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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Saturday Night Lites

Football is back and the Trinity took care of a tough Sul Ross team 30-12 on Saturday night. Not all the action happened while the clock was running. The new tailgating policy has been successfully rolled out. LeeRoy, the campus tiger mascot celebrated his birthday at halftime (hopefully will have a link soon). And new President Danny Anderson competed in the halftime bat races and made a nice showing of it. I suspect he skipped the tailgate libations, giving him a slight edge.

I got to spend some time with my colleague Yvonne's little boy Phillip. He was very entertaining as we waited in a long line for Powerade at the concession stand. He chastised me for not knowing they had purple flavor, told me he retired from football after one season, and wondered why I got an iPhone as part of my job and his mother didn't. Unfortunately I had to borrow some cash from new VP for Advancement and Alumni Relations, Mike Bacon. That quickly turned into a photo-op I added to his Facebook page. I may have misrepresented the photo as him taking money from a poor young donor. But.. picture don't lie.

Finally, it was a thrill to see former TU student (and one of my runners) Brianna Timourian (below) on campus. She was a TU student for one year and then transferred to Southwestern, where she is now a junior. It was there, at SU, during Brianna's sophomore year, that she ran cross-country with Danielle King. Danielle transferred to Trinity this fall and Brianna was on campus this weekend to visit her. In other words, they each transferred in different directions. I know Brianna's dad, Derek, who works at Southwestern. He knew my son, Nathan, who attended there. His other son went to TCU and he and my son Aaron started the same year and worked together at the TCU Rec Center during their freshman years. All that to say, Brianna and Danielle report that Trinity's dining services has a slight edge over Southwestern's.

Danielle and Brianna at the game.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Under the Covers

WWJJD? John Jay: lawyer, diplomat, founder
It's been a cover story: locally, regionally, and nationally. The video evidence seems conclusive. Two players from John Jay High School took cheap shots at a referee near the end of a recent football game. What followed was just as absurd. First, accusations that a coach put them up to it (troubling if it is true... and if it isn't), and second, that the referee had made not one, but two, racial slurs, using the n-word as well as telling Spanish speakers to speak English, because "this is America."

By most accounts the referee has an impeccable record. And if he is racist there are better ways to address such allegations. The cover stories of the young men ring false. Sure, we live in an age where abuse of authority and racism seem to make daily headlines. So we shouldn't dismiss the statements of the teens without some review. Indeed, cell phone video is routinely exposing what we often feared. However, anyone who watched this unfold could have scripted how it would play out before the clock hit zero and people ran for cover: video evidence, accusations of racism, lawyering up on both sides, talk radio conversations about criminal charges, veiled allegations of slander, and claims that boys will be boys. These boys, appearing on national television have little credibility, not because of their race, not because of their hair, but because their massaged statements seem manufactured, again by script. The incident video shows two players taking action into their own hands with the subtlety of a Donald Trump insult.But one of the parents claim it is being misinterpreted.

Sadly, we have seen this across campuses too. The racist sing-song from Oklahoma University with the hollow apology and claim that the leader was perhaps drunk, misunderstood and is really a good guy, is one recent example. Like the boys from John Jay, the young men involved were sorry, but were suddenly the victims being harassed on social media. The OU boys hired attorneys and the fraternity may sue someone, because, that's what you do. Never mind that this may be part of the group's culture.

The men at Old Dominion displaying their Daddy Day Care signs were just as brazen. In some ways, they're worse, because they think since they were just "joking" it made everything okay. This culture, the one of misogyny, is what partly underlies the issues campuses face regarding sexual assault. Objectification is no joking matter, and victims everywhere are saying so. Loudly. Unfortunately, in sexual assault cases, there is little incentive for the accused to be truthful. The accused face consequences for policy violations and because they might also face criminal and civil charges, mostly have to hire attorneys and repeat the now common mantra "based on the advice of my attorney I refuse to answer any questions." Suspension is one thing, jail time another.

There are other, lighter examples. For years our students would make up excuses in hopes of being released from the residency requirement. One year a student reported a bed-wetting problem. Word got out and the next year the bed-wetters on campus were lining up at the housing office, documentation in hand. It's not out of the ordinary for students who face our Student Conduct Board for minor alcohol violations to later tell board members they thought they would take their chances by lying. No hard feelings.

Welcome to college, where Web pages tout integrity, global citizenship, service, and scholarly communities, gloss over tales of adolescents behaving badly while maturing into adults. By-and-large, most students are mostly terrific, most of the time (just avoid YikYak). We offer a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn. Some would say it is insular. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with cases of poor behavior. Other times we find a glimmer, when someone takes responsibility for his or her actions. In a recent hearing, two first-year pot smokers were so sweet, so apologetic, and so convincing to the conduct board, that the older students wanted to take them home with them. And the sanctions suggested they were rewarded for their candor. Other times many students are generally reflective about their choices, their reputations, and their futures.

There is frequently incentive to lie, deflect, blame, downplay, and justify.

I don't have any answers to this. It's simply the world we live in, where we spin, we lawyer up, and we dodge responsibility. It happens with high school kids in San Antonio and deflated footballs in Foxboro. There are certainly bigger issues than football. And college. But it all seems discouragingly the same. We made this bed. Now we lie in it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Touch and Go

The people that flow through Trinity University - its employees and students - are transient. Some stay a little while, some a long time. Some make dramatic and high-profile impacts and others work quietly and without much attention.

This week, Mail Center Director Edward De La Garza stopped by to tell me goodbye after six years at Trinity. He is one of those employees many might not know. But he made an impact in automating our Mail Center and combining our Central Receiving and Mail center operations. He saved the University thousands of dollars, annually, because he knew how to improve procedures and get value for bulk mailing projects.

Mostly though, Edward worked really hard. He was always thinking ahead, combining his vision with his hands-on attention to detail. He was quick with a quip and a joke, and integrated values into his work, his supervision, and his care for students.

Edward and his wife are headed to Duke where he will run their campus operation. A big Blue Devil fan he is excited for this new challenge. I was touched that he stopped by to say farewell. He thanked me for the opportunity he had to work here, as he was hired during one of my stints as Interim VP for Student Affairs, when the Mail Center was still reporting to us.

He also told me he called my former Student Affairs colleagues Raphael Moffett (Langston) and Ben Newhouse (Birmingham Southern) to thank them more directly for their confidence, support, and leadership. They really brought him here. Typical thoughtful Edward.

Raphael and Ben got another call that same week. This one from Jamie Thompson, Director of Student Involvement. Jamie ascended to that position when Raphael and Ben moved on to higher positions at different campuses. It is a major point of pride when our colleagues are hired away, though we miss them. There are usually others, like Jamie, who can take the helm. It speaks volumes that connections made here are so frequently sustained over time and distance.

Her call to them was sadder. Our dear colleague, Carolyn Bonilla, was killed in a car crash in the early morning hours of September 4. She collided with an 18-wheeler. She too started in the Mail Center, in 2008, but before long was snatched up by the staff in the Coates Center, to work with Ben, Raphael, and others, as a secretary, and then building coordinator until 2014. As some of us do, thinking the grass is greener elsewhere, Carolyn took a position away from Trinity last year, only to return two months ago to serve as the secretary in the Department of English. There, she was reunited with her Student Affairs friend and colleague Ruby Contreras. In all of her roles here, Carolyn stayed away from the spotlight. She connected with several colleagues and a handful of students she supervised in the Coates Center.

The faculty and staff there were already smitten with Carolyn. And her old Student Affairs friends were thrilled to have her back on campus. Real, sincere, funny, sassy, hard-working, and loyal, Carolyn was a great employee and a great colleague.

It was a tough week for Trinity, losing two people like Edward and Carolyn (again). Carolyn's passing touched many, in the Mail Center, in Facilities (where her brother Roy works), in the Registrar's Office, in the Business Office, and of course, in the student services areas. Like so many others, their fingerprints are all over this place. Their impacts and their presence, will fade with time, but they will be part of us forever too.

We are reminded, again, that the people make this a special place. The campus culture is built through their minds, on their backs and by their hands. It's both joyous and melancholy, in a way, for how fleeting it can be. Trinity is bigger than any of the people that make it home. That's how it works. People come. They touch us. And they go. For better, and for worse, they always will.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hurt so Good

T-Pain (far right, I think) dazzles the crowd.
Editors note: There are several fun links in this post, check 'em out.

I didn't really know about American Authors when they were announced as the Welcome Week concert act for August 28, 2015. But I happened to hear "Go Big or Go Home" on Sirius radio shortly thereafter and was intrigued. Could this finally be the big name and current artist we have always wanted for the Welcome Week concert? So I downloaded their album "Oh, What a Life," and couldn't believe my ears. First, I also recognized "Best Day of My Life," but more importantly, I fell in love with the rest of the album: catchy, smart, great to run to, and upbeat. You know they are good if they aren't in the VMA line-up.

When word came that they needed to change the date of their Trinity gig (yes, I wrote "gig"), I encouraged the Program Board and Student Government Association to make it work. They did exactly what you would expect: they ignored me. They thought the date mattered more than the talent. Instead, they booked a rap artist named T-Pain.

I think I was the only one who was disappointed - though SOMEONE (some students) had to initially book American Authors. The biggest complaints I heard about American Authors was that they were too mainstream and seemed like a knock-off of Imagine Dragons. Well, that's not bad company. American Authors was on Good Morning America this summer which should count for something. But students have always liked more obscure bands because they seem more hip as a lot of people don't know them yet.

My American Authors t-shirt in the trash.
I think American Authors is poised to make another leap with their second album and explode nationally. But I thought Madonna was a one-hit wonder too. This is what our students have always wanted: an up-and-coming big name band they could tell their friends at other campuses about. People still like to brag about when we had Pat Green here. But there were under currents of dissatisfaction about American Authors. So who are you going to side with - a 55-year-old white male or a bunch of college students? Well, the concert is funded through the student activity fee, so I guess they paid for the right to not listen to me.

When T-Pain was announced the students were really excited. I had never heard of him, so checked iTunes and couldn't believe I had not been exposed to "I'm in Luv with a Stripper,""Booty Wurk (one cheek at a time)," or "Up Down (do this all day)."

The Program Board was left with several hundred unusable "American Authors" T-shirts and I was left with "Shawty Get Loose." T-Pain rose to fame several years ago, and like Sister Hazel and Bowling for Soup, before, was not an up-and-comer, but seemed more of a down-and-outer. I think we really did peak with Pat Green and Cory Morrow, and possibly hit a low with Tyga from last year.

In my day (yes, here he goes) I had my favorites that older people didn't get either. Warren Zevon with his crass "Excitable Boy," Jackson Browne with "Rosie," and even Bruce Springsteen with "Red-headed Woman" weren't beyond reproach. Every generation has its envelope pushers, from Elvis the Pelvis, to the Beatles, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their socks. And no, I don't really like rap.

But T-Pain was awesome. I couldn't understand most of the words, except "stripper" and "shake it." But despite the lack of instruments, he, his co-singer, and his hype-man were full of energy and had the students worked into a bit of a frenzy. I had to admit, I couldn't see American Authors doing that. I was the oldest non-uniformed person there (not counting TUPD and Student Involvement Director Jamie Thompson's dad). I was also the dad of the youngest one there (not in a stroller, Melissa Flowers!). I had to ask students which one was T-Pain (and later, some actually asked me). But I was impressed that the group wore the Trinity t-shirts they were gifted and seemed to also feed off the crowd.

I would learn later that they were pleasant guests and when they left our version of the "green room" that the Cartoon Network was still playing on the telly. They were apparently among our more polite and gracious concert acts. Tyga.

I don't anticipate downloading any T-Pain music. But I was reminded that I can be wrong sometimes and that I should let students be students. They didn't listen to me and when American Authors wins a Grammy next year I can say "told you so." The students had a blast and I haven't heard anything but positive comments. And who knows, maybe by this time next year Carly Rae Jepson will be on her way down, and available.

Monday, August 31, 2015

All in: Optimal Buzz and B'low Optimal at Trinity University

Optimal Swag
After a two-year pilot program, Trinity has fully rolled out its B'low Optimal alcohol program this fall. The program offers on-campus students an incentive to drink according to Optimal Buzz program guidelines, created several years ago by Dr. Richard Reams Associate Director of Counseling Services.

For years Trinity University worked with students, faculty, and staff, through the Trinity Alcohol Coalition to develop cohesive messages and programs that fit to these three tenets: we acknowledge students will drink; we care deeply about student health and safety; and we will follow our alcohol policy as proscribed by law.

Our Responsible Friend policy acknowledges students will drink and shows we care about them by letting students off the hook if someone calls for help because they see another student in crisis related to alcohol. No one gets in trouble. Lawful alcohol at tailgates is now part of policy and complies with these tenets. Beer and wine are served in the Skyline Room for various events. There are many examples.

We have been reflecting this approach through a brief and practical video/slide show we send to new students and publish on our alcohol web page:

Dr. Reams used to talk about the Optimal Buzz with first year residence hall students, but we were only hitting about half of each class. We produced a video this year that was shown at New Student Orientation to all new students, with much greater reach. It acknowledges that students will drink and teaches them how to drink like (most) adults - to be safe and drink in moderation:

The B'low Optimal program takes the Optimal Buzz a step further. If students are caught drinking, but say "I wanna blow," the Residential Life staff allows them to opt-in for a breathalyzer reading. If they are within the Optimal Buzz range up to .06 BAC, then they only receive a pre-warning. This acknowledges students will drink, shows we care about their health and safety, and still complies with policy (just with an adjusted sanction - the pre-warning).

This is self-sustaining, financially, as we have used student fine money from alcohol and drug cases to fund the videos, new breathalyzers, and some of the items pictured above: shirts for new students; cups, with serving-size markers for sophomores; and bottle openers for juniors and seniors. Next year seniors will receive shot glasses that state: "This is ONE drink - Go Optimal."  The staff is doing an accompanying poster campaign as well.

Let's face it. Many alcohol education programs miss the mark. We will be assessing this approach to see if it is effective in reducing excessive drinking. Early reviews in the pilot program were promising, though we learned many lessons that have been addressed in the new full program.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pizza and Pleasure Redux

In January 2014 I wrote about some push back to the Trinity Pizza & Pleasure program. This series offers sex education and pizza (as an incentive to draw attendance). Briefly, some (mostly parents - and not many) objected that the series seemed to emphasize promiscuity and there was no forum for alternatives. Program architect Dr. Richard Reams agreed to add some different topics. Here is the lineup and attendance figures from 2014-2015:
  • Getting What You Want from Sex (Sept. 18; 60 attendees) Presented by Cay Crow.
  • Getting What You Want from Abstinence (Sept. 25; 22 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • Body Image and Sexuality (Oct. 2; 20 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • Sexual Orientation and Identity (Oct 9; 22 attendees) Presented by Dr. Richard Reams.
  • The Secrets of Love (Jan 22; 33 attendees) Presented by Dr. Erin Sumner.
  • The Secrets of Dating (Jan 29; 32 attendees) Presented by Dr. Sumner.
  • The Secrets of Men’s & Women’s Sexuality (Feb. 5, 13 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow.
  • ‘Kinky’ Sexuality and Relationships (Feb. 12; 20 attendees) Presented by Ms. Crow and guest.
I wanted to review how the new programs were received. Dr. Reams, a master of assessment, has submitted his results, and they were quite positive. In his report, he states:

The three new sessions (Getting What You Want from Sex, Secrets of Love, Secrets of Dating) were the most highly attended and are definitely worth continuing to put into the annual rotation of topics.  Attendees generated new topics that are worthy of consideration for the 2015-16 P&P series: distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy relationships, addressing myths about sexuality, same-sex dating and relationships, and recovering from a relationship breakup. 

Additionally, some of the post-program survey comments on the abstinence program noted ways in which the program was meaningful:

Knowing that "Not being emotionally ready [for sex] is normal"

Talk to your partner about boundaries
It helped me understand that I am not alone
It helped me feel better about my choice

The changes were covered in the Trinitonian in February and it seems that Dr. Erin Sumner is an excellent program addition.

I should note that in the original post I discussed bringing Wendy Shalit to campus to speak on these topics. We decided to first see what we could do internally before going to the expense. The programs we offer likely don't justify increased costs on a per person basis. Our experts do great work anyways. Based on the assessment we will continue these programs in-house.

Some lessons learned or reinforced:

- Nearly everything we do is about education. This series has been an excellent and growing program for five years. Regardless of the topics, messages of safer sex and respect are consistent themes.
- Sometimes we don't know everything. The suggestions from parents about a better-balanced program, once implemented, enhanced the program.
- Dr. Reams, his colleague Dr. Amy Stone, the presenters, and the departments that sponsor this series have cobbled together a great program in the absence of a sexual education course on campus.
- Assessment is important in determining whether or not our programs are effective and if they contribute to student learning. Kudos to Dr. Reams and others who have lead the way in program assessment on campus.