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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rent Due - City Vista Rates Published

Editor's note: This is a follow-up to an earlier post about the City Vista property.

The rents for the new City Vista apartment complex have been distributed to students. Setting these rates has been a gargantuan task for a number of staff members. In early January campus apartments were a mere item on a crowded campus wish list. That changed when this luxury apartment complex became available and the University seized the opportunity to make the purchase.

The challenges in setting rent have been the following:
- identifying rates that reflect the true value of the apartment units
- setting rates that are competitive with other nearby apartment complexes
- finding prices that aren't out-of-balance with current main-campus dorm rates

Additionally, students should note that meal plans are not required in the apartments.

Students can rent units at costs ranging from $4,500 per semester up to $7,875. The lower rate is for students living two to a bedroom in a three bedroom apartment and is in the ballpark of traditional dorm costs. The higher rate is for one person in a one-person bedroom.

Some of us have taken to determining setting the final rents as finding the "sweet-spot." Time will tell if we hit it, but here are some factors for students and their families to consider related to the value of living at City Vista.

There are many amenity related benefits included in the rent:
- kitchens in all units
- washers and dryers in all units
- light furnishings including beds
- utilities (water, heat/ac, electricity)
- internet
- cable
- parking

Additionally, these harder to quantify benefits are noteworthy:
- proximity to campus
- ease of comprehensive billing
- financial aid compatibility
- campus security
- flexible 10-12 month terms
- ease of move-in with services already set up
- private pool

The property offers students, particularly seniors, an excellent value and housing option. When considering the rent, hopefully students will consider all of these factors in evaluating the true benefits and value of being among the first group of students to live on this terrific campus property.

Friday, March 17, 2017

To pee, or not to pee...

I used an all-gender multi-user restroom. And I liked it. It was this past January in Jacksonville at the annual ASCA student conduct conference. It seemed odd to me that the schedule even noted when the all-gender restroom would be open. Student Affairs as a profession has a very wide tent and is uber-inclusive. So it makes sense that publicizing pee times is important.

The backdrop for all of this is the North Carolina bathroom bill passed in 2016. Essentially, the law holds people to their gender designation as noted at birth. There are immediate problems for those who were born with ambiguous genitalia (one form of intersex condition) and have to make decisions about where they should go. Nevertheless, the main objections come from those who are transgender. For some trans-persons, their sex assigned at birth as recorded on their birth certificate does not sync with their gender identity -- their internal experience of being a man or woman. For other trans-person, their gender identity is non-binary, neither exclusively woman nor man. A person with a penis, but identifying as female in all other ways has to use the men's room under this bill.So too would trans-persons, who have received one or more gender confirmation surgeries. And so too would non-binary trans-persons.

Many find this bill discriminatory, which is why Texas probably decided to consider its own version. SB6 is now working its way through legislation in Texas, despite much resistance. At issue with these laws is that they work to address something that isn't broken, and they discriminate against transgender individuals. Choosing a bathroom where one is comfortable is important. For example, biological males who identify as female are often more comfortable using the women's room. I think I would be.

In my case, in Jacksonville, the stakes were pretty low. I have bathroom privilege and don't have to face these issues. But I wanted to try. The first time I went in no one was in there. I had the joint to myself. The second time, as I was washing my hands... afterwards... a young African-American woman came out of a stall and did the same. She didn't seem to notice me. Which is not uncommon. And so it went. It was kind of liberating.

Then, this week, I continued my new bathroom obsession, using an all-gender multi-user restroom at the NASPA professional conference in San Antonio. Mostly, it was because it was the closest one. There were many women in this restroom, and again, no one seemed to notice or care that I was there. I was getting the hang of it. 

Now, these are big steps for me. As an aging 57 year-old, things aren't as smooth as they once were. I am generally not comfortable peeing in front of anyone - especially young college men whose flow is... not encumbered by encroaching prostates.

Those who are pushing the Texas bill and the one enacted in North Carolina say it is about safety for women and girls. The fear is that a man will go into a women's room and become violent or act out in a predatory manner. But this argument has many flaws. Most sexual violence occurs between parties who know one another and there is little evidence that men have or will dress as women or transgender people, enter public restrooms, and commit crimes. (In fact, nothing stops men now from dressing as women to go into "women's" bathrooms.) More importantly, the legislation does nothing to protect transgender people from violence in public restrooms, a much more likely outcome, especially in the "men's" room.

And yet, the other side claims to have at least anecdotal evidence that this kind of legislation is important. For many, sex, sexuality, and gender are all connected. Men and boys should be in one set of bathrooms and women and girls in another. But why? Socialization is probably the main reason. There is really no reason that I should only feel comfortable going into a public restroom with President Anderson, my father-in-law (proud stall man), students, or strange men, let's say. What's the difference between that and stalling next to my colleague Melissa Flowers, my wife, or my administrative assistant, Yvonne? Nothing, really. I suspect that most of the people who support this type of legislation are older people who, like me, are simply not completely comfortable with all of this, though I'm getting there. But we all need to get comfortable, because it's not about us.

All of this has risen to the high courts recently when Gavin Grimm pursued his case legally on these same issues. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a District Court and it is pending. The current administration appears to favor the legislation as it rolls back Obama-era guidance on discrimination.

That guidance is primarily aimed at K-12 schools. Private universities like Trinity can set their own non-discrimination policies and gender discrimination is not permitted on campus. Transgender students may use campus restrooms of choice. But some of my forward-thinking colleagues have set out to identify all gender single-user campus restrooms for those seeking privacy. Of course students, employees, and guests aren't required to use these, but new signs will soon designate such spaces in CSI, the library, Northrup Hall, the Chapel, and several places on lower campus.

The Texas and North Carolina laws are facing major resistance as companies and organizations have withdrawn businesses, events, and conferences from those states. San Antonio could lose a Final Four if the Texas law is adopted. Most see these laws for what they are: ways to further marginalize and discriminate against those who are "not like the others." It is about far more than bathrooms.  People like me can pop in and out of various restrooms, and this issue, as we wish to try it on. But others have to grapple with this every single time they are in public places. They have no choice, but to be.

In addition to just generally caring about others and an inclusive world, we should be concerned as a Texas campus as we try to recruit students from out-of-state. As our growing transgender population is increasingly public about their presence and needs, we need to make sure they know they belong here. Even in our restrooms.

Note: Special thanks to my colleague Richard Reams, in Counseling Services, for his assistance in educating me, editing this post, and as is often the case, saving me from myself.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sticks and Stones and Tigers For Liberty

Life of Wendts.
When Manfred and Jonah Wendt came to Trinity University in the fall of 2015 I'm not sure we knew what we were getting. We knew the twins would be a magnitude of two, but the seismic ripples they have created in student culture are exponentially higher. Those Wendt twins quickly connected with other right-wing, conservative students. And they started making noise.

We should thank them.

As I have written a number of times, I fully support free speech on college campuses. Ideas, even outlandish and kooky ones, are simply ideas. In order to avoid echo chambers of one-dimensional thought, students need others to push back on their ideas. Eventually, one-sided discussions from the left or right are not educational nor instructive.

Of course campuses are not values free. Most, if not all, espouse values of civility and respect. While campus climates should foster a variety of ideas they are under no obligation to bring in outside speakers who use our students to espouse or incite hate and violence. We would never allow a KKK rally on campus nor an Anti-Semitic speaker. We get to choose. But for the most part, we need to foster conversations and allow speakers with whom we disagree. Someone's presence generally can't really be "harmful." More likely, it is uncomfortable at best, and offensive at worst.

Students also have a choice. They can protest or they can boycott a speaker to undercut that person's legitimacy. Or, they can turn out en masse to challenge and outwit that person. One excellent example of this was the speaker, Ryan Anderson. No not that Ryan Anderson. No, that one either. This Ryan Anderson. Reportedly our rainbow-clad students came out in droves to argue, challenge, and disavow his facts and opinions on GLBTQ issues. THAT is what college is about. No speaker, no push-back. No push-back, no democracy.

It is happening again as Tigers for Liberty is sponsoring Dinesh D'Souza, who comes with his own baggage. But his message is connecting with some of our students. Others are raising issues, again, about whether or not we should allow this speaker. Just asking the question - to other students and to administrators - is an educational experience. Does the presence of a speaker mean the University endorses that speaker? If so, we would have few of interest. We had Michael Moore here once. We had Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Marc Lamont Hill, Tim Wise, and Colin Powell too. Who is palatable to have and who isn't? We have speakers with strong opinions related to Palestine and Israel. This often rankles people who view the other side with deep distrust.

Deciding what to do about the speaker is another educational opportunity. Thanks to Tigers For Liberty, there are additional opportunities to learn. Is that group being used by off-campus groups, like Young America's Foundation? Is student government funding appropriate? Are they funding various viewpoints?

While we have had other conservative groups in the past, such as College Republicans, no group has gotten as much traction and attention as Tigers for Liberty. The Wendts and their group have a knack for offending. It's not just their views. Sometimes their event planning is sloppy. Sometimes they can be tone-deaf. And even they can't really believe having Milo to campus last year was a good idea. (Yes, that Milo... that one... yup, that one.)

Life would be simpler without Tigers For Liberty. I mean, it was. Many would say it was better. But what they deliver is an organization for others to push against, and challenge, and practice with. Our students need these educational experiences to prepare for life after Trinity. And conservative students have every right to be here. They work to keep the community honest by offering alternative viewpoints to a left-leaning environment.

Like many of our students, they bring their own charm. They are bright, witty, self-deprecating, and thoughtful. Not to mention brave. They have their own legitimate issues with how they are treated on campus too. It isn't easy speaking up sometimes. But that's what college discourse is all about. It isn't about free-speech zones (should be the whole campus), time-place-and-manner policies, hate-speech codes, and safe spaces. The last thing we need is to keep driving hate into the shadows. When we do, it doesn't go away. It just hides.

The best way to oppose ideas and words are with other ideas and words. And the best way to do that is to practice, especially with worthy adversaries. Thanks to Tigers for Liberty students now have them. NOW we're talking. And we should be.

Friday, January 20, 2017

First impressions: We bought that?

The Mansion on the Hill.
I'm not going to bury the lead here: We bought that? We bought the City Vista apartments just on the north campus border? Are you kidding me? This is the best non-academic news Trinity students have received since the residency requirement jumped from two to three years in the eighties. The 1980's.

There is so much to love about this because it is a bonanza for our students. I am surprised that some students are skeptical, as quoted in the Trinitonian article about this. More on that later.

As someone who has advised student government since 1994 I can tell you that the three-year requirement is routinely raised as an issue by students. I have personally lobbied for a two-year requirement. Our reasons have been different though. As I have toured other campuses it has become increasingly evident that apartment-style living should be offered to our students. Our Board of Trustees and administration has been steadfast. They believe in the ethos of a residential campus and have not wavered. One Board member told me it would be more palatable to build apartments than change the requirement. He wasn't lying.

It is difficult enough to have a three-year requirement, but when the housing options are generally limited to suite style then we are expecting students to live with roommates and meal plans beyond what they would like or can stand.

This has been clear to students for some time and it finally became evident as the recent master planning process unfolded. One of the key recommendations: apartments for older junior and senior students. One of the first questions then, was where? While various options and timelines were tentatively bandied about, there were often drawbacks.

There are no drawbacks to the City Vista apartments.
- They are ready for occupancy this fall. Two days ago we had no apartments and in six weeks students will sign up to live in some incredible spaces.
- They are off-campus but on campus. This will give students a sense of freedom from campus but proximity to events, friends, and facilities. Many students over the years have aid they would love to stay on campus but they want to cook their own meals and have their own bedrooms.
- Students who don't want to live in student apartment housing don't have to. They still have choices elsewhere in town.
- No one has talked yet about the long-term ripple effect. These apartments will likely create more space in our current residence halls for more single rooms for juniors who aren't interested in the apartments.
- We are now competitive in the housing market with other institutions. We have outstanding apartment options that our current and new students can look to as they see their future here.

Some of the early criticisms (see aforementioned article) are vexing. Some students have expressed concerns that seem incongruent. On the one hand they don't want Trinity University to be intrusive and manage the apartments as residences, while on the other they don't trust students to take care of these apartments and not be disruptive to others.

I ask those students to keep open minds about this and use our current program to inform our thoughtful approach. We have designed our junior and senior housing to allow for more autonomy. Instead of Resident Assistants or Resident Mentors we employ Hall Managers at a ratio of about one staff member to 100 residents. They are trained to mostly be hands-off on conduct issues (except for blatant violations) and building community is not emphasized as much as in the first year area and Sophomore College as we know that many have their own networks already.

Of course there are many questions yet to be answered about management, pricing, oversight, and staffing. Give us a chance. So many campuses manage and maintain apartments effectively that I have no doubt that the outstanding leadership and staff in Residential Life and across campus will figure this out. Work with them and through student government to help set this up for success.

We bought that? How awesome! This has brought years of student, staff, and board conversation to fruition. For whatever reason, fate dropped this opportunity and this facility at our door step. Kudos to the board and the administration to act on this. It was a bold move. It is good for our campus and great for our students. We bought that. You should too.

Take the poll (upper right)with your thoughts.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Rain and Shine

The Ninth Annual Dean of Students Half Marathon Challenge is officially in the books as of December 4, 2016. Over 70 runners in all were part of the program which is run in connection with the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon series. Several others trained on their own or from afar. This year's race marked yet another new route and starting/finishing area. As a result, race day was not without some logistical challenges.

Probably the biggest challenge was the weather, as we ran through a downpour and 50 degree temperatures. This certainly made for a very wet and memorable run. It began to drizzle around the 7:30 a.m. start time and then the skies opened up within an hour. The rain persisted until the end for most of the runners. Then, the reunion area featured many of us shivering as we waited around for the group to finish and to make our ways to our vehicles.

I will remember this group for its positive attitude, persistence, and resilience. It was such a nice group! There were concerns but no complaints about the weather. This year's program featured the annual traditions: Taco run; pasta dinner; Halloween Hill Hell; IM Turkey Trot; Alumni Weekend 5K; bookstore running shirts at a discount; and Siclovia. We added some new twists: monthly ("run-thly") reports; the "Get Lit" run through the Christmas light displays at Incarnate Word; and an awards ceremony at the pasta dinner. 

Once again, our charity was the San Antonio Food Bank. During the Kayla Mire Food Drive we collected 599 pounds of food and $417 in donations (which is 4,170 in food pound equivalents) for a total of 4,769 pounds. That is nearly 78,000 pounds over nine years!

Once again, we did the "hunger run" of ten miles that showed the socioeconomic diversity within running distance of campus, including richer and poorer areas, our campus, tourist areas, and the Haven for Hope area.

Next year's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon will be on December 3, 2017. It will be the 10th Annual Dean of Students Half Marathon Challenge. It will include the "drive for 500" total participants over the life of the program. That should be easy as we are up over 450 right now! Plans are under consideration for a specially designed 10th anniversary running shirt.

See pictures from the 2016 Dean of Students Half Marathon Challenge here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mind Over Matter

Dr. James Roberts visits with a student.
Editor's Note: Last year I wrote a piece about colleague Jennifer Reese for the holidays. I think such posts about fellow employees will be an annual holiday tradition. There are amazing people here. Of course, those who end up on the list probably would rather not. It likely means they have had to face tragedy. But those are the people and stories that move me most.

Dr. Jimmy Roberts wasn't supposed to be here. At Trinity. And yet, the Cowles Endowed Biology Professor is essentially the father of neurosciences at Trinity University. He arrived on campus in the fall of 2008. Just prior, he was seeing a counselor -- a Trinity grad -- for depression. The counselor told Jimmy he needed a job like the one the counselor had seen posted in the Trinity University alumni magazine. The post advertised for a vacant professorship, one meant to head up the newly started neurosciences program.

To say Dr. Roberts was uniquely qualified is an understatement. A distinguished career, that included stints at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and at Columbia, culminated in a position at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. Married with no children, Dr. Roberts had come to Texas in 2001 to be near his nieces and nephews. Biology Professor Dr. David Ribble chaired the Trinity search. "Not being a neuroscientist myself, I was not familiar with his record and asked him to email me his CV after he applied," Dr. Ribble said. "Well, his scholarly record is world class, and I called him back and urged him to apply immediately, which he did." The next afternoon, Dr. Ribble and Dr. Roberts met.

"To this day he is one of my most valued friends and colleagues," Dr. Ribble said.

Dr. Roberts met his wife, Mariann, when a colleague invited him to lunch to meet a Postdoctoral Fellow from his laboratory at Rockefeller University. The colleague wanted Dr. Roberts to guide Mariann in her research. She showed up to lunch in a red-and-white rugby shirt, jeans and pink tennis shoes. "I was dead meat," says Dr. Roberts today. She wouldn't start to date him for a long time, he says. "I had to convince her I wasn't her boss," he says.

It was a match made in a laboratory. They eventually worked together at Mount Sinai, where Mariann reported to another chairperson as an assistant professor. They spent 27 years "doing science together." That included publishing nearly 50 papers together.

Mariann developed her own expertise in the area of stem cells in the brain. "We now know that the brain makes them because of the work she did," says Dr. Roberts. Within a year or two of being in San Antonio, Mariann had received her third major R01 research grant. Usually a badge of honor to receive one or two, "three means something special," Dr. Roberts says. "She had a penchant for working on the right thing."

In 2002 Mariann developed a brain tumor - the same kind of tumor on which she was doing research. There was a short reprieve. But then, an MRI image revealed the tumor had grown to the size of a baseball in this slight, five-foot tall woman. "We had hoped the immune system might attack it," Dr. Roberts says.

She died in 2003. "She loved science as much as I did."

Mariann had 17 people working for her then. The National Institute for Health allowed Dr. Roberts and his wife's crew to continue her work, which they wrapped up in 2007. It was then that Dr. Roberts spoke to a colleague about his feelings of depression. Beside the obvious, there was nothing necessarily "wrong." Dr. Roberts just decided that after doing one thing - research - for nearly 30 years, and for 27 with the same person, that a change might not be bad. "It was no fun without her," he says, tearfully.

Dr. Roberts says the the move to Trinity came with a steep learning curve that is just now leveling off. Preparing three-to-five new lectures a week has been challenging. In neuroscience, the science of biology and chemistry is applied to the questions being studied by Psychology, according to Dr. Roberts. The field is one of the fastest growing at campuses nationwide.

What Dr. Roberts didn't anticipate was the impact he would have on students, and how they would affect him. He describes teaching as a "sparkle" where he can show students "how to do science." He couldn't imagine the thrill he would get from students who were researching and seeing their work come to fruition. "This has been the most exciting time since early in my career," he said. And many students feel the same way. Senior Briahna Yarberry notes, "When you listen to Dr. Roberts talk about his experiences back when the science we learn about in textbooks was being discovered, and you find out his name is on a lot of the research, you realize he doesn't have to be here teaching (us). He does it because he loves science and wants to instill it in us."

But it goes beyond that. Dr. Roberts routinely has students to his home near campus or his ranch outside of town. Once he works with a student, the relationship won't just stop. "I'll care about you always." Says Ms. Yarberry: "He genuinely cares about my success, and he's the kind of person who makes my education here at Trinity so special."

When Dr. Roberts informed his colleagues at the UT Health Sciences Center of his unusual move to Trinity, he expected some indignation, moving from a research to teaching focus. Instead, he received encouragement. Many, he says, had sent their kids to Trinity and raved about their first-rate education. He has found himself at home here. A regular attendee of lectures during his time in New York City, he finds the intellectual environment here to be fertile ground. That includes conversations with faculty members from disciplines outside the sciences.

English instructor Jennifer Bartlett co-taught a First Year Experience course this fall called "How We Know What Isn't So" with Dr. Roberts. "He comes to class, cheers me on, collaborates with me on content, and does everything he can to foster a collegial working environment. Teaching this particular course, which has its roots in science, felt challenging to someone like me who has always seen a deep divide between the sciences and humanities," Dr. Bartlett said.

"Dr. Roberts is dedicated to the liberal arts. He advocates for a quality of life bolstered by living a life of the mind, staying intellectually curious, even ravenous, and exploring new ideas whenever possible. He is as genuine and loving a man as you will ever meet,"she adds.

Today, Dr. Roberts is dating Monica, a woman he met on a blind date set up by friends at church. She brings her famous oatmeal raisin cookies to events like the bowling party he hosted for his research students this summer. He will have the students over for reading days, too, for a Christmas holiday party. "You may as well have fun with it," he says of his relationship with students.

Back in 2003, fun was a feeling Dr. Roberts thought he might never experience again. But -- with time and purpose -- he has been resilient. He's developed an incredibly popular and highly respected program, has shown others -- particularly his students -- that they can do anything. If they just set their minds to it.