Advertorial: ExxonMobil aims to increase climate protections

This year, the United States Environmental Protection Agency will observe its 49th year of operation. After years of increasing public concern about human impact on the environment in the 1950s and 60s, President Richard Nixon signed an executive order to establish the agency in order to assess and research the environment, and enforce statutes put forth by Congress to protect it.

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Earnest Doyle, Loss Prevention System Supervisor, gives Lamar University students a safety gear demonstration, Nov. 7, at the Beaumont complex. UP photo by Noah Dawlearn.

Since then, the status of the environment has remained a central topic in the news worldwide. Industry has been heavily criticized about its role in the destruction of the environment, and many activists and organizations are waiting to see what corporations will do to ease the effects of climate change.

ExxonMobil is working to develop and implement environmental and innovative energy technologies to reduce its footprint, here in Beaumont and across the globe.

According to its website, ExxonMobil has a six-step environmental management process — identify environmental and social aspects; evaluate environmental, social and regulatory settings; conduct environmental and social risk assessments; manage risks, avoid, reduce, remedy; monitor and evaluate; and apply environmental and social aspects.

“ExxonMobil is committed to conducting our business in a manner that is compatible with the balanced environmental and economic needs of the communities where we operate,” Cindy Holloway, ExxonMobil public and government affairs coordinator, said. “We are committed to complying with all applicable laws and regulations and apply responsible requirements where regulations are not adequately protective.”

Holloway said that by 2020, ExxonMobil will have invested more than $2 billion in environmental performance measures in Beaumont alone.

“This includes the installation of three cogeneration units and a wet gas scrubber in 2005,” she said.

According to ExxonMobil’s website, cogeneration is the process of generating electricity and heat at the same time and making use of both in the place where they are generated. A wet gas scrubber removes pollutants from gas streams.

“ExxonMobil has reduced sulfur dioxide emissions from its Beaumont operations by more than 80 percent since 2004,” Holloway said. “The Beaumont complex has reduced ozone precursors such as nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds by more than 50 percent since 2004.”

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Anthony Borgobello, Environmental Supervisor, explains the different steps that ExxonMobil has taken to reduce the impacts of climate change. UP photo by Noah Dawlearn.

In addition, Holloway said Beaumont is not on any Texas Commission on Environmental Quality air pollutant watch lists.

In 2017, the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement which sought to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the effects of climate change as a whole. ExxonMobil states on its website that it “supports the work of the Paris signatories, acknowledges the ambitious goals of this agreement and believes the company has a constructive role to play in developing solutions.”

ExxonMobil is also investing in its future as an energy company.

“Energy matters to ExxonMobil,” Holloway said. “With the world’s population estimated to reach more than nine billion people in 2040, providing enough affordable energy to help improve global living is one of our main objectives.

“A significant portion of the world’s population remains energy-deprived, facing living conditions that would be considered dire by most people in developed countries. Access to modern energy improves a community’s quality of life. It is closely correlated to increased life expectancy, reduced poverty and malnutrition, and higher levels of childhood education.”

Holloway said that as growing populations gain increased access to energy, rising living standards in many parts of the world will create the largest expansion of the global middle class in history, meaning more demand for homes, transportation, electricity, consumer goods, and the energy to power them all.

“The challenge is to satisfy this growing demand, while reducing the risks of climate change,” she said. “We are focused on mitigating emissions in our operations, developing technology solutions, providing solutions that reduce emissions for our customers and engaging on climate change policy. ExxonMobil is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, which advocates for a revenue-neutral carbon tax and aligns closely with our long-standing principles.

“In 2018, ExxonMobil joined the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a voluntary initiative representing 13 of the world’s largest oil and gas producers working towards solutions to mitigate the risks of climate change.”

ExxonMobil is invested in developing technology solutions that will be instrumental to meet rising global energy demands while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions, Holloway said.

“We are conducting scientific research to enhance existing and develop next-generation energy sources,” she said. “ExxonMobil has spent more than $9 billion on lower-emission energy solutions since 2000. At the center of our research is ExxonMobil’s Corporate Strategic Research laboratory, a fundamental research institution with approximately 170 Ph.D. scientists and engineers focused on addressing the company’s long-range science needs.

“We support a diverse portfolio of in-house research projects, including next-generation biofuels, carbon capture and storage, alternative energy and climate science.”

One of the next-generation biofuels ExxonMobil is looking at is algae. ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics, Inc. are working toward the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuels a day by 2025. According to ExxonMobil’s newsletter, The Exemplar, algae biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases.

“ExxonMobil is partnering with approximately 80 universities around the world to explore new energy technologies,” Holloway said. “The new phase of research includes an outdoor field study that will grow naturally occurring algae in several ponds in California.”

In carbon capture, Holloway said ExxonMobil is conducting research to find ways to improve existing technologies.

“One project, with FuelCell Energy, is focused on reducing the cost of capturing carbon by using carbonate fuel cells that generate power while capturing carbon,” she said.

The ExxonMobil Beaumont Refinery is currently constructing an expansion project within the refinery’s existing footprint that will increase crude refining capacity by more than 65 percent, or 250,000 barrels per day.

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Graphic courtesy of ExxonMobil.

Construction of the new unit began in 2019 and startup is expected by 2022, according to a press release on the company’s website

“The project will create 1,850 jobs during construction and between 40 and 60 permanent jobs once completed,” Holloway said. “We plan to transport a significant amount of equipment and material via the Neches River to minimize community impact and reduce the number of construction trucks traveling through neighboring communities. In anticipation of an additional 1,850 construction workers, we are also considering plans for an alternative path toward the refinery’s south plant via Martin Luther King Parkway.”

But, as with every industrial project, there are risks. According to the ExxonMobil website, they consider risk at every stage of development and continuously work to manage environmental impacts.

For more information, visit corporate.exxonmobil.com.

This is paid content by Lamar students produced in partnership with ExxonMobil.

Story by UP editor Olivia Malick, pictures by UP photo editor Noah Dawlearn.

Sister Wife

— TRAVEL —

Anne of Cleves, 4th wife of Henry VIII, kept her head, and house, in divorce

LEWES, England — If one had to think of a singular word to describe the Anne of Cleves House, it would be unusual. Unusual architecture, unusual history, an unusual stop on a study abroad trip, but ever so fascinating.

Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Their marriage was short lived, but everything worked out in the end for Anne — something that can’t be said for Henry’s other wives.

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The portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, circa 1539, is in the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

“A couple of years after Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, died, his advisers, including Thomas Cromwell, started looking for another wife for Henry,” Martin Pelt, visitor service assistant for the Anne of Cleves House, said. “Henry sent (Hans) Holbein, who was his court painter, to paint the picture of Anne of Cleves and her sister. Henry basically fell in love with the picture, and so they signed.

“Also, at this time France and the Holy Roman Empire looked as though they were going to sign some sort of treaty. Henry, having split with Rome, needed to have all the non-Catholic friends he could get, so you could say that was another reason for the marriage.”

Pelt said Henry had an idea to meet Anne for the first time in a disguise so that when she met him, she would fall in love with him immediately.

“It didn’t quite happen like that,” he said.  “What she saw, really, was a dirty old man trying it on, so she carried on — that didn’t go down very well. Henry stomped out. He came back in dressed in purple velvet with everyone bowing to him.”

Henry wasn’t very attracted to Anne and had his eye on Catherine Howard by the time they got married, Pelt said. They carried on with the marriage due to political pressures.

“In the end, they were only married for six months, and because Anne of Cleves agreed readily to the annulment of the wedding, even though she didn’t particularly want to, she got quite a good payoff,” Pelt said. “The payoff included nine manors in Sussex, including Southover, this area of Lewes — and a manor isn’t just a house, it’s all the income and land that goes with it.

“So she had nine manors in Sussex, she had another nine in Essex, three in Surrey, three in Kent, three in Oxfordshire, several in Suffolk, one in Leicestershire and one in Yorkshire. This was giving her an income of between £3,000-£4,000 a year, a huge amount at that time.”

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The exterior of the Anne of Cleves House can be seen through the windows of an adjacent building exhibiting more artifacts of the time. UP photo by Olivia Malick.

The settlement amounted to approximately £2 million in today’s money.

Anne was also given places like Richmond Palace and Hever Castle.

“These were all much grander places and they were also closer to court,” Pelt said. “So, she had a tendency to live there. We’ve got no evidence of her having lived here. She may have visited. Some people say she didn’t even come to Sussex. However, there’s about five or six houses in the country that have been known as the Anne of Cleves House, two of them, this one and another one in Ditchling, are only around 10 miles apart. Why would they have been called that or been linked to her if she hasn’t had some connection, if she hadn’t turned up there at some point?”

Anne was also given the title of the “King’s sister,” which made her the fourth most important woman in England at the time, Pelt said.

“It sounds a bit weird, but in Tudor England the hierarchy was important,” he said. “This gave her an official position, only below whoever the queen was at the time and Henry’s two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. With the income, she was also a woman of independent means, which was unusual at the time. She could’ve gotten married, but didn’t. My thoughts there are that if she had, everything would’ve gone to the husband.”

Anne eventually outlived all of Henry’s other wives, and was the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. When she died, her properties reverted to The Crown, including the Lewes house.

“It went to the Saxby family who made a lot of different alterations to the house,” Pelt said. “They had aspirations of gentry, I suppose. They spent a lot of money on the house.”

Brewing was, and is, an important industry in Lewes, so the house was also passed down to several maltsters, Pelt said.

“It was once said that Lewes had seven churches, seven breweries and 70 pubs,” he said. “As the house progressed and deteriorated, it turned into a number of tenements in Victorian times. There were up to 30 people living in the house.”

The property was owned by the Verrall family for 120 years before Frank Verrall donated it to the Sussex Archaeological Society in the 1920s. It’s been used as a museum ever since.

“Much of the original footprint of the house remains to this day,” Pelt said. “Parts have been demolished or rebuilt, but this house has been here for more than 500 hundred years.”

Maintaining such a storied property is expensive, Pelt said, and restoration and conservation efforts are paid for by admissions and the Sussex Archaeological Society.

“This house is connected to a lot of Lewes history, and to one of the most infamous kings of England — it’s quite unique,” Pelt said.

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A panoramic view of the Anne of Cleves House. UP photo by Olivia Malick.

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Olivia Malick, UP editor

Finding Polloman

Alvarez aims to bring Mexican, Mesoamerican cultures to the masses with his works

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UP photo by Noah Dawlearn.

When Port Arthur native Gonzalo Alvarez started gaining national attention for his video game, “Borders,” which depicts the journey immigrants take from Mexico to America, he was already working on his graphic novel, “The Legend of Polloman.”

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“Polloman,” drawn by Gonzalo Alvarez.

Now, he’s in the process of getting the novel published. Both the video game and the graphic novel are part of Alvarez’s larger plan to bring Mexican culture into an area of media which he says is too Eurocentric.

“I hope people can see worlds that are beyond the medieval Eurocentric spectrum,” Alvarez, who graduated from Lamar in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in drawing, said. “For example, there’s a lot of people here in America who love Japanese culture and there’s people who even learn a bit of Japanese language. But no one really knows a lot about the Nawa culture, right? That’s the indigenous culture, the Aztecs.

“The culture of Mexico is complex. The Spanish came in the 1500s and essentially Catholicized Mexico. So what Mexico is today is basically a hybrid — it’s these Native American rituals and culture mixed with Catholicism.

“My goal with the book is to awaken Latino people and teach them about their roots, because I didn’t know any of this stuff growing up and now I would say, I’m not necessarily an expert on it, but I know a lot because I’ve been doing so much research for the book.”

“Polloman” is set to be released in 2021 under HarperCollins. Alvarez said he wants people to learn about Mesoamerican and Mexican cultures without realizing that they’re learning.

“I’m framing it in a way, where, if you had no idea this was a real culture, it would still be interesting, just like ‘Lord of the Rings,’” he said. “Obviously, all of that is fictional, but you love learning about this land and Mordor, and all the different bad guys, elves and whatever.

“With my world, I’m doing the same thing, where you’re learning about these different characters, all of these different locations, but they’re all real. I want people to embrace the culture without even knowing it.”

Alvarez’s journey from high school student to having a book with a major publishing company didn’t come out of thin air. His dedication to having his voice heard and sharing his stories is something he’s always had.

“I liked drawing growing up but I never knew I could go into it professionally,” he said. “In high school, my teacher pushed me to apply for an AP class where I had to do a body of work. That was my first series. Then I went to college and I knew I liked drawing but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.

“While I was there, I just learned about so many things. Eventually, I realized I wanted to be a video game designer and graphic novel artist, even though I hadn’t read a single graphic novel growing up.”

Alvarez said he hadn’t had any formal education in art until he got to college. His parents, Gonzalo and Eva, immigrated to the United States almost 20 years ago — they were poor and didn’t have art education in their own households, but they were always supportive of their son’s aspirations, the younger Gonzalo said.

“I grew up with video games and a lot of cartoons,” he said. “I didn’t have anything that was fine art in my household. I didn’t really know what art was growing up. I just liked cartoons and comics.”

Alvarez’s artistic style is inspired by his years of watching cartoons and playing video games. In high school, he was introduced to comic books, and while in college, he became interested in printmaking which introduced bold black lines to his style.

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The cover of “The Legend of Polloman,” illustrated by Gonzalo Alvarez.

“One of my teachers in high school started a comic book club and that’s how I got introduced to comics,” he said. “We all did a ‘zine.’ We did our first comic and I liked it. I was like, this is basically drawing but a lot, and I can make stories without having to animate them, which would take a lot longer to do. We had this idea for a video game-themed comic, and from there, I thought, ‘What if there was a fantasy video game but set in Mexico?’ That’s where the idea for my current graphic novel sparked, and I’ve been working on it since 2014-15.”

In 2016, Alvarez had the urge to express his emotions over what he calls increasingly xenophobic and racist language from a then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump. He said after hearing the same rhetoric repeated by people he knew, as the child of immigrants, he felt personally impacted.

“I thought, ‘What if I made a video game where I put people in the shoes of what my parents went through crossing the border?’” he said. “Maybe that experience will have them at least think about it from a different perspective.”

While he knew how to draw, Alvarez said he knew nothing about video game programming. He journeyed to New York to attend IndieCade East 2016, an independent game festival. There, he met game developers Genaro Reyes and Jon DiGiacomo. Together, “Borders” was born.

“We became friends, and when I returned back home to Texas, I said, ‘Hey guys, let’s do a game jam,’ which is where you essentially give yourself a time limit — we decided seven days — to develop a game,” Alvarez said. “I had already had this idea of the immigration game design in my sketchbook. The idea was, you’d have to move from Point A to Point B, and there would be border patrol agents moving around that you have to avoid — kind of like a sneaking game.

“We sat down for seven days and we worked our butts off. We completed it and uploaded it to this website called itch.io, it’s basically a place where you can upload your games and people can play them.”

The game was released on July 4, 2016, and is still available for users to download for free.

“It was a terrible time to release a game,” Alvarez said. “And it wasn’t until the following year that it gained all the press.”

When the game released, Alvarez promoted it on his Instagram, which is where The Huffington Post picked it up, followed a month later by The Washington Post. After gaining national attention, Alvarez created an art installation centered around the game which was showcased in the SOL gallery in LU’s art department in 2017.

“There was a lot of great response to the game from the Latinx community,” he said. “I’m not the only first generation Mexican-American — a lot of friends grew up in a similar situation.”

However, not all of the reactions were positive, Alvarez said.

“Channel 12News did a piece on (the game) and the Facebook comments section was pretty racist and xenophobic,” he said. “There were comments like, ‘Let’s go find his parents and send them back to Mexico,’ even though we’re citizens. It was kind of a mixed response, but the majority of it was good.”

Alvarez said he embraced the positive reactions he received from people.

“I’m helping the community and providing a voice for a lot of people who maybe aren’t in the position I am to make a game, and I got lucky enough to find people to help me make one,” he said.

As for the negative reactions, Alvarez said he didn’t respond to the Facebook comments.

“I saw it as a waste of time,” he said. “There were so many of them, and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook.”

All of these experiences have only furthered Alvarez’s dedication to producing “The Legend of Polloman.”

“When I did the first version in high school, I created this chicken man character with this cockroach side-kick based on ‘La Cucaracha,’ a Mexican folk tale song,” he said. “They’re basically going through this fantasy world fighting Mexican boogeymen like ‘El Cucuy’ or ‘The Weeping Woman.’ These are stories that I heard growing up, but that I had never seen on screen.

“I was just kind of tired of seeing dragons and elves and orcs — they’re fun, but there’s just so many different worlds of that and I was like, ‘Why isn’t there a world set in Mexico, it has such a rich culture?’ I made the first little comic in that comic book club and I really enjoyed the story, so I just kind of continued working on it and writing it and developing it. It’s taken four to five years to get where I’m at now, but it’s at the point where it will be published soon.”

First came the idea, then the production, then the publishing deal. Alvarez chose to do the prologue of the book for his undergraduate thesis. He then produced the first chapter and presented it at the 2017 Texas Latino Comic Con.

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Alvarez gives a demonstration on how he draws some of his characters, Oct. 14, in the Lamar University art department. UP photo by Noah Dawlearn.

“After graduating from Lamar with my thesis, luckily my fiancé started an internship and was able to pay the bills,” he said. “I spent my first year out of college developing the first chapter of the book. It was a grueling time — I spent 10 hours a day trying to get it done by July for the Texas Latino Comic Con, this big fund for Texas Latino people like myself, and I wanted to have it ready for that event.”

Alvarez printed the completed portions of his book and sold them at the convention, where he met fantasy artist John Picacio who’s illustrated book covers for “Game of Thrones,” among other things.

“He’s a huge fantasy artist and he started the Mexicanx Initiative, which sponsors 50 Mexican artists from around the world to come to Worldcon76, a sci-fi convention,” Alvarez said. “It’s primarily a white demographic, an older demographic. He’s the first host ever to be Mexican. He sponsored us. I flew out there, and I met a lot of amazing Mexican artists, but importantly, I met a graphic novel artist that I was on a panel with and she suggested that I try to find publishers and an agent.

“Initially, I was thinking of self-publishing the novel, but it really wasn’t going to be realistic. I wanted it to reach, especially, kids, so I went home and looked at the list of agents she sent me. I found, out of over a hundred agencies, there were only two that had a Latino person. I felt that I needed a Latino agent who would understand the stories I’m trying to tell and understand the value of it.”

Alvarez followed Marietta B. Zacker on Twitter, but before he could send her anything, she direct messaged him to find out more about “Polloman.”

“She was like, ‘What is Polloman?’” Alvarez said. “She said, ‘It’s funny looking and it’s interesting — send me everything you have about it.’ I sent her my pitch and the first chapter so she could see a sample of it, and she fell in love with it.

“She gave me a call the next day and said, ‘I usually don’t do this so quickly, but I’d love to be your representative.’ That was back in September of 2018. She became my agent and she started pitching it to publishers.”

The first publisher interested in the book was Penguin Random House, then Scholastic, then HarperCollins. Scholastic dropped out, and a bidding war between Penguin Random House and HarperCollins ensued.

“HarperCollins had the best bid, and so they picked me up for two books — the first one and the sequel — because I have eight planned and they picked the first two.”

When the first book releases in 2021, Alvarez said it will be around 200-250 pages, and will be sold in stores such as Barnes & Noble, with the sequel planned for release in 2022. Alvarez’s aspirations extend beyond the books — he has a 10-year plan in mind.

“I’m also a game designer, so I actually have a game group that I make games with, and our goal is to make Mesoamerican-themed games,” he said. “I’m tired of games like ‘World of Warcraft.’ I want to make the Mexican and Native American versions of those things.

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“The novels, I’ve had them planned from the beginning as an intellectual property. I’ve actually been in contact already with animation studios to produce an cartoon series, although it’s going to be put on hold until the first book releases. I’m excited for that.

“The book is planned as eight different graphic novels — it’s one giant art, but each individual focuses on specific elements and I have so much side content planned — toys, board games, just like the whole shebang. Just like Pokémon has everything, like TV, games, cartoons, whatever, I want to do the same thing. But now the kids who are going to be buying this stuff are going to be learning without knowing. In 10 years, I should hopefully be able to produce all eight books and then the side projects, so I’m going to be old by the time I’m done.”

Alvarez said he’s been supported through this journey by important people in life like his family, his fiancé Grace, close friends, and the Mexican artists he’s met along the way.

The journey has been tough, he’s been working non-stop for a few years, with Grace having to carry the financial load.

“I was working 10-hour days, taking no weekends, just to meet deadlines,” he said. “There were a lot of people telling me to get a part-time job while I was working on it just to have some money. They told me I should get a job and work on the book on the side, but I just felt like it was going to be good. I just needed to finish it. I needed the time.”

Alvarez said, above all, he hopes the book and journey towards it will inspire other first-generation kids to do whatever they dream of doing.

“If a Mexican-American, who’s the first to be born here, first to go to college, first to learn English, didn’t have parents who had money and wasn’t necessarily in a location that would foster these type of things — like, literally, I started from the most zero level and made it to this point — essentially, I feel like if I can do it, anyone can do it,” he said. “So I hope that they can see, if they have even a single advantage, even the fact that they have a book in their hands — because I didn’t really have books growing up — that’s already a head start.

“By the time they’re my age, if they work as hard as they can, they’ll be better than I am right now. So that’s what I hope they see, that literally anyone can do it.”

To support “The Legend of Polloman,” visit Alvarez’s website, gonzzink.com, and sign up for the mailing list to receive release alerts. To support Alvarez himself, visit his Patreon at patreon.com/gonzzink, to donate monthly and see exclusive content.

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Alvarez gives art students critiques on their work, Oct. 14, in the Lamar University art department. UP photo by Noah Dawlearn.

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Olivia Malick, UP editor

My Mother’s Daughter

Forgiving my mom without forgetting the past

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UP graphic by Olivia Malick

For the better part of my 20 years on earth, I have been troubled by my relationship with my mom. I don’t know why it’s been on my mind so much lately, perhaps because she recently moved out-of-state.

It made me sad when I would hear my friends talk about their relationships with their moms and how close they were. I always had a much better relationship with my dad. I felt — and sometimes still do feel — like I was missing out on this wonderful experience.

Last weekend I was looking through old photographs from a simpler time — when all I knew about my parents was that they loved me and I was the only thing in their lives.

Even as I write this, I look around my room at family photographs. It’s weird to think we used to be those people since things are so different now. Why didn’t I get along with my mom in the way that my friends got along with theirs? Hell, why didn’t I get along with my mom in the way my brother did?

Maybe it was because she was an alcoholic. Maybe it was because I was stubborn. Maybe it was because our personalities clashed. Maybe I’ll never know.

What I do know however, is that our mother-daughter story has not been a linear one. There are times when I cry at night for her and there were times when I never wanted to see her again.

When looking through those photographs, a last glimpse into a pre-completely digital age, one could not see the hurt and aguish that awaits the next decade.

After I turned 10, the photos taken of a smiling mother and daughter became fewer and fewer. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why and when that changed.

My parents divorced when I was in sixth grade. At first it was hard — all of my friends’ parents were splitting up at the time and I remember being so happy that my family was different. But we weren’t. I was too young to notice the cracks in their marriage. At 20, I know it was for the best. In fact, it was a good thing and I think my parents are both happier because of it.

Middle school as a whole was an interesting period of change in my mom and I’s relationship. I was going through puberty, so emotions ran high on everything. I remember always being so angry at her, sometimes justified, sometimes not. I think some of it was just teenage angst, but I also know that my feelings at the time were valid and should have been listened to more.

To put it simply, we didn’t get along. It got to the point where I seriously considered cutting my mom out of my life. At 13 years old. It was a toxic time, but I didn’t really want to do it — I wanted to have the same mother-daughter relationship all of my friends had.

When it was my mom’s turn to take my brother and I on the weekends, I would stay at my grandparents’ house because I couldn’t stand to see her. I know that hurt her. It hurt me too, but I didn’t have the ability to tell her exactly what I was feeling at the time.

So here I was — 13, angry at my mom, and trying to navigate through middle school. Then the diagnosis came. My mom had cancer.

Everything I was feeling before went out the window. Now, all I felt was guilt. Like somehow, I did this to my mom.

She was diagnosed with Stage I ovarian cancer in the fall of 2012. In the grand scheme of cancers, she was lucky. Doctors caught the cancer early, she had a hysterectomy, and then began chemotherapy. She lost her hair. She was sober. It wasn’t a good time, but I feel like we became closer.

And just like that, it was over. She went into remission (months later, of course) and things resumed to normal. Even the drinking. It’s not something she denies. I know her journey through addiction has been much different than mine.

A year later, my father, brother and I moved to Humble, outside of Houston. My mom didn’t move with us. We were used to seeing her every week, so it was hard. She’d come up every other weekend and kept talking about how everything will be much better when we move back to Beaumont. But I didn’t want to move back.

At that point, I had moved four times all around Beaumont. I was sick of packing and thought it was cruel of her to try and convince us to move back. For other reasons, Humble didn’t work out, so we did move back.

Our relationship has been pretty similar since. There are months when we get along perfectly and talk for hours, and there are months when the anger consumes and depresses me. I feel that we get along better when we don’t live together — we can take each other in small doses that way.

She moved to Georgia in May. I miss her a lot. There’s so much negativity in the world, I don’t want it to invade my life. I decided that I’m going to forgive her for past mistakes. I know she’s sorry, even if she hasn’t explicitly told me.

It’s the point in life where your grandparents and older relatives start getting sick and dying. I’ve been to more funerals in the last year than in the past five. I don’t ever want to feel the guilt I felt when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t want to be mad anymore. It wears me out.

“Forgive and forget.” It’s an age-old mantra given as advice on how to move past troubling life events whether it be a broken promise, a crime, or a betrayal from someone you thought you could trust. But I think you can forgive without forgetting.

It’s important to have boundaries. It’s also important to remember that just because you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that what they did wasn’t wrong. It just means that you don’t have to feel the burden of it anymore. Alcoholism is a family disease, and it can be easy to blame the alcoholic for ruining everything, and sometimes they deserve it.

My mom is a strong person — she’s lived a tough life. I’m not going to tell her story, but I will say that I understand why she reacts to things the way she does. I honestly can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. That doesn’t make it right, but, like most things, it isn’t black and white. It’s all gray area.

Forgive people when you feel ready to. Forgive yourself. Lift the weight off your chest — if you spend your life waiting for that to happen, it’ll be wasted.

So, mom, when you read this (because I know you will), just know, I forgive you and I love you.

Olivia Malick, UP editor

Review: ‘Wrinkles’ leaves much to be desired

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Scary clowns are an easy market for a late-year blockbuster. Look at “IT Chapter Two” and “Joker” — both made tens of millions of dollars on their opening nights.

However, both of those movies have something that “Wrinkles” doesn’t — a scary clown character.

To be fair, “Wrinkles” is an indie-documentary film that never could’ve pulled in the audiences that “IT” and “Joker” did due to a smaller budget, limited theater showings and little clout.

And that’s the problem — no one cares about Wrinkles the Clown. 

Wrinkles started as a minor social media sensation in 2015, when security camera-style footage of a little girl sleeping and a clown appearing from the drawer under her bed was uploaded on the internet. In the video, Wrinkles takes a toy and places it next to the girl. Then, he turns toward the camera and it  abruptly shuts off, leaving viewers to ponder about the fate of the little girl.

After the video went viral, people in Naples, Florida (where Wrinkles originates) started making fliers and stickers featuring Wrinkles’ phone number (407-734-0254,. It works, by the way), which parents could call to scare their children.

Much of the documentary’s run-time is spent on parents threatening to call Wrinkles while their children scream and cry in the background. A psychologist then tells viewers about how threatening to call an evil clown on children is psychological abuse.

Along with a folklorist, the psychologist makes Wrinkles seem more important than he actually is.

Wrinkles is unique in that he is not a movie or TV character — he can be seen in the real world, and has been.

His fame coincided with the infamous clown sightings of 2016 and that’s pretty much his whole story. 

The documentary, directed by Michael Beach Nichols, follows the “real” Wrinkles, an old man who lives in his van and eats microwaveable dinners every night. His face isn’t shown (at first, anyway), and he seems to be using a fake voice. He’s not happy about his newfound fame, and his whole method of getting into character seems distant and we never really know why he’s doing this.

Then the surprise comes — the old man that we believed was Wrinkles isn’t Wrinkles at all. It’s less of a surprise and more of an annoyance. We meet the “real” Wrinkles, who, again, doesn’t show his face and has a distorted voice. We find that the original Wrinkles video, and many that followed it, were faked to create more hype, undoing the development of most of the film thus far.

The documentary feels as though it was greenlit before a story was produced. There just isn’t enough about Wrinkles the Clown to create a feature-length film. And that’s OK.

Wrinkles would’ve been better as an uncovered modern tale — the mystery works in his favor.

Children are a big part of Wrinkles’ story. The ones who are scared of him and the ones who admire him build Wrinkles into more of a community mascot than neighborhood ghoul.

Wrinkles is still around and anyone can call the number. Whether or not he answers depends on the time of day — either way, one ise greeted with a voicemail message by him. 

Call and decide for yourself if he’s actually scary, or just another clown fad.

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Olivia Malick, UP editor

Mittra discusses state of modern journalism

Ayan Mittra, Texas Tribune editor and Beaumont native, said the media landscape has changed a lot since he began his career as a journalism student at the University of Texas.

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Texas Tribune editor Ayan Mittra, left, speaks with students about the changing media landscape, Monday, in the LUTV studio. UP staff photo

“Now, everything is constant,” the 1993 West Brook High School graduate, said. “You have to have a breaking news team that’s just focused on monitoring social media, or just press releases, or just news, to make sure that we’re getting it up before anyone else. In addition, you also have to balance that with enterprise work, where you’re actually talking through the work with the reporters to make sure you’re doing work that gives context and importance and value to people, beyond just the immediacy of breaking news.”

Mittra, who was on campus, Monday, to moderate a Texas Tribune panel discussion,  said that even story sources have changed.

“We have people that are just basically monitoring Twitter or moderating a Facebook group,” he said. “All of these things kind of work together, and all these great ideas come out of those different platforms, and so they kind of fuel our reporting as well.

“There’s not just traditional sources that you get — we get sources from our audience in ways that we never could get it before. Before, the main interaction was just getting letters to the editor or phone calls. Now, you’re getting tweets, Facebook messages, etc.”

In the era of “fake news,” it can be difficult to navigate a career in journalism, Mittra said.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge on all levels,” he said. “The work is so important. With all the fake news stuff, there are still people who need the information that we provide to guide them in their daily lives.

“Regardless of what the climate is in terms of calling people fake news, those things don’t change. So you have to make sure that you’re providing information that no one else is providing, and you have to show people why it’s important that they need this information, and you have to show why it’s accurate. The people who are calling out fake news are going to call that out — there’s always been some level, whether it’s yellow journalism or fake news, in terms of trying to discredit the media.”

Mittra said that transparency is the most important thing a news organization can do in order to protect its credibility.

“(The Tribune is) a nonprofit — we are not publicly owned or publicly traded,” he said. “We get our money and support in various different ways — through donors, through corporate sponsorships, through foundation support. If any supporter who has given us $1,000 or more is mentioned in our story, we disclose it to make it very clear that we know these people have given us money. They have nothing to do with the reporting we do.

“If we write a story about the University of Texas, and we don’t disclose that University of Texas has been an in-kind sponsor because we’ve used their event space for events, then people are going to raise that, and we have to make it very clear that there is no conflict. We do that with disclosures — we know that they’ve been a sponsor of events or something like that, but that doesn’t have anything to do with a journalism that we do. There are things like that that we have to do.”

Mittra said that the Tribune will sometimes post transcripts of interviews when lawmakers accuse them of misquoting or taking quotes out of context.

“We should be held accountable,” he said. “But we can’t always be on the defense. We have to make sure that we’re reporting stories that matter to people and that we can be trusted.”

Mittra said that the future of journalism will be innovative and more geared towards public service.

“A big part of the future of journalism is showcasing the work and not necessarily as a corporate entity, but an entity of public service that people can get behind because people need to know what’s happening in their communities,” he said. “I think we’re seeing the beginning of that at the local, state and national levels.”

To learn more about the Texas Tribune, visit texastribune.org.

Olivia Malick, UP editor

Social mobility in education

Lamar hosts Texas Tribune discussion on higher ed

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Texas Tribune editor Ayan Mittra, left, moderated a panel discussion on social mobility in higher education featuring Ashley Williams, Millicent Valek, Kenneth Evans and Ginger Gossman, Monday, in Gray Library. UP photo by Olivia Malick

Lamar University hosted “A Conversation on Higher Education & Social Mobility,” presented by the Texas Tribune, Monday, in the Gray Library.

The discussion was moderated by Tribune editor Ayan Mittra. Panelists included LU President Kenneth Evans; Ginger Gossman, senior director for innovation and policy development for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Millicent Valek, president of Brazosport College; and Ashley Williams, economic opportunity policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The panel focused on how Texas colleges and universities serve their lower-income populations in order for them to succeed in their personal and professional lives.

In 2015, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board implemented the 60×30 Plan, which states that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will have a certificate or degree.

“We are very close to our first benchmark year in 2020 — we have four student-centered goals and we are making progress toward the right direction in all of the goals,” Gossman said. “We are moving up. But we are not moving fast enough to meet our first benchmark in 2020, so we still definitely have some work ahead of us.

“There is only one place where we are not moving up, and that is the high school to higher education direct enrollment.”

Evans said that strong relationships between universities and the institutions they recruit most from encourage higher matriculation rates.

“We have to make sure we are identifying core areas of  competencies and skill levels that are necessary to be successful in the workplace,” he said. “We also need to make sure that the handoff between community colleges are as seamless as possible.”

While the plan is a start to improve the rates of people earning degrees, there are additional measures that can be taken to help students succeed, Valek said.

“I hope the legislature does hold a session on higher education,” she said. “The legislature did a phenomenal job of working with public education this time, and that was long overdue.

“In that remedy, they put in some requirements for the handoff between high school and higher ed in the college and career readiness component. So, from my perspective, that just makes a natural point where we ought to focus and work.”

Valek said the area that 60×30 is farthest behind on is the matriculation rate between high school and into higher ed.

“We have a whole untapped market there of folks who are going nowhere and some of them may be going into the workforce or they may not have a plan at all, but I think a lot of work on that nexus is very important,” she said.

Williams said that Texas colleges and universities cannot achieve the goal of the 60×30 Plan unless more funding is handed down by the legislature.

“There has to be more of a prioritization from the Texas legislature of higher education,” she said. “And by prioritization, I mean money. For decades really, but especially beginning in 2000, the Texas legislature started investing less and less in higher education. In 2003, the legislature voted to deregulate tuition, meaning that Texas public colleges and universities could charge unlimited tuition to students and families.

“So, the burden of paying for higher education in Texas has significantly shifted to the backs of students and families. Without state investment and prioritization of higher education, I think it would be very difficult to achieve that goal.”

Another issue facing students, especially lower-income students, is how they will pay for their education.

“We are able to help students through private funding — we have secured a considerable amount of gifts that make it possible for scholarships to be directed towards students,” Evans said. “We help them through our financial aid space and navigate in that rather complicated environment.­­­­”

Evans said that Lamar offers help to students whose families may not be able to navigate the education payment system, but that because graduation rates of those groups is six-plus years, funding is not always available for them.

“In the context of a student who is working full or part-time, often a first-generation student frequently coming from a family that doesn’t have the socioeconomic wherewithal to help underwrite them, a graduation rate of six, seven or even eight years is a tremendous accomplishment, when you consider the amount of time that they’re working,” he said.

Williams said it is important that whatever plans are put in place to address student debt be mindful and adaptive to minority students.

“Not everyone experiences debt the same way,” she said. “An average is just that — an average. It can obscure what’s beneath that number. For example, black and brown students are especially impacted by student debt. A recent SMU report showed that for the average black student, in order to get a four-year degree, everything else being equal, they have to borrow about $7,000 more than their white counterparts.

“There’s a lot there. There’s historical and racial wealth gaps and additional challenges that these students face, so solutions that are considerate and equitable in their approach would be one important focus.”

Valek said that Brazosport College has tested a few programs that might improve student success and increase student support.

“When students achieve even a little bit of success, they are more encouraged to continue and earn their degree,” she said.

To watch the entire panel discussion, visit texastribune.org.

Olivia Malick, UP editor

Imelda hits SETX, campus

President Evans offers support for Lamar’s affected

In the aftermath of tropical storm Imelda, LU President Kenneth Evans said that the short-term goals of the university are purely student, faculty and staff focused.

“We have a team of people that are contacting the students, identifying what their issues are, and then trying to help them address them in a way that they can continue to stay focused on progressing toward their degree plan,” he said.

“We’ve had, as of (Tuesday), 542 students that have reported that they have been impacted by the storm in some capacity, whether their car was lost, they had internet-related challenges, they lost their books, their housing was damaged, they lost a computer, they need some assistance in tuition because they either lost their job or they’re not able to get to their job because they lost their car, etc. And then we’re working with the students to try and help find solutions.”

Evans said that by the night of Sept. 18, it was clear that the storm was going to have a major impact on the Lamar community.

“When it was raining all night, Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, I knew we were going to have a problem,” he said. “I could not drive out of the street that I live on, so I had to wait for the chief of police with a large dual-rim truck that could come by and get me, and we were able to survey the campus and assess the damage.”

As of press time, the estimated damage costs to the campus are upwards of $1 million, Evans said.

“Cleanup is going to be approximately $500,000-plus,” he said. “Repairs could be upwards of about a $1 million, maybe slightly larger, and then there are obviously mitigation costs beyond that, that I can’t give a figure on yet.”

Evans said that, at this point, the damage costs Imelda has brought are comparable to those brought on by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

While some building repairs have already begun, others will have to wait until hurricane season is over at the end of November.

“There are just some roofs that are simply unable to continue to operate the way they are at this point, and we’ll have to prepare to replace them,” Evans said. “You tend to do (replacements) during the winter months and parts of the summer.”

After Harvey devastated  Southeast Texas two years ago, Lamar implemented measures to better assist students, faculty and staff in times of crisis.

“There’s a fundraising arm that immediately reaches out to supporters of the institution to try to secure funds to help defer costs,” Evans said. “We also have the capability of providing some rooms in the residence halls at a very modest cost on a short-stay basis or longer, depending on what the needs are of the students, faculty and staff.

“We also provide counseling and support for individuals who are dealing with the stresses that are associated with having another major storm event in two years. We also assembled shuttle services and other support for transportation after Harvey.”

Evans said that the university is also deferring the first payment of the fall semester to lessen the burden on students.

The school is using Blackboard to make it possible for students to access the curriculum during periods of time when they could not be on campus, Evans said.

“Some of that was in play before Harvey, but more of it has been play after Harvey because we just simply got better at it and were able to more effectively deploy the solution strategies that we have in place,” he said

University enrollment has been affected by Imelda, but so far the numbers are not too perilous, Evans said.

“There’s no question that if you were in a home that had been flooded twice now, and you’re trying to piece together a solution for how you’re going to take care of that, it would be reasonable to assume that you would be putting that as a priority as opposed to, maybe, your education,” he said. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to keep that student somehow engaged.”

Evans said it may involve lessening work and class loads to be sure students can continue to progress toward their degree program.

While natural disasters like Imelda have an impact on student retention, there are still plenty of opportunities in Southeast Texas that will attract people to Lamar, Evans said.

“We have flooding in the Golden Triangle area constantly, and the reality is that this area is a driving influence in the petrochemical industry of Southeast Texas,” he said. “Because of that, it’s populated by people who live here who work in that industry and they need education, they need services and they need healthcare — they need all the things that we provide to make those industries possible.

“I’d argue that there will be some people that are frustrated and may decide that they’ve had enough, but there are also going to be people that are going to be looking at the opportunity that this area presents and they’re going to be seeking a way to be a part of that experience.”

Lamar is wired into about five different weather services and remains vigilant all year round in monitoring storm activity, Evans said.

“We send out alerts and we provide people updates on what weather patterns we’re seeing developing that might be potentially an issue,” he said. “We’re managing whatever events we’re trying to plan here at the institution, and we’re thoughtful of what that weather might do to those events and then have punt positions. So whether we’ve got to move inside as opposed to having an event that was outside, or, more importantly, in the event of something like this, that we’re prepared for the possibility of significant water effects that might result in some major changes to what we’re doing operationally.”

Evans said Tuesday that there are no major changes to the Homecoming schedule, aside from the first day kickoff event, Monday.

“We were supposed to do an event with the city council and that just wasn’t going to work out,” he said. “The city was shut down and it just didn’t make sense because some services were shut down.

“For the rest of Homecoming, you’ve got to stay focused on the positive and move forward.”

Evans said that he is thoughtful and compassionate towards the challenges that students, faculty and staff may be facing.

“It tears me up,” he said. “On that same token, I’m optimistic about the future of the institution and there’s always an opportunity for the sunlight to shine to the clouds, and we will find that sunlight. We always go forward.”

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LU President Kenneth Evans looks out at the campus from his office in the Reaud Building, Tuesday. UP photo by Olivia Malick

Olivia Malick, UP editor

The New Normal

500-year storms now becoming regular part of Southeast Texas life

On Sept. 18, around 9 p.m., I was shaken awake by my dad. Not yet awake, I heard him saying, “Get up, there’s water coming into the house.” I couldn’t tell if it was a joke.

I wish it had been.

Sept. 18 brought the wrath of tropical storm Imelda to Southeast Texas. The rain was steady all day, but no one knew how much worse it was going to get.

As with Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Imelda was a storm that sat over Southeast Texas for hours, continuously dumping rain on the water-weary area.

When Harvey hit, article after article was released calling it a “500-year flood.” That title can be misleading, however. It suggests that floods like Harvey and Imelda only happen once every 500 years, but it actually means that in any given year, there is a one in 500 chance that a flood of such magnitude will occur, according to the National Weather Service.

Imelda brought an estimated 43 inches of water to some parts of Southeast Texas. In comparison, during Harvey, some parts of Southeast Texas received as much as 60 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, although that was over several days, not several hours.

Although two years have passed, the wound that Harvey left on this area is still fresh, and storms like Imelda only irritate it.

Every time heavy rains come, people always joke that they have “Post-traumatic Storm Disorder,” and while they might say it with a bit of a smile or laugh, the underlying anxiety and fear of another flood is visible.

This situation — expansive flooding, tales of rescues, school and city closures, evacuation orders and the rebuilding process — has become normal. So normal, that in order for people to be able to stay in this area without having to rebuild their houses every other year, more precautions need to be taken when building houses, or anything for that matter.

After Hurricane Ike decimated the Gulf Coast in 2008, new building codes were implemented forcing residents in Galveston’s West End and on Bolivar Peninsula to rebuild their houses on stilts.

The same might have to be done here in order for people to stay in Southeast Texas.

According to Climate.gov, the sea levels have been rising over the past century, and increased steadily in recent decades. In 2018, global mean sea level was 3.2 inches above the 1993 average — the highest annual average in the satellite record. It was the seventh consecutive year, and the 23rd out of the last 25 years in which global mean sea level increased relative to the previous year.

Rising sea levels mean more catastrophic flooding, increasing the odds of a 500-year flood.

Harvey was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime storm, but as the past few days have shown, we need to be constantly prepared to combat severe flooding.

I was one of the lucky ones this time around. My home suffered minor flood damage. But for several people in the community, this random fast-acting tropical storm has only worsened the wounds of a hardly forgotten natural disaster.

Next time, it could be worse for everyone — and there will be a next time.

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UP editorial cartoon by Crystal Tirawan

 

Olivia Malick, UP editor

Rising to the challenge

Brighton buses focus on easing accessibility

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series on public transportation and accessibility in Brighton, England. These reports were compiled by Lamar University study abroad students.

 About a decade ago, Victoria Garcia was going through her daily life working in customer services at the Brighton & Hove bus company. Then, she was offered a role that no one in the U.K. bus industry had.

“We were like every other company, we were offering customer services, help, and transport, but we weren’t being the best that we possibly could to help passengers that might require extra assistance,” she said. “And it’s not just passengers that need extra assistance — it applies to any passenger with an accessibility requirement.”

Garcia said that she was made aware of some of the issues customers were having on the buses through her customer service role, but it wasn’t until her managing director gave her the job of accessibility and communities manager that she could start to make changes.

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Every Brighton & Hove bus driver goes through special training in order to assist customers. Each is required to know how to use the manual wheelchair ramp for their bus. UP photos by Abigail Pennington

Accessibility involves disabilities as well as every day needs a person may have — i.e., parents with strollers, tourists, etc. — anything that makes riding public transportation easier.

Garcia had firsthand experience with traveling on the buses with a disability.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that I have invisible disabilities,” she said. “I’ve got a rare heart condition that only 200 people in the U.K. have. I’ve got a heart machine — an ICD defibrillator implanted.”

Sixteen years ago, Garcia was running a construction company when she had an accident.

“I was climbing some steps and my defibrillator fired,” she said. “I (fell) back and I hit my head, and I had a traumatic brain injury and traumatic brain damage.”

Garcia was unable to work or leave her house by herself for the next five years.

“I was getting six to eight seizures a day, sometimes up to 20, and had two or three blackouts a day for five years,” she said. “And then I woke up one morning — the doctors had tried everything, no matter the medication, nothing was working — and I went a whole day without a seizure, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s good.’”

Gradually, Garcia began going out on her own again. She said she still has five to six seizures a month, but that she’s able to work and live on her own.

“I have a bit of an understanding, not much, of what it’s like using the buses with a disability, because I’ve had to do all of that — traveling on the bus for the first time on my own, traveling on the train for the first time on my own, going up the street for a pint of milk for the first time — so that’s why I’m passionate about accessibility initiatives,” she said.

Garcia said the company started by looking at the numbers — at how many people in the U.K. are living with disabilities.

“About one in four people in the U.K. have a disability like myself,” she said “That’s how we started our programs.”

Through her role in customer services, Garcia met Daniel Walker, who has dealt with limited visibility since birth. He, along with other customers, gave the company feedback on how to make travelling on the bus easier for everyone.


All of the Brighton & Hove buses are “talking buses,” meaning that they announce each upcoming stop. They also have looping systems, which people with hearing aids can connect to to hear upcoming bus stops and announcements.
“We started producing large-print bus times,” she said. “Now, we do hundreds of the large prints — they go out on the mailing list, to the eye hospital and they’ve become very popular, so now we’ve gone for larger print across all of our marketing.”

“We’ve also widened the space for wheelchair users and we have manual ramps,” Garcia said. “We used to have electric ramps, but if the electric ramp breaks down, how does the wheelchair users get off the bus if there’s an emergency?  So, we went back to the manual ramp.”

In addition to audible announcements, each of the Brighton & Hove buses has a destination screen so people can see where the next stop is. Currently, the screens are black with orange text, but Garcia said the company is looking to change that.

“We want to change them to white screens so that people with dyslexia can read them better,” she said.

Every initiative has been developed with guidance from local organizations and charities, Garcia said.

“We’ve developed, with charities and organizations, an assistance card which is particularly helpful for hidden disabilities,” she said. “It’s been designed by the charities and there’s no branding on there of Brighton & Hove buses — we’ve done that deliberately so that they can be used anywhere.

“It’s a black and yellow card, because it’s the most accessible colors to use, and it has a cut out on the side so the person holding it knows which way the card goes. On the back, it can hold a name and an emergency contact.”

The assistance cards alert the bus driver and other passengers of potentially hidden disabilities, so that they may be aware of any special needs of a customer.

Since implementing the assistance cards, Garcia has become a senior policy adviser to the U.K. Department of Transport.

  “On Monday and Tuesday, I go up to the Department of Transport and work on changes in laws to make things better and more accessible,” she said. “We’re working on a national assistance card that can be used anywhere and it’s been because of the feedback from customers.”

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The bus company is also working on an anti-hate crime campaign with the Sussex county police. Garcia said that every initiative put forth by the company ensures the equality of every person, no matter the disability they may or may not be dealing with.

Garcia said that there’s still plenty more things that the bus company needs to work on to ensure the accessibility of every customer, but that with each day and with feedback from customers, it’s becoming easier to implement changes.

“We realized very quickly that it’s not just about disability, it’s about accessibility, which affects 100 percent of our passengers,” she said. “Because at some point, somebody may be pregnant, they may have sprained their wrist, broken their leg, grown older and developed dementia — at some point or another, every one of us will have an accessibility requirement. We’re looking at ways to make things better.”

 

Olivia Malick, UP editor

Convocation 2019

President Evans’ annual speech focuses on enhanced student support

Lamar University President Kenneth Evans praised the students, faculty and staff for their various achievements throughout the 2018-19 school year at his annual convocation, Aug. 20, in the Montagne Center.

Lamar is currently undergoing a reaffirmation of accreditation process and has developed a Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, which has been renamed to “Math to a Degree.”

“What the program basically does, is it tries to align requirements from specific programs that the students are engaged in and more effectively help in their matriculation process,” Evans said. “We’re very pleased with the outcome of that program and where they seem to be heading.”

Evans said LU is ranked first in two or more minority-serving areas of doctoral degrees, research, scholarship and education.

“It ranked first in the top 45 most affordable online graduate programs in 2019,” he said. “It ranked fifth nationally amongst the best value colleges for engineering majors for ­­­­­return on investment for in-state engineering students, and 11th for out-of-state engineering students. LU ranked ninth in graduating the most Hispanic master’s degree students in education and it ranked 11th in graduating the most African-American master’s degree students in the area of education.

“(Lamar) ranked in the top 10 percent of universities in the nation on the 2018 Social Mobility Index, which recognizes schools that do the best at helping disadvantaged students graduate and begin their careers.”

Evans announced a collaboration between Lamar and Apple computers that was secured last year.

“Some of you may know, that there are 500,000 job opening nationwide in computer coding and analytics,” he said. “Apple is working collaboratively with Lamar University in the preparation of future coders and individuals in the analytics area. They are also funding 50 faculty who can secure 12 hours of credit towards a graduate degree, a master’s in education, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to collaborate with them in what I think is a very meaningful difference.”

Evans talked about the importance of offering new opportunities to students and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Evans introduced Craig Escamilla, director of retention and student success, who spoke about the department’s restructuring and the initiatives Lamar is undertaking to further improve student success.

“This team is more focused on data than ever before,” Escamilla said. “Last year was our research and data collection phase to understand who our students are, where they come from, and what will help us serve them in more personalized ways.

“We’ve been looking at what causes students to leave, categorizing certain students to tailored services, contacting them proactively to ask them about how we can help them progress, and collecting data from students who tell us they’re not returning so we can plan for the future.

“We’ve met just about everybody on campus that will spend time with us to find out what is the and is not working for our students and to hear the truth about improvement opportunities.”

Escamilla said Lamar is also implementing real-time dashboards for retention and graduation rates.

“We’ve piloted our fully implemented new processes to help students stay on track, including recruiting back continuing students, helping students address financial balances, improving communication between the UAC and departments, updates academic progress reporting process with increased communication about results, and individual proactive support to help students one at a time,” he said. “One thing we’re not doing is coming up with quick-fix solutions to pump up retention and graduation rates in the short-term. We want sustainable, long-term improvement.”

Escamilla said four-year graduation rates have improved and that early indications are that the first-year retention rate will be up.

“The number of students on probation or suspended each semester has decreased over the last several years,” he said. “Three out of four fall 2018 freshman students earned a cumulative GPA above 2.0 last year, and students marked at-risk in progress report who attended support services are more likely to persist.”

Escamilla ended by asking for support in overall enrollment and completion efforts of Lamar.

Evans told faculty and staff to let their students know about LUstrong, which provides grant money for students who were affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“We received more than $6 million dollars overall within the last biennium in special funding which goes a long way in helping us with our budget,” he said.

Faculty and staff will also receive a raise of three percent within the next academic year, Evans said.

Evans introduced Shawn Gray, director of the Student Health Center, to talk about the importance of physical, mental and sexual health on campus.

“Last year, a student came into the clinic asking for a medical appointment,” Grey said. “She was your typical, all-American college freshman. After about 20 minutes, my medical staff had diagnosed her with an STI. Can you imagine the chaos that occurred shortly after that? Do you think she was worried about studying that afternoon?

“Our mission at Lamar is to engage students and empower them with skills and knowledge so that they can thrive in their personal and professional lives. We have this opportunity every day.”

Gray said that students are more than just students — she said they are whole human beings with lives full of worries, illnesses and heartaches outside of Lamar’s campus.

“Both physical and mental health is vital to their personal and academic success,” she said. “If we neglect their humanity, we support their failure.”

Gray said a recent survey about habits and behaviors and perceptions related to health and wellness revealed that students were struggling with thoughts of suicide, alcohol, physical illnesses and safety concerns.

“The Student Health Center is here to do our part in educating students about how to navigate healthcare resources to receive the best possible care,” she said. “We treat their physical and mental illnesses, so they can return to the class and resume their studies.

“We promote healthy behaviors and preventative medicine and we tie those ideas to a conductive and successful life.”

Gray closed by saying that a healthy body and a stable mind is the foundation on which a student’s success is built.

Evans introduced Rachel Hoover, director of STAR services, to speak about the programs her department offers.

“Almost 2,000 students used at least one of our programs last year with 500 of them using more than one,” Hoover said. “We strive to provide quality services and are proud to share that both the LU success and tutoring programs recently earned the College Reading and Learning Association’s Level I and II certification. This certification means that our programs were reviewed by peers in our field and they achieved high professional standards in training and skills for tutoring.”

Hoover closed by thanking the university for its continued support of STAR services.

Evans recognized 2019 David J. Beck Fellows, Cesar Delgado and Omar Hamza, as well as the 2019 Presidential Fellows Kyle Delk and Hannah Rumsey.

“These are undergraduate students, which is a testament to the preparation that we provide students here and their capacity to do this kind of work,” Evans said.

Evans spotlighted the school’s new Texas State University System’s Regents Professors. Xuejun Fan, professor of mechanical engineering, who was promoted last year to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering IEEE Fellows — a distinction awarded only to one-tenth of one percent of professional members worldwide — and Jim Westgate, professor emeritus of earth and space sciences.

“The bottom line is that this is a tremendous testament to the quality of our faculty, and these two individuals,” Evans said.

Evans also recognized Omar Gonzales, Port Neches senior and biology major, who was accepted into the Immunology doctoral program at Yale University and received the Gruber Science Fellowship, the highest honor a doctoral student can receive at Yale.

Evans concluded convocation by noting the increases in usage of several services on campus like STAR services and the Disability Resource Center.

“I look forward to the year to come and wish you a very successful year,” he said.

 

Olivia Malick, UP editor

God & Government

Keep religion out of state business

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

The first 16 words of America’s First Amendment were written to prevent Congress from advocating for one religion over others, and to prohibit Congress from impeding on an individual’s religious practices. More than two centuries later, somehow the United States has regressed from a nation that was intended to be a haven of religious liberty, to a nation that shoves religion down everyone’s throats.

Religion is on our money. It’s in our national anthem and pledge, and it’s in our politics — but it shouldn’t be. The United States sees itself as a secular nation, but how can that be true when we so obviously favor Christian religions over any other, and religion in general over secularity?

There’s nothing wrong with individuals practicing their religion as they choose, but when they begin to slip those practices into public spaces — like prayers before school functions such as graduations — then it becomes a problem, because it takes away everyone else’s choice.

I’m not a religious person, yet during my high school graduation, I was subjected to five minutes of prayer. Why is a religious students’ freedom of religion more important than my freedom from religion?

It wasn’t like I could leave for a few minutes and come back when it was over — we weren’t allowed to leave our seats. It would’ve been fine if there was just a moment of silence, that way everyone could do their own thing. That is what we did every morning for four years of high school.

Also, the only prayer said was a Christian one. There were no prayers for Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other students. I went to a public school — where a variety of students from different religious backgrounds were ignored. So, if we are going to have religion in our schools, why don’t we have every religion?

Now, that seems pretty complicated, so let’s just do what’s easier and more ethical, and eliminate religion in public schools if there isn’t consent from every student.

If students want to participate in a prayer before a football game, or any other school function, that’s fine. What’s not fine is when it’s assumed that all students want to participate without them explicitly saying so. Religion that is not academically based needs to stay out of public schools.

If a public school offers a “Bible study” course, then it is the school administration’s responsibility to make sure that the teacher is teaching the subject only through the lens of academia — not through preaching.

It is not appropriate for teachers — or anyone for that matter — to enter a public school and advocate for their religious beliefs. Students are there to learn the school curriculum, not attend Sunday school.

If we are going to say we’re a secular nation and claim to be the “land of the free,” then why don’t we practice what we preach?

According to USHistory.org, in 1954, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in response to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. At the time, Congress members wanted Americans to be separate from “godless communists.” I guess they forgot that there are godless Americans, too.

The Pledge of Allegiance, in and of itself, is problematic. In a republic, why should people be pledging allegiance to the government? To make matters worse, God is involved.  Soldiers are forced to salute the flag during the pledge, irrespective of their own beliefs.

In school, if we didn’t stand for the pledge, we could expect to be berated by classmates and even teachers, sometimes resulting in punishment, even though the school couldn’t legally make anyone stand for it.

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UP illustration by Olivia Malick

It’s not disrespectful to not participate in something you don’t believe in. It is disrespectful and harmful to indoctrinate children from a young age with the belief that blindly promising obedience to a government is equal to being a “good” American. It’s amazing to think that when my grandmother was born, in 1932, America was more secular than it is now.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, “In God We Trust” the nation’s motto, replacing the former “E pluribus unum” or, “Out of many, one.”

“In God We Trust” was first used on American currency in 1864 on the two-cent piece, when the United States was embroiled in the Civil War, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It made its first appearance on paper currency in 1957.

If the government isn’t trying to force religion on its people, then why is it on our money? Seeing “In God We Trust” on money every day of your life is a subliminal message that if you don’t agree with the ideology, you are out of place.

Why doesn’t our money say, “In Gods We Trust” or “In Allah We Trust?” Again, this is the government giving preference to monotheistic, Judeo-Christian religions.

God on our currency and in our pledge is a violation of accommodationism, the judicial interpretation that the government may support or endorse religious establishments as long as it treats all religions equally and does not show preferential treatment. Including “God” on our money, therefore, is a constitutional violation.

There should be no mention of religion when it comes to government business. Individual politicians can have their own views and they can talk about them when it’s appropriate.

Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund church projects — it goes against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making any law that favors one religion over another, or religion in general over non-religion and vice-versa.

Public funding should not be spent on private religious schools, nor should it be used to pay the teachers at those schools. The Ten Commandments should not be displayed in front of court houses, city halls, or any other government-related or public property. Even if it’s erected and paid for by citizens and not government officials, the commandments have no place in government — they are not law.

The separation of church and state has to have an all-or-nothing approach — either every religion has to be represented everywhere, or none of them can be.

This isn’t a takedown of religious practices or the people who subscribe to them. Atheist, agnostic, humanist and other non-theist people have the same rights to freedom from religion as everyone else has to freedom of religion. The fact is that America is not a Christian nation.

I’m proud to be an American, but this country is supposed to be for people of all races, beliefs and creeds —and it isn’t. It’s time for America to join the 21st century. Let’s be the secular nation we were meant to be.

Religious liberty — in all its forms — is a fundamental human right, and it’s about high time America respected that.

Commentary by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor

Lamarite reflects on Notre Dame fire

On April 15, Notre Dame, the 14th century Roman Catholic cathedral in the center of Paris, caught fire while undergoing repairs. People all across the world watched as the medieval spire fell and Parisian firefighters tried to put out the fire.

Completed in 1360, the Gothic cathedral is home to classic architecture, historical artifacts and timeless art. It was referred to as “the poor people’s book” because its various sculptures represented different biblical scenes that the illiterate parishioners could view.

“Notre Dame embodies France in a way,” Celine Hodge, a French native and LU assistant director of Cardinal Communities, said in an email interview. “It is reminiscent of our past — a royalty regime, the spirituality of French people and our revolution. Geographically, it represents Paris, all roads are measured from and to Paris from that focal point.”

Hodge’s first master’s degree focused on medieval history and she said she feels connected to Notre Dame through her passion for the era as well as her heritage.

“Culturally and aesthetically, this is one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals of the middle age,” she said. “Personally, I love its location — the breeze you can get from the riverbanks. It is one of my favorite spots for people watching while eating a sorbet from Berthillon.”

Hodge said that she is glad no one was hurt in the fire, but she disagrees with the rebuilding of Notre Dame being France’s top priority.

“I am profoundly cynical,” she said. “It was sad to watch as it was happening but I feel better knowing that it was an accident, not a terrorist act, and that no one was physically hurt.

“The political recuperation has been hard to deal with. (Emmanuel) Macron, our French president, is now making the rebuilding of the cathedral a priority. I feel that France and French people could utilize these financial resources in better ways.”

Hodge said that she does hope that Notre Dame will remain one of France’s gems.

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On April 15, Notre Dame, the 14th century Roman catholic church and center of France caught fire during routine repairs. LeTulle took the above photo at a study abroad trip to Paris in 2017. Photos courtesy of Hannah LeTulle

 

Olivia Malick, UP managing editor

Overcoming fear of public speaking crucial to career

Being a communications major, people expect me to like talking to people. It should be easy to get up in front of a room full of strangers and do a presentation because, hey, that’s your chosen field.

But for many people like myself, it isn’t so easy. Choosing a degree in communications was voluntary. Having anxiety about public speaking was not. According to Psychology Today, surveys have shown that people tend to fear public speaking more than death. For some people, those things are one and the same.

It’s called communication apprehension — the level of anxiety triggered by the real or anticipated communication act, as defined by James McCroskey, former professor in the department of communications at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

The anticipation of a speech has been the cause for many sleepless nights and hours of thinking about everything that could go wrong. I fig-ured it was something I just had to get over — that’s what everyone told me to do. “You’ll never be successful if you can’t talk in front of people,” was always at the back of my mind.

For many years I just pushed through — I was able to force myself to do interviews, but they were usually one-on-one experiences, so it didn’t seem as daunting as standing up in front of my classmates.

When I had to give presentations in class, my hands and voice would shake, my face would get flushed, and all I could think about was how stupid I must look and sound. The anxiety was debilitating at times. I would dread getting up in the morning and the anxiety only increased as the time for my presentation came closer.

Even if I’d prepared incessantly and was giving a presentation on something I cared and knew a lot about, I would psych myself out and convince myself that I wasn’t capable of giving the presentation.

But then there was a break-through. Not a cure — anxiety about public speaking doesn’t just go away. Lamar offers a course for people who have anxiety about public speaking, taught by Ruth Stanley.

I had no expectations going into this class. I wasn’t sure what would make it so different that I would be able to tackle my fear of public speak-ing.

So far, it’s been the most helpful class I’ve taken.

There are many root causes be-hind communication apprehension, and it shows itself in different forms.

In order to tackle this condition, we have to identify where our anxiety stems from and accept the fact that the process isn’t going to be easy. The source of these anxieties can be summed up by the acronym BASICS— Behavior, Affect, Sensation, Imagery, Cognition and Stress.

Behavior entails observable acts and habits. Affect deals with emotions, moods and feelings. Sensation can cause pain, discomfort, tension, nausea and so on. Imagery projects negative scenes or pictures in one’s mind. Cognition feeds negative thoughts and condemning self-talk. Stress impacts how one deals with anxiety.

Through deep breathing exercises and cognitive restructuring, I was able to give speeches without becoming debilitated by my anxieties.

The “treatments” targeted at over-coming communication apprehension all seem simple, which is good, because anyone can practice them anywhere and achieve results.

Fear of public speaking is not something I ever thought I would get past. I thought I would suffer from it for the rest of my life. But through this course, I have learned the tools necessary to live without fear taking over my life.

I still get nervous when I’m about to give a speech. But I have been able to coach myself on how to handle the negative thoughts and emotions, and stop being overwhelmed by my own mind.

For more information about the public speaking for people with communication apprehension course, email Ruth Stanley at rhstanley@lamar.edu.

Commentary by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor