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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ben's Hood

With Ben Gomez '17 at an SGA meeting
I met local Central Catholic graduate, Ben Gomez, at an EZ's restaurant (branch since closed) four years ago, just prior to his attending Trinity University. We hugged. I don't know why, or who initiated it, but I think it was me. He just looked like a sweet, funny, goofy, hugger. We were both there because my daughter -- and his little sister -- are friends. I knew Ben would be coming to Trinity, and I was genuinely excited to meet him. 

For some reason (maybe because I know his parents and wanted to give the illusion to Ben that I was watching him), I started snapping pictures of Ben every time I saw him. I'm not sure he ever asked why, or if I knew why, or if I ever told him why. Oddly, he never questioned it, though I had some explaining to do with my wife, recently, when she was scrolling through my photos. It became clear early on that, like the movie, Boyhood, I would do real-time chronicling of Ben Gomez for his four years at Trinity University. And this post would be the result.

I didn't know how this project would turn out, but now I can see that he was the perfect subject. Ben Gomez has been a star at Trinity. He has been involved in the following groups: Tiger TV, KRTU 91.7, Student Program Board, Student Government Association, Trinity Distinguished Representatives, Ambassadors, and the Omega Phi fraternity. For his efforts, Ben was recognized as an Emerging Student Leader in 2015 and won a Presidential Excellence Award in 2017, both honors as part of the annual Student Leadership Awards. More than that, though, everybody loves Ben. He is always in a good mood, has a can-do attitude, and is a strong student.

Two of Ben's most transformative experiences were studying abroad and meeting his girlfriend Andrea. They met in their first semester in November, 2013. Ben, ever laid-back, says they don't remember how they actually met, but reports they went to a Sigma Crush Date Party, and have been together ever since. Maybe they spontaneously hugged. Additionally, they studied abroad together in Prague, and were actually visiting Paris during the terrorist attacks there. It was a surreal, eye-opening experience for them.

Ben wasn't even going to look at Trinity, but his mom, Lizette, an alumna made a last-ditch effort to have him visit campus for a Trinity 360 Admissions program the spring of his high school senior year. He had been set on TCU or SMU, but when he came to campus he immediately connected with faculty and staff and was awed by the Tiger TV and KRTU 91.7 FM facilities, and the opportunities they offered. He received a private tour and fell in love with Trinity. 

Ben has parlayed his passion for entertainment by designing his own major, Entertainment Business, in addition to his Business major in Marketing and Management. He combined studies across Business, Psychology, Drama, Communication, and Entrepreneurship to forge a unique academic path. Outside the classroom, was able to work with national talent agents when planning various concerts for the Student Programming Board and KRTU 91.7 FM. Through these endeavors, Ben was able to network and eventually land a job with United Talent Agency (UTA) in Beverly Hills. Starting September, Ben will begin work at UTA as an Agent Trainee in concerts, comedy, film, and literary areas. Until then, Ben will spend the summer traveling to various music festivals, such as Bonaroo, as a Field Operations Contractor for Front Gate tickets.

Ben believes he landed these positions because he had access "to everything" at Trinity. This included planning major and smaller concerts and working with radio station events on campus. Ben is most proud of bringing T-Pain and Cherub to campus. Cherub performed at a new spring concert event and Ben had to pitch it to his old friends in student government. They never had a chance. 

When I started to chronicle Ben's experience here, I thought I would see an Obama-esque physical transformation with at least SOME aging. His face, his expression, his hair, and his weight haven't changed a bit. Neither has Ben. He is hard-pressed to say how he is different, aside from the many opportunities he seized here. See for yourself: Check out the slideshow I've included.

While we love to promote how our students Discover, Grow, and Become, sometimes they land here pretty well developed. That was Ben Gomez. He leaves Trinity, very much the same kid I met at EZ's four years ago.And Trinity has embraced him.

Slideshow production credit Megan Kruse.

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.