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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rare Bird

A housewife from Montana gave the sport of shooting clay pigeons the name "skeet" in 1926. Her name was Gertrude and "skeet" is Scandinavian for shoot. Which means Swedish basketball teams skeet baskets. This is one of many things I never knew about trap and skeet.

I learned several things from senior Erica Post recently, who was decked out in her shooting duds for the ACUI tournament held in San Antonio last week. Erica explained to me the difference between trap and skeet, which surprisingly I never thought about. Trap shooting is when clay pigeons are hurled in uni-directional arcs whereas skeet shooting involves two clay pigeons crossing paths. The sport originated when men in Massachusetts wanted to practice shooting in the 1920's, and voila, a sport was born. Erica has only once hit two crossing clay pigeons with one shot. This is the equivalent of a full-court shot in basketball or an inside the park home run in baseball.

It was all improbable for Erica, who as a sophomore, needed to take a one-hour PE credit, and signed up for this new experience. She had never ever shot a gun and was terrified when she went to her first class at the local shooting range. Think how her classmates must have felt. But she shot, and liked it. And she was good at it. If ever there were an argument for the liberal arts, this is one. A class that was taken to check off the list turned into a passion.

For Erica, that passion has raised her profile in her family. Her dad, a military veteran, now has the the son (sort of) that he always wanted. He and Erica can shoot, clean out their weapons, shop for ammo, watch Louis C.K. videos, and spit out sunflower seeds together.

As an avid non-gun shooter and non-hunting/fishing vegetarian, I cannot relate to much of this. But the idea of shooting little break-able Frisbees does hold some appeal. I mean, I spent half my life sliding little folded triangular sheets of paper across classroom desks, so I guess I have a low bar. But trap and skeet at Trinity, under the guidance of Van Boerner, is a serious business. I wouldn't mess around with a skeet instructor, let alone one whose name seems like something out of a 007 movie. The name Van Boerner is actually Scandinavian for "I will shoot anything that moves."

So here is a shoot-out shout-out to the coach and his team. They go up against the likes of Yale, UT, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Florida, and even power-house Martin Methodist. While playing host to last week's tournament Erica noted that among her favorites are the polite boys from West Point. Of course they are Erica. And here is a shout-out to you, for taking a shot, and making the most of your PE credit. It appears to have been a direct hit.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Homeland


The renovation of most upper-class residence halls is looming. The renovations tentatively being considered to take place sometime in the next five years include North/South Halls and the McFarlin Complex (Isabel, Myrtle, and Susanna). It takes time to move from conceptual planning, to drawings, to consultation with students, to funding requests, to final drawings, to construction, etc. But we start at the beginning...

Over the last several years, we have discussed how to best renovate these dorms without keeping the same pre-existing room configurations (suite style: four people in two rooms joined by a bathroom). We held a forum this week with a handful of students to get additional ideas and will take some proposals to the Student Government Association.

Here are some assumptions:

1. It appears the institution is committed to a three-year requirement.
2. When possible we should maintain current occupancy levels to accommodate the three-year requirement. In other words, renovations can't significantly reduce total occupancy.
3. In order for the dining services business model to work, those living on campus must have meal plans.
4. Because of expense and space, it is not likely that we will add on-campus apartments (meal-plan free), in the foreseeable future. It helps that there are a number of apartment complexes in the neighborhood that seniors may rent.
5. We will maintain our developmental residential model: first-year area (east campus quad); Sophomore College (larger halls, such as Thomas, Prassel, and maybe McLean Halls, which are easier in which to create community); and smaller upper-class dorms that lend themselves to privacy. The upper-class halls will continue to be more lightly staffed, with hall managers, and programs will continue to focus more on career development than social interaction.

Preliminary discussions involve several ideas:
1. For juniors and seniors, privacy is important. The addition of single room options is important, so students may have privacy to sleep, study, and socialize on their own terms after two years of roommates.
2. Variety is important. With five halls in the mix, we may be able to do a number of configurations. These may include single rooms with single bathrooms; single rooms with connecting bathrooms; single rooms with a small living area (similar to Lightner Hall); and double-rooms with adjacent living areas and common bathrooms.
3. Creative use of space needs to be considered. We can have more square footage in living rooms by reducing balconies in buildings that have poor views (North, South dark side, Susanna), for example. In addition, we could have smaller closets in order to create living rooms; we could shrink balconies overall; and we could remove some common area spaces.
4. Some amenities that we have discussed include full-size beds for single rooms; secured public kitchens (with individual lockers); and improved laundry facilities.
5. I have interest in allowing gender-free/sex-free assignment options for those in the same suites (not rooms). For GLBTI students this opens up a number of options.
6. I would like to see one or two of the halls have community-controlled first-floor pet options. Such options would mean students would provide their own beds and pay an additional pet deposit. The community aspect would mean that residents could determine if certain pets needed to be evicted because owners couldn't control issues related to hygiene, noise, and aggressive behavior. This reminds me of when we had single-sex male residence halls.

As more and more campuses offer apartment-style options, it is important for us to be adaptive to student needs, particularly for those entering into the third year of the residency requirement. Offering some single-room options for older students should be attractive for those wanting to stay in the campus mix while also having some of the space they need to themselves. After all, we would rather have students wanting to stay on campus as juniors and seniors rather than being anxious to leave those last two years. Careful and thoughtful planning can go a long way in making that happen. Please make comments on these proposals and other ideas and weigh in on the poll on the upper-right section of the blog.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Magic Figures

This doesn't seem right...
Recently, student tour guide extraordinaire Matt Mitts stumbled by as I was conducting an informal campus tour for some UTSA colleagues. We were near the "Magic Stones" - a sculpture set in the middle of campus - and I asked Matt to talk about these pieces. He said that, according to legend, if you rub the "Stones," before an exam it will bring you good luck. He also stated that there is an identical set in some Scottish glen, presumably in Scotland. A Scottish glen would actually be an outdoor museum, but certainly there are mystical creatures near there studying Scottish Bio on behalf of our students. It turns out there may be some good luck to be had in Milwaukee as well. Maybe if our students rub the "Stones" the right way a mystical tap will emerge.

It seems like this should be a big deal. If this is the stuff of legend, then we should have some facts. So I did exactly what we tell our students NOT to do. I went to Wikipedia. ACTUALLY, first I Googled "A Conversation with Magic Stones," which I understand to be the anatomically correct title of the artwork. And that isn't even really correct (more on that later). I also looked up the "Stones" in the Trinity history book by Doug Brackenridge, but surprisingly found nothing. He tells me there are tales of the student traditions in the library archives. But I am not walking all the way to the library. Finally,  I spoke with some more student tour guides - Laura Kalb and Amani Piers - and they were really helpful except they didn't know anything. Laura has slept with the Stones (NOT the band) and says her grades did not reflect her efforts whatsoever. But you can't trust a rock band.

Barbara Hepworth is the abstract artist who created the Magic Stones. I did not know that. She is a Dame, which I think is like being a Dean, but only snootier. She was born in 1903 and died in 1975. In 1970 she produced "Family of Man," which bears an amateurish similarity to our Magic Stones, which she crafted three years later. Most of her art work, it seems to me, would make great earrings if shrunk to appropriate proportions.

She seemed like a lovely woman, though it is difficult to age well. In any case, Trinity should know more about her. After all, we often refer to the Large Interior Form statue in connection with ITS artist, Henry Moore. He is also deceased and is not the Henry Moore in Houston. He aged pretty well, which seems unfair to Barbara. They would have made a nice couple, I think, and their eras and locations actually over-lapped. I am, apparently, a matchmaker of posthumous abstract sculpted proportions, which isn't like me. No matter: Their lives do collide, here, on our campus.

But I digress.

So, I learned (I think) that there are sets of Magic Stones in Scotland, in St. Ives England, at Trinity, in Switzerland, and in Milwaukee. Ms. Hepworth isn't the only one to distribute landmarks liberally. See University of Dallas and Grant Park in Chicago. Isn't there anything original about us?

I also learned that the three smaller pieces are the "stones" and the three taller pieces are "vertical figures." So, we should really call them Barbara Hepworth's "A Conversation with Magic Stones and Vertical Figures,"  which is why we call them the "Magic Stones."

The "Magic Stones" represent themes of human interaction and something about vertical planes, which I would describe if I knew anything about humans, planes, or art.

Most importantly, though, I like to imagine that some Scottish college students rub their own stones, so to speak, thinking that there is a lucky, mystical, glen in San Antonio. Wouldn't that be ironic? But it might explain Laura Kalb's grades.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Week Spots

Last week, an alumna published a Facebook post questioning Trinity University's sexual misconduct policy, which elicited a significant amount of social media attention. As a result, the Student Government Association (SGA) coordinated a campus-wide forum for discussion. The SGA President, Evan Lewis, properly felt that the topic of sexual assault  had been simmering after a high-profile case decision in the fall became public, and following the return to campus of a previously suspended student led a survivor to transfer. The large student turnout at the forum was gratifying and the discussion was beneficial.

Because issues like this have a lasting digital footprint, I hope to clarify some of the issues here, for the record.


- The criticism of the policy is almost exclusively over the sanction guidelines, which range from suspension to expulsion. Some believe the sanction should be mandatory expulsion. Most campuses and policies avoid mandated sanctions because they're problematic. It can be challenging for boards generally pre-disposed to avoid separating students from the university, to determine a finding of "responsible" when suspension, let alone permanent removal, is the only option. And so, for that reason, mandated expulsion can sometimes work against itself. For example, I've seen boards find someone - who is responsible (say, for a drug violation) - not responsible in order to not suspend that student as required. Further, in sexual assault cases, some survivors may be ambivalent and uneasy about mandated sanctions. Having a mandatory expulsion sanction may lead a survivor to not report.

- Our sexual misconduct policy was revised as recently as last year. A national consultant provides Trinity with a policy guideline that is built on case law, experience, and best practices. It is a model policy. There seems to be a perception that the full policy is flawed because of the sanction language. The policy was approved by the University Standards Committee last summer.

- It is essential to all of us that the students of Trinity University are safe, and students believe that the University is responsive to their needs and concerns. While some are expressing broad concerns about "the University" in this discussion, it can be helpful to clarify who makes up the "University" in addressing the campus climate, policies, and procedures related to sexual assault.

The Standards Committee and the Boards that make conduct decisions are comprised of students (selected by SGA), faculty (selected by Faculty Senate), and staff members (selected by Student Affairs). While the Dean of Students Office is responsible for overseeing the student conduct process, the procedures, policies, and decisions are all in the hands of representatives of the campus community. Attacks on the integrity of the "University," are essentially attacks on the campus community.

- Sexual misconduct is addressed through policy, procedures, and education. In addition to a Bystander Intervention program, the campus community has hosted the Can I Kiss You Program and Katie Koestner on several occasions. Ironically, the above referenced "high-profile" case mentioned in the opening paragraph actually occurred the same night as the new students went through the Bystander Intervention program. Education and prevention programs simply are not enough on their own; this effort must work hand-in-hand with stakeholders changing the campus culture.

That culture is shared by everyone here, including the students. Sexual assaults could be reduced if students, mostly males, pledged to protect the sexual safety of other students. How? For one, they could host parties that don't include common-source containers of unknown types and amounts of alcohol. Also, students could staff events with sober monitors and ensure that guests return home safely, and with friends. Peer education and awareness don't work on their own if students don't adhere to the call to action. Some say this notion is designed to deflect responsibility away from the campus judicial process. Shouldn't students insist on being empowered to make change, rather than be offended by it? Drunk drivers should go to jail after the fact, but drunk driving education - coupled with a change in culture in which calling a cab or assigning a designated driver is common practice - has reduced fatalities over the years.

- Unfortunately, the culture and process often are judged based on the latest, highest profile case - not on an overall history of equitably decided case outcomes. Each case must be handled with fairness and sensitivity to all. Sometimes the evidence doesn't meet the standard for a violation, despite its apparent level of egregiousness.

- Those of us involved in the conduct process know it isn't perfect. And so it is a process we are always reviewing, seeking counsel and improving communications. The web page and policy was developed after similar concerns from faculty and students several years ago, and revised and updated again this summer. The fall case was reviewed by a consultant, and measures are already in motion to streamline the hearing process.

It would be irresponsible to not give significant attention to this issue. Annually staff receives professional development through conferences, seminars, training, information collection, and research.  We meet with the best of the best in this field; and no one finds the solutions simple.  It is impossible to appropriately manage this issue without constant nurturing.

In summary, the policies, the process, decisions, and sanctions all come from the student, faculty, and staff communities. Surely we all want a safe campus environment, responsible dialog, and changes that improve the system and process. We hope to continue to work together toward that end. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pizza, Pleasure and Parents (oh my)


I always thought my kids should know about sex when they were pretty young. I found out, too early, from my slightly older neighbor Richard Whiting, who also had access to his dad’s Playboy collection. That was followed by a very scientific discussion from my father involving diagrams, things that looked like tadpoles, and a drawing that appeared to show a wire that seemed to connect husband and wife while they slept. That reminds me, now, of planes refueling in the air. Though I have never seen a plane on the ground smoking a cigarette. It all helped me understand why I had a certain reaction when my teen neighbor Martine Gaitot wore a tube top.

My rule with all four of my kids was always this: I will answer any of your questions honestly but I will not talk about anything I personally did or didn’t do. I will just say “generally…” All that I will admit to is having had sex four times. That’s all one of my kids still thinks. Kids, by the way, are first appalled about what their parents did, then curious, and then grossed out. I hate to remind our students, but the majority of their parents have had sex. In any case, relax. Using the same philosophy I'll offer no no self-disclosures here.

As parents, we get to shape the opinions of our children about sexuality and the values or morals (if we think there are any) that we connect with it. They are receptive until they find out sex is “generally” pleasurable, and then they do what they want.  We mostly don’t want grandchildren until we are ready.

As I see it, there are two philosophies about sex. The first is that it is beautiful, intimate, soulful, private, and sacred, and often saved for marriage and maybe baby making. The second is that it is carnal, fun, exciting, and the more the better, and - probably not often - for baby making.

This past August we again promoted Trinity University’s Pizza and Pleasure programs, with guest sex therapist Cay Crow. These programs are generally about things I would rather not discuss openly: self-pleasure, orgasms, kinkiness, and Lady Gaga. Interspersed in these programs are messages about safer sex, sexual health, and respect for the person you are doing disgusting things to.

Personally, all of this except the pizza makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t want to know what our students are doing any more than they want to know what the faculty and staff are doing – though we are likely doing it better.

Many see these things as educational. Students are having sex anyways. We know about half are based on surveys. We can also assume a portion of the rest want to, but can’t find anyone to participate. Which is why students throw parties.

This year, for the first time, I heard from several parents objecting to the programs and how they are publicized. These are parents who generally follow philosophy number one. They are not uber-religious moralists per se.  They simply wonder where is the balance in all of this? If we are teaching students which sex toys come in what colors why are we not teaching them that it is okay to not be hyper-sexual? That seems fair.

What about the possibility, they posit, that cavalier attitudes and promiscuous behavior comes at a price and with emotional baggage such as that discussed in Girls Uncovered. One parent argued that this leads to a campus culture that can make sexual assault an unsurprising outcome. That parent, by the way, isn’t saying that Pizza and Pleasure programs lead to sexual assault. Rather, by sharing only one side of the story on sexuality one could wonder whether or not we are we creating a culture that desensitizes and dehumanizes others.

The question then, for the University staff, is who will go to a program on not having sex? Just because parents want it (the program), doesn’t mean students will want to attend or be seen attending.  Such a program could be perceived as old farts preaching their own puritanical values. There must be a way to create this balanced message in a safe, interesting, and acceptable way. What about the students who want to learn about how to balance what they believe in their hearts, see with their eyes, think in their minds, and feel in their loins? Doesn’t the University have a responsibility to these students in the same way as to the ones who are going through sexual partners like candy?

Enter possible campus speaker Wendy Shalit. She is a mom and author, who even at 23 started to preach a different message as an alternative to the other view. Worried that she may be a far right conservative lunatic, I did a little research on her.  I learned she has had sex at least three times. I also learned that she presents the type of message that some of our parents would like us to provide: that it is okay to say no, to be a virgin, to in fact be a male virgin, and to connect values and sexuality.  She seems normal enough.

The counseling staff, which coordinates Pizza and Pleasure, is considering ways to present a balanced message as part of the series. Now Wendy Shalit has fallen into our laps. Weigh in on the poll at right about whether or not we should bring her to campus. More broadly, weigh in on the idea that we owe it to our students to balance our programmatic approach on sexuality and education by commenting below.

Some might argue that the University should stay away from any issues about sex all together. That might be simpler. However, with students peaking in terms of exploring their identity and values, sexual and otherwise, and with our educational role, avoiding the topic seems like ignoring it. After all, we are all adults here, aren’t we?  And who among us doesn’t like pizza?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Smarts

AXL
After several months in the Coates Library the Dean of Students Office has been moved to its latest permanent destination in the Coates University Center. The move is part of the University's relocation of Admissions to the upper campus in Northrup Hall. Bet you thought it was gonna be named Coates.

Despite much whining about the lack of accessibility and meeting space, I did learn some interesting things in the library. The first was that it was more social and lively than I imagined. It has a nice vibe. I learned that the women of Alpha Chi Lambda pretty much owned the central seating area. I also noted their chagrin when a man from the community plopped down in their territory once. Lots of headphones went on and plenty of eyes rolled. I don't know who I felt worse for.

On the flip side, I do believe I could have taken many more pictures like the ones below.
Energy and rest. A good combination.
Helene

Finally, one day I snapped the photo at right of Helene Barnes. I thought it was neat that on her day
off from Teach for America that this 2013 grad decided to return to her roots and come back to the library where it all began. I told her I appreciated her loyalty. She told me she was pretty much just waiting for her boyfriend to get out of class. Close enough.