Archive for: May 2015

Take Back the Night

By: Judy Hong, Becca Gamache, Jewel Sharp and Anderson Boyd

The University’s Take Back the Night event, a community rally supporting survivors of sexual assault, is a far cry from tradition.

Around 250 students milled about in front of the Tower, eating free pizza and listening to local Austin band Messages play, instead of marching through the Austin streets with banners decrying sexual assault. Tables from various student and LGBTQ support groups bordered the rally’s perimeter, handing out information on mental health counseling and support groups instead of placards and signs. It may not be a traditional Take Back the Night, but Erin Burrows said the style works for UT.

“We have adapted it to our campus,” said Burrows, the prevention and outreach specialist for Voices Against Violence. “Typically it’s a march throughout the community, but we really stay here on the main mall, and we focus on our resource fair and speak out for survivors.”

Burrows said Voices Against Violence, which spreads awareness and provides support for on-campus survivors as part of the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, has held the event at UT for well over a decade. But she said Take Back the Night as an organized event started much earlier.

“It actually started in the 1970s as part of the women’s liberation and feminist movements,” Burrows said.

According to their website, the Take Back the Night Foundation formed in the late 1960s as a joint coalition between European and American community organizers. The foundation organized early marches in 1973, protesting pornography in San Francisco and the serial murders of women of color in Los Angeles.

The first official “Take Back the Night” march occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1975, after microbiologist Susan Alexander Speeth was stabbed to death while walking home alone at night. After a similar yet unrelated “Reclaim the Night” march in Belgium in 1976, marches and rallies spread across Europe and Asia, reaching India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Keynote speaker Paula X Rojas, a Chilean community organizer who herself is a survivor of sexual violence, said organized rallies like Take Back the Night are important for the community because they break the silence surrounding sexual assault.

“Gender and sexual violence is often private, and because of patriarchy and the way society works we tend to want to keep it private because it’s ‘shameful,’” Rojas said. “And so making that leap of going public, sharing our story, really cracks the system in a way that services and brochures and programs don’t. It cracks the problem in a deeper way.”

While the march began as a women-only event — and has taken flack from critics about its treatment of other survivors, particularly male — Take Back the Night is now inclusive of all sexual assault survivors, regardless of gender. Burrows said the University’s event is no different, even though only one male survivor chose to speak.

“We talk about sexual assault no matter what the gender of the survivor is,” Burrows said.

The amount of support for survivors of sexual violence, along with the insistence that the event is a “safe space” for them to feel comfortable in, attracts many LGBTQ organizations both student and local. Brin Kieffer, a member of local LGBTQ organization StandOut!, said she’s attended the event for the last three years.

“I love this event because it provides support for survivors, and thus my organization and I decided to table this year,” Kieffer said. While she said she enjoys the speakers, her favorite part comes during the performances beforehand.

“There’s usually a lot of profound poetry that goes on,” Kieffer said. “I find it inspiring.”

From the Ground Up: A Startup Tale

by Alyssa Brant, Sylvia Butanda, Kim Carmona and Rebecca Salazar

Longhorn Startup Demo Day was held in the Lady Bird Auditorium on April 30, 2015. Photo by: Rebecca Salazar

Longhorn Startup Demo Day was held in the Lady Bird Auditorium on April 30, 2015. Photo by: Rebecca Salazar

It is difficult to run a business, but trying to balance school adds a whole other level of stress. However, Sid Gutter is one out of the handful of college students who has accepted the challenge of doing both.

Sid Gutter is a sophomore liberal arts honors student majoring in economics and history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founder of Entrée, a startup company that is creating a new and enhanced restaurant operating system.

“I never ever in my life thought I would start a business or work in restaurant technology,” Gutter said.

The idea was inspired when Gutter was at a restaurant with his parents. Tired of long wait times, waiting on food and slow check out times, he thought there must be a way to fix this problem. Gutter then started talking to numerous owners, managers and waiters to gather insight.

“After a month of that it became clear that there is a problem, and maybe it’s not that crazy to think I as a student can actually solve the problem,” Gutter said.

What Gutter uncovered was that traditional restaurant operations systems are clunky and expensive. This led him to creating Entrée, a cost-effective system that combines point-of-sales technology and smarter analytics through carefully crated interfaces. Eventually with this technology, waiters will be able to check out a table by using just a mobile phone or tablet, and one day may eliminate the need for waiters completely.

“It’s not necessarily the sexiest industry,” Brian Alford said. “But if you look at their presentation and the way they bring a lot more advanced user interfaces, it is really an exciting change for restaurants.”

Alford is a small business lawyer as well as Gutter’s Longhorn Startup Lab mentor.

“I have an undergraduate degree in business,” Alford said. “As a lawyer, I can represent companies at the early stages by helping them make more business level decisions and not just legal decisions.”

Longhorn Startup Lab is a course offered by the university, so students who are attempting to start a company can get course credit for their efforts. The course includes weekly mentoring sessions as a free co-working membership at Capital Factory. At the end of the spring semester, they host Longhorn Demo Day to showcase their accomplishments.

“It’s a large advertising event for young startups that don’t usually get the chance to get their ideas out to the public,” Stephen Franklin said.

This year’s Demo Day was held on April 30. Thirteen different student startups went on stage to pitch their company. Franklin, a senior mechanical engineering student, was there to promote his product as a part of the company called Grey Matter.

“The dream is to have someone really interested in our product and invest in our idea,” Franklin said. “But really it is to get our name out there and to promote our product.”

Franklin’s product is an athletic mouth guard that can identify when concussions occur as well as track an athlete’s concussion history by storing data in the cloud. With the help of this class, they were able to make a functioning prototype to showcase at the event.

“This class itself provides us with a ton of mentors and great connections that really helped us establish our product,” Franklin said.

Pamela Valdes is an exchange student from Mexico City and creator of Beek, a social network for book lovers in Latin America.

“I want more people to know about my startup,” Valdes said.

Valdes’ company already has about 23,000 followers on Facebook and 400 subscribed on the website. By October of 2015 they plan to reach a goal of 100,000 active users.

“It is a place for discovering, discussing and recommending books between followers and friends,” Valdes said. “It is like a Facebook, but for people who like to read.”

Valdes created Beek for a MIT contest about a year ago. She did not win, and in result, all of her team left. She had to start from scratch and build a whole new team, which was probably one of the most difficult things she has had to overcome.

“Believing in yourself when no one else does is the hardest thing as an entrepreneur,” Valdes said.

Longhorn Startup Lab provides the students with many resources, but also a place for them to see other entrepreneurs their age struggle, as well as succeed, balancing school and other work.

“I think this is really an example of the great community here at UT and what is possible with student entrepreneurs here on campus,” Gutta said.

Even after the semester ends, many of these startups will continue to grow and develop. Because for these entrepreneurs their projects are no longer just a school assignment, it is their future.

“It’s kind of corny, but entrepreneurship found us,” Gutta said.

Patricia Tamminga uses Patricia’s Table to empower children to eat healthy by making fun, simple food in the kitchen. She uses locally-grown food from the Austin area as well as the garden near the building. She was a kindergarden teacher before starting Patricia’s Table.

After witnessing the lack of diversity in media outlets and lack of representation of Latina women in magazines, Laura Donnelly and Alicia Rascon wanted to fill that niche. They transformed their ideas in a UT graduate school class into Latinitas, a non-profit organization with locations in El Paso and Austin, which has been actively empowering Latina youth through media and technology for 13 years.