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LU President Kenneth Evans was announced as a finalist for the chancellor position at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, on April 10.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale is expected to hold virtual interviews with Evans and the two other candidates, Susan Stapleton, special assistant to the provost at Western Michigan University, and Austin Lane, former president of Texas Southern University.
“(Evans’) love for LU and the Southeast Texas community is great yet challenging since the loss of his wife, Nancy, in 2018,” Shelly Vitanza, LU director of public relations, said. “SIU is located closer to Evans’ son, Paul, and grandchildren and would allow him to visit more regularly with his family.
Dan Mahony, SIU system president, said in a SIU Carbondale press release that the entire interview process will be conducted remotely due to COVID-19.
Evans will have a public forum on Zoom from 9 to 10 a.m. on April 23 as a part of the interview process, according to the press release.
“Our goal is to use technological tools to engage as many people in the interview process at possible,” Marc Morris, chair of the search screening committee and director of the university’s School of Accountancy, said. “We want to be sure students, faculty, staff and others have an opportunity to engage with and hear from the candidates.”
More information on each candidate is available at chancellor.siu.edu/search. Information about accessing the open forums at least two days before the forums will also be available on the site. There will also be an online form where confidential feedback on each candidate can be provided.
Evans has served as the 15th president of Lamar University since July 2013 and has overseen several campus renovations and regional disasters that have impacted the students, faculty and staff, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Tropical Storm Imelda and the TPC plant explosion in 2019, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that caused classes to move completely online throughout the summer of 2020.
“Since joining LU almost seven years ago, Evans has focused on improving faculty quality in research and teaching, design and implementation of new programming and recruitment and retention needs,” Vitanza said. “He has created a more collegiate atmosphere at LU, overseeing major renovations of the Setzer Student Center, the Quadrangle and the construction of the 85,000 sq. ft. Science and Technology Building. Evans has established partnerships with the community, business leaders and other key stakeholders bringing prominence to the university and pride to its students and alumni.”
SIU Carbondale looks to appoint a new chancellor by July 1, Mahony said.
Pandemics are inevitable. History has proven that time and time again. People like Bill Gates may have predicted a pandemic like the coronavirus, but it’s easy to see that our nation’s leaders were unprepared for COVID-19.
Within a matter of weeks, the United States (like the rest of the world) has gone from “business as usual” to a land of quarantined, unemployed, restless and sometimes careless people. It’s times like this that we look to our leaders for guidance and relief.
Some state leaders like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom have been vigilant in shutting down public gathering spaces and putting stay-at-home orders in effect.
Then there’s Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott delayed a disaster declaration and delayed closing down restaurants, bars and other public gathering spaces — putting potentially millions of people at risk.
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country, according to healthaffairs.org, meaning that a lot of people cannot afford to get sick. Abbott has also opposed paid sick-leave ordinances, according to The Texas Tribune.
Monday night, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested that he’d rather die than see the economy fail after President Donald Trump suggested that people would be able to return to “normal life” after just 15 days. Fifteen days!
The president did not say this to comfort Americans — he said it to appease corporate America.
In Texas alone, only about 10,000 people have been tested for the virus, according to Texas Monthly. Ten thousand out of 35 million people have been tested, and the president is saying that we need to return to work?
Here’s the thing — the president, senators, representatives, governors, etc. will be taken care of. They belong to the federal health care system and could get a test for themselves or their families whenever they needed it, as well as the subsequent care to treat the virus. They don’t have to worry about missing out on paychecks — they’ll be fine. The average American won’t be.
It’s disgusting that some of our elected officials are prioritizing the economy over the lives of their own constituents. If sacrificing “a couple of lives” is worth it to save “the American way,” then why don’t they offer themselves?
Average workers are what keep America going — not corporate executives or celebrities. That has been more than apparent these past few weeks. Think about your local grocery store cashier. Do you think they want to be putting themselves at risk? They have to in order to live.
The economy will survive — it always does. The worst of the coronavirus is yet to come for America. We need to wait it out.
Our government should be thinking about what’s best for us, not what’s best for businesses.
After six semesters of attending Lamar, there is one thing that never fails to happen each term — I get a call or an email from the financial aid office telling me that there is some issue with my account, FAFSA or refund.
Every semester I get overwhelmed and have a panic attack because of this.
On Jan. 22, I received a call from the financial aid office and was told that some of the money I had received as a refund needed to be returned. Apparently, it is against Lamar scholarship policy to receive a refund of scholarship monies that come from the Lamar University Foundation.
I was taken aback by this news because I had never heard of this policy before — it was never stated in any of my application forms or acceptance terms. In fall of 2019, I did receive Lamar scholarship money as a refund.
I applied for three scholarships in the spring 2019 semester and received all of them in the summer. I gave all of this information to financial aid in July.
After talking to different staff members in the financial aid and scholarships department, I was told I had nothing to worry about because they hadn’t heard of this policy either. They told me they believed someone had called me in error or with incorrect information.
Later the next morning, I was told something completely different — that yes, I did have to give some scholarship money back.
One fundamental issue with the office of financial aid is that it seems like one can’t get the same answer twice from anyone in the office. If employees in the financial aid and scholarships office don’t know about this policy, how can they expect students to?
I had a meeting with the director of financial aid with my department chair present. I was told that it was a mistake that I had received scholarship money as a refund in fall. A mistake that I have to pay for.
According to the financial aid office, scholarships are “competitively awarded to applicants having demonstrated abilities and prior successful participation in such areas as music, writing, art, dance, or athletics. Factors in the awarding of competitive skill-based scholarships include evaluation by faculty and/or staff in each specific area. Evaluations may include but are not limited to video, film, audio-tape, auditions, student submitted works, or personal observations.”
What’s the point of applying for scholarships if you can’t take advantage of their benefits? What is the point of meeting the qualifications if I get nothing for it?
The financial aid director asked me why I depended on the money I needed to pay back so much after I told her that I had budgeted my whole year around my refund.
I told her I depended on that money to help pay bills in addition to paying for school supplies such as textbooks.
She then told me that I should not be using my financial aid money for anything other than school needs and living expenses, while stating that rent is not a living expense. I live with my dad and brother, but I am charged rent and help with other bills.
For me, living at home is the best option for my family financially.
I work two jobs (including one on this campus) just to make ends meet.
If I get evicted from my house, what does it matter that my school is paid for? Many students depend on financial aid refunds to pay for things other than textbooks or notebooks. That’s the reality of the average American student.
She told me that I could sit down with her and look at other financial aid options like loans. I took out a loan from Lamar a couple of years ago and it almost destroyed my life. I don’t need to look at other options because the money I earned was already given to me.
I worked hard for each one of those scholarships that I earned and received and I deserve those benefits — as all students do.
She asked me what she could do to make the situation better. I told her she could let me keep my money. She told me that couldn’t happen because then it would be taking money away from other students.
How can keeping money that was exclusively dedicated to a specific scholarship award hurt other students who did not earn that scholarship? If I give the money back, where does it go?
If I had known from the start that LU Foundation scholarships could only be used for tuition and fees, I never would have applied for or accepted them. But Lamar never disclosed that policy with me.
They only seem to tell students about these policies after something goes wrong. They are incredibly hard to find on the website, and that’s if you even know what you’re looking for.
I do a lot for this school — I’m involved in several organizations and do a lot of recruitment for the department of communication and media. I want to be proud to be a Cardinal.
But how am I supposed to encourage students to be involved in this school when all I feel is beaten down and betrayed by it? My experiences with the financial aid office have made me wary of this campus’ administration and I have contemplated leaving school over it.
If it weren’t for my personal commitments to the faculty, staff and other students on this campus, I would leave.
This policy is not federal — it is a campus policy described to me by the financial aid director.
The explanation given to me about financial aid at Lamar is that other schools have similar policies — Lamar should be the exception to this rule and set a better example. This policy should be changed, but at the very least, be made extremely clear to every student that applies for an LU Foundation scholarship.
At this moment, I’m not proud to be a Cardinal. I feel trapped in a broken system. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
If you have experienced issues with the financial aid office that you’d like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “financial aid.”
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.
“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.”
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.
Above: a slideshow showcasing the design of pages in which this story was featured.
Alvarez aims to bring Mexican, Mesoamerican cultures to the masses with his works
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Above: a slideshow showcasing the design of the pages in which this story was featured.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
In their third outing, the editors discuss current projects, sports news, the annual Lamar Security Report, a quadruple homicide, impeachment inquiry updates, Ukraine, the murder of Botham Jean and pop culture. Enjoy!
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 devastatedSoutheast 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”