<![CDATA[The Rice Thresher]]> Mon, 28 Nov 2022 22:06:46 -0600 Mon, 28 Nov 2022 22:06:46 -0600 SNworks CEO 2022 The Rice Thresher <![CDATA[Volleyball beats No. 20 Western Kentucky in title game to reach C-USA hilltop]]> In 2019, the Rice volleyball team took on Western Kentucky University in the Conference USA final only to lose in a five-set heartbreaker. They got another shot at the Hilltoppers in the following year's title game, and again in 2021, but both times WKU came out on top. Just ten days earlier, while not in the conference tournament, the Hilltoppers beat the Owls in a fifth-set tiebreaker to secure the C-USA regular season title.

Sunday, though, the result was different. The No. 22 Owls finally made it past their conference rival, on the No. 20 Hilltoppers' home court no less, to secure a conference title for the first time since 2018. After the match, head coach Genny Volpe said that she was thrilled to see her team rewarded for their efforts all year.

"I'm just overwhelmed with joy because this team makes me so proud," Volpe said. "I'm happy that they're getting to reap the benefits of all their hard work. They have bought in from day one to this program and to each other, and it's just nice to see them finish it off with a championship."

After WKU withstood a late Rice surge to take the first set 25-22, Rice returned the favor taking the second set in the same fashion and by the same score. The third set was even throughout, but a pair of late kills from WKU's Kenadee Coyle put the Hilltoppers just one set away from their eighth C-USA championship in nine years.

The fourth set, however, was when the chaos that's come to define this rivalry over the past few years finally kicked in. Rice maintained a slight lead for most of the set, but a 3-0 Hilltopper run from down 20-18 gave them the lead. After Rice fought back with a 3-0 run of their own, a pair of Owl errors tied the game at 23. An emphatic kill from junior outside hitter and right side Danyle Courtley, who led the Owls with 17 on the day, put Rice a point away from forcing a fifth set, but her ensuing serve hit the net, forcing a win-by-two tiebreaker.

With the set tied at 24, Rice appeared to take the lead when a WKU attempt went long, but a replay review found that the ball had taken a slight deflection from Rice, giving match point to the Hilltoppers. But Rice stayed alive with a kill from sophomore outside hitter and right side Lola Foord, one of four Owls to finish the game with double-digit kills. After WKU's reigning conference player of the year Lauren Matthews had her ninth kill of the set, the Hilltoppers had Rice at match point again. On the ensuing point, a few Hilltoppers began to celebrate when it looked like Foord's attempt went out of bounds. But the ref ruled that it took a deflection from WKU, keeping the game alive. Tied at 26, Rice took the point on a kill from junior outside hitter Sahara Maruska after yet another replay review, and Maruska came through again to clinch the set. According to Volpe, the team relied on their experience in big moments to get through the whiplash-inducing match.

"I think that this team really trusted the process," Volpe said. "We have been in this situation several times, with Western Kentucky of course, but also with other teams in big moments. I just felt like we were prepared for it."

The Hilltoppers got out to an early lead in the fifth set but it didn't last long, as Rice went on a 7-2 run behind three Courtley kills to bring the score to 10-7. The teams traded points until the score was 13-11, when fifth-year middle blocker Anota Adekunle forced match point with her fifteenth kill of the day. The Owls had been in a nearly identical situation just over a week earlier, when they were up 14-12 in the fifth set to WKU but lost the next four points as the Hilltoppers clinched the conference regular season title. According to junior libero Nia McCardell, who tied for the game high with 19 digs, last Thursday's heartbreaker still loomed large over the title match.

"It definitely was on our minds." McCardell said. "[After] Thursday, we were like, 'we know what that feels like. We're back in the same locker room, back in the same environment, we don't want that to happen again.' So we were really locked in."

But this time, Western Kentucky's Paige Briggs sent an attempt long and the Owls held on for the victory. According to McCardell, the Owls relied on constant communication to stay settled throughout the set.

"It was just a lot of communication," McCardell said. "[We were] just playing loose and confident in our game, and really giving all-out effort. We took deep breaths, we came in as a team and just really relied on each other during those last few points."

Fifth-year setter, and C-USA setter of the year, Carly Graham was named the tournament's most valuable player after a 64-assist and 19-dig performance in the final, while McCardell and Maruska also made the all-tournament team. According to Volpe, their performance this weekend showcased how well-rounded the team is.

"We talked about it all weekend, what makes us unique and special as a team is that we have a ton of balance," Volpe said. "It was just a total team effort and that's what we've been doing all season - we don't rely on one person."

Sunday's match was the Owls' last in C-USA, as they'll move to the American Athletic Conference next year. The Hilltoppers, however, will stay behind in C-USA. According to Volpe, she'll miss having WKU in her conference since they always force her team to play at their best.

"I think that the Western Kentucky-Rice rivalry has been excellent," Volpe said. "It's been one of the best competitive rivalries that I've ever been a part of as a player [or] as a coach. I think we respect each other so much, we respect our abilities. We know that we're going to get the best [from] them, I believe they know they're going to get the best from us. I don't think it's really hit me yet that we're not going to have this event and we're changing conferences."

The Owls will now turn their focus to the NCAA tournament, having earned C-USA's automatic bid. The field will be announced on Nov. 27 and the tournament will start on Dec. 1.

]]>
Courtesy Gunnar Word - WKU Athletics

]]>
<![CDATA[Grammy-nominated GAYLE talks Texas and Tinder bans]]> "I'm an artist and an attention whore," GAYLE told audiences while performing at Austin City Limits Musical Festival last month. With that statement in mind, she chose the perfect career. Best known for her viral hit "abcdefu," GAYLE enraptured audiences even in the Texas heat and played both guitar and keyboard while dancing around the stage with a youthful wit and sense of style that would make even the best TikTok girl seethe with jealousy.

If I had forgotten that GAYLE, who was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for song of the year, was only barely 18 when we spoke during ACL, I would have quickly remembered when I went to open voice memos on my phone.

"Is that Tinder?" she asked. I quickly nodded. "I'm banned from Tinder," GAYLE told me.

The 18-year-old artist explained that she made an account when she was 17 before her profile was quickly deleted - her bio proclaimed her actual age, after all.

"I've tried to use different numbers, different email addresses," GAYLE said. "Like, I cannot get back onto Tinder."

ACL was a return to Texas for GAYLE, who is originally from Plano. Besides her excitement at returning to her home state and the chance to play at a festival that she called "iconic," returning to Texas was a chance to come back to the place that inspired her singing career.

"One thing I really love about Texas is that it gave me a really big inspiration from powerhouse singers. I feel like there's so many talented musicians and powerhouse singers in Texas that I always found very inspiring," GAYLE said. "When I went to Nashville, I really fell in love with the art of performance and just playing instruments and everything - that came in Texas."

As much as GAYLE loves Texas, Texas seemed to love her, too - the crowds at ACL were quick to learn the lyrics to songs that had just been released the day before on her most recent EP, "a study of the human experience volume two."

"I'm just so excited by the fact that [the EP's] out," GAYLE said. "And now I get to just talk about the songs more and I get to spam people on TikTok and everything."

After skyrocketing to fame when her song "abcdefu" went viral on TikTok, GAYLE said that she found the year to be overwhelming at points as she adjusted to her newfound fame.

"But I think recently I've been coming to the conclusion of just how lucky I am," GAYLE said. "I've always wanted to see the world, and the fact that I get to see the world and do live music at the same time. Especially now, post-pandemic, we finally get to, like, see people's faces instead of just numbers and analytics, and that's been very exciting. Just to get to do live music is such an honor, so I'm just so excited and grateful."

GAYLE said that she has a deeply personal relationship with her music - one that shifts between love and hate over time.

"I have moments with my music, you know, there's times where I really love it, and there's times where I absolutely hate it. And there's times where I think it's stupid," GAYLE said. "There's times where all of it just comes from a personal place or from a place of me just letting loose or being so excited and wanting to [make music] for the rest of my life."

More than anything, though, GAYLE said that she hopes audiences recognize her passion for writing, creating and performing music.

"I hope that people can just see that I'm just a person that loves music and wants to make music," GAYLE said. "So if you like it, that's great. That makes me happy, and we can like it together. If you don't, you don't, you know? But I hope that they can see that I'm a kid that likes music and likes writing music."

]]>
<![CDATA[Volleyball sweeps UTEP in semis to set up rematch with WKU in final]]> Like clockwork, death, taxes, and whatever other cliché you want to use to describe mind-bending consistency, No. 22 Rice volleyball will face No. 20 Western Kentucky University in the Conference USA final yet again. The Owls secured a finals spot against the top-seeded Hilltoppers for the fourth consecutive year with a sweep of the University of Texas at El Paso in Saturday's semifinal. According to head coach Genny Volpe, the Owls executed their game plan almost perfectly to punch their ticket to the final.

"I'm proud of the team for coming out today and beating a really strong UTEP team in three sets," Volpe said. "It wasn't just about the sweep, it was about how we played. We were really efficient, very focused, [we] really stuck to the game plan, so [I'm] just very proud."

The No. 3 seeded Miners pulled ahead early in the first set, jumping out to a 7-3 lead. But a 7-0 run gave Rice a 13-10 lead and they closed out the set 25-18. According to fifth-year setter Carly Graham, the slow start forced their defenders and passers to get more involved in the attack, sparking their offense.

"We knew we started out kind of shaky, we wanted to get flowing throughout the rest of the game," Graham said. "So defenders and passers were working super hard as well as the hitters to be available."

The second set was the strongest of the day for Rice, as a 12-1 run early in the set put them ahead 15-4. Behind six kills in six tries from fifth-year middle blocker Anota Adekunle, who led the match with 14 kills, the Owls took the set 25-12. The third set was the closest of the match, as the two teams traded points for nearly the whole set. A late UTEP push gave them a 23-22 lead but Rice scored three straight points to secure the win. According to Volpe, the Owls' efficiency - they hit .447 on the day - led to their big win.

"Our efficiency was just incredible," Volpe said. "We were not giving points away. We knew that if we give points to UTEP, that's just going to make it a lot harder to beat them."

Tomorrow, the Owls will try to secure their first conference championship since 2018, after losing to WKU in the final for three straight years. The two teams met just over a week ago in a five-set WKU win that decided the conference regular season championship. Three of the five sets needed tiebreakers and WKU only took the fifth set after the Owls had two chances to seal it on match-point. Volpe said that she expects another close match on Sunday.

"Western is an incredible team," Volpe said. "We were just here last week and we experienced a five set loss. Could've gone either way. What we're looking to do is just play Rice volleyball, let it ride, and it should be a great match."

Tomorrow's match will be played on WKU's home court. In what will be their final shot at the Hilltoppers before leaving C-USA for the American Athletic Conference, Volpe said the Owls will lean on their chemistry to give them an edge this time around.

"I think for us, it's about just playing Rice volleyball," Volpe said. "We have a lot of experience, we have a lot of weapons, but we also have this team chemistry that I think is unmatched. So for me, I just want this team to let it shine tomorrow, have fun."

FIrst-serve will be at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

]]>
Courtesy Conference USA

]]>
<![CDATA[Volleyball sweeps FIU in first round of C-USAs, advances to semifinals]]> Rice volleyball took care of business in the first round of the Conference USA tournament, sweeping the No.7 seed Florida International University (26-24, 25-22, 25-18). With the win, the No. 2 seed Owls advanced to the semifinals where they will face University of Texas at El-Paso. After the win, head coach Genny Volpe was happy with the sweep and moving on to the semifinals.

"We're excited to be moving on to round two," Volpe said. "We're very happy to pull off a sweep, a very hard earned sweep. I thought FIU played great and presented us with a lot of challenges [but]... we finished the job and beat a good team."

The Owls started the opening set of the tournament with a bang, going on a quick 7-1 run, sparked by three kills from junior outside hitter Sahara Maruska. However, the Panthers answered with a 7-0 run of their own to take the lead in the middle of the set. Late in the set, the Owl's senior frontcourt took control with outside hitter Ellie Bichelmeyer and middle blockers Satasha Kostelecky and Anota Adekunle getting two kills apiece to take the first set in a 26-24 tiebreak.

Set two mirrored the first with the Owls jumping to an early lead which was promptly cut by a Panther's counter-run. Late in the set, after a late Panthers run closing the Owls lead to 24-22, a Maruska kill claimed the set. Maruska, who hit .359 on the night, matching her season-best, said that her teammates' efforts in the pass game set up her successful performance.

"I felt good today," Maruska said. "But something that helped me the most was getting a pass. I really held on to my team and service who was able to get up a good pass and the middle [blackers] did a good job transitioning out early so that I could have a single block."

With the smell of a sweep in the air, the third set was no different than the rest, with the Owls starting with a 5-0 run. After extending their lead to 9-2 the Panthers, who found themselves with their backs to the wall, fought back and took the lead 16-14. But that was the last time they would have the lead all night, with the Owls closing the match on a 9-1 run. Adekunle and Maruska combined for 10 kills in the third set. Volpe said that although the Owls didn't play to their full potential, she was proud of their composure.

"We didn't play the perfect game but I'm really proud of how we stayed composed and were able to finish the job," Volpe said.

Now, the Owls move to the semifinals where they face No. 3 seed UTEP. The two teams have met twice this year, with the Owls taking their first match in five sets before sweeping the Roadrunners later in the season. The game will be played on Saturday at 2:30.

]]>
<![CDATA[Tech layoffs, hiring freezes hit Rice community]]> As layoff and hiring freezes increase across the tech industry, computer science students and alumni are among those at Rice expressing concern for their current and future job prospects.

In recent weeks, Elon Musk halved Twitter's staff, Meta said it was firing 11,000 employees, Amazon announced plans to cut approximately 10,000 jobs and other tech firms such as Lyft and Stripe also announced layoffs.

Charles Lussier, a Wiess College senior, said that he has noticed a shift in the recruiting process this year.

"[Internships were] pretty much grooming you and investing in you and planning on giving you a return offer. That [was] kind of the culture beforehand," said Lussier. "This year is completely different. Internships are no longer a guarantee that you're actually getting a return offer."

Many companies have also been firing recent hires from the class of 2022, reducing salaries for mid level positions and instituting hiring freezes across the board. Recent Rice alum Abdelrahman Abouzeid ('22) was one of 11,000 employees recently let go from Meta.

"Working at Meta/Facebook has been my goal since freshman year, and I only got to spend a few weeks [in the Engineering Bootcamp] at the company before I was laid off," Abouzeid said in a LinkedIn post. "I honestly enjoyed these last few weeks. I learned a lot, met some very smart folks and pushed code for production."

For recent international graduates like Abouzeid, the loss of a job also impacts their ability to stay in the U.S. While on the F-1 Visa, individuals have a grace period of 90 unemployment days before they must leave the country.

Companies' recent hiring freezes and slowdowns are also being seen by students in the recruitment process.

"It's very obvious," Lussier said. "All the spots were on the [hiring] portal when we're applying for stuff, and then they're constantly closing up. I don't know if that's because they're filling them quicker or they're just closing them, but I'm assuming they're closing them in light of the economy."

Michael Wong, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said that there has been a general increase in student concern over finding internships in the tech industry, specifically working for one of the prominent American technology companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (FAANG).

"You definitely see a bit of panic," Wong said. "We're just trying to cast a wider net right now and just trying to apply everywhere. I think a lot of people that go into computer science specifically want to work in industry. The mentality is, 'FAANG, FAANG, FAANG. I gotta work for one of those companies.' I think at this point it'd be a good idea to maybe not set my sights on, 'Oh, I'm only going to be happy,' or 'I'll only feel like I'll be fulfilled if I work at one of those companies.'"

Ann McAdam Griffin, director of employer relations at the Center for Career Development, said that while there has been a slowdown in the tech and software industries, overall job outlook for the Class of 2023 is still very optimistic.

"The skills and competencies that a student with a major in computer sciences develop are sought after by a wide variety of industries, not only tech," Griffin said. "Students at Rice, in computer science and all majors, have options for meaningful, challenging career opportunities."

CCD wait times for advising appointments are currently two weeks, up from the usual one week for this time of year, according to Griffin.

Griffin said that the CCD has seen students concerned about their alumni friends who have been affected by these layoffs and how the hiring freezes might impact their post-graduation plans. Lussier said he empathizes with those who happen to have graduated or are graduating at the wrong time.

"I mean it's just really unfortunate because when I think of these upperclassmen, it's like they did nothing wrong," Lussier said. "They grind their asses off. They were really good students, and they literally were only laid off because they just happened to be in the bottom rung of things and are recently added while the economy took a shitter."

For some students like Wong, the current outlook raises some concern for the future.

"I think in like one or two years it's going to be kind of tough because I think my fellow students [and I] are going to be in a situation where we're competing for an increasingly scarce number of opportunities," said Wong. "It is sort of a very sobering moment. Obviously I enjoy computer science. But I'd also like to make a living."

Tyra Cole, a Will Rice College senior, expressed frustration with pursuing computer science.

"Eventually when I am a recent grad, I'll be the last to be hired and the first to be fired," Cole said. "It's kind of upsetting because I decided to study computer science because of job security, but now it's not a secure job."

Some foresee a change in the number of students majoring in computer science.

"I think it's going to be pretty obvious in the next few years that COMP is not gonna be as in demand, and I think the major is gonna drop significantly," Lussier said. "More people are going to channel into government roles with software engineering, along with research just because it's generally more stable."

Griffin said that the CCD is always available for students alongside a myriad of resources on Handshake.

"We advise students not to be alarmed by ebbs and flows in certain industries because the market for early career talent is strong," Griffin said. "Continue to build your network and come see the CCD. This is a demanding time in the semester, but we're open and see students for in-person and virtual appointments throughout winter break."

Although the recent changes in the job market are uncontrollable, Lussier said he believes Rice students are capable of making it through.

"I would caution all the younger generations, as well as the senior class, to be prepared to get fired," Lussier said. "I think that's going to happen to most of us, but we should not fret because at the end of the day, we can get up off our feet … It'll be harder than before, but not impossible."

]]>
<![CDATA[RUPD launches Food for Fines initiative]]> The Rice University Police Department launched a "Food for Fines" initiative, during which students can donate food and hygiene items to cover unpaid parking tickets. From Nov. 15 to Nov. 17, students can bring products to PCF 1 anytime from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to a campus-wide email sent by RUPD, a minimum of five non-perishable food items or hygiene products can be donated to The Pantry to cover the cost of one $30 unpaid parking citation. If a student has more than one parking citation given before Nov. 1, then they can cover $60-$75 of citations with 10 items, $150 of citations with 20 items, and so on.

Clemente Rodriguez, RUPD chief, said that the initiative came to fruition when the Rice administration was considering ways to remove some of the financial burdens off of students during the holiday season.

"Thinking through a lot of the difficult times folks are going through at this time of year with inflation and the cost of everything going up, we started thinking outside of the box for some things that would help alleviate some of the financial stress people are facing around the holiday season," Rodriguez said. "[From these conversations], we decided it would be nice to clear some of the students' parking citations without creating a financial burden for our community."

Eugen Radulescu, the director of administrative services who oversees parking and transportation on campus, also said the initiative is aimed at relieving students' financial burdens. Radulescu agreed to have some of the parking fine funds, which typically go partially toward funding the inner loop buses, put towards the community.

"With the cost of gas skyrocketing and economic inflation being very high, this is the moment to help," Radulescu said. "It's a win-win situation for both students and Rice admin - that's how I see it."

Rodriguez said that the idea for the program came from looking at similar programs at other institutions that aim to alleviate students' financial stress while benefiting local food pantries.

"My colleague told me that Colorado University had done a similar initiative procuring food donations, and I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar here at Rice," Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, he hopes this endeavor will bring awareness to resources on campus, such as The Pantry, that benefit underprivileged students.

"I have to say that I wasn't as aware and didn't have as much knowledge about [The Pantry] before this program was launched," Rodriguez said. "I want to bring awareness to those who may need assistance to take advantage of this resource."

Araceli Lopez, executive director of Student Success Initiatives, said she hopes these food and hygiene product donations will help keep The Pantry stocked more consistently. The Pantry is located at the Office of Student Success Initiatives in Ray's Courtyard and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by request.

"The Pantry operates on a good-faith basis and is an anonymous resource for all students, faculty, staff and community members," Lopez said. "Our goal is to ensure The Pantry is a space where individuals feel welcome and that this is an accessible resource."

]]>
<![CDATA[Construction of RMC, Hanszen building remains on schedule]]> The new Hanszen College wing is on track for student move-in by early January, and the Rice Memorial Center demolition will occur at the end of spring semester despite previous delays in the timeline, according to Director for Project Management Anzilla Gilmore.

"Construction costs have risen dramatically during the last couple of years, causing delays in many projects across the country," Gilmore wrote in an email to the Thresher. "We here at Rice aren't alone in this regard. Construction delays due to rising costs are a nationwide phenomenon."

Mark Ditman, the associate vice president for infrastructure, said that the new Hanszen wing is on track for move-in by the end of fall semester 2022. The five-story building will have 166 beds with 70% doubles and 30% singles. It will also have accessible and gender-neutral bathrooms - features the Old Hanszen building lacked.

Ditman said the new residential building honors Hanszen's culture by including a terrace on each floor except the first and top floors. The new Hanszen wing will also be the first mass timber dormitory building in Texas.

"The mass timber structure [of the new Hanszen wing] contributes to our carbon neutrality goal," Ditman said. "[The building] brings the outdoors in, and [this] has some beneficial effects on people's wellness."

Jessica Opsahl-Ong, a Hanszen junior who attended a tour of the new Hanszen building, believes that the new building will mean a lot of adjustment for the residential college. Opsahl-Ong said that while the building will allow Hanszen's population to grow, it offers a limited amount of common space for events and storage. As a result, Hanszen will still have to rely on their commons for larger gatherings.

"It's just kind of an issue with space [and] making sure that we are still getting the spaces we need for good college culture," Opsahl-Ong said. "It's been brought up at cabinet [that] there's a plan for construction in Upper Commons to give us more event throwing spaces."

Opsahl-Ong said she believes that despite the challenges the growing residential college community will have to navigate, Hanszen will be able to adapt to those changes.

"I think people are excited about having a nice new building … Other colleges tend to say that we have bad facilities, so that will be nice," Opsahl-Ong said.

New section residents will be allowed to move in Jan. 5, two days earlier than the regular move-in day, according to an email obtained by the Thresher from Hanszen College Coordinator Joyce Bald.

Despite the delays in the new RMC's construction, Gilmore said she believes that students will have a lot to look forward to once the building is complete.

"It will be a beautiful space with new food options, new meeting spaces, upgraded technology and updated facilities," Gilmore said.

Emma Yang, general manager of East-West Tea, said that administration has been very communicative about their plans for the RMC and has included the students' input for their new space.

"We've gotten to submit a few preferred layouts [and] our desired equipment, and those have been turned into preliminary architectural sketches of what an East-West Tea space could look like," Yang said.

While Yang said her team doesn't know where they will operate once the demolition begins, administration has been updating them regularly.

"The good news is based on everything we know now, we expect that the new space will provide us with the space, resources and flexibility to bring some exciting new changes to our cooking process, menu and hours," Yang said.

Jinhee Shin, general manager of Rice Coffeehouse, said that administration's communications to Coffeehouse about the demolition were slow in the beginning.

"I initially received information about construction meetings on really short notice, and my team would have little time to prepare for them … over my term [as general manager], communication with administration has improved, and I've received more advanced notice before meeting times," Shin wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Although Shin said that administration did not initially consult her team while designing Coffeehouse's new layout, she said they have since been more involved and she believes that the upgraded space will allow for new growth opportunities.

"I believe our space in the new student center will allow for a better workflow. We [will] have room to have more equipment and more people on shift in order to serve our customers more efficiently," she said.

[11/16/2022 at 12:43 p.m.] This article was updated to more accurately reflect Coffeehouse's involvement in the plans for their space in the new RMC.


]]>
<![CDATA[Campus prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving]]> As Thanksgiving break nears, students and faculty planning to remain on campus have begun preparations to celebrate the holiday at Rice.

During the break, some colleges will host a Thanksgiving dinner organized by students and the college's core teams. This year, all of the serveries are closed on Thanksgiving Day. Multiple serveries will be open on Wednesday and Baker Kitchen will be open on Friday and Saturday.

Organizations on campus, such as the Rice Baptist Student Ministry and the Rice QuestBridge Scholars Network Chapter, are also planning events for students on campus. Rice BSM matches students with local families hosting Thanksgiving dinners, helps arrange transportation for those who need it and welcomes all students to sign up. The Rice QuestBridge Chapter is hosting its annual QuestGiving on Friday for first-generation low-income students on campus.

Jazmine Castillo, Rice QSN president, said that QuestBridge hosts QuestGiving for FGLI students who are not able to go home for Thanksgiving. (Editor's note: Jazmine Castillo is the Thresher's distribution manager).

"It's for the students who didn't get a chance to go home for Thanksgiving, to give them a chance to have dinner with a community," Castillo, a McMurtry College senior, said. "This is a less formal alternative to the magisters' Thanksgiving dinners."

Kasey Leigh Yearty, a Sid Richardson College RA, said that the university made some arrangements for students to have meals over the break provided last year.

"Less than 50 [Sid Richardson] students stayed on campus during Thanksgiving break. We expect numbers to be comparable to what we saw last year," Yearty said. "The university provided frozen meals for students to enjoy, and we were able to distribute those over time so that they were able to last throughout the break."

Since there are resources available for meals on Thanksgiving day through residential college dinners, Debi Saha, the Rice QSN Chapter events coordinator, said Rice QSN hosts Questgiving on Friday to stagger when students can access free food on campus.

"[Last year] we had about 30 people show up for the dinner itself … we also invite people around campus at the end when handing out leftovers," Saha, a Lovett College junior, said. "Thanksgiving can be a very lonely time for FGLI students on campus ... Students meet new people [at Questgiving]. Sometimes, [Questgiving] is people's first interaction with the Questbridge chapter."

Students can access the Student Success Initiative's pantry in the student center between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday for non-perishable foods, but it will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.

Jingwen Hu, a Will Rice College junior, said that campus itself can be very quiet over the holiday. Hu, who stayed on campus for Thanksgiving break last year, said she wished there was more to do on campus.

"[Thanksgiving break] was really empty, there was no one on campus," Hu said. "It would be nice to have other things going on so campus would be more lively".

]]>
<![CDATA[TEDxRiceU conference addresses climate change]]> TEDxRiceU held its Countdown event this past Saturday, focusing on combating climate change. The event, composed of six talks given by both faculty and students, addressed the issue of climate change through wscientific, technological and social perspectives, according to TEDxRiceU President Nicholas Ma.

"We have speakers talking about other technical things such as what is a greenhouse gas, what other greenhouse gasses there are besides carbon dioxide, but we also have speakers who are talking about their personal relation to the environment, to the climate," Ma, a McMurtry College sophomore, said.

The event was sponsored by both the Rice Environmental Society and the Rice Green Fund, a part of Rice Sustainability. Richard Johnson, executive director for Rice Sustainability, said that he hopes that attendees will leave this talk thinking about solutions to climate change.

"Despite the enormity of the challenge of climate change, we have the opportunity to implement economically viable solutions now that will help us to avoid a planetary climate catastrophe and that will also contribute to a healthier, cleaner, fairer and more economically robust society," Johnson said.

Marina Klein, a member of RES, said that the different perspectives highlighted in this talk will make it relevant to a wider audience.

"Everything you could think of is a part of climate change. Having these talks given by people who are from all sorts of disciplines [and] backgrounds helps to show how relevant it is to everyone who's listening," Klein, a McMurtry sophomore, said.

After a brief introduction, the event was kicked off by Dr. Sylvia Dee, an assistant professor in Rice's earth, environmental and planetary sciences department. Her talk focused on the urgency of climate change and how to approach it, both in terms of solutions and discussion.

Dee said she hoped that people would leave her talk knowing that climate change is solvable.

"It doesn't really matter what you study or what you care about. You should expect to be impacted by climate change," Dee said. "We need all hands on deck, and so now it's not the time to become apathetic. Now is the time to charge all of the students with thinking about solutions, and how they might be able to contribute to solutions via their own careers using their own skill sets."

Dee was followed by Jack Pearce, a McMurtry junior, who spoke about the different technologies being developed for climate change.

"We are at a point in technology and research where we're starting to see people piecing together these large conglomerated systems into even more extensive tools that people can use [to learn about climate change]," Pearce said. "There's a role for data and systems within here, and that role is empowering."

After Pearce, Shikhar Verma, a junior from Duncan College, and founder of the Rice New Energy Fund, spoke about the financial effects of climate change, based on his experience in RNEF.

"I think there's a lot of ways you can [look at climate change]. You can be really anxious and say, well, it's gonna get warmer, and things aren't gonna get better," Verma said "Or you can take the view that I tried to take, which is that there's this huge challenge, and humanity's always risen up to this challenge."

A cappella group, Chimes, performed after the 15-minute intermission, which was followed by Taylor Gilliam, a senior from Sid Richardson College. Gilliam's talk, which also included poetry, focused on the social aspect of climate change, including how it plays into the conversation of topics such as race and gender.

"There's certainly urgency within the climate situation that we are in today, and what concrete changes need to be made through not only our infrastructure but the critical consciousness that our communities and our society has towards climate issues," Gilliam said. "I've tackled different social injustices related to race or to gender or to sexual orientation or whatever else in the world. I can't do any of that if the Earth is on fire, right?"

Gilliam was followed by Andrew Slaughter, the former executive director at the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, who spoke about the impacts of greenhouse gasses.

"Methane is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but it also causes a more potent greenhouse effect than CO2," Slaughter said. "If you concentrate on cutting back methane emissions, now and in the next few years, you kind of buy more time to deal with the CO2 problem."

The event closed with a talk by Daniel Cohan, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering. Cohan, whose talk was based on his book, "Confronting Climate Gridlock," said he hopes his talk will address the steps needed to address climate change and give people hope despite the gravity of the situation.

"The actions that we take not only reduce our own emissions, but they can catalyze the growth of clean energy for many of the most pivotal technologies. The more quickly we deploy them, the faster their costs can drop," Cohan said. "If we address this challenge in the right way, we can actually have a future that in many ways is better than the world that I grew up [in]."

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: SoFaygo's debut 'Pink Heartz' fails to impress]]> Rating: ★★

Top Track: Stay Awake

SoFaygo's music exists somewhere on the musical scale between the feel-good melodic trap of Lil Tecca and the sometimes incoherent, but always energetic, flow of Yeat. Like many artists of the current day, SoFaygo experienced an almost overnight boom in popularity when ear-catching melodies went viral on social media app TikTok via songs such as "Knock Knock." What separates SoFaygo from his contemporaries, though, has been his lack of any new projects since fame - SoFaygo has been largely silent since his last EP in late 2020, "After Me." "Pink Heartz" marks SoFaygo's highly anticipated debut project under Houston's very own Cactus Jack record label headed by Travis Scott. "Pink Heartz" continues an application of SoFaygo's formula for crisp, melodic vocals over 808s and delicate synths with a mixed bag of results.

The main failing point of "Pink Heartz" is that SoFaygo simply lacks the vocal content to fill his grandiose production choices. Most of the cuts start out decently - SoFaygo (or his sound engineer) has mastered the ability of creating short melodies that stick with the listener. However, he quickly gets settled into the beat and rarely changes his flow or vocal patterns, making for a boring listening experience. This means that there is little to differentiate between SoFaygo's verses and hooks in "Pink Heartz," with most songs lacking direction.

SoFaygo also heavily relies on ad-libs and other vocal sounds such as humming to fill space. The songs are simply too long (the majority clocking in at over three minutes) for the limited lyrical content that SoFaygo and his collaborators are able to generate, and his filler vocals fail to add any value to the songs. Much of SoFaygo's vocals are analogous to an essay that needlessly stretches sentences to meet its word count. Instead of adding substance, SoFaygo effectively repeats himself until the beat stops.

This is not to say the album does not have its high moments. "Stay Awake" is a standout track, featuring rap veteran Lil Uzi Vert and a rage beat reminiscent of production often utilized by Trippie Redd. In addition to the strong production choice, "Stay Awake" uses vocal breaks to build momentum rather than lull listeners into sleep, and it shows SoFaygo crafting the catchy melodies that propelled him to stardom in the first place, with enough variation in pitch and rhythm to keep the listening experience exciting.

Another interesting cut is "Took Off", which features DJ Khaled unsurprisingly spewing semi-motivational nonsense in free form at the beginning of the track. Despite the track clocking in at four and a half minutes, stellar production via Pharell and a Gunna feature on the backend help maintain the song's momentum. SoFaygo is also at his melodic prime with soothing vocals that make for an easy listening experience.

"Pink Heartz" largely falls short of its high expectations. Most cuts on the project are sonically flat, largely failing to build to anything greater than the first melody SoFaygo lands on in any given song. Although he has shown to be adept at crafting ear-catching melodies, SoFaygo's reliance on adlibs and production highlight his inability to craft music with thought and intention, and cast doubt on his place in the Cactus Jack lineup or in the growing number of rap contemporaries with a similar sound. In the album's intro, SoFaygo raps, "I told my fans I'm gon' drop soon, some things can't be rushed." And, although he is true to his word, perhaps "Pink Heartz" is proof that more time spent does not always equate to quality.

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Nas and Hit-Boy continue to amaze on 'King's Disease III']]> Rating: ★★★★½

Top Track: "Til My Last Breath"

In two years, Nas has blessed us with four albums that demonstrate why he is one of the best rappers to touch a microphone. "King's Disease III" continues his four-album run of collaborations with producer Hit-Boy, a combination that has continued to elicit greatness from all involved.

Rap is still relatively young, so there haven't been too many examples of aging legends in the genre. Nas returned for just two albums in the 2010s, but his work with Hit-Boy has reenergized him into a new era of productivity. Nas sounds reinvigorated and is at the top of his game on "King's Disease III." He doesn't need anybody else to prove his greatness, delivering a featureless album, a rarity in rap and his first without any guests since 2002.

The album begins with "Ghetto Reporter," a track in which Nas describes the state of rap and his own career over a meticulously crafted piano loop that propels the song forward. Nas describes how rap has changed and just how different he is from what you see today, addressing how he may not have the streams that many more mainstream current rappers have but that he has "real people tappin' in," the people who can appreciate his lyricism and dedication to rap as an art form.

The track is followed by "Legit," which is based on a beautiful soul sample from "The Five Heartbeats," a 1991 movie that follows a fictional, Motown-inspired vocal group. Nas discusses how far he's come from his upbringing in the Queensbridge Houses, the project where he grew up, while giving advice to other artists. The sample and references to "The Five Heartbeats" reflect a different, sadder journey in music that Nas cautions against.

One of the highlights of the album is "Thun." The title refers to the accented pronunciation of "Son" native to Queensbridge. "Thun" makes numerous references to Queens legends who Nas knew or looked up to in his youth. Nas also references his old drama with Jay-Z: "​​No beef or rivals, they playin' 'Ether' on Tidal / Brothers can do anythin' when they decide to." "Ether" is Nas' most well known diss track towards Jay-Z, while Tidal is a streaming service that was owned by Jay-Z until 2021. Nas additionally says he texts Jay jokingly while "dissectin' bars from 'Takeover,'" a diss track addressed to Nas himself. You can see the maturity Nas gained through years of being in the music industry throughout the track as he raps over an orchestral sample.

Another track that instantly catches your attention is the bonus track, "Til My Last Breath," which closes the album. From the sample choice to its position at the end of the album, "Til My Last Breath" references the New York Mets, Nas' hometown baseball team. The central sample is Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet's "Narco," which is used as the walk-up song for Mets closing pitcher Edwin Diaz.

The trumpet from "Narco" is instantly recognizable to people who have seen Diaz come into a game and is incredibly satisfying when combined with Nas' vocals. Lyrically, the song continues to reference Nas' success and his recent productivity.

On "Michael & Quincy," Nas makes the comparison: "Like Quincy on the trumpet, Hit-Boy on a drum kit / Nasty like Mike on the vocals, I overdub it (Shamone)." With the run that he and Hit-Boy have been on, such a comparison makes sense. His collaboration with Hit-Boy has elicited Nas' best work in years.

"King's Disease III" displays the full prowess of Nas, one of the legends of 90s rap, and continues to show why he deserves a spot in among the top ten rappers. His reflective lyricism, combined with Hit-Boy's excellent and kinetic sample choices, leads to an addicting listen that continues to amaze.

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: 'Smithereens' is an interlude between Joji albums]]> Coming off of his previous hit albums, Joji's "Smithereens" felt like a half-cooked and overhyped EP rather than a sequel album to rival his previous release.

The album's opener, "Glimpse of Us," is a strong melodic opening and sets the album's theme of missing an ex. The rich instrumentals and cutting lyrics work to create a telling story: the idea of a perfect ex-lover.

The rest of the first disc carries on with this theme, with "Die For You" mentioning extreme sacrifices for this past partner complemented nicely with a moody atmospheric instrumental. This is one of the few tracks that felt like it had actual effort and production put in. Although most of us wouldn't die for our exes, many of the lyrics are resonant. Whether it's your wallpaper, photo gallery or Instagram album, "burning photos" is something we've all been through. And for those polite breakups for incompatible relationships, the chorus of hearing "you're happy without me, and I hope it's true" is initially hard to stomach but accurate for those wishing well for their previous partner.

However, the other songs in the disc end up feeling like filler. Tracks such as "Feeling Like The End" and "Before The Day Is Over" have some fresh instrumental backing and lyrical ideas but eventually fall flat and fade out. One of the greatest offenders is "Dissolve," which only offers uninteresting instrumentals and grating autotune vocals. The thought of "are we counting sheep until we dissolve?" provides some engaging imagery of relatable sleepless nights, but these three tracks need to be fleshed out significantly before they stop feeling like they were only meant to fill time in the album.

This trend continues in the second disc with "NIGHT RIDER," which is about Joji trying to explore and find adventure and failing to convince his partner to come with, leaving him "too precious" to be hurt again and instead waiting for his previous partner. This is also the only song with Joji as the sole producer. However, production feels dry, again, much like the rest of the album.

Offsetting all the filler is "YUKON (INTERLUDE)," a highlight of a track supporting Joji in his aimless driving and excessive emotions. This song is reminiscent of many post-breakup escapism scenes, where it doesn't really matter what you're doing or where you're going as long as your mind is focused on something mundane. For Joji, that might mean driving anywhere else or doing "circles at the Chevron" in his GMC Yukon.

Closing off the disc and album is "1AM FREESTYLE," in which a dissonant, slightly out-of-tune piano backs up Joji's vocals as he convinces his partner she'll be alone without him. Interestingly, this freestyle song is one of a few in the album that Joji did not contribute to in writing or production. The instrumental pause is a really sweet moment and proves that Joji's musicality is alive and well, before leaving listeners with a somber "I don't wanna be alone."

Many of the songs have unmemorable melodies (if there even is one), like "Dissolve" or "Night Rider," and they end with underwhelming production. Even after listening to the album many times, I still could not hum the melody in these tracks.

With under 20 minutes of new song content, "Smithereens" has many lazy and inoffensive filler tracks in between some well-written music. As such, this album feels less diverse and robust than Joji's older albums.

Perhaps taking after Joji's love life, "Smithereens" is short and a little messy. With his next release, Joji can hopefully find his footing and get it just right.

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: 'Wakanda Forever' is a compelling and poignant tribute]]> Rating: ★★★★½

"In my culture, death is only the beginning." King T'Challa, or Black Panther, says this after the death of his father in "Captain America: Civil War," and in many ways "Wakanda Forever" is a film that embodies that saying from start to finish. Though likely not the box-office sensation that "Black Panther" was, "Wakanda Forever" still meets its predecessor in story, quality and acting, and even exceeds it in other areas.

Any discussion of this movie must include an homage to the late Chadwick Boseman, whose performance as the Black Panther resonated with many. Given his tragic and untimely passing in late 2020, it was difficult to see how any sequel could live up to that mantle while addressing such a great loss, but "Wakanda Forever" is able to do this with grace.

The movie opens with T'Challa's funeral. Though the tragedy is palpable, the depiction of his funeral as both a moment of mourning and a celebration of both the character and the actor's lives may be one of the most touching film moments in recent memory.

After this, "Wakanda Forever" continues to be a much more personal film than its predecessor. While the main conflict is between Wakanda and Talokan, an Atlantean-like civilization near the Yucatan, the heart of the film focuses on T'Challa's younger sister Shuri's journey through grief over her brother's loss. Letitia Wright's performance in this role is spectacular, and sometimes it was easy to forget that she is acting. By the end of the film, the audience will feel as if they have gone through a small part of this journey themselves.

In addition to Letitia Wright's standout performance, Tenoch Huerta also impresses. His performance as the antagonist Namor makes for one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. and a much different character than "Black Panther"'s villain Killmonger. While Killmonger is one of the most compelling villains the MCU has ever had, Namor fits a more traditional comic book villain archetype. Though there are some political undertones in his motivations, they are not as pronounced, and I doubt that his motivations will draw the same amount of discussion and debate that Killmonger's did. This is not to say that Namor is an underdeveloped villain - in fact, in terms of pure danger, he is one of the best that the MCU has had. From his introduction, the antagonist always feels deadly, and at points it is difficult to see how Shuri and the Wakandans can overcome this threat. Huerta's performance is arresting and helps carry the film.

Aside from great acting, "Wakanda Forever" is visually one of the best films of the year with excellent directing from Ryan Coogler. The visual design of Wakanda remains strong, and new locations like the underwater Talokan feel like their own separate worlds. The film's soundtrack and set design are also impressive, and the costume design should be contending for an Oscar come February.

I wholeheartedly recommend this movie which is the best Marvel movie since "Avengers: Endgame." A spectacle from start to finish, the film is a compelling tribute to Boseman, one of the most influential actors of his generation, while giving us a well-developed story with an excellent antagonist. There is no sophomore slump here - audiences should be delighted by "Wakanda Forever."

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Lindsey Lohan's holiday flick 'Falling for Christmas' fails to sleigh ]]> Rating: ★★½

It is time. The temperature has cooled, Christmas trees are replacing pumpkins and boughs of holly are adorning the hallways. For some, the holiday season means gift giving, gathering with family and friends or decorating gingerbread houses. For others, holiday festivities mean sipping hot chocolate while enjoying highly predictable, profusely cheesy Christmas romance movies.

Incontestably, "Falling for Christmas," released Nov. 10 on Netflix, falls into this category. The plot follows the most basic, formulaic Hallmark movie storyline, with spoiled hotel heiress Sierra Belmont (Lindsay Lohan) as the main protagonist and charming, small town lodge owner Jake Russell (Chord Overstreet) as her love interest. Of course, in typical holiday romance fashion, Jake is a widow, living with his overly optimistic daughter Avy (Olivia Monet Perez) and charitable mother-in-law Alejandra (Alejandra Flores).

At the beginning of the movie, Sierra has never worked a day in her life - her father Beauregard (Jack Wagner) envisions her working in his hotel business in the future, but she desperately wants to be known for more than her father's last name. Unluckily, she fell off a cliff immediately after her self-obsessed boyfriend Tad (George Young) proposed, resulting in the perfect meet cute between her and Jake. Upon discovering her body in a pile of snow, Jake takes Sierra to a local health clinic in Summit Springs, where she is diagnosed with amnesia.

Left with no trace of her identity, Sierra's only option is to take up Jake's offer and recover at North Star Lodge, where she eventually learns to find beauty in the so-called simpler things in life, such as making her own bed and exploring the town market for the first time.

Although many people were enthusiastic about Lohan's return to acting, the initial excitement was drained by the pair's lackluster chemistry and cheesy acting techniques. With any holiday rom-com, the acting is bound to be corny, but the cringe-worthy acting coupled with stereotypical, uninteresting characters made me feel like I was receiving coal as a Christmas present: appealing gift wrapping on the outside, yet disappointing and dull on the inside.

While Sierra experienced major character development, Jake's character remained stagnant as he maintained his "Average White Guy" persona. For someone who lost his wife two years ago, there were minimal moments where Jake actually revealed more about his emotional connection with his deceased wife. Because of this, this part of the story was underdeveloped, and Jake's character ultimately lacked the depth necessary to evoke any holiday blues.

Despite these critiques, the film seamlessly integrates the holiday spirit with several heart-warming scenes. A particular scene that moved me was when Sierra helped plan a Christmas fundraising party, "Remembering Christmas," to raise money for the North Star Lodge. Guests from past years shared their personal stories about how the small town lodge positively impacted their lives. With this, audiences are reminded of what the Christmas spirit truly embodies - generosity, community and kindness.

With the same stories being told repeatedly, "Falling for Christmas" does little to distinguish itself from the long line of Hallmark movies that come before it. However, this film is perfect for those craving the early holiday spirit and a cheesy, predictable storyline. It might even be worth the watch just to see Lohan belt "Jingle Bell Rock" as a subtle homage to her previous acting work in "Mean Girls."

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Steeper prices grill Burger Bodega]]> Salt, fat, acid, heat. When evaluating a hamburger, the first two elements of cooking are essential. In fact, they become non-negotiable in cases where the burger is priced above average. In addition to salt and fat, places that strive to serve high-end fast food must deliver on both quality and price. A new competitor has recently taken on the challenge: Burger Bodega, a pop art-inspired Houston restaurant offering a small menu of burgers, fries and shakes, all at higher price points.

Located about a 20-minute drive north of Rice campus, the yellow and white storefront marks the restaurant's first permanent location, as it was originally founded as a smash burger pop-up in Houston. The pop-up acquired a large following on social media which built up hype for the new store, which officially opened Nov. 3. Since opening night, the restaurant has frequently sold out before closing, and wait times have lasted up to an hour or longer. Compared to traditional fast food burger franchises - think Whataburger, McDonalds and In-N-Out - Burger Bodega is steeper in price, offering items like a $6.50 mango lassi shake and $8.95 fries with chopped beef and cheese sauce. Thus, I had to see for myself if the higher pricing was actually worth it.

Let's cut to the chase: the burger is good, not fabulous. I ordered the smash burger-double priced at $9.95, which arrives with a potato bun, homemade pickles, grilled onions and bodega sauce. The meat itself is indeed smashed into extremely thin gyro-like patties, so I highly recommend ordering at least a double or triple burger. The potato bun reminded me of Shake Shack's signature bun, which is almost identical in size and taste. Similarly, the bodega sauce closely resembles In-N-Out's secret sauce, embodying tomato, mayo and sweet relish flavors. The burger is less greasy than franchise peers and you can taste its higher quality; however, it fails to justify its steeper price since it essentially tastes like a Shake Shack burger.

I also ordered Burger Bodega's standard fries priced at $3.50, but there are two other versions with interesting toppings like bell peppers and onions starting at $5.95. The fries are fairly traditional, arriving standard cut and undersalted.

Everything at Burger Bodega is high quality and delicious, but the burger especially is not the best value for your budget and time. That being said, the staff, ambience and interior decor are impeccable. Expect lo-fi hip hop, friendly and fast service, neon-lit bar stools and custom pop art decor reminiscent of Andy Warhol. If you are a burger fanatic, it is at least worth a visit to try something new and experience the modern, unique ambience. Otherwise, you're probably better off going to Shake Shack.

]]>
<![CDATA[Rock On, Rice: KTRU to host Battle of the Bands]]> This Friday night, student bands from across campus will take their places under Pub's blinding lights and face off in this year's Battle of the Bands. The battle, which will begin at 7 p.m., is being hosted by KTRU and the Rice Music Collective, and its winners will get to perform at the KTRU Outdoor Show in the spring.

Matthew Sun and his band, Breakable Men, will be among the groups vying for the crown. According to Sun, the return of the Battle of the Bands has already had galvanizing effects on Rice musicians.

"I think this event has promoted a lot of people to try [to] form bands," Sun, a McMurtry College sophomore, said. "I've had so many friends reach out to me and be like, 'Hey, I'm starting a band for this Battle of the Bands thing.' So I think this is a positive development for the Rice music scene."

Thelonious Mercy, a sophomore from Martel College, is one such example. His band has only been together for a few weeks but plans on competing in Battle of the Bands. Mercy says the connection between performers and audiences is what drives him to share his music with others.

"Playing music is something I'm very sensitive about. Going up on stage is terrifying because I'm showing this part of myself that I usually don't like showing off," Mercy said. "So I feel like there is a connection you have with the audience, like, you saw me do this thing that I'm kind of insecure about."

For organizer Ethan Perryman, the artist-audience connection fostered by live music is particularly meaningful when both groups come from within the Rice community. He said that this year's event will mark the first time the competition has happened since the pandemic began.

"[It's exciting to be] blurring the line between the performers and the audience and having it be your friends [or] people from your college or your club or your O-Week group that are up there on stage playing," Perryman, a Baker College senior, said.

Mercy shares Perryman's sentiment. For him, the Battle of the Bands and similar events are opportunities to learn new things about his peers.

"Everyone knows each other [at Rice]," Mercy said. "You'll have people go up and you'll be like, 'Oh, yeah, that guy's in my SOCI class. I didn't know he could shred on an electric guitar.'"

As much as the Battle of the Bands will nurture community, it's still a competition. Teddy Hubbard, a member of the band Rice and Beans, welcomes the competitive atmosphere.

"If it's just a concert and your friends are there supporting you, you can mess up or play not your best and they'll still support you because they're your friends," Hubbard, a Wiess College sophomore, said. "But if it's a Battle of the Bands and there's judges and you're playing against other really good musicians, [you get] that extra sense of drive."

Sun said he's noticed the effects of competition in his own band as well and hopes to make the experience engaging for the audience.

"I know [the Battle of the Bands] has definitely pushed our band to be better," Sun said. "We want to play tighter, we want to write more interesting songs, we want to play parts that are unexpected, we want to get our energy up."

]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo grapples with life, death and art]]> America's first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, stopped by Rice's Brockman Hall for a reading of her newly published poetry collection, "Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: 50 Poems for 50 Years," on the rainy evening of Monday, Nov. 14. Followingthe reading was an on-stage conversation with 2022 Texas Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez, during which Harjo shared harrowingly intimate details of her view on art, life, death and loss.

The opera hall was warmed by a packed audience of poetry enthusiasts holding the first edition of the celebrated poet's new selection published this November, which consists of the best poems across decades of her influential career. Harjo began the night discussing her revelation of the symmetry and spiritual connection between her favorite art forms: poetry and music.

"In our Muskogee Creek community, we have songs for everything," Harjo said. "I think all of us did, and we've lost touch with that - songs for getting out, songs for making a good grade on paper, songs to help the plants, songs for grief, songs for joy. That is poetry."

Unsurprisingly, Harjo is also a musician herself. For the reading of one of her poems, "Grace," Harjo rendered it as a song and performed the poem chanting in a slow, melodic tune. She later shares that her passion for music actually preceded her love for poetry.

"I had no plans to be a poet, I was always an artist. I was not a word person, although I read constantly," Harjo said. "[My journey started] when I heard Native poets and heard that they were writing about our lives, but in the small, well-crafted little moments. I just started writing, and it took over. It made no sense at all … but my poetry spirit is very strong."

Many of the poems Harjo writes grapple with the themes of loss and grief. Words carry strength and impact, Harjo believes, so she is intentional with her power to write poems and hopes to send positivity into the world.

"I wrote ["Creation Story"] when a beloved poet friend passed. But it was also about our country. It's about a family. It's about the importance, again, of words," Harjo said. "It's hard to write these kinds of poems … I was thinking about how this country will continue, how our families will continue given all of the assaults, the various discrimination, our children dealing with [drugs such as fentanyl] … and thinking about what kind of story is this and yet always believing in that thread of love that goes through everything."

Throughout her 50 years as a poet, Harjo has witnessed many changes both in the industry and in the world in general. It is only natural for Harjo to use her words to reconcile with the cultural shifts in modern society due to reasons such as technology and social media.

"I like the availability of the digital [age] … But as human beings, we need food, clothing and shelter. We also need to feed our minds nourishment, not TickTock," Harjo said. "It cuts your attention, it infects your story-gathering, it cuts it into little pieces."

Harjo does appreciate at least one thing about the digital age though, which is the increasing access Native American poets have to the general public.

"All the Native poets that we see now are part of the [conversation]. That was not the case when I was coming up as a poet," Harjo said "Even the best Native poets, you will not see them, or the best Chicano poets. If you didn't see us, you didn't see us in the national press being published by big publishers. For the most part, we weren't able to cross the threshold. It was very rare and did not do it very easily and nicely. That has changed. There are still struggles. But now … we have more of a voice."

Looking into the future of her already celebrated journey as a poet, Harjo says she is considering slowing down.

"I'm thinking, 50 years, I could let go at this point," Harjo said. "I feel like I've fulfilled one part of what I was put here to do, but there's another whole round of things to do. I've got music I'm working on, et cetera … I've gotten to that place where I need a little bit of rest. But I also believe that, you know, I always think I'm going to be doing my best work. I have plenty of time to rest after I'm dead."

]]>
<![CDATA[Houston film festival highlights local trailblazers]]> The Houston Cinema Arts Festival, now running in theaters from Nov. 10 to 17, is a celebration of both the global and local film communities, highlighting trailblazing documentaries, outsider narratives and innovative short films. In a film landscape typically defined to most people by the various megaplexes scattered around the city, the festival is bringing a necessarily diverse set of voices and perspectives into the spotlight.

Jazmyne Moreno, the festival's lead programmer, attempted to capture the cosmopolitan spirit of Houston while simultaneously pushing boundaries and highlighting unique voices.

"I aimed to make my curation for the festival reflect as much of Houston's identity as possible," Moreno said. "I did not want my curation to look like an outsider's perspective on the city. Houston's film-going audience is different, and that is a strength to be embraced, encouraged and explored."

Capturing both the attention and core of a Texas city through the programming was not unfamiliar for Moreno, who has previously worked with the Austin Film Society.

"I wanted to export a bit of what I do in my role at Austin Film Society: showcasing films I believe push the boundaries of the medium and upend audience expectations," Moreno said. "Film, as any art, should inspire you to question."

This deliberate focus on challenging and thought-provoking films created a unique lineup that placed the spotlight on people of color, queer stories and female-driven talent, bringing films to Houston that may otherwise be inaccessible. Moreno said this goal to spotlight marginalized groups through film was an undeniable success. She noted that the Houston audiences were accepting and receptive, though Houston itself did pose some challenges.

"The biggest difference between [Austin and Houston] is perhaps Houston's fragmentation. Houston lacks a centering hub for its film community, but the passion is the same, if not more gracious," Moreno said. "There are programs you envision and cut due to cost, availability, venues … It's never quite as you imagine, but the promise of what could be is the mirage in the distance that you're forever reaching for, a constant source of frustration and inspiration."

While these challenges may have posed some roadblocks, the festival still managed to achieve its goal of presenting new films to the Houston community, as well as being engaging for filmmakers. Jenny Waldo, a filmmaker and film professor at Houston Community College, held an in-person script reading for her upcoming film "Martha's Mustang."

While Waldo is not a Houston native, she said that she was immediately welcomed into the film community. Her previous feature, "Acid Test," was screened at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival last year, and the short film it was based on was shot in Houston. This local connection has brought Waldo a narrative that she is exploring in her new film.

"Somebody brought the story to me after the short film 'Acid Test,' and introduced me to Martha," Waldo said. "It's all about community. If I hadn't made a film in Houston, I wouldn't have been introduced to the story, I wouldn't have interviewed those around Martha and I wouldn't have been able to write the script."

Waldo said that she was happy with the way the Cinema Arts Festival exposed new and local films. She also had ideas on how to engage Houston audiences after the festival.

"We have to make the effort to go. I try to make the effort to engage as often as I can with the various groups that exist," Waldo said. "I think fostering groups working together is important, but without cooperation they are splitting their audience, whereas aligning would create a bigger audience."

Moreno echoed this sentiment, and said she wants to encourage Houston film fans to continue to support these events.

"There are many great organizations made of people doing the work of showing films," Moreno said. "Attend. The opportunities are here - seek them out."

]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Concert battle pits Paul Wall against Gary Clark Jr.]]> Texas music was alive and well last Thursday night, when Houston rap legend Paul Wall "battled" Austin-based, Grammy-winning guitarist Gary Clark Jr. in a Red Bull SoundClash. The stage set-up accentuated the two artists' home cities: Clark's stage sported a brick building with classic Austin signage - a marquee and a neon Antone's sign for the city's famed live music venue - and Wall's stage featured a massive Houston Oilers logo and Houston skyline cutouts.

The concert itself was unlike any other I've been to, though I suppose that's to be expected at a battle-of-the-bands-esque show. One of my favorite parts of the night was watching the artist not performing react to their counterpart, whether that was Clark swaying to Wall's rhymes or Wall singing along to Clark's cover of The Beatles' "Come Together."

The competition itself was certainly entertaining, but at times it tried to do too much. The takeover round, in which an artist began playing one of their songs before the other took over halfway through, was only memorable because I got to hear Paul Wall sing. The clash round, where they played their own songs in different musical styles, was largely forgettable, aside from Wall's performance of a slow, country-ified version of "Swangin in the Rain."

Competition-induced mediocrity aside, the concert was incredible. Clark is a guitar wizard, and watching him perform live was nothing short of remarkable. Wall, for his part, performed all of his classic songs, and brought out a number of Houston rappers as surprise guests, including Maxo Kream, Lil Keke, Big Pokey and Slim Thug. At one point, after Clark brought out his second guest on only his fourth song of the night, Clark threw his hands up in "frustration," as if Wall's guests would give him an edge in the theoretical competition that was taking place. I say theoretical because no winner was announced, though Wall did state "there's no way I won that" after the last notes had been played.

Still, the best part of the night by far happened during Wall's last song. During his verse in "Still Tippin," the speakers on Wall's stage cut out and the background music stopped. After a momentary pause, in which the DJ shrugged in confusion, Wall turned back toward the crowd and began rapping a cappella. The crowd joined in instantly, providing a beautiful moment of Houston rap community on which to end the night. For that moment alone, despite Clark musically wiping the floor with Wall - an assertion to which I'm certain Wall would not object - I think it's only fair to declare Wall the winner of the SoundClash.

]]>
<![CDATA[Volleyball gets final chance to reverse the C-USA tournament curse]]> Even though they've won 48 of their last 50 conference regular season games, the Rice volleyball team has not won a Conference USA tournament since 2018. After three straight years as the conference's runners-up, the Owls will finally look to reverse their fortunes in what will be their final postseason in C-USA. This year, the No. 22 Owls enter the tournament with an almost perfect conference record of 13-1, and 23-3 overall. According to head coach Genny Volpe, the team is excited to jump into postseason volleyball.

"We are very excited to be competing in the C-USA Tournament," Volpe said. "It's our last season in C-USA, and we obviously want a chance to win the tournament and earn the auto bid to the NCAA's."

Each of their last three C-USA Tournament appearances have ended with the Owls losing to Western Kentucky University in the championship game. Although they continue to fall short of winning the coveted conference trophy, Volpe said that the past losses won't impact the mindset going into the weekend.

"Nothing really changes for us," Volpe said. "This is a different year, and a different team."

This year, however, is similar to previous years in that plenty of signs point to a fourth straight meeting between Western Kentucky and Rice. The two teams enter the tournament as the top two seeds, after going a combined 27-0 against the rest of the conference. In their lone meeting of the year, the Hilltoppers won a five-set nailbiter, ruining the Owls' perfect conference record.

Although the Owls had a solid showing in the loss, Volpe said that if the teams meet later in the year, the defense will determine if the Owls can defeat their C-USA rival.

"We did a lot of really good things in the match vs WKU," Volpe said. "But … we [need to] find a way to slow down Lauren Matthews a little more. She is a very good player and likely an All-American this year, so we will need to bring our best defensive play against them if we face them again."

However Volpe doesn't want to look that far ahead. While they haven't lost to a conference opponent other than the Hilltoppers since 2018, the Owls needed five sets to beat their opponents five times in conference play this season, their most in years. Volpe said that the team needs to focus on each match to ensure they avoid an upset.

"We just would really like to bring back that trophy," Volpe said. "But we more than anything need to take one match at a time."

Led by middle blocker Anota Adekunle and setter Carly Graham, both multiple-time first-team all-conference honorees, the Owls' senior class has been instrumental to their success this season. Volpe said that nothing would be more special than seeing them end their decorated Rice careers hoisting the conference trophy.

"I would absolutely love for these seniors to earn that championship," Volpe said. "They are a class act on and off the court. Nobody deserves it more than them, but they will have to go out and get that championship and work really hard for it."

The Owls, the No. 2 seed, start their tournament run against Florida International University, who they swept in their only meeting of the season. The opening serve is at 5 p.m. on Friday. If they win, they play the winner of the first-round matchup between the University of Texas, El Paso and University of North Carolina at Charlotte in Saturday's semi-final, with the championship match scheduled for Sunday.

]]>