good,” according to holifestival.org.

 

“Happy Holi!” she yelled!

 

At exactly 7 p.m., as the sun began to set, a hue of pink began to fill the air, then blue, purple, green, orange and every shade in between followed – the celebration had started. Cheerful sounds of traditional music and laughter rang in the ears of everyone in the temple’s outdoor holy space, while the bright powder signified the colors brought by spring.

 

“This isn’t our first Holi, we do it a lot back home(India),” said attendee Prahlad Patel, who is named after the honored religious figure.

 

As the first part of the celebration and dancing died down, a fire lit up – revealing the colorful powder paint in the air. In Hindu culture, the significance behind the ceremonial lighting of the fire stems from the story of Prahlad who worshipped Lord Naarayana rather than the demon king Hiranyakashyap and his sister, Holika, who were his father and paternal aunt. The king tried to kill his son by having Holika hold him in her arms in a blazing fire.

 

“Holika took Prahlad in her arms and sat on a fire,” Patel said. “Because he worshipped [Lord Naarayana], God saved him from death – and Holika burned.”

 

For many, this was a traditional experience felt since childhood. For those outside the religion, the festival was about learning from a drastically different culture, one they may have never explored until now.

 

“We didn’t do stuff like Holi in our small town, the basic religions we had were Catholic and Baptist,” first time attendee Alexis Crutchfield said.  “Even non-denominational Christian was rare, so I’d never seen a Hindu temple.”

 

The event was advertised as being open to everyone, regardless of religion or other different characteristics. This gave individuals like Crutchfield an “eye-opening experience.”

 

“It was very bright, colorful and exciting, you don’t get that with a lot of other religions. I was raised Southern Baptist and we didn’t have as much fun,” Crutchfield said. Everyone was so kind and welcoming, plus they were all encompassing and open to non-Hindu people.”

 

As the festivities prepared to come to a close, friends, family and kind strangers hugged and kissed one another on the cheeks. When I prepared to leave, a group of children stared suspiciously at me while standing in a circle. A second after putting my head down I was met with a face full of orange and red paint.

 

“Happy Holi!” they shouted, bidding farewell until colors fill the air again next year.

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.