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NEWS 1/18/16 11:36pm

Residential college networks upgraded

Nine of the residential colleges’ wired networks were upgraded over winter break to a more advanced system that will provide better security, called Identity Service Engine (ISE). The other two colleges, Duncan and McMurtry, had previously been upgraded this summer as part of a pilot program, according to William Deigaard, director of networking, telecommunications and data centers.

NEWS 12/11/15 10:46am

SA Initiative Fund awards $10K to student groups

The Blanket Tax Committee granted over $10,000 to student organizations through the first Initiatives Fund process since the blanket tax system restructure, according to Student Association Treasurer and Blanket Tax Committee member Sai Chilakapati.

NEWS 12/1/15 4:45pm

SA Initiative Fund awards $10K to student groups

The Blanket Tax Committee granted over $10,000 to student organizations through the first Initiatives Fund process since the blanket tax system restructure, according to Student Association Treasurer and Blanket Tax Committee member Sai Chilakapati. Twenty-four organizations submitted applications for funding to the BTC. According to Chilakapati, of the $57,568.96 total requested, 11 applications were approved and $10,345 was granted through the Initiative Fund. From political activists, campus fellowships to sports clubs, this year’s applicant pool represents the full spectrum of student organizations and their interests. Only five clubs received the full amount that they requested. Among them are the Boniuk Council, which received $200 to hold a forum on the issue of religion and sexuality; Design for America, which received $300 for “prototyping supplies” for their various projects; the SA’s Campus Appreciation Committee, which received $1,400 to hold an appreciation dinner for the H&D Staff; the American Red Cross, which received $425 to “train volunteers and Rice students in disaster preparedness”; and the Rally Club, which received $3,870 to fund the various tailgates and events that they hold.  According to Chilakapati, the Blanket Tax Committee made decisions based on the following criteria, in order of importance: campus wide spirit and programming, student health and wellbeing, community engagement, activism at Rice and networking and mentoring. According to Chilakapati, this criteria was established in accordance to results from previous year’s Survey of All Students.Chilakapati said organizations that were not approved for Initiative funding were referred to the Student Activities Programming Fund. “[The Initiative Fund is] different in the sense that we hope to support student-related programming that enhance campus spirit, expand educational and cultural opportunities, and provide opportunities that otherwise seem valuable to students and also fall in the realm of initiatives,” Chilakapati explains. “SAPP, as well as other sources of funding on campus, and the Initiative Fund work hand in hand to ensure that there is no overlap in funding appropriation.”A number of organizations, spanning a wide range in amount requested, failed to receive any funding. For example, Pre-Dental Society requested $25 for a club tour of UT Health’s Dental School. Rice Eclipse, an engineering club, applied for $10,850 to finance the group’s effort to construct a hybrid rocket. According to Chilakapati, five organizations requested amounts exceeding $3,000; some were rejected and others were amended, with only Rally Club receiving the full funding exceeding $3,000. Activism@Rice was declined any funding of the $9,000 requested for a conference that aims to bring social justice activists together from across the Houston community. Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship requested $5,000 for the Evening of Elegance, a gala-style dance that was held on the same night as the Night on Decadence and was only granted $2,000, less than half of the funds requested. The SA Initiative Fund is a result of the spring 2015 restructured blanket tax funding structure. Each student provides $85 of his or her tuition towards the pot of gold and blanket tax organizations have priority on receiving the funding. Any remaining funds following this distribution goes toward the Initiative Fund. 

NEWS 12/1/15 4:44pm

Architecture alumni found startup to improve refugee living conditions

The United Nations recently reported that almost 60 million refugees have fled their homes in response to conflict or natural disaster. Rice School of Architecture graduate alumni Sam Brisendine (’14) and Scott Key (’15) are working to address the difficult living conditions refugees face. Brisendine and Key have designed a product called Emergency Floor, which allows refugee camp residents to live on an elevated floor. Brisendine and Key are the co-founders of the company Good Works Studio. By utilizing wooden pallets (initially used for food transportation) and plastic covering slides, the floor they designed offers a cost-effective and innovative solution to keep refugees from living off of the ground — protecting them from flooding waters, disease-infested dirt and cold temperatures.Good Works Studio and Emergency Floor have gained national recognition, being featured in publications such as Huffington Post, Forbes, ArchDaily and DesignBoom.Upon designing Emergency Floor, the duo launched Good Works Studio Inc. through OwlSpark, a program that assists the Rice community with their business startups.A crowdsourced funding campaign this summer on IndieGoGo raised over $52,000. The campaign’s success allowed Good Works to receive a grant from the United States Agency for International Development. Brisendine said pilot tests take up the majority of the company’s funds.  The first pilot conducted for Emergency Floor was installed in an uninhabited area of Sweden; after this preliminary pilot, the floor was cleared for inhabited areas. The next pilot will be domestically in Montana, which according to Brisendine, was selected because it can mirror a winter temperature similar to that which many refugee camps face abroad. “We wanted somewhere with a pronounced winter temperature,” Key said. “In colder climates, which happen to be where a lot of recent refugees are gathering, we believe our floors can have the greatest impact on health, not only physiological, but psychological as well.”According to Brisendine, the story of a certain Afghan refugee camp, which faced a combination of rainstorms and harsh temperatures, inspired the team to further pursue cold climate regions.“It froze [one] night, and a lot of people’s shelters flooded — they got wet, their stuff got wet,” Brisendine said. “A lot of people froze to death. There’s nowhere to go. It’s hard for us to imagine not having options and then just suffering at the level and not having somewhere to turn to. So, that was very motivating and definitely why we’ve targeted cold climates.” Key said that there is data supporting benefits of living on a clean floor rather than a dirt floor, but not on the benefits of a floor, from a thermal perspective, in a cold climate setting.“From the reporting that we read and news stories we consume, that seems to be really what’s plaguing a lot of these refugee camps — especially the combination of wet and cold,” Key said.According to Key, multiple pilots are also needed in order to collect data; pilots comprise of a conduction of pre- and post-installation surveys that report many variables, including overall user experience.“[We’re] really looking for changes in people’s health, their behavior — self-reported of course,” Brisendine said. “[We’re] looking for their feedback — how was it to install, how did this improve your life.”According to Brisendine, the results of the surveys allow the team to make improvements on their product. “Hopefully it’s going to put our product to the test [and] see where it fails,” Brisendine said. “[And] how we can best improve our product, maybe install it in a different way, or try new techniques to extend the life of the floor.”The next product from Good Works Studio will be a floor design similar to Emergency Floor, but designed for a more permanent solution. According to Key, refugees’ provisions in camps are not sustainable. He said the average duration of stay for a refugee in a refugee camp is 17 years.“They’re given shelters that are replaced one or more times a year — that kind of gives you an idea of the denial in terms of goods that are given over to refugees,” Brisendine said. “They don’t really acknowledge it being a permanent situation.”Brisendine said many countries will not admit their country’s situation is not a temporary one. This presents a challenge for Good Works Studio’s new and more permanent design.“Refugees’ host countries oftentimes have rules about how permanent dwellings can be, so our other flooring system, in some context, could be viewed as too permanent while in others, permanence is the goal,” Key said. Good Works Studio’s second product is hoped to be piloted in Ghana, summer 2016.“[We are] hoping the new product finds its way into more permanent dwellings that don’t have concrete floors — that’s a huge issue that’s out there and we think we have a clever solution for it,” Brisendine said.

NEWS 12/1/15 4:42pm

Rice senior selected as Rhodes scholar

Since a young age, Tom Carroll has cultivated a passion for both the sciences and humanities, which he will pursue next year through the Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford in England. Carroll is currently the president of Brown College and the president and co-founder of the Rice Classics Club. “I did a lot of Latin in high school, but I’ve also been a science fan,” Carroll, a Brown College senior, said. “My parents are both material scientists, so science was a pretty big part of my household growing up. Latin was kind of my rebellious phase, but it always stuck with me.” The Rhodes Scholarship, created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, provides all expenses for two to three years of study at Oxford. One of the most famous academic awards for American college graduates, the Rhodes selects 32 applicants on the basis of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service, according to the Rhodes press release. To apply, students must first seek endorsements from their universities. This year, 2000 students sought endorsements, and 869 were chosen by 316 different universities. The scholarship committees interview the strongest applicants in each of the 16 geographical U.S. districts and select two students per district.Carroll is the 12th Rhodes scholar from Rice University. The last Rice student to win the scholarship was Ye Jin Kang (Will Rice ’11) in 2011. Carroll, a biochemistry and classics double major, plans to complete a doctorate in clinical medicine, integrating his interests through the lens of cancer research.“I’ve done not only science research and classics, but also bioethics, mythology, just trying to get a taste of everything,”  Carroll said. “That’s really influenced how I do my science research, just different methods and trying the same problem from a lot of angles.”Carroll found overlap between different fields in their research methodologies. He is currently working in the field of tumor immunology, a crossroads between cancer and the function of the immune system. He is also researching his senior thesis, a study of Proto-Indo-European mythology and language. “People hypothesize it existed, but they’ve never seen it firsthand because it’s so old that there’s no written record of it,” Carroll said. “For something like this, when you’re looking at something you have so little information on, you have to take a lot of different angles to see the full picture.”By combining methods from various disciplines, Carroll hopes to be a part of the push to find a broad cure for cancer, rather than a specific treatment for a targeted therapy. “A lot of cancer researchers are doing great work in their own specialized field,” Carroll said. “But cancer is such a diverse entity, so heterogeneous, that it’s going to be difficult to arrive at a cure coming from one perspective.”Carroll, who has a family history of cancer, gets his motivation from helping the millions of families who are affected by cancer every year. “I’ve always had an idea that this is the direction I want to take with my career,” Carroll said. The Rhodes scholarship came to Carroll’s attention this summer. His interest in Oxford stemmed from its strength in cancer research, but also its other distinguished programs, particularly its classics department, which is the oldest in the world. “It’s a place where I can continue building on my set of broad perspectives,” Carroll said. “Continuing to challenge myself with ideas from a variety of fields is going to be key for my intellectual development, especially with the sort of research philosophy I’m looking to cultivate, and I think Oxford will be the ideal place to do just that.”

NEWS 12/1/15 4:38pm

Proposal impacts international student employment

In response to a proposed rule regarding the post-graduation employment program for international students, the Rice Chinese Students and Scholars Association started an online campaign encouraging students to participate in public comment submission to protect their career prospects in the United States. The proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security would increase the temporary employment extension period for students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics from the current 17 months to 24 months.A court decision regarding the validity of the new proposal is expected by February 2016. If the proposal fails, students currently enrolled in the extension program may have to leave the United States as the 17-month program has been vacated. The public comment session closed on Nov. 18.  BackgroundOptional Practical Training is temporary employment directly related to F-1 students’ major area of study, F-1 being a nonimmigrant visa that applies to most foreign students. This counts as part of their education and allows them to remain in the U.S. before obtaining a work visa. Normally, students could apply for up to 12 months of practical training before or after completion of studies. Since 2008, students whose OPT was granted on the basis of a STEM degree are eligible for a onetime 17-month extension. According to the Office of International Students and Scholars Executive Director Adria Baker, this extension currently provides students more chances to enter the annual draw for an H-1B work visa, the total number of which is fixed and insufficient for an increasingly large number of applicants.According to a document prepared by National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, in March 2014, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers filed a lawsuit against DHS, arguing that DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it started the STEM extension rule in 2008. The district court ruled in August 2015 that the extension rule must be vacated or re-established within six months due to procedural deficiency. The new DHS proposal, titled “Improving and Expanding Training Opportunities for F-1 Nonimmigrant Students With STEM Degrees and Cap-Gap Relief for All Eligible F-1 Students,” is a response to the court order. The campaignIn an email sent out Nov. 11, Rice Chinese Students and Scholars Association urged its recipients to chime into the public discussion about the DHS’s proposed rule.“OPT Extension is in grave danger,” the email stated. “Every international student who wants to work in the U.S. is a direct stakeholder. Regardless of when you are graduating, please take a few minutes to give a supportive comment.” Computer science master’s student and recent alumni Maggie Tang (Lovett ’15) approached RCSSA early November in hopes that the organization, as a unified body, could call Chinese students to action. One of the main proponents of the campaign, Tang said the email was a response to a flood of negative, extremist and sometimes uninformed comments. “We couldn’t control what they say, regardless of how much it hurts,” Tang said. “But if they start a large-scale offense like this, at least we need to do what we should do, to fight for ourselves … America is a democratic country, so we are telling them we think this is a win-win situation.”Tang said the email is meant to be informative, as many international students seem unaware of the situation. Some even thought this proposal already passed.“International students know very little about American legal procedures,” Tang said. “So I think this is more about spreading the word. We are just telling them there is this channel. What they end up writing is not up to us.”Tang pointed out that people are talking about interrelated but distinct issues, such as F-1 visa, OPT, OPT STEM Extension, H-1B work visa and immigration as if they are the same thing. “These are completely different problems,” Tang said. “But now they are all mixed up.”RCSSA Co-President Xiang Zhang said he has been in touch with Chinese international student associations in other U.S. universities, but he doesn’t see as much enthusiasm from other groups at Rice.“I noticed that outside of the Chinese community, other international students didn’t seem to react too strongly,” Zhang, a PhD student in applied physics, said. “I sent emails to the presidents of international student clubs such as India, Iran, Korea and Taiwan, and only got [one reply].”Indian Students at Rice, the Rice Iranian Society and the Korean International Student Association could not be reached for comment.Zhang said despite the negative comments on the internet, he has found Rice is a friendly environment for international students with both collaboration and competition with U.S. students.“In my observation, international students at Rice get along quite well with local students since they collaborate closely,” Zhang said. “Of course competition exists, but not to the extent that they become exclusive.” Rice perspectivesBaker said people who leave hurtful comments don’t see the value that international students bring and are probably uninformed.“It’s easy to say, ‘Someone’s going to take my job,’” Baker said. “But it’s probably not a job they would be taking anyway.”Rice advocates for the proposed 24-month extension, according to Baker.“As a group, we are very supportive of giving international students more opportunities because they are our alums, they are our graduates, they are the ones that are going to get better jobs because the companies are going to see that there’s more longitude to it,” Baker said. Russell Kielawa, an office assistant at the OISS, said the extended OPT program is a crucial part of international students’ education.“I can see how some people can see it as making it harder for some people to get jobs,” Kielawa, a Martel College freshman, said. “[But] I think it’s kind of necessary to have so that people can really become well-trained and achieve as far as they want in their career.” Kielawa said companies will also benefit from international students staying longer.“It’s really good for businesses and everything too, because they are getting something who really cares about what they are studying [and] want to get the most out of their experience and be the best at whatever field they are in,” Kielawa said. Worst case scenarioGiven that the court has annulled the 17-month program, if the 24-month proposal does not go through, students currently on the STEM extension would have to apply for a change of status to another nonimmigrant visa, extend their F-1 visa, or depart the U.S., according to Baker.Baker said a failure to pass the proposed rule will have other ramifications for both students and companies.“From the student perspective, it would be terrible because there would be so many students who are assuming they can stay longer, and they can’t,” Baker said. “And it’s horrible for the companies because the companies are depending on these students. They hire them because they are the best people for that field.”Tang said if STEM extension gets cancelled, American universities may lose part of its appeal to international applicants.“The primary reason I chose the U.S. was exactly that it offers better opportunities than other countries, whose immigration policies may be stricter,” Tang said. “I knew I had a chance to stay here and work, to earn back some of that tuition and gain experience.”  Best case scenarioBaker said she expects the proposed rule to be approved. “I would be surprised if it doesn’t go through,” Baker said. “They went through the proper channels this time … And there’s a lot of vested interest that it goes through.” According to Baker, while the office is excited about the changes, a 24-month extension would mean a significant addition to the OISS’s work, which will require structural adjustments. “We will have to probably institute something that will help us with the [administrative] burden,” Baker said. “But we’re still happy because it’s going to help the international students.”

NEWS 12/1/15 4:34pm

Student expelled in drug incident seeks evidence of his incrimination

A former Rice University student expelled on drug-related charges last spring wants to retract the university’s allegations against him and filed a petition through the Harris County District Court to depose another student. The petition was dismissed.Matthew Keene was Wiess College president and on the verge of graduation when he was expelled in April 2015 following a Student Judicial Programs investigation. The allegation made in the SJP proceedings was that Keene supplied the painkiller fentanyl to a student who almost died from overdose. Fentanyl is an opiate hundreds of times more potent than heroin,  according to the Center for Disease Control. In August, Keene filed a petition to take the deposition of Daniel Warren, another former Rice student. Keene’s petition sought a pre-suit deposition of Warren, whose testimony might, according to the petition, prove Keene’s innocence.“Keene’s entire life is on hold and his future uncertain until he can learn whether Warren’s testimony can clear his name,” the petition reads. Another court document filed by Keene’s attorneys indicates that Warren did not appear at the pre-suit deposition on Oct. 21, and the court dismissed Keene’s petition on Nov. 16.Warren declined to comment. According to the petition, a Rice student overdosed on fentanyl on March 20. The petition states the student later claimed to SJP that he had taken the drug from Warren’s room. It also states the student speculated that Warren had gotten the drug from Keene. According to the petition, Keene was rusticated from Rice on the basis of these claims on March 27. In accordance with rustication policies, Keene was not allowed to be on campus for any reason other than to attend classes. In a letter signed by SJP Director Lisa Zollner, Keene was expelled from Rice on April 21 and his appeal of the decision was later dismissed. The petition also states that Keene was denied a due process hearing and that he was not provided with the names of any other witnesses (apart from the student who overdosed), or the witness statements. “My ‘file,’ which was told to contain all the evidence used in the judgment of my case, contained no incriminating evidence whatsoever,” Keene said in an email interview. “Rice rested their entire investigation on third-party hearsay, something that should be extremely alarming to Rice students.”While Rice does not comment on specific student cases, Associate Dean of Undergraduates Don Ostdiek said students are informed of the charges against them.“Students have knowledge, in their charge letter, of the information we have that we would use against them,” Ostdiek said.Rice’s Code of Student Conduct states the university’s judicial procedures do not include any rights to due process. According to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, due process is defined differently at Rice than in an outside court system. “We make decisions based on what’s in the best interest of our student body and of the individual students involved,” Hutchinson said.Ostdiek described the judicial system at Rice as a “fair process.”However, Keene disagrees. “The current judicial system at Rice is a joke,” Keene said. “It removes the self-governance Rice pretends to empower us with and acts as judge, jury and executioner in any and all situations that they feel the need to intervene.”Despite the petition’s dismissal, Keene is still pursuing the evidence that led to his expulsion.“[The] next [step] will be giving Rice the opportunity to reveal the actual evidence against me, if any, and for the administration to see the grave mistake made by SJP so that they may reverse it,” Keene said. ‘Culture of Care’This is not the first time in recent memory that Rice students have faced expulsion within weeks of graduation amid rumors of drug-related incidents. A 2014 spring break incident in which Martel College senior Reny Jose went missing after allegedly taking LSD was followed by a string of suspensions and expulsions. At the time, the Thresher reported on one student in those proceedings who came forward with allegations of SJP misconduct. According to Hutchinson, the last few years at Rice have been marked by the introduction of new illegal substances on campus. “I’m not sure we’ve seen an increase in the prevalence [of drugs], but I think we’ve seen a shift toward substances that cause us more concern,” Hutchinson said. Hutchinson and Ostdiek maintain that student drug use is treated as a medical issue and not a disciplinary one. “I’m not moralizing about individual drug use,” Ostdiek said. “Having grown up in the 70s, I have seen that experimentation first hand. I view this as a health issue first and foremost.”As such, Ostdiek urged students to not hesitate in calling Emergency Medical Services in incidents of drug use for fear of repercussions. “I can’t think of a time SJP has initiated a drug case from an EMS report,” Ostdiek said. “SJP doesn’t get the EMS reports of any EMS call.”However, the provision of dangerous substances, such as narcotics, hallucinogens and hard alcohol, is treated as a disciplinary issue. “If you are providing, and thereby facilitating, someone else’s dangerous behavior then you are putting them at risk and we won’t tolerate that,” Hutchinson said.  ‘Mark’If you ask Mark, he’ll tell you he’s not a drug dealer. Rather, Mark, a senior whose name has been changed, describes himself as “someone who’s just willing to help his friends out because it’s mutually beneficial for everybody.”He buys weed, cocaine, mushrooms, LSD and ecstasy and sells them on campus – but only to his friends.  “I know people that sell in large quantities for good rates, and I’m willing to bear some of the risk by going and buying some and sharing it with all my friends,” Mark said. According to Mark, his profits are minimal (“rounding to the nearest five or 10, usually”) and he hasn’t risked being caught (“never once”). Mark said he’s seen rising drug use and a more open drug culture at Rice since his freshman year. “I remember when I was a freshman there was the one guy you could go smoke weed with if you wanted to smoke weed,” Mark said. Despite claiming that none of the friends he has ever given drugs to has ever been in physical danger, Mark said he admits EMS would be the last resort in emergencies for students.“I don’t think students would make that call,” Mark said. “I think students would go as long as possible without making that call.”And yet, Mark said he thinks that Rice’s “culture of care” extends more to drugs than alcohol. “People pressure you to drink more,” Mark said. “People aren’t going to pressure you to smoke more weed or pressure you to do another bump of coke if you don’t want to. You don’t usually end up by yourself when you’re doing something. If you’re doing these, you’re doing these because you’re with a group. I don’t know anyone who does acid by themselves then sits around and watches the ceiling spin.”  ‘Derek’Derek occasionally dabbles with drugs, but he doesn’t deal.“It’s mostly just spliffs on spliffs,” Derek said, referencing cigarettes rolled with marijuana and tobacco. “It’s definitely not too experimental.”Derek, another senior whose name has been changed, described the drug scene at Rice as safer and more common than what outsiders may perceive, as well as a lot more harmless. “It’s rarely, if ever, a ‘Let’s get fucked up’ thing,” Derek said. “It’s never been an aggressive drug scene.” Derek said he believes that Rice creates a safe environment for students, who are given the opportunity to be smart about their choices .“Despite the fact that we always complain about SJP, we’re spoiled as hell,” Derek said. “When something happens, the first group of people to point your finger at is SJP. When you look at the role of SJP and the context of the university, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that someone at the end of the day is slapping your hand.”He said if students want to engage in illegal activities, the burden falls on them to be careful in not getting caught.“If we do [something illegal] we should be aware that we’re not supposed to be doing that,” Derek said. “I think a lot of students here are very desensitized to that.”Like Mark, Derek said he sees a safer community of drug use at Rice compared to alcohol.“There’s more care with drugs,” Derek said. “Because it’s more like, ‘This is how you do it, this is how much you should do your first time,’ whereas with alcohol, no one ever really keeps track of how many drinks someone has. Everyone just assumes that everyone else isn’t dumb enough to cross the boundaries.”Derek also said he sees students are reluctant to turning to EMS for drug-related incidents. “[Students] feel they would no longer be protected from getting in trouble,” Derek said. ‘Jake’Jake is a little more out there. Aside from his daily weed (“a pretty big nightcap”), he dabbles in molly and coke (“for social events”), as well as the occasional “weirder shit.”Jake, who withdrew from Rice earlier this semester for reasons unrelated to his drug use, describes what he perceived as a “culture of silence.” “I don’t think the drug use here is a huge problem, at least compared to other schools,” Jake said. “I think the climate and the culture is the biggest problem.”While Jake describes himself as a casual drug user, he said he felt a lack of trust during his time at Rice in turning to the administration if he ever needed help.“I’d definitely be worried that they’d do a forced medical leave,” he said.Jake said he perceives the general social and academic culture at Rice as the biggest barrier to addressing student drug use.“The obsession with conventional success and happiness definitely can lead certain individuals to go off the rails in a way they don’t want to process or understand,” Jake said. “Kids have gotten kicked out. I don’t think that’s a productive way to tackle the issue.” Looking ForwardHutchinson pinpoints a “prevailing libertarian view” among students on their peers’ drug use as the most difficult part of addressing this issue. “We have taught students intervention processes and bystander training in cases where they are worried that a sexual assault might take place,” Hutchinson said. “We are not yet there with substance abusers. Students are more likely to view someone else’s substance abuse as that person’s issue, not to be intervened on. We are more often than not blind to a student’s substance abuse until it rises to a problematic level.”In attempting to create a safer campus, Hutchinson urges students to come forward and speak up on what he sees to be a pressing issue. “I’m reaching out to the student body to say, help us, help your friends,” Hutchinson said.For his part, Keene hopes the administration will address what he sees as mistreatment by SJP. “I have every faith that the administration will see the injustice done by SJP once everything is brought to light and will reverse their capricious and egregious actions,” Keene said.Nonetheless, Keene looks positively on his experience at Rice despite being expelled weeks before his expected graduation. “Being a part of the amazing community of individuals that is Wiess and giving back to it as president was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Keene said. “No official and no sanction will ever destroy those memories and friendships made.”** Dec. 2, 2015 11:21 a.m. Story updated

NEWS 12/1/15 4:33pm

Leebron rejects campus carry

Rice University will continue to prohibit all weapons on campus, opting out of a new state law allowing handgun concealed carry on college campuses, President David Leebron announced Monday.Texas Senate Bill 11, which was passed by the state legislature in May, legalized concealed carry in colleges throughout the state, but contained a provision allowing private universities to opt out after consultation with students, staff and faculty. Rice must post signs at its entrances explicitly prohibiting weapons, according to the legislation.According to Leebron, Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby headed the working group in the consultation process. The group gathered input from the Student Association, Graduate Student Association, Staff Advisory Committee and Faculty Senate.According to the final report of the working group, 85 percent of the 544 responses to the SA survey of undergraduates were in favor of opting out, as were 82 percent of the 530 responses to the GSA graduate survey. 83 percent of the 178 staff polled and 95 percent of the 138 comments to the Faculty Senate also advocated opting out. Leebron said there were several reasons for the decision to continue weapon prohibition.“One was the overwhelming reaction from every constituency,” Leebron said. “We had numerical totals of 82 to 95 percent in every constituency we had. Second was the people who would be closest to dealing with issues arising from having weapons on campus – that is, the police and the mental health professionals – they opposed it. And third is, frankly, not seeing a good argument to have guns on campus.”One argument some expressed in favor of concealed carry was the possibility of an armed citizen using a concealed weapon to fight a hostile shooter on campus.One student criticized Rice’s current policy in his anonymous SA survey response.“This school’s weapon policy is ridiculous and does more harm than good,” the student said. “I don’t trust RUPD to respond quickly to a serious threat and I’d feel much safer knowing that students are allowed to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. I believe many school shootings in this country could have been stopped or may not have happened at all had the student body been authorized to carry.”However, Leebron said the possible positive use of weapons to stop an active shooter is overshadowed by negative effects.“The role of having random guns on campus if there’s an active shooter is disputed, particularly by the people who are most concerned about it, the police,” Leebron said.In addition to campus police organizations, the Texas University and College Counseling Directors Association, which includes Rice, opposed concealed carry. The association wrote an open letter opposing S.B. 11 in April, which Timothy Baumgartner, the director of Rice’s Counseling Center, said was representative of the opinion of Rice counseling staff. “If factors such as alcohol and other substances, unfamiliar environments, social conflicts mixed with strong emotions and the absence of supportive familial relationships are considered, ready access to a firearm may prove lethal,” the letter said.Many of the students who responded to the SA survey agreed concealed carry would increase the risk of dangerous incidents.“Campus carry should not be allowed at Rice University, a haven of higher learning,” one student said. “Considering the shooting incidents that have happened at other college campuses and the rates of consumption of drugs and alcohol on college campuses, I am outraged that Texas would even consider passing a bill such as this one.”Leebron said the opt-out provision of the law was appreciated.“We’re happy when we have leeway to adopt policies that we think are appropriate and serve the interests of Rice University,” Leebron said. “For us, that’s a national and international interest. It was pretty clear from the information we received that [concealed carry] would be a disadvantage in our competitive position around the world.”Leebron said Rice’s response to the passage of S.B. 11 was similar to the rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a proposal prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, in Houston’s November election.“I and the university were disappointed by the outcome of the [HERO] vote,” Leebron said. “That said, Rice University will continue to be a place that is fully inclusive of its GLBT students. In both [HERO and S.B. 11], we were given as a private institution the opportunity to adopt the policies that we think are most appropriate for Rice.”Leebron said he regretted the fact that public universities in Texas cannot opt out of allowing concealed carry. Debate regarding the law has taken place at universities across the state, including a high-profile student protest at the University of Texas, Austin.“We’re sympathetic to the situation of our fellow public universities, who do not have the ability to opt out,” Leebron said.

NEWS 12/1/15 4:29pm

Rice students in Paris reflect on tragedy

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.”

NEWS 11/18/15 9:40am

Former death row inmate recounts road to innocence

Somerville, Texas; 1994. A family was murdered by a man named Robert Earl Carter. Law officials coerced Carter under the pretense of a plea bargain into falsely implicating his acquaintance, Anthony Graves, as his accomplice. Graves was incarcerated for assisting Carter in multiple murders, and subsequently sentenced to death row. “[The law officials] caught the guy who did it, and told him, ‘If you tell us who your accomplice was, we will let you go,’ thinking that no one acting alone could kill six people,” Nicole Bremner Casarez, Graves’ attorney, said. 21 years later today, Graves is a free man. He and Casarez spoke respectively at lectures hosted by Rice University’s Scientia Institute on Nov. 10. The two described how Casarez and her University of St. Thomas journalism students found the truth leading to Graves’ exoneration.“It was a horrible, horrible crime in which an entire family was killed,” Graves said. “The town wanted justice. The mayor of the town even said, ‘Whoever did this should be caught and hanged.’” When Carter gave Graves’ name, the police went immediately to Graves’ house.“When I asked why [they arrested me], they wouldn’t say,” Graves said. “They asked me my name and then they read me my Miranda rights. I wasn’t panicking because I hadn’t done anything wrong. Then, I was accused of capital murder.”Graves served over 18 years behind bars, many of which were spent in solitary confinement and on death row. He had two execution dates scheduled and cancelled.“I didn’t know anything, but the [law officials] didn’t want to hear the truth,” Graves said “They wanted me to tell a lie. It took 6,640 days to get home. I witnessed thousands of deaths, guilty people, mentally ill people, innocent people being executed, deaths where they would execute one man and then clean the table off for the next.”Many law officials knew of Graves’ innocence yet did nothing.“Everyone was reading the same boxes but they made the decision to keep kicking the can down the road,” Graves said. Graves’ path to freedom began in 2001, when Casarez began teaching an Innocence Investigations with Journalism class at the University of St. Thomas. Students randomly assigned to investigate the case of Anthony Graves examined existing material on the case and obtained an affidavit from Carter’s brother. As a result of the students’ investigation, Graves’ case was overturned in 2006 and he was released in 2010.Casarez and her students began to see disparities based on race and socioeconomic status in cases they analyzed. Casarez said one in three black Americans goes to jail in their lifetime compared to one in 27 whites and one in 17 Hispanics.“I’ve been waiting for this [statistic] to change for a long time and it hasn’t,” Casarez said. Casarez also views socioeconomic status as an important source of criminal justice inequalities.“Criminal justice isn’t black or white,” Casarez said. “It’s green. If you can afford good representation, you don’t get sent to death row.”Graves said he saw these disparities firsthand. “All the injustice stems from ignorance, hatred and bigotry,” Graves said. “No one cares about the other person. Everyone wants to win. I was the little man.”Graves emphasized the importance of the public knowing about justice system inequalities.“We need a change in our system and we have to be that change,” Graves said. “As is, one day you’ll wake up and say, ‘I know someone who is innocent in prison who is on death row.’”Graves said he views exercising the right to vote as instrumental in achieving change.“We can change laws all day long but we have to want the system to work,” Graves said. McMurtry College sophomore Anna Thomas said she was struck by Graves’ perspective.“The most remarkable part was Graves’ persistently positive outlook and determination to make good use of his life since being exonerated,” Thomas said.

NEWS 11/18/15 9:33am

Competition causes food waste reduction

Thresher StaffThe Zero Waste Campaign’s first Food Waste Reduction Competition led to a 23.3 percent reduction in waste at Sid Richardson College Kitchen, a 15.8 percent reduction at West Servery and an 11.1 percent reduction at Baker College Kitchen, according to Baker College Eco-Rep Travis Kwee. The numbers from South and North Serveries are still being calculated.Kwee, a sophomore, described the many environmental effects of food waste and the possibility of resolving the issue.“Many organizations independently came up with the idea that food waste is a huge issue that extends to many other issues such as water shortages, world hunger and methane emissions” Kwee said. “It spans multiple issues and is easily solvable by pushing people to change their lifestyles to decrease food waste.”The Student Association Environmental Committee, Eco-Reps, Environmental Issues: Rice into the Future (ENST 302) class and the Rice Environmental Club collaborated to create the Zero Waste Campaign.SA Environmental Committee Co-Chair and Eco-Rep Kira Bre Clingen said she looks forward to the potential longer term effects the waste campaign could have, including composting initiatives, more sustainable energy sources and separate instead of single-stream recycling.“We’re definitely seeing more awareness and also more of an interest about actively engaging in conversations about the environment” Bre Clingen, a Duncan College senior, said. “This is about raising awareness and fighting against the culture of apathy towards environmental issues that Rice has. Wiess College New Student Representative Avery Jordan said the Food Waste Reduction Competition could be repeated annually.“We’ll be sending out a final survey to all the colleges and students to get feedback on how many people we reached and what we could have done better,” Jordan said.Emily Foxman, Lovett College Eco-Rep and a student in the ENST 302 class that co-sponsored the campaign, talked about the future of combatting food waste on campus.“Our long-term plan is based on education initiatives,” Foxman, a sophomore, said. “We want to keep up the posters that we have in some of the serveries. We’re trying to determine if there’s a correlation between the posters that are up and the difference in waste reduction between serveries.”For the competition, servery staff weighed trash from different colleges six times over the course of two weeks, then weighed five meals during the week of the competition. The numbers from the two periods were then averaged individually and compared to produce a percentage decrease. The final results will be announced this week and a follow up weighing will occur in December to judge the permanent effects of the campaign.The campaign also included a clean plate challenge, in which individuals were encouraged to take pictures of themselves and their empty plates.

NEWS 11/18/15 9:33am

Humanities to launch research practicum

The Humanities Research Center is partnering with Houston institutions and university archives to provide semester-long student practica in the fields of medical humanities and cultural heritage starting in spring 2016. John Mulligan, a Rice University lecturer, will be managing the program.The students will receive three hours of humanities credit under HURC with the expectation of spending five to 10 hours a week on site. Mulligan will check in with students weekly and institutions monthly. Students will submit a mid-semester write-up on their work and will present at a symposium at the end of the semester on the results of their research.“The research the students will engage in is flexible with respect to the institution,” Mulligan said. “It will draw on some unrealized potential an institution has that a student can make the most of and learn some skills along the way.”The practicum is sponsored by the Public Humanities Initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant managed by principal investigators Melissa Bailar and Fares El-Dadah. “The grant is designed to take humanistic potential at Rice and give students an opportunity to plug into the cultural landscape of Houston,” Mulligan said. “We want to try to make what we do as publicly relevant as possible and find a way of reminding people how important to daily life the humanities can be.”10 of 14 students have already been placed and three others will be placed next week. Five students will conduct medical humanities research and eight will focus on cultural heritage.“We have a really interesting mix of students -— some science-y people, some double majors,” Mulligan said. “Nobody has done deep archival work though.”Lovett College senior Emily Higgs plans to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science after graduating and applied for the practica to get a better idea of the field. “I am going to be processing small collections at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center,” Higgs said. “Once we know what’s in these collections and organize them in a way that is accessible to researchers, they can be mined for a wealth of historical information about Texas and Houston.”Higgs said she is most looking forward to going through the collections.“You never know what kind of material you’ll stumble on,” Higgs said. “The archivists I’ve talked to love to tell stories about the treasures they’ve discovered in these collections.”Psychology major Christian Capo said he wants to work in pediatric mental health in his future career. He was placed in the Institute for Spirituality and Health to focus on improving children’s knowledge of these topics.“I hope to instill true understanding and appreciation of interfaith practices into Houston-area children, as well as alleviate their mental and physical health crises,” Capo, a Jones College sophomore, said.Capo said he is most looking forward to the novelty and uniqueness of the experience.“I am excited to be doing something so new and so different from anything else that I have ever done at Rice,” Capo said. “I never thought that I would have an opportunity like this, especially as a non-humanities major working with the Humanities Research Center.”Mulligan does not expect students to continue their research in subsequent semesters. However, he is open to that in the future.“I don’t believe we will be rolling students over but have discussed for larger projects and especially for group projects,” Mulligan said. “Once we are certain the one semester with one student on one given project is working, we will revisit making changes.”

NEWS 11/18/15 9:29am

Vigil voices unity with Paris, Beirut

In light of recent violence in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, over 100 students attended a candlelight vigil to show solidarity, say prayers and express their thoughts. The gathering,hosted by the Boniuk Council, took place on the night of Nov. 15.On Nov. 13, a series of gun and bomb attacks in the French capital killed 129 people, leaving over 300 injured. On the same day, a suicide bombing at a Baghdad funeral killed at least 17 people. In Beirut, one day before that, 41 lost their lives to two suicide bombs.Boniuk Council outreach officer Zaid Bilgrami said the organizers hoped the vigil would be a space for attendees to reconcile traumatic global events for themselves.“Praying helps me personally process tragedy in these kinds of events; it helps me heal,” Bilgrami, a Baker College senior, said. “So I’m just happy I got the opportunity to invite people and allow them to pray as well, and allow them to initiate their own healing as well. It’s just the least we can do.” Bridget Schilling, a Boniuk Council member, was one of many students who gave a speech at the vigil.“We stand together tonight not as activists, but as people who value basic human life,“ Schilling, a Lovett College junior, said.Anita Kapyur, another member of the Boniuk Council, said she is deeply touched by the different voices present.“As terrible as tragedy is, this sort of times that we come together are just so beautiful —it just shows how much greater love is than hate,” Kapyur, a Duncan College junior, said. “It’s a privilege to be part of this, and be part of everyone’s healing and praying, even if we’re not all of the same religion.”

NEWS 11/18/15 9:22am

RTV rebranding reveals excess in rollover funding

Rice Television is currently rebranding itself as Rice Video Productions. RTV must also adapt to the new blanket tax process implemented last year, as the current 2015-16 budget shows an unauthorized rollover of $5,334 left unaccounted for by the Student Association Blanket Tax Committee. At its Nov. 18 Senate meeting, the Student Association will vote upon the renaming of RTV to RVP, as well as a change in station manager from Lovett College senior Rachel Gray, who was elected in last year’s general election, to Baker College senior Patrick Huang. The organization has already been functioning as RVP, with Huang as station manager since August.According to SA Treasurer and BTC member Sai Chilakapati, the BTC will meet and discuss the unauthorized rollover with RTV. Chilakapati, a Hanszen College junior, said an approval of this renaming may be followed by a closer look into the organization’s mission and budget.RTV Under the New Blanket Tax ProcessAccording to Chilakapati, under the new blanket tax review process introduced in the spring of last year, the amount of money allocated to blanket tax organizations each year is more flexible. The BTC discusses annual projected budgets with blanket tax organizations in the spring and designates funds for the following year depending on this budget. In previous years, organizations were awarded a set amount of funds per student, which would result in the accumulation of surplus.“[In the new system], we don’t care about your budgets from two years ago,” Chilakapati said. “We want to look at have you spent [funds] this year, and how do you intend to spend them the following year?”According to the SA Constitution, the BTC may instruct an organization to return all or part of the surplus in excess of 125 percent of the budgeted surplus. A two-thirds vote by the SA may require complete or partial return of unapproved surplus. By its blanket tax review process in April 2015, RTV had spent $6,316.40 of its budget for 2014-15, leaving $14,500 in unused funds. In email correspondences between Chilakapati and RTV leadership, the organization said it planned to use all of the funds by the end of the fiscal year in June 2015, so the proposed budget for 2015-16 indicated an expected $0 rollover from 2014-15. The BTC analyzed this proposed budget and allocated $15,668 of student funds to RTV, assuming    $0 in rollover from the previous year.“We felt that the explanation they provided [for the usage of the $14,500] was sufficient,” Chilakapati said. “We approved them with the condition they report those expenditures to us.”The BTC corresponded with RTV on April 11 and requested the organization provide a list of purchases of the remaining $14,500 once it was spent. However, the BTC did not provide a deadline by which to respond. No further correspondences regarding the budget occurred between RTV and the BTC until the Thresher approached the two organizations.At the beginning of the school year, RTV created a restructured budget for 2015-16, which was a better use of resources, according to Gray. This budget was not shared with the BTC but was shared with RTV’s advisor. “We are happy to submit an update of our budget from last year and our revised budget for this year to the SA,” Gray said. “We just needed to be asked. The last we heard about that was last semester.”This updated budget showed more than $5,300 of the $14,500 promised to be spent in the previous fiscal year had not been utilized. Gray said, and budget records confirmed, the portion of the $14,500 that was spent went primarily towards purchasing a new Mac computer, a GoPro camera and accessories. The unused $5,300 rolled over into the 2015-16 year, despite the predicted $0 rollover. RTV Vice President Jeremy Kao said in the past, the organization has purposely kept some surplus because it makes large purchases every few years for computers and other equipment. According to Kao, a Hanszen College junior, RTV understood the gist of the changes to the blanket tax system, but thought it would have the same amount of funding each year regardless of this system.“We were under the impression that the rollover budget would go to us,” Kao said. “We thought we’d just spend the money this semester, since we weren’t able to finish it in the past year.”Chilakapati said the BTC was unaware of this restructured budget as well as the existence of rollover. RTV’s internal budget was restructured to allocate $12,100 specifically toward equipment expenditure; the April 2015 proposal allocated $7,300 to the same category of purchases. “When an organization needs to change their budget, they need to approach me so I can take that back to the BTC,” Chilakapati said. “That was made clear to them.” RebrandingHuang said RTV decided to rebrand as Rice Video Productions in summer 2015, in accordance with a shift in programming. RTV had previously filmed Senate meetings, cultural shows and lectures; however, Huang and Kao said they are currently trying to move toward a greater focus on original content. “Last year, we filmed a lot of events for the club that did the event and not so much for the larger Rice population,” Kao said. “We are trying to do more experimental short films that the entire Rice population could enjoy.”Huang said the organization’s mission remains the same with teaching students about video production. Students may still borrow and learn how to use RTV’s equipment as well.RTV has released three videos this semester, including a satirical video on Night of Decadence entitled “NOD BODS,” and is currently editing an Esperanza video. Huang said the split is about 50-50 in terms of covering short films and events but creating original content is often more time consuming. Last year, RTV released more than 30 videos to its YouTube page.“In terms of a sheer volume of videos we produce, it’s lower this fall,” Huang said. “But I think our quality is going up.”Huang said the new budget created in August 2015 is reflective of the shift. RTV plans to purchase a camera geared toward cinematography and hired cinematographers to instruct members, which was done for the ‘Nod Bods’ video.The BTC was unaware of any changes in programming. RTV has been in contact with the SA about its name change since August.“The way it was phrased to us is that it was just a name change to better represent what that organization’s mission was,” Chilakapati said. “If RTV approached us with a significant change, we’d look at how the mission changed, and we’d like to see a change in the budget to reflect that.”Blanket Tax Committee OversightAccording to Chilakapati, the new blanket tax process has measures to ensure oversight of blanket tax organizations’ budgets. The SA Treasurer must be given access to organization’s C-funds and D-funds, although the latter capability was not mandatory this year to give clubs time to become accustomed to the system. However, Chilakapati said he has not looked into at any organization’s C-funds thus far.Blanket tax funds are given on a semesterly basis. However, Chilakapati also said the BTC does not check in with the blanket tax organizations between semesters because it has time constraints from other responsibilities.“The BTC not only does blanket tax reviews, it also does initiative funds as well as reviews any applications organizations submit to become a blanket tax organizations,” Chilakapati said.Chilakapati said the BTC does not determine whether organizations should continue to receive blanket tax. This falls upon student opinion, including the SA as well as other blanket tax organizations. However, the SA has not posted any blanket tax organization budgets on its website.“[The budgets] are supposed to be on the archive tab, but it is not stated that students have open access to that,” Chilakapati said. “They should contact me [to see them].”Chilakapati said the BTC is still in its early stages and will convene to decide what to change for next year.“We [plan] to ask for any necessary constitutional amendments to make the process smoother and more doable within the academic year,” Chilakapati said.

NEWS 11/18/15 9:16am

Fondren south to reopen by Thanksgiving

Minor setbacks during renovations to Fondren Library’s south reading room pushed its expected completion date to Nov. 23, according to Vice Provost and university librarian Sara Lowman. The renovations were originally expected to be completed over midterm recess.The south reading room has been closed since May for renovations aimed at creating a study space that is more representative of what students want, Lowman said. According to Lowman, the completion was postponed due to delays in carpet and furniture delivery. “[Students] wanted more comfortable furniture, better lighting, better window coverings, not necessarily just technology and different types of seating,” Lowman said. “A lot of time has been spent trying to figure out how to best use our resources to support how students want the library to function.”The GIS/Data Center began studying where students prefer to study in Fondren Library in response to feedback that students were having difficulties locating places to study. It counted the number of students every hour and mapped the usage of almost every study space, according to Lowman.The library staff used this information to determine where students like to study and what furniture they prefer. According to Lowman, the staff’s goal was to provide for the possible needs of students in a range of situations.“We try to provide a wide variety of seating arrangements to reflect how you may want to sit in a lounge chair when you’re reading a book, or you may want to have a study room or a two-person carrel,” Lowman said. “We’ve tried to update the library spaces to reflect the current study experience that students have.”Duncan College freshman Sam Boyle said she thought the renovations will be a positive addition to the library’s existing study spaces.“[The south reading room] is kind of out of the way, and I’m usually in the library at night, so I haven’t really noticed it being worked on,” Boyle said. “But it’ll be great to have more large tables for group work on the first floor.”Lowman said she hopes that the newly renovated south reading room will become popular among students.“At night, students tend to study on the first floor. I think it feels busier and more active, and probably a little safer,” Lowman said. “So I predict that this area is going to be very popular for studying.”