Archive for: September 2015

Masc, Femme, Both or Neither? Deconstruction of Gender

By: Shadan Larki, Marisa Martinez, and Brianna Walker

Pink or Blue?

From the time we are born we are given two default choices—Male or female. But, what happens when a person does not identify with these preconceived categories?

Tyler Grant, a senior public health major at the University of Texas, is one such person. They identify as gender-neutral and has asked to be identified using their/them pronouns.

“As a culture, it would be great if we could get rid of ‘sirs’ or ‘ma’ams’  because those labels make assumptions about people’s genders,” Grant said. “Those habits are hard to unlearn.”  

Gender is a nuanced subject that goes far beyond the “male” or “female” identities assigned at birth. There are many different gender identities, and the experiences that come with each vary just as much as the people behind them.   

Transgender serves as an umbrella term, meaning it encompasses multiple identities such as gender neutral or genderqueer. Those who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth typically identify as Trans.

However, a common misconception is that transgender people only transition into male or female identities.

“I identify as genderqueer,” says Shane Whalley, a lecturer at UT’s School of Social Work. “There is a ‘F’ on my birth certificate, [but] I am not going to transition to male.  I live somewhere in the middle.”

The delicacies behind gender identification have led to challenges, misconceptions, and have left many non-binary people with the task of “explaining” something, that to them feels natural.  

“The biggest misconception I face is that people think I either have to be a guy or girl. There’s no in-between for them,” says Brit’ne Sissom, a senior electrical engineering student at UT.  “Gender is not a binary. It’s not even a spectrum; it’s like a big tangled mess of stuff.”

Sissom says identifying as binary was never a choice.


“The biggest misconception about the community is that we’re just doing it to be different. We just want attention and clearly, acting in a way that could get us killed is our choice and not something we really feel about ourselves.”

For Grant, an action as mundane as using a public restroom can be cause for concern.

“Every time I have to walk into a men’s bathroom on campus– particularly if I’m wearing makeup, I feel uncomfortable,” they said. “I don’t fear for my for my safety on campus, elsewhere I can’t say the same.”

Sissom says that having to use gendered restrooms “is a constant source of discomfort for them.” They acknowledge that actions like a change in restroom policy or knowledge about proper pronoun usage are steps in the right-direction, but also say that the Trans community as a whole faces a much larger issue of systematic violence that often goes ignored.

“I think the biggest challenge facing the trans community is the violence they face every day,” Sissom says. “People are still so transphobic and refuse to try to understand, and it literally kills people.”

Trans women of color, in particular, are much more likely to experience violence. A statistic that Grant says is troubling and underrepresented.

“For a lot of trans people visibility is dangerous, Grant said. “The concept of visibility is a problem.”

Whalley, who worked as the education coordinator for the Center for Gender and Sexuality from 2007 to 2014, says broader education and awareness among the general public is the key to helping the Transgender community overcome and eradicate many of the issues at hand.

“Ask and use my pronouns. Help me navigate bathrooms, having a friend can help with safety. Advocate for gender inclusive bathrooms,” Whalley said. “Work for non-discrimination policies and help educate others.”

Grant, Sissom and Whalley come from different backgrounds, and while they do not represent an entire group of people, each expressed a sentiment worth noting.

“We need society as a whole to be more accepting,” Grant said. “We need to stop putting people in boxes.”



Defying Gender Norms: Student utilizes Style as a Statement

A bit of makeup can do more than cover up, it can reveal so much. Tyler Grant showcases the steps of creating their  self-proclaimed “androgynous” style while sending a message that bends the rules of traditional gender expression. Grant hopes to educate others in being more accepting of the trans community.



Congestion Problem Leads to Headaches



Picture 1Interstate 35 during rush hour Photo Credit: Victoria Rodriguez

By: Austin Hamby, Renee Moreno, Mark Roberson, Victoria Rodriguez

Austinites complain about traffic, it’s almost like a hobby.

When someone even mentions I-35 or Loop 1, a commuter will often roll his or her eyes and explain how long they waited on one street or another.

Now the most recent Urban Mobility Report conducted by Texas A&M University provides statistical proof for drivers. In the report, Austin ranked among the worst in several traffic congestion statistics because of poor pragmatic infrastructure planning according to an urban mobility expert. Traffic has negative societal consequences as well as economic consequences but traffic technology may soon be able to help the congested city.

Dr. Tim Lomax, a senior research engineer at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute and one of the authors of the Urban Mobility Report, said that Austin’s traffic problems resulted from intentional inaction.

“But let’s be clear, this (congestion issues) isn’t something that has happened in the last five years. This is something that has gone on since the 70s,” Lomax said.

“Austin back then had this philosophy of we don’t want to be this giant metropolitan area we want to stay our sleepy little town… so if we just don’t build any roads, nobody will come here. Well, you can tell let’s don’t build it and maybe they won’t come doesn’t work spectacularly,” Lomax said.

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Gus Elliott, a native austinite, agreed with Lomax’s statement on Austin failed to improve the infrastructure.

“I’ve never researched it or anything but that was always the mentality…nobody would come if we didn’t build anything. So, obviously that backfired,” Elliott said.

Austin freeways have especially suffered from congestion problems. According to data from the Urban Mobility Report, Texas ranked the third worst in the nation for the Freeway Travel Time index; a statistic that measures the difference in time a trip would take during rush hour than low-trafficked conditions on freeways.

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Austin scored a 1.50 on the index, which means a 30-minute trip early in the morning would take 45 minutes during rush hour in Austin. Only Los Angeles and Honolulu scored worse in this measure and Los Angeles County has nearly nine million more people than Travis County where Austin is located, according to the US Census Quickfacts 2014 estimates (Honolulu has had an interesting mix of natural limitations and infrastructure problems similar to Austin according to this magazine article).

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Not only does congestion have a negative economic cost to society as extra gas is consumed while waiting in traffic but it can generate a negative societal impact as well according to Lomax.

“The amount of time and effort that we have to… plan around congestion is much more than the amount of extra time on the road,” said Lomax. “If you really have to be somewhere on time you can’t just rely on that average amount of time otherwise you would be late half the time.”

But there isn’t one simple way to fix congestion in Austin according to Lomax. Lomax said it’s not realistic to expand I-35 or other streets by multiple lanes to solve the traffic problem so Austin must employ other methods to help fix the problem.

“With technology and policy practices I think we can make traffic congestion more predictable,” said Lomax.

And Austin is looking to do so with new technology system they are implementing to help coordinate traffic from a centered location according to their Traffic Congestion Action Plan.

“By monitoring traffic cameras and signal systems in a single operation center, staff can maximize the efficiency of existing roadways and better respond to system abnormalities such as accidents, inclement weather and special events,” the plan states.

While this may help in the future, Lomax said that people need to maintain realistic expectations for traffic based on where they live.

“You have to have the right expectations if you live in New York, Chicago or even Austin, you shouldn’t expect to be able to drive around at the speed limit at five o’clock,” said Dr. Tim Lomax of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Sweet New Law for Texas Honey Producers

September is National Honey Month and Texas bees are celebrating a new state law that will lighten the regulations placed on small scale beekeepers.

Round Rock Honey drives from hive to hive in style with their decorated van and personalized license plate. The family-owned and operated business not only produces the purest of wildflower honey but also educates future beekeepers and the general public.

Round Rock Honey drives from hive to hive in style with their decorated van and personalized license plate. The family-owned and operated business not only produces the purest of wildflower honey but also educates future beekeepers and the general public. Photo by: Erin MacInerney

By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross

To bee or not to bee, won’t be a question anymore for bee hobbyists producing under 200 gallons of honey annually. The new Texas statute means they will be exempt from costly state health licensing requirements other larger manufacturers face.

The queen bee of honey, Hayden Wolf, thinks this will increase honey production around the state. As the 2015 American Honey Princess, Wolf represents Texas all around the nation advocating the importance of bees in keeping our ecosystem humming perfectly.

“This new law helps my family and I because we have always wanted to sell our honey,” Wolf says. “It’s a great opportunity for beekeepers.”

The 19-year-old manages 12 hives with her parents in East Texas but does not produce enough honey or have the time to make a business out of it.

The new law would allow beekeepers like Wolf and her family to sell their honey directly to consumers at farmers markets or small venues as long as proper labeling distinguishes their product from those bottled in inspection facilities.

Bee enthusiasts say the warm Texas climate is a haven for raising honey bees.  Many keepers from Northern states bring their hives to Texas during the winter months.

“It’s a lot easier than getting a pet,” Wolf says. “You don’t even have to take them on a leash and walk them everyday!”

If you are concerned with getting the proper vitamin bee from your honey, don’t let that adorable bear-shaped bottle at the supermarket fool you.

Pollen studies conducted by Professor Vaughn M. Bryant of Texas A&M University found that over 75 percent of honey sold at large chain stores and restaurants had the pollen removed making it impossible to trace the legitimate source or ingredients.

Take a look at a jar of honey and you might find ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners. What you won’t see on the label are antibiotics, heavy metals and other harsh chemicals that could have contaminated the honey throughout the process.

These honey bunches of lies make it easier for manufacturers to cut costs and extend shelf life consequently removing the health benefits completely

The honey sold at co-ops, farmers markets and “natural stores” yielded the full, expected amounts of pollen.

The new law encourages sales of local honey which means a higher chance of consuming 100 percent, organic honey without the cheap additives.

“There are many benefits of honey and if you are not getting the pure product, you might not be getting those benefits,” Wolf says. “The best way to know you are actually getting the best honey is to know your beekeeper personally and ask them questions.”

Texas ranks sixth in the nation for honey production, but our bees still face major threats of disease, negative effects of pesticide use and global warming.

“It’s a fairly simply hobby but it has become harder to keep our bees alive in the past years. Now we have to check the hives every two to three weeks,” Wolf says. “It used to be easier in the old days.”

Mystery syndromes not fully understood such as Colony Collapse Disorder have created quite a buzz in the last decade. Annual bee colony losses averaged around 42 percent this past year according to a study conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America.

“It is important we try to keep them alive, to keep ourselves alive,” says Melanie Brown, Founder of BEEVO, The University of Texas’ Beekeeping Society. “Bees pollinate a lot of our crops and without them, we would have a serious shortage of food.”

About 80 percent of the food on grocery store shelves are there thanks to bees according to the International Bee Research Association.

Brown says the BEEVO club has a substantial following since initiating this last spring.
The goal of the society is to engage students, faculty, and staff in urban beekeeping as part of an effort towards sustainable pollinator populations.

“I’m more passionate about the environmental impacts of beekeeping but there are a lot of people on campus who are just super into beekeeping,” Brown says. “I am happy they now have an outlet to share their knowledge.”


Bee Story-8


Latinos: Celebrating While Fighting the Narrative

Cassandra Jaramillo | Jade Magalhaes | Sandy Marin | Jan Ross Piedad

Photo by: Jade Magalhaes

Photo by Jade Magalhaes

They’ve been called criminals, drug dealers and rapists.

Even though some Americans have no reservations when expressing their negative feelings toward Mexican immigrants, they are here to stay.

Hundreds of latinos brought a wave of red, white and green to the Texas Capitol in celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.  In light of the upcoming presidential election, the immigration discourse surrounding the fastest-growing minority is reaching its peak.

In the current political environment where immigrants are heavily scrutinized, a new study broke down narratives and misconceptions. The research, conducted by the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, revealed that immigrant teens are less likely to commit crimes and use drugs than their U.S. native counterparts.

Despite research findings, immigration remains a major topic of debate among 2016 presidential candidates.

“No one knows who the Democratic or Republican nominee is going to be,” said Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly and nationally-syndicated columnist of “Ask a Mexican.” “But if the Republican nominee wants a chance at winning, they need to stop this anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican rhetoric.”

 The research also found that immigrant youths are more likely to report cohesive parental relationships, positive school engagement and disapproving views with respect to adolescent substance use, according to UT News.

Furthermore, a particular discussion that has recently sparked debate is “anchor babies.” The term refers to children born to a noncitizen mother in a country that has birthright citizenship. After Republican candidate Donald Trump criticized the citizenship clause of the 14th amendment, the term caused controversy for those who adopted the language.

“I was born to undocumented parents,” Arellano said. “I come from a family of anchor babies. I know exactly what we contribute to this country. The last time I checked, the American constitution called anchor babies American citizens. So, when you’re calling someone an ‘anchor baby’ you’re demeaning an American citizen, which just goes to show how racist those people are.”


Certain students on the UT campus are working to defy the stereotypes that surround the Latin community. 

Infographic by Jan Ross Piedad

Camila Olmedo, from Bolivia, is studying economics and nonprofits in social entrepreneurship. She moved to Texas three years ago to follow some of her brother’s footsteps.

Although Olmedo and her brother are not American, they knew they wanted to do something beneficial for the community. The siblings, their cousin and other friends brainstormed in their apartment and founded “Starting Americas Together” (START).

“We recognize that we are very lucky [to be able to] study here,” Olmedo said. “It is definitely a sacrifice to us and to our parents to make this move. We definitely want to be on task and involved to get the most out of this opportunity.”

The organization’s goal is to connect students from different countries in North America, Central America and South America. They put together several different philanthropic projects each year to bring awareness to certain issues facing those countries and send members to volunteer abroad.

The group is currently working to raise funds for a new project called “H2O: Water is Golden.” START plans to hire a water truck that will provide clean water to the community of Campo Rancho Cerro Verde in Bolivia on a weekly basis. Through clothing drives, contests and community outreach, Olmedo hopes to complete the project before she graduates.

Although the organization has accomplished many goals, Camilla believes there is still a lot of room for improvement for the mostly Latin group.

“Something we have a lot of struggle with is trying to get more American students involved, because we also want to connect North Americans, not just Latin students,” Olmedo said. “We are trying to get more on their side.”

With a new START chapter being established at Texas A&M, this group of immigrant students hopes to expand and make a difference.  



Dropping The Box


If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’re familiar with this question. Soon, in Austin, you might not see it anymore. Austin, TX. Sept. 17, 2015.


For Americans with criminal records, the job market often appears daunting. New legislation proposed in Austin might drop the criminal background question and give some a second chance.

By Mary Huber, Jess Brown, Victoria Espinoza and Karla Martinez

Print story by MARY HUBER

At 48 years old, David Hutts’ resume reads like a man about town.

He got his bachelor’s degree in journalism. His master’s in advertising. He worked for book publishers. And marketing firms. And IBM.

And alongside those credentials are the two he believes carry the most weight: 15 years of substance abuse and two felony convictions for prescription fraud.

Today, Hutts works at the treatment center where he got sober three years ago.

“It’s the only job where my felony convictions are an asset, not a liability,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, if I ever lost my job today, it would be so frightening to have to go back into the job market. With two felony convictions, people look at that and think, ‘He’s irredeemable.’”


“I came from a good home,” David Hutts said. “I was taught good morals. I was taught right from wrong. I have a good education. Yet because I am an addict and because I did not get the treatment that I needed, this is what my life looked like – two felony convictions.” Austin, TX. Sept. 10, 2015.


According to the National Employment Law Project, an estimated 70 million Americans have some kind of criminal record. The force of this number has inspired a nationwide movement to “ban the box,” eliminating the criminal background question from employment applications, where applicants have been forced to check “yes” or “no.”

More than 100 cities and counties have already adopted policies like this, and Austin could be next, as city council is set to review a resolution in the coming months that would force private businesses to remove the question.

Stakeholders spoke on the positive impacts of the legislation at an Economic Opportunity Committee meeting last week, citing its ability to spur economic growth by bringing greater numbers of people into the workforce.

Brian Gifford, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said it would not prohibit an employer from hiring who they want or performing a background check after the employment offer. It would simply keep people from being screened out immediately for past offenses.

“It’s just a question of timing,” Gifford said. “Whether or not the employer meets a person and begins to weigh them on themselves and their merits as a person.”


“I just really want to give back to my community,” said Isa Arizola, who was facing seven years in prison and found help and employment through Goodwill. “I feel like I’ve taken so much from my community and done so many wrongs. And now I’m at a better place, and I just want to give back.” Austin, TX. Sept. 14, 2015. SEE ISA’S STORY BELOW


For Hutts, he said he’s sure many of his applications have ended up in the trash.

At 45 years old, he’d been unemployed for three years. He started applying at drug stores and pet shops – jobs he knew he was overqualified for. He checked “yes” to the criminal background question. He never got a call back.

“It’s like a scarlet letter ‘A,’” council member Leslie Pool said at the committee meeting. She voiced her support for the resolution that was introduced by District 4 representative Greg Casar in May.

“I think it’s one of the clearest cut ways that we can show people who have paid their debt to society that we believe that they have and that we support them in becoming productive.”

In an email, Casar called the legislation “anti-discriminatory at heart,” a way to give qualified people more opportunities, lowering their chances at repeat criminal behavior thereby improving public safety.

Many private employers have already removed the question, including Target Corporation, Wal-Mart and Goodwill Industries. The city of Austin removed it from government applications in 2012.

To gauge public support for the policy, the city’s human resources department created an open forum on through the month of August, where residents could write in their opinions. Findings will be detailed at the next committee meeting Oct. 12.

Casar did not elaborate on the results, but he said, for those who voiced concern, their primary worries were safety in the workplace and added work for employers.

“Ban the box laws are great ideas for individual businesses to implement for themselves,” said Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “But it makes for a very bad blanket policy.”

Cohen said the ordinance would open businesses up to civil lawsuits for non-compliance and force corporations and sensitive industries like law enforcement to create more extensive, tailored hiring practices that could make doing business in Austin more expensive.

He thinks the best solution is to find a way to tackle the criminal history of the individual, not put the burden on the employer.

“[The legislation] delays the box, is the more accurate assessment,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t render neutral one’s criminal history.


“Recovery puts so much emphasis on character and principles. I really connected with the idea that you can’t be the same person and practice the same behaviors if you expect to stay sober,” said Alex Penrod, when asked if he resembles the man who was charged with felony theft and possession years ago. Austin, TX. Sept. 13, 2015.


Alex Penrod, 28, agrees. He doesn’t think it matters when an employer learns of his criminal record.

Penrod racked up seven charges in two years, mostly related to shoplifting, as he struggled with opiate addiction. He got sober four years ago and hasn’t been in any trouble since. He recently decided to go back to school to become a chemical dependency counselor, a job he knows he can get with his record.

“Am I just a criminal person,” he asked. “Or did I have an addiction that was affecting my judgment and what I would allow myself to do?”

“I know that it’s not society’s job or an employer’s job to distinguish that,” he added. “They could very easily just look at your charges and say ‘I don’t even care what this is about, I just don’t want to hire you.’ And that’s fine. I don’t really have any answers to how society should handle that. I just wish there was a better way for people to reintegrate.”