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Rice students in Paris reflect on tragedy

(12/01/15 4:29pm)

The 13 Rice students studying abroad in Paris were safe following the Nov. 13 attacks in the city left over 130 individuals dead and injured nearly 400 more, according to Associate Dean of Undergraduates Don Ostdiek. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks that rocked the city’s 2.2 million inhabitants, including Martel College junior Beatriz Mesta and Will Rice College junior Megan Moore. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for bombings in Beirut, Lebanon that took the lives of about 40 individuals one day prior. Rice does not have a study abroad program in Beirut due to pre-existing security concerns, Ostdiek said.Mesta and Moore are enrolled in a semester-long program through Sweet Briar College. The students live with French families close to the site of some of the attacks. When Moore and Mesta first heard about the attacks, they assumed they were isolated incidents. Moore was on a trip to Rome, Italy, during the attacks. It wasn’t until a friend connected to the hotel Internet several hours after the attacks that they learned there had been shootings in Paris. “Honestly, we didn’t understand what was going on,” Moore said. “We all connected to the Internet and started receiving tons and tons of messages from people in the U.S. asking if we were okay and it was really frightening. We didn’t know what was going on. No one knew what was going on.” Mesta had gotten off the metro to meet with friends at a karaoke bar relatively far from where the attacks happened when she received a message from a friend asking if she was okay. “[She said] there were three people dead in the 11th [arrondissement] near my house,” Mesta said. “I thought it was a bar fight or something, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.” When Mesta met her friends, they began receiving calls and messages from the U.S. asking if they were okay. Unsettled, Mesta checked the news: Paris had been attacked three times. They quickly decided to go somewhere private.“We didn’t know the gravity of the situation,” Mesta said. “We didn’t know how bad it really was. We just knew we had a bad vibe.”Fearful of public transportation, Mesta and two of her friends called an Uber to take them home. The driver told them that he could not drive into the 11th arrondissement, so Mesta stayed the night at a friend’s house.Le Petit Cambodge, a local restaurant, was attacked minutes before Mesta’s 24-year-old host sister arrived for a friend’s birthday party. She was running late, but her friends had already arrived. One of her host sister’s friends was killed in the attacks, and two others were severely injured and lost limbs. Mesta said her host sister is struggling with the loss.“She feels guilty for not having been there,” Mesta said. “I guess you go through the mentality of ‘Why me and not them?’”For Mesta and Moore, the attacks were, quite literally, close to home.“I was scared to go back to my house,” Mesta said. “The Bataclan, the concert hall where there were hostages, was 600 meters from my house.” Moore’s home was also close to one of the attacks.“One of the [attackers] who tried to blow himself up was about two, three minutes from where I live,” Moore said. “It’s very different hearing about it in the news and actually knowing where those places are, knowing you walk past there.”The normally bustling streets were all but deserted the day after the attacks. “Everything was empty,” Mesta said. “It was a complete ghost town in the middle of the afternoon.” Although the city is returning to normal, Moore said, people are more anxious now. Even the sounds of children playing can cause alarm.“Sometimes in the street there will be kids playing and one will scream with happiness,” Moore said. “They’re just playing, but people tense up or get ready to run suddenly because there’s fear that something else will happen.”Mesta said she observed the same anxiety on the metro, where she used to listen to music or read a book on her commute without fear.“Now, everyone sits in silence,” Mesta said. “A suitcase fell next to me and everybody jumped to their feet.”Despite the tension and fear in the city, the students have continued their lives as normally as possible in defiance of the terror attacks. Mesta and Moore’s classes met on Monday and Mesta went out with friends the Thursday after the attacks to the bars near her house. “You hear the phrase everywhere, ‘We can’t let them win,” Mesta said.When Mesta picked up one of the seven-year-old boys she babysits from his school the following Tuesday, he showed her a drawing he made that stuck with Mesta. “He drew the concert hall and red everywhere,” Mesta said. “It hit me really hard because little kids have to live through this and he understands what’s happening.”Mesta said that despite his age, he understood what had happened.“It was very innocent, and I think that’s how we all feel, like little kids,” Mesta said. “Why are they killing? No one really understands.”Although life in the city has changed and international students in other programs left the city following the attacks, Mesta  plans to stay for the duration of the program. “I have to remember why I’m here,” Mesta said. “I want to improve my French, expand my knowledge, immerse myself in the culture. And this is part of expanding my knowledge.”Moore said she decided to stay as well.“I didn’t want to leave,” Moore said. “This is my city right here, and I want to be in Paris.”

Demand for boba spurs new student business

(11/10/15 3:41pm)

Rice students struggling with bubble tea addiction can say goodbye to any chance of kicking their habit. The goods will soon be domestically produced: Five students are hard at work creating a boba business here on campus.Hanszen College senior David Cooper, Lovett College senior Tommy Bennett, Martel College senior Leo Meister, Martel junior David Warren and Jones College senior Drew Sutherland created, manage and own the still-unnamed business.The students plan to begin operations selling its tea in bulk to Rice clubs for club fundraisers at the beginning of the spring semester. These flavors include plain milk tea, thai tea, coffee, taro, jasmine, oreo and other monthly flavors.According to Sutherland, the business will sell boba tea to clubs at $2.25 and deliver the drinks 10 minutes before sales begin. The tea will be made the same morning for freshness. The business will sell teas to clubs at variable quantities, instead of in orders of 100, which according to Sutherland, is an advantage over other vendors of the Taiwanese drink when selling to Rice clubs.“The clubs currently buy tea from Teahouse at $2.50 per tea in bulk orders of 100,” Sutherland said. “That provides limited flexibility. They have to bring their own coolers to Teahouse, load it all up, take it back to the campus.”Retail sales are planned to begin later in the spring semester. Sutherland said the business will sell teas in college commons.“You don’t have to walk off campus,” Sutherland said. “We’ll bring [the boba] to you.”The business began as a project for their Marketing (BUSI 380) last March, and the students spent the summer and fall semester working on research and development. The business will be privately owned by the students and will not register as a Rice-affiliated student-run business.Jones College sophomore Wesley Yee helped with taste testing and gave positive reviews.“[The] boba tasted amazing,” Yee said. “I particularly noticed how the tea wasn’t overly sweet and how the boba was soft and tasted fresh.”Eileen Huang, vice chair of the Rice Asian Pacific American Student Alliance, said that convenience will be a major factor in deciding to which business’ boba the club will sell at fundraisers.“We have used boba sales as a way to raise money in the past,” Huang, a Martel senior, said. “Most of our boba right now is from Teahouse and we usually have to drive to pick them up. Recently, [Teahouse] has not been accepting orders and it has been very inconvenient for us.” Sutherland estimates that the business will employ five to ten additional students to make and deliver the tea. The business plans to lease one of Martel College’s kitchens to prepare the tea. Martel Vice President Itzak Hinojosa said the kitchen was identified as underutilized and that the college voted to lease the space in Parliament after discussing the proposal within the college.“The vote passed and we are currently working to build a contract and the terms in which Martel will rent the space to the business,” Hinojosa said. “So far, Martel does not foresee any potential problems.”Martel senior Jonathon Stach was initially concerned about noise and space issues arising with the business’ machines, but was informed that neither would present a problem.“[I] have been told that the noise level should be minimal, and that the machines would only be operational during specific hours.” Stach said. “So long as the information proves credible, I really shouldn’t have an issue, and would welcome the easy access to boba.”Warren said the students have enjoyed strong support from faculty and staff, including Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby, Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, Chemistry instructor Lesa Tran and Housing and Dining. “Their assistance along the way has made this possible,” Warren said. “We are very grateful for the opportunity to make our dream a reality.”

Rice shows support at HERO rally

(10/20/15 7:47pm)

Rice University students were among the dozens of volunteers campaigning in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a broad anti-discrimination law, on Saturday at the Rally for HERO. Early voting began on Monday, Oct. 19 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.HERO is a measure to protect individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces based on several characteristics, including race, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity. Saturday’s rally was organized by Houston Unites as part of a grassroots effort to pass Proposition 1, or HERO. Volunteers canvassed door to door and called voters, asking them to commit to voting in favor of HERO, as well as helping them plan when they would vote and secure free transportation to the polls. Martel College senior Kathryn Hokamp became heavily involved with the campaign after experiencing hostile reactions from HERO opponents while volunteering as a canvasser. On Saturday, Hokamp, a former president of Rice Queers and Allies, led a group of canvassers.“We definitely made some impact [by] educating people about the issues and helping people to remember to vote,” Hokamp said. “The impact may seem small, but we get votes one person at a time, so every little thing we can do matters.”According to Caroline Duble, Campus Outreach Coordinator for Houston Unites, volunteers spoke with over one thousand voters citywide on Saturday, exceeding the campaign’s goals for the day. Rice is part of the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization comprised of over 1,200 companies and organizations that has supported HERO since 2014. Rice President David Leebron is among the 44 signatories of a series of full-page advertisements run in the Houston Chronicle paid for by the Business Coalition for Prop 1.“Rice supports equal rights for all Houstonians,” Rice spokesperson David Ruth said.According to the Houston Business Journal, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, who recently donated $8 million to Rice, has donated $10,000 to a campaign against HERO. McNair said the proposition should be rewritten to encourage more unity within the community. McNair has since rescinded his donation.In 2014, the Houston City Council originally passed HERO by an 11-6 vote. Shortly afterwards,  opponents of HERO delivered a petition with around 50,000 signatures to City Hall to repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote on the ballot. City Attorney David Feldman found several technical issues with the petition. Opponents of HERO filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming Feldman had “wrongly determined that they had not gathered enough valid signatures” to trigger a repeal or referendum.In January, a judge ruled HERO opponents had not collected enough valid signatures. The opponents appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and the court ruled in July that the Houston City Council must either repeal the ordinance or include it in the November 2015 ballot.Although recent polls have found that a majority of Houstonians support HERO, Mark Jones, Chair of Political Science at Rice, said he warned against taking the polls at face value.“You have to be cautious when people say ‘I’m undecided,’” Jones said. “About three quarters of them actually are hidden ‘no’ votes. When you take that into account, the polls suggest that this is really neck and neck.”Edit: Noted how McNair has since rescinded his donation to HERO opponents.

First Democratic debate draws students

(10/15/15 6:11am)

Over 30 students attended a debate party organized by Rice Students for Bernie on Tuesday night to watch the first Democratic debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.On stage were Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Clinton has been slipping in the polls to Sanders since Sanders announced his candidacy in April, but still holds a considerable lead for the Democratic primary.Also on the stage were former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and governor Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, all of whom are polling at less than one percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll.According to Rice Students For Bernie President Alex Amari, O’Malley performed the strongest out of the underdog candidates.“I don’t think it was a breakthrough performance for either [Chafee or Webb], whereas O’Malley probably had the most to gain from tonight because he’s in a position where people know him,” Amari, a Jones College sophomore, said. “I think he did a great job and I would not be surprised at all if he was selected for vice president.”Lovett College junior Bridget Schilling noted the difference tones of the Democratic debate and the two Republican debates of the 2016 campaign.“I thought there was a lot more solidarity between candidates,” Schilling said. “They were talking about what their stances on the issues were, as opposed to attacking each other.”The candidates debated both foreign and domestic policy topics during the 2.5-hour debate, covering topics like income and racial inequality. Other topics included the use of military force, national security, tax reform, mass incarceration and gun control.As of Tuesday night, Duncan College freshman Maurice Frediere said he had not decided if he will support Sanders or Clinton, but said that Sanders’ stance on gun control was weak compared to some of the other candidates.“Sanders was not as strong of a debater I hoped he would be,” Frediere said. “He was hit with some good shots from O’Malley and Clinton on guns. He just didn’t have as strong a policy laid out as either O’Malley or Clinton did.”But for other students, the debate cemented their opinions of the candidates.Jones College sophomore Simone Holmes said Sander’s passionate performance during the debate bolstered her support for him.“The debate strengthened my convictions as I was able to hear Sanders advocate or defend his stances,” Holmes said. “He compellingly promoted free college tuition [at public colleges], fighting institutional racism and improving environmental quality.”Wiess College sophomore Alex Bergin-Newman said she was undecided between Sanders and Clinton prior to the debate, but that Clinton’s performance in the debate eventually won her over.“The pressure of the debate seemed to be getting to [Sanders],” Bergin-Newman said. “That raised some serious concerns for me about how he would be able to handle the pressure of a presidency when the pressure of a debate was too much.”Amari said increasing interest in politics at Rice is an essential part of Rice Students For Bernie’s mission.“[One of the goals of the watch party] was to get people interested in politics and have people coming out and talking about the debate, and it was great to see that tonight,” Amari said. “I feel like I learned a lot tonight from talking to other people there, and apart from supporting Bernie, that is really our goal here.”

Support Planned Parenthood funding, ignore mudslinging

(09/30/15 5:13am)

Rice for Reproductive Justice held an event Tuesday, Sept. 29, entitled #Stand- WithPP Pink-Out Day. RRJ photographed students holding up signs in support of Planned Parenthood, collected petitions and talked with students about the services Planned Parenthood provides and Congress’ recent efforts to defund the organization.

Rice to invest $150 million in tech research initiatives

(09/30/15 5:11am)

Rice University President David Leebron announced a $150 million investment in strategic research initiatives last week. The three-part investment will fund Rice’s molecular nanotechnology research, establish a program in data sciences and promote a broad range of research competitiveness across the university, Leebron said. The investment draws from a combination of endowment, philanthropy and reallocation of resources.

Rice students, faculty join Houston activists for Black Lives Matter event

(09/23/15 5:27am)

Professor of religious studies Anthony Pinn spoke to community members, including several Rice students, as a panelist at a Black Lives Matter event hosted by the Houston chapter of the movement. The event, entitled #BLMHTX, took place at St. John’s United Methodist Church on Friday night and featured an art exhibit, artist talks and a panel discussion with artists, religious leaders, activists and academics.