Archive for: May 2016

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Swipe Right For Friendship: Dating App Aims to Connect BFFs

By Faith Ann Ruszkowski, Will Cobb, Rachael Pikulski and Taylor Villarreal

Gone are the days when people meet in face-to-face, spontaneous interactions, or at least that’s what mobile dating apps like Bumble, Tinder and Hinge are hoping. In the past five years, these apps have transformed the dating scene, making smart phones one of the primary mediums young adults meet new love interests. Today over 26% percent of adults ages 18 to 24 for have used dating apps, according to the Pew Research Center. Now Bumble is aiming to transform they way people find friends in the same the way they transformed finding romantic partners.

Bumble, like many dating apps, uses location-based, social discovery service algorithms that allow users to search through other nearby interested users as potential matches. What differentiates Bumble from its competitors is a unique feature that requires females to start the conversation process if two people match. This has made it very popular with its user base of over 3 million people, many of whom asked Bumble to create a version of the app to meet friends, said Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe in an interview with CBS This Morning.

Prompted by user feed back, Bumble launched its latest feature, called Bumble BFF in early March of this year. The feature lets users use the same swiping and matching algorithms for friendship instead of dating. When a user switches into BFF mode, they will see their potential dates replaced by people of the same sex that Bumble thinks they would want to be friends with. If both people swipe right, both parties have 24 hours to initiate conversation.

Many people argue that this gamifies the process of building relationships in a way that does not emulate the real world.

“Friendships are kind of spontaneous and organic and they grow naturally. Usually people meet when they are doing something else, not specifically meeting for the purpose of making friends and so it makes it a lot more like dating relationships,” said Dr. William Swann, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert in impression formation.

“What also is lacking when you meet someone through an app is the emotional reactions that they are conveying. Emotions are extremely valuable in telling people what they are really feeling and if you cut off that entire channel of communication, you are really cutting of a lot of what humans have evolved to rely on particularly in close relationships.”

Dating and friendship apps are helpful resources because they give people many options to choose from, but they also allow people to filter the information people convey about themselves. Overwhelming people choose to present positive and flattering information about themselves, according to users.

“One advantage of an app is that both people are actively seeking new friends,” Dr. Irene Levine, author of The Friendship Blog. “But, obviously, forming impressions from a short profile and pictures isn’t the same as meeting someone in real life where people can see more of the “real person.” People who use dating sites often express disappointment over the discrepancy between the way a person has advertised him/herself and how they present in person.”

Bumble BFF may be very conducive to a communicating a self that is not real and that’s not a healthy thing, especially for best friends because that’s the very relationship you want to be most real, according to Swann.

“If you use [a friendship] app you are kind of making it into one of the many relationships where you feel like you are on trial and that’s antithetical to the basic assumptions of what friendships are for,” said Swann.

Niki Akhaveissy, a psychology senior at UT, used Bumble BFF because she believes that it can sometimes be difficult for women to create a bond, especially when removed from college and entering into a new work environment. She thought that the app might be an easy way to meet other women interested in friendship.

“But I was surprised, I swiped right on a lot of people, I would say eight or 10 people, and I didn’t get any matches and a little offended at first. Like “why does no one want to match with me?” Akhaveissy said.

“In friends you are mainly looking for a connection or similar interests. In Bumble you have a six or seven photographs on Bumble and a small paragraph about yourself… [but in real life] I don’t make friends based on their looks I make friends because of shared interests, sense of humor, other things that we could potentially connect on. So I think the format is a little weird.”

According to Swann, the app can be thought of as a crutch for introverts or other people who would normally struggle to form friendships in real life. The app can also be helpful for frequent travelers or people moving to a new city.

Danielle Walburn is a traveling nurse who has lived in four cities in the last year, staying in each city for only three to four months at a time. During her stay, she says that forming lasting, platonic male friendships can be difficult, but that meeting female friends has proved to be easier.

“As someone who’s always got a deadline to make friends, I can see where Bumble BFF would be really helpful for introverts or someone who is just looking to find things to do in a new city,” Walburn said. “But really, making friendships at work, or trying new things alone shouldn’t be as hard as people have made it out to be.”

Irene Levine has a few hints for successfully making friends if you do decide to give Bumble BFF a try. The first is that unless you’ve experienced something egregious in your first meeting, you may want to give yourself and the other person another chance. First meetings can be difficult, especially for people who aren’t outgoing.

The second; don’t expect too much too soon. It takes time to make a real friend, said Levine.

Miss Black University of Texas Scholarship Pageant

Austin Fairy Godmother: Where Dreams Become Dresses

by Ellen Gonzalez, Jayelyn Jackson, Jackie Sanchez and Sarah Talaat

Thousands of young women around the country are selecting their dream dresses, picking out matching shoes and finding the perfect jewelry for their proms. But the reality for many of these high school students is that they simply can’t afford the high costs of dresses, let alone limo rentals, tickets and formal dinners.

Keri Byer saw the need to provide an alternate prom dress experience after her friend called her, distraught that she wouldn’t be able to buy her daughter a dress for her prom due to financial strains. The girl was considering that she might have to skip her prom if she couldn’t find an inexpensive dress.


“Girls are literally not going to these events because they don’t have the outfit.”


“The time and age that we’re in everything is so expensive. These girls are literally not going to these events because they don’t have the outfit. And for me that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Byer said.

Byer called around the city and placed an ad for gently used dresses. The response was overwhelming. She soon had more dresses than she knew what to do with, and an idea was born: Rent prom dresses, shoes and accessories at a fraction of the price to women who would not otherwise be able to attend formal events.

Byer initially operated out her backyard at a once-yearly “prom fair” event where a long line of women would wait to find their perfect dresses. She soon realized she needed a rental space and opened her first location, Austin Fairy Godmother Boutique, in Leander.

Taylor Edwards, a customer at the Leander location, said that the store is a blessing to her and her family.

“We really don’t have a lot of money right now … and my mom found this place online and we came all the way from Hutto. It’s my last year in high school, I’m 18 years old and I really want to have a great prom,” Edwards said.

The shop has hundreds of prom dresses, shoes and jewelry to rent for a package price of $60. Byer relies mainly on donations from the community to stock the store.

“My most favorite part of it is if I’m working the dressing room and the girl comes out, just [seeing] the look on her face when you know she has found the dress,” Cheryl  Trabor, an employee of the store, said.

“We may lose our space.”


The store has received so many donations that Byer is thinking about expanding to a new space.

“We’ve outgrown this current location right here in Leander, which is a blessing in disguise. We just kind of all of a sudden blown up and [the location is] just too small, and unfortunately the landlord is going through some things. We may not have the choice to move or not. We may lose our space,” Byer said. “So that’s kind of the urgency with which we’re trying to raise funds.”

Byer has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money in the event that Austin Fairy Godmother will need to move locations. The timing of the potential move is difficult because Byer recently closed the second Fairy Godmother boutique in Kileen. That location provided many military families with formal wear for the various balls and events that happen on the military base each year.

“We had a store in Killeen. We were there exactly one year and two weeks. The customers we had there was amazing,” Byer said. “We helped thousands and thousands of military families, [but] we could not find a trustworthy employee.”

In the meantime, the boutique has found another way to reach out to women in need by taking a “mobile store” stocked with dresses and accessories to different locations in the area.

“This gives the girls who don’t have a ride to the boutique a way to get a dress. We will take our boutique and give free giveaways to the homeless teens and different groups like that,” Byer said.

Byer has no plans to slow down anytime soon and is eager to find new ways to help women look and feel their best.

“I’ve been the crazy dress lady for 10 fabulous years,” Byer said. “This has become more than a dress shop for me. It’s about helping people.”



Click here to donate to Austin Fairy Godmother’s GoFundMe.


At Wishes and Dishes, Hope is Served

By: Kate Bartick, Julia Bernstein, Anthony Green

Legos, dinosaurs and Disney are among 7-year-old Owen Sirmons’ favorite things, and this past March, Owen had the opportunity to experience his favorite things up close and in person. Thanks to the efforts of Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas, Owen, who has a rare genetic condition called Escobar Syndrome and scoliosis, was able to go to Legoland, Universal Studios and Disney World in Florida.

“He is the most adorable, creative, smart, funny, compassionate, strong, amazing little guy and I couldn’t think of a better person to get this Make-A-Wish experience. He loved every second of it,” said Erica Sirmons, Owen’s mother.

According to Sirmons, Owen’s favorite part of the trip was going to the Jurassic Park-themed area of Universal Studios.

“He got to have his picture taken with a raptor and that to him was like the best thing ever,” Sirmons said.

Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas is an organization dedicated to granting wishes to children, such as Owen, who are diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions. Fulfilling wishes would not be possible without the fundraising efforts of Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas and its supporters in the community.

According to Kathryn Draper, director of special events for Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas, there are two different types of events that raise funds for the organization. The first are internal events, which are put on by Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas.

“We fund them, we market them and we coordinate them,” Draper said. “Our biggest internal fundraiser is Over the Edge. The first 200 individuals who raise the minimum of $1,500 will get to rappel down the W Austin. That is this June 11 and 12.”

External events, which are hosted by outside entities, are the second way Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas makes money. Draper said the organization relies heavily on external events, such as Wishes and Dishes. Wishes and Dishes is an event fundraiser held for the past two years in which people buy tickets to dine on meals from around the world and participate in a silent auction with proceeds going to Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas. Early estimates put funds raised from this year’s Wishes and Dishes at $52,000.

The funds raised from both internal and external events go a long way in helping Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas grant wishes.



According to Draper, since the inception of Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas in 1984, the chapter has granted over 4,200 wishes, with a milestone of 238 wishes granted this past year.

“We’ve never granted that many wishes before which is great for us because we are starting to reach our goal of reaching every eligible child in our territory,” Draper said. “This year we are set to grant 260 wishes which is even better and it can only go up from there.”

According to Draper, the average wish costs approximately $5,000 but for top-tier wishes, such as international wishes and celebrity wishes, the cost can be a little bit more.

As for the most popular wish, a trip to Disney World is number one.

“Disney World makes up over half of all of our wishes. Our kids get to stay at a great place called Give Kids the World,” Draper said. “It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and they get some very special treatment at Disney World.”

The ability to grant wishes for children and teens dealing with life-threatening illnesses leaves a remarkable impact on all persons involved in the wish experience.

Estela Bonacci, a Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas board member and organizer of the Wishes and Dishes event, said having the opportunity to actually meet the children and their families is what drew her to the organization.

“It truly puts perspective in your life and shows you where your priorities should be and it’s just a very rewarding, I can’t even describe it, experience. You really get a connection with the children, the siblings, the parents. It’s an amazing journey,” Bonacci said.

Draper said she believes one of the most rewarding parts about working for the organization is “hearing how much hope, strength, and joy [they’ve] brought not only the child, but the whole family.”

Sirmons said, for her, the best part of the wish experience was that Owen was celebrated by every person they met, whether the family was on the airplane traveling to Florida or at Give Kids the World or Disney World.

“The whole experience celebrated Owen every step of the way,” Sirmons said. “That, to me, was priceless.”



Greeks Give Back

By Lauren Florence, Caroline Hall, & Jack Vrtis

The aromas of smelly crawfish and cheap beer wafted through the air, mixing with the sounds of country music and the lighthearted chatter of the hundreds of University of Texas students gathered at the Sigma Chi fraternity house in final celebration of Derby Days, a weeklong event that culminated in $31,000 raised for charity.

“It’s important for the Greek community to participate in philanthropy because with so many people and resources, we can really make a difference,” Tim Davis, the Derby Days Chairman, said.

Derby Days, which concluded festivities on April 23, is only one of a multitude of philanthropy events held annually at the University of Texas and put on by UT Greek organizations. There are 14 official sororities at UT, governed by the University Panhellenic Council, or UPC, and 28 official fraternities, governed by the Interfraternity Council, or IFC. Individually, these 42 Greek organizations hold various philanthropy events throughout the year, raising a combined hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.

“In 2015 alone, all 14 sororities combined within UPC raised over $647,000 for their charities of choice,” McKenna Phillips, the UPC Vice President, said. “ These charities include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Ronald McDonald House, and Prevent Child Abuse America, among others.”

Sororities raise money through events ranging from flag football tournaments to frozen yogurt profit shares. One popular event held year after year is Kappa Alpha Theta’s “Pancake Party.” Hosted at the Theta house, students line up for all you can eat sweet and savory pancakes, including flavors like sausage and Oreo, and the proceeds are donated to Theta’s philanthropy, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, which advocates for abused and neglected children in the legal system.

“Pancake Party is our most attended philanthropy event,” said Emily Johnson, a senior Theta. “It’s great because through events like this, we have the opportunity to impact the lives of people we’ve never met.”
Fraternities also do their part to give back. So far in 2016, the IFC has already raised $95,444 for the B+ Foundation.

In addition to fundraising events, the Greek community also plays an active role in volunteering with their specific charities.

“Aside from financial contributions, chapter members participate in a variety of volunteering efforts towards their charities, ranging from helping out with local Austin schools to working on national philanthropic endeavors,” Philips said.  Through these various events and contributions, the UT Greek community is able to use their resources to impact the Austin area and beyond.

“Philanthropy allows the Greek community to come together for the betterment of the community,” freshman Tri Delta member Megan Uhr said. “It has made my Greek experience such a positive one.”


Greek Philanthropy Infographic

A Room Of Their Own

pei2Get Bossy

Cultures Dance their way into Austin

 By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Bright dresses and choreographed dance moves captured the stage at the Austin Earth Day Festival on Saturday.  

The Mueller Lake Park event highlighted multiple social dance styles, including flamenco, ballet folklórico, square dancing and tango.

Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento, was one of the dance groups at the event. It presented a traditional Mexican dance from Oaxaca. Edgar Yepez dance instructor at Oaxaca, said the dance represents Mexican heritage.

“It’s a Mexican tradition,” Yepez said. “It’s a Mexican folklore.”

Arte en Movimento’s goal is to be a growing space for culture and art, while promoting diversity, opportunity and cultural expression. Yepez said they’ve been around for a year and have seen their program grow tremendously from four participants to 40. He credits the growth to style of dance.

“The main difference in the style of dance is Guelaguetza,” Yepez said. “No one is doing Guelaguetza in Austin. That’s the main difference between other kinds of dance.”

Oaxaca showcases the vibrant social dance culture in the city.

But Austin isn’t always as kind to professional dance. Austin’s professional dance culture has the same issues as other major cities. According to Caroline Clark, who is working on her Ph.D. about Austin dance, said the only dancers who make a salary are ballet dancers. There’s also limited space. But she added that “that’s true everywhere.”

While professional dance has its troubles in the city, Clark said the most important thing about Austin’s dance culture is its growth.


Origins of Dance Cultures

Infographic Created By: Kaylee Nemec 


“The most important thing to know about Austin dance is that as Austin’s population grows, the diversity of dance forms that one can do here increases,” Clark said. “There are many kinds of dance here, from African forms to Hispanic forms to European folk forms to Asian forms. And, don’t forget the big Native American powwow that takes place every November. And, the very influential Texas dance hall tradition.”

Some of the biggest reasons for social dance’s popularity in Austin is it’s fun atmosphere. Mickey Jacobs, a senior tango instructor at Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin, said people attend tango classes at Esquina for the relaxed environment.

“We laugh a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very open, and welcoming community. That’s really what esquina is known for and that’s what brings people back. It’s not intimidating … We make it easy to take that first step.”

Jacobs said Esquina offers a wide variety of classes. The main focus is Argentine tango, which places emphasis on the dance partners’ connection. Jacob’s performed a tango routine with fellow instructor Orazzio Loayza at Saturday’s festival, which displayed the dance’s heavy reliance on a duo’s embrace, and it additionally showed the technical side of the dance.

“It’s a couples dance first and foremost so learning to have the conversation, if you will, between the follower and the leader, but instead of a verbal conversation, it’s a conversation with your body,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very sensual dance. It’s all about responding to each other’s body movement … It all goes back to an embrace. The dance position is called the abrazo, which means embrace, and that’s where everything originates.”

Jacobs added that Esquina isn’t the only place in Austin teaching tango. She said the tango culture in Austin, much like the city’s overall dance community, is alive and well.

“There’s a very vibrant community,” Jacobs said. “There are a few 100 people, who regularly dance tango. There are definitely people around town, who are great, that serve people all around Austin … There are good teachers throughout the city, and a very vibrant active community.”



Meanings of Bharata Natyam Hand Gestures

Photos and Cutlines By: Kaylee Nemec



Photos and Cutlines By: Nick Castillo


Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez

How to Find the Right Home Away from Home