Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX


OPINION 9/30/15 5:09am

The scholarly self: A case for research

Rice proudly promotes itself as a research university while, according to the Office of Institutional Research, 68 percent of Rice University undergraduates do independent research during their time here. But why? What’s the point of spending so much time in the lab, running assays to determine how mTOR or HER2 (or some other protein of the month) is regulated in breast cancer? What benefit do we get pulling all-nighters in the library, poring over mountains of books to characterize Roman Campana reliefs, or finding new ways to deconstruct Tolstoy?

OPINION 9/30/15 5:06am

Procrastinating work is procrastinating life

College isn’t really that different from high school. So far, the only two things that have surprised me about Rice are how well refrigerated Fondren Library is and how warm it is in Fondren Library’s men’s restroom. (I’m not telling y’all which one!)

OPINION 9/30/15 5:05am

Economic diversity requires support, not silence

Last week, the New York Times published a ranking of top colleges based on their efforts to promote economic diversity, and Rice’s College Access Index ranking was only slightly above average (see this article). The ranking, which was based on the proportion of students who receive Pell Grants, the graduation rate of those Pell Grant recipients and the price of college for middle- and low-income students, placed universities on a scale from 0 to 2. In the rankings, a score of 1 was considered average in terms of economic diversity; Rice scored 1.16.

OPINION 9/23/15 5:08am

Sexual misconduct survey results call for action

On Monday, the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences results were released (see “Sexual Misconduct,” pg. 1), providing the first concrete quantitative insight into this campus-wide issue. The Thresher concurs with the statement President Leebron released in his email to Rice: These numbers are completely unacceptable.

OPINION 9/23/15 5:06am

Service as a habit, not an extracurricular

As Rice students, we are repeatedly reminded of the degree to which the university serves the local community. And for the most part, we embrace that reputation happily enough. The barrage of notices about service opportunities and large number of students who volunteer in some form conveniently provide an illusion that perhaps we do all care for those we perceive as disadvantaged and disenfranchised.

OPINION 9/23/15 4:58am

RetrOspective-Week continues: More gratitude than grievances

After reading last week’s articles from other Orientation Week 2015 coordinators, we hope to share another perspective of coordinating in order to provide the student body with an alternate opinion of the experience. Ultimately, we think this article will help provide a more comprehensive and multi-faceted understanding of coordinating. As the 2015 McMurtry O-Week coordinators, we had an overwhelmingly positive experience and learned a lot from the position.

OPINION 9/16/15 5:48am

Rankings are a chance to prioritize and refocus

Like clockwork, the U.S. News and World Report have released their annual college rankings. Rice improved one spot: It is now tied with the University of Notre Dame at 18th after ranking 19th last year.  We do not care about this. Or, rather, we should not care about this. Gallup and Purdue University have been conducting a multi-year study of college students and the satisfaction they derive from their education and employment outcomes — in other words, what we should care about. The product is the Gallup-Purdue Index, a measure of recent college graduates’ beliefs that they have “great jobs” and “great lives.” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni received advance access to the findings and detailed them in his Sept. 12 column. Of the five dimensions of life the survey attempted to measure — relationships, physical health, community, economic situations and senses of purpose — 10 percent of all college graduates described themselves as “thriving” in all five dimensions. 11 percent of graduates of U.S. News’ top 50 universities and 13 percent of graduates of U.S. News’ top 50 liberal arts colleges said the same. What, then, is the purpose of the U.S. News rankings if they seem to be a bad predictor of long-term satisfaction? Why do both academia and non-academia continually perpetuate this system of value?  It’s probably driven by a combination of factors, including the impressionability of prospective students. Universities are incentivized to capitalize on this impressionability — assuming they want the best students, which they do — by rising in the rankings. Rice is not immune to this phenomenon; it’s subject to the same system.  The U.S. Department of Education has semi-concurrently released their own college “scorecard” that subverts the U.S. News method. Instead of ranking colleges, the government guide provides data about average cost of attendance for federal financial aid recipients, four-year graduation rates and salary 10 years after matriculation for federal financial aid recipients. Rice falls around the average annual cost, way above average on four-year graduation rate and significantly above average for salary.  The scorecard does not generate rankings; instead, it encourages comparison. It presents data that allow users to make value judgements. Rice should take a cue from the Department of Education scorecard and the Gallup-Purdue Index. Instead of participating in self-perpetuating systems that reinforce problematic notions of hierarchy and prestige, it should prioritize and refocus on what matters most to students: the university experience and Rice’s uniqueness.  Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher editorial staff. All other opinion pieces represent solely the opinion of the piece’s author.

OPINION 9/16/15 5:30am

Sahai: Cons outweigh the pros for O-Week coordinating

Coordinating Orientation Week made me an infinitely better person. I spent the last eight months of my life predominantly thinking of people who weren't me. It frightened me that every decision I made would directly impact about 90 new students I had never met. The gravity of this control was scarily humbling, and as a result, Kush, Monica and I did not at any point hesitate to make whatever sacrifice needed — personal or otherwise. Only after eight months of acting in this mindset did I understand what "It's All About the New Students" actually meant: to put aside your own desires in the genuine interest of somebody else’s well-being. I am incredibly thankful for this experience, and cannot articulate how much I've grown.

OPINION 9/16/15 5:25am

Desai: The ugly side to O-Week coordinating

Like every student-run organization/leadership position, much of coordinating is thankless. It takes a certain person to want to do this job, and while motivation may only be part of the formula, the camaraderie among coordinators and ability to shape the culture of one’s college makes this experience worth it. No words convey how I feel when I see new students running to hug one another in the Lovett commons, or advisors jumping at the opportunity to spend time with their new students. But an ugly side to coordinating exists: New students you’ve been dying to meet feel intimidated by you, advisors think they can complain about a job they didn’t do and the administration hounds you on one end as your peers criticize your conservative decisions on the other.

OPINION 9/16/15 5:19am

Alem: O-Week student-run, not student-led

If you had asked me seven months ago what my favorite aspect of Rice was, I would have undoubtedly responded “anything that can be student-led, will be student-led.” As an Orientation Week coordinator who has experienced what is one of the most stressful weeks for 32 students, I have to reconsider my response. I do not take issue with the value of student leadership, but the reality of the ideal of “student-led,” especially when it comes to O-Week.

OPINION 9/9/15 3:21pm

Raine: Rice must improve its urban integration

According to the latest Houston Area Survey by Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the push for urbanism continues to grow in Houston; half of Harris County residents desire mixed-use development and 54 percent wish they could ride a bike more often. As Houston’s staggering growth turns in on itself and revitalizes the center of the city, open-minded residents are recognizing the benefits of truly cohesive, human-scaled neighborhoods — places that require no car to traverse and have the sort of dense urban environment Houston often lacks.Rice sits at the forefront of this sea change, bordered by the Texas Medical Center and Rice Village, some of the city’s most walkable areas, and grazed by the city’s first light-rail line. Still, despite its central position in Houston’s urban framework, our university actively retains a number of design choices rendering it as insulated as a suburban gated community — choices that, for the good of the school and city, we must push to change.While the core of Rice’s campus is one of the most pedestrian-friendly environments in Houston, its edges are poorly integrated with neighboring districts. The campus’ periphery secludes the school from the heavily trafficked areas bordering it. Still clinging to a rural aesthetic from the campus of the early 20th century, a scrappy line of hedges obscures visual and pedestrian access to campus from the outside. Tall brick walls and iron gates imply exclusivity, ultimately providing the outsider — the average Houstonian — few clear or welcoming entrances to one of the city’s most revered assets.The lack of integration with the TMC is particularly insulting; a chain-link fence and a golf cart parking lot occupy the southeast corner of campus, suggesting a complete lack of collaboration between Rice and the TMC despite their extensive integration. Ultimately, the entire Main Street corridor needs a dramatic revitalization.Rice can and should play a major role on its side of Main by replacing its thick vegetative border, parking and walls with wide, paved sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as improving pedestrian entrances to campus. Further cooperation with the city and the TMC could provide better pedestrian connections across Main Street, encourage retail development facing campus, attract bike rental (B-Cycle) racks and lead to the construction of a commemorative public plaza at University Boulevard and Main Street.Few land use choices are as unhealthy as the enormous West and Greenbriar parking lots, which consume over 30 acres of prime inner-city land across the western third of campus and relegate it to one of the least productive and ugliest uses. At over 60 years old, the lots are relics of a time when Rice sat at Houston’s suburban periphery. Nowadays, the administration recognizes the value of densification in neighboring urban districts, having bought real estate in the TMC and Rice Village, but its refusal to parallel this urbanization by consolidating campus parking into garages befuddles me. The western lots damage Rice’s integration with the city, as they separate the school from its namesake commercial district. Students seeking a trip westward must traverse an enormous swath of asphalt completely repulsive to pedestrians. Not one dedicated paved footpath connects Rice’s core to the Village, or even Rice Stadium.As prominent urban planners continue to argue against the toxic barrenness of surface parking, it’s time we consider reusing the lots more productively while meeting the aesthetic caliber of the rest of campus. Plazas and new buildings, like the upcoming opera house, would increase pedestrian activity on the western frontier, drawing students and Houstonians to athletic events at the stadium and the seemingly distant Village.Reformatting the edges of Rice for a 21st-century Houston is a long-term process that will require comprehensive planning and a unified vision. Access is the primary challenge — how can Rice integrate itself with the rest of Houston? It would be wise to look to our peers at the University of Texas, Austin, where students enjoy Complete Streets that attract pedestrians and bicyclists with high-quality sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes. These developments induce a vibrant street life that spills into adjacent neighborhoods.By providing these same amenities along its borders with Rice Village, Hermann Park and the TMC, Rice can help establish the framework for a cohesive urban environment in the heart of Houston. Removing expansive parking lots, hedges and fences opens the university to the city. After all, the college experience prizes collaboration and diversity — it’s about time our physical campus embraced that.Justin Raine is a Will Rice College sophomore

OPINION 9/9/15 3:20pm

Silva: Please heed the new open records policy

The choices we make here at Rice will have a direct effect on life after we graduate. Usually this is a positive and beneficial truth. The relationships built at Rice will outlast the four years we spend as an undergraduate. Our academic and extracurricular achievements will push us forward in our careers. Now, for some of us, even our mistakes will impact life after graduation. As of Sept. 1, police records of private institutions were made open to the public. In light of this, it’s time to have a more serious conversation about personal responsibility.

OPINION 9/9/15 3:19pm

Open record laws can give valuable information, create safer campus

Due to a new Texas state law, Rice University Police Department will now be subject to open records requests (see p. 1) for information on their policing activity, which includes correspondences, activity logs and other documents. This requirement marks a continuation toward increased transparency in RUPD, following the introduction of body cameras to its officers in April (see “RUPD implements body cameras” in the Sept. 2 issue of the Thresher). The passage of this law is an important development for all Houston media, particularly Rice student media. We will now be able to more thoroughly investigate RUPD’s policing when complex situations requiring civilian oversight of police arise. For instance, open records requests would have been useful when we were reporting on the controversial RUPD bike theft incident that occurred in August 2013, in which officers hit a man over 30 times with a baton in an attempt to subdue him for arrest. According to a March 17 article in the Houston Chronicle (“Bill would make private university reports public”), requests made by the media organization KPRC for information on the incident were not honored. Following the passage of this bill, Rice must be subject to the same requirements of transparency as all other officers of the state. Considering RUPD polices areas just outside campus and often arrests individuals who are not affiliated with Rice, as in the case of the bike theft, this ruling affects not only the “Rice bubble” but also the local Houston community. This should not be seen as an occasion for fear or panic among the student body regarding the effects of disclosing police records on future educational or career endeavors. Although one’s slate may now only be hidden as opposed to wiped clean, there is little reason for future employers to seek out one’s record through the Open Records Act. Public institutions of higher education have been subject to this law for decades and this has not been a pressing issue for their students. Additionally, no information that violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act will be made public. Information on particularly sensitive topics such as sexual assault, suicide and mental health, as well as juvenile records, will continue to be kept private. From the exemptions of these topics, it is clear that this change is not intended to compromise students’ right to privacy and confidentiality but to create a more safe and equitable campus.  Just as with RUPD’s implementation of body cameras, this situation presents an opportunity for Rice students to become more aware of their policing rights, and moreover, to engage within their community. We are uniquely privileged to have access to a full-fledged police force that serves only a few thousand people, providing focused and expedited policing. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves on how to proceed with placing an open records request, both in order to be engaged within our community and to be better equipped in addressing situations involving student judicial proceedings.

OPINION 9/1/15 2:31pm

Go ahead, bite off more than you can chew

During last year’s Orientation Week, then-Student Association president Ravi Sheth detailed his underclassman years, explaining how he overloaded himself with activities, cramming extracurricular after extracurricular into his schedule until he found himself burned out. In spending so much time on things he wasn’t actually interested in, he lost sight of what he was doing at Rice. His story has a happy ending, but so many other people devote their college years to biting off more than they can chew. It’s one thing to be an overzealous freshman who signs up for way too many organizations at the club fair, and a completely different thing to be someone who continues to pursue position after position, just for the sake of having some title. In fact, the latter is the major issue, not the former. If we constantly seek to stuff our resumes, we end up never doing anything for ourselves; everything is for the benefit of someone else. In high school it was for admissions, now it’s for potential employees. Ironically, we might find that in all the BS-ing and flubbing through activities we don’t really care about, we end up getting caught up in the pitfalls of our constantly forward-looking generation. (And we might be taking an opportunity away from someone else.) Many of us have fallen into the trap of blindly seeking one extracurricular after the next, constantly on the prowl for some nonacademic activity we can boast about on our Linkedin profiles. In our attempts to make our stack of titles bigger and better, we lose sight of our genuine interests. I met an engineering director at the Sunnyvale Yahoo office over the summer who, as a sociology major who ditched law school, told me I should do what I love, and money will come later. It is an age-old message: Follow your passion, follow your heart, etc. (The cheese ensues.) But it’s one that people perpetually take for granted and disregard because of its supremely obvious nature. I think we should bite off more than we can chew, just for a semester or a year — on the condition that we use that time to explore what we’re actually interested in and curious about. It’s okay to extend ourselves a little too far so as to pull back, re-evaluate and regroup. We need to find that perfect medium: Without truly pushing ourselves to the point of “too much,” we won’t know the full capacity of our capabilities. And without exploring as wide a range of subjects or activities, we may never discover our genuine passions. I seriously admire those who knew upon or before entering college what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, because I don’t, and I bet more than half of all college students have not found their passions (even seniors). We should take the time, while we have it, to dabble and dip our toes in far-flung ponds, because we won’t get many chances post-graduation. Many people claim “it’s never too late,” but sometimes it actually is. A barrage of eventual responsibilities completely out of our control lies beyond the college years — eventually, we won’t be able to permit ourselves to be selfish and explore whatever we want. Here and now, we can create and benefit from our obligations. College is for figuring out who we are and what we want to do with our lives after all the schooling and instruction. It seems to me there’s no more suitable nor perfect time to indulge in over enthusiasm and extracurriculars. 

OPINION 9/1/15 2:31pm

Hoot’s move will damage their revenue

The Hoot seems to be very proud of their new move to the Rice Memorial Center, and at a cursory glance, it makes sense. The hot food will arrive in stages, preventing it from running out in under two hours, as it did far too often last year. The Hoot’s new location will help people at Pub find food, and will also nourish the night owls at Fondren.However, it ignores the incredible convenience the Hoot represented on campus. Prior to this year, both north and south colleges had easily accessed late night food and drink in their nearby servery, but now students must factor in a much greater distance to get food. It may seem like a minor inconvenience to have to walk to the RMC for the Hoot, but I argue the new distance will discourage many students from making the trek.When I first visited Rice during Owl Days, I thought the Hoot was the coolest thing. The college cafeteria turned into a Chick-fil-A at night, just seconds from my dorm room! Over the last two years my opinion has not changed. I cannot count the times I was doing homework in the McMurtry commons and suddenly craved a pizza or chicken sandwich. I practically went into tetra debt from the Hoot’s convenience. The greatest thing about the Hoot was its ability to incite spontaneity.Now, the decision to go to the Hoot will be much more involved. Is the walk to the RMC worth it, especially if I have a lot of work to do? With mobile apps like Postmates and Favor allowing for food to be delivered essentially to your door, it may now become more convenient — and cheaper — to just order food from my phone. I doubt the Hoot’s move will encourage people to work and study near the RMC, since college commons are already too established for the Hoot to create that kind of culture shift.That being said, I completely understand the Hoot’s rationale. Maintaining a profitable food reselling business at two different locations must have been extremely difficult. Without considering how the relocation of the business will affect customer behavior, the move seems to be the most viable economic option. The move will, however, discourage people from going to the Hoot. How that will affect the Hoot’s profitability remains to be seen. I think this move will hurt their sales; I see the inconvenience of the new location strongly discouraging business.

OPINION 9/1/15 2:30pm

Body cameras raise questions and offer opportunities

Rice University Police Department recently adopted the policy of equipping all officers with body cameras. Many support the implementation, including faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and Rice’s attorneys.  The Thresher, too, is happy that RUPD has embraced body camera technology. Dashboard cameras can capture only so much, and recent events nationwide have shown that what can and cannot be verified through video footage is critically important not only in court, but also to public opinion. Considering the recent Texas Supreme Court decision (see p. 2) ruling RUPD officers as “officers of the state,” it is commendable for Rice to be a part of the movement toward increasing police oversight and operational transparency. However, both students and university administration have a responsibility to consider how the availability of body camera recordings may impact future judicial proceedings at Rice. Although it is true that the majority of RUPD arrests occur with individuals off campus who are not affiliated with Rice, there certainly are occasional altercations with students, especially related to parties. Students who are undergoing Student Judicial Programs or University Court proceedings may now have a potential source of evidence for their cases. RUPD statements should be taken at word, but if video evidence exists, it should be considered alongside or even given greater value than the original statement. Ideally, video evidence would be considered in every case, but this may not be feasible in order to deliver timely rulings. Some students will inevitably choose to defend themselves through this avenue. RUPD, SJP and UCourt should collaborate with the Student Association to set up a framework for handling video requests from students, whether that is within the original trial or through an appeals process. To ensure cases are adjudicated as fairly as possible and to minimize future complications, it is necessary to define criteria to determine which requests for evidence will be honored before such requests arise. There is an opportunity to pre-empt confusion and frustration, and Rice should work together to take it. As students with the privilege of a police force with body cameras, we have a responsibility to be aware of our rights when it comes to policing as a whole. We must educate ourselves on which situations require officers to turn on the video recordings and understand that RUPD is not obligated to honor requests to refuse recording, which may be especially important in sensitive situations. Claiming ignorance of either police or citizen rights is inexcusable.

OPINION 8/27/15 12:09pm

SA Corner: Welcome to Rice!

Welcome to Rice!Jazz Silva, SA PresidentOn behalf of the Student Association, I would like to welcome both new and returning students to the new semester. Despite it being the summer months, our team continued to meet and work for you. Now that the fall has arrived, we are happy to reveal our new website and our new monthly page in the Thresher!As we begin this new academic year, I would like to remind each student that they have a voice. This means that at all times students have the ability to make changes they want to see become a reality. From the new off-campus meal plan to the restructuring of the economics department, it’s clear that students have the ability to make a difference when they feel empowered to speak up. I want to see this spirit of engagement continue at full force! For all our new students on campus, I encourage you to apply for the new student representative positions at your respective colleges. This is the easiest way to get a real look at what campus government looks like and to develop leadership experience.As promised in my campaign, the campus-wide senate meetings will now be held in the colleges. So, by the end of this year many of you will attend an SA meeting for the first time. I hope you can see how dedicated our entire team is to working for students. I look forward to a great year and thank you again for letting me serve as your president! New initiative fundThe Student Initiative fund is a new funding opportunity created in light of the recent changes to the blanket tax system. This opportunity is available for all subsidiary organizations and active Rice student organizations. The Initiative fund money will be distributed via an application process that will be made available to all organizations. There will be two opportunities to apply for funding between the second and third SAPP deadlines each semester. Stay tuned for more information in the upcoming weeks on specific dates and application information. If you have any questions regarding the fund please feel free to contact satreas@rice.edu. 

OPINION 8/27/15 12:07pm

Approaching classes: The trouble with hoop-jumping

It’s the beginning of a new semester. Among the multitude of excited and eager students, several phrases crop up repeatedly. “I’m taking this class — medical schools love it when applicants have taken it” and “This a super easy filler class — there’s barely any homework” are often tossed around as people settle into their new courses and brag about them over dinner to their friends.These statements typify an attitude toward education that any lover of learning should find troubling. Here we are, at a university with exceptionally few limitations on which classes a student may take, in a country that advocates its liberal approach to education. Yet many of us look at courses not as a platform for examining our intellectual interests, but as entries to fulfil a list of requirements or tools for maximizing our GPAs, that most hallowed of metrics.Most of us know the rhetoric: We are here to learn how to think, and we should strive to think for ourselves and develop our reasoning capabilities through the coursework we choose. Still, I think that deep down, many of us are instead really good at hoop-jumping: We assess a course not so much by how well we think it will enhance our intellects, but by how well we believe we can deduce and adapt to the “formula” for success. We try to answer the question “What does the teacher look for?” rather than “What can I learn from the class?” Sure, we might think for ourselves, but only to appease the professor and earn a satisfactory grade, and only for as long as the course lasts.In other words, we take classes for the most mundanely utilitarian of purposes, to help us attain the grades needed to obtain our first jobs or gain admission into our desired postgraduate schools. These classes satisfy our distribution requirements without being too rigorous. They strike a happy medium between appearing “impressive” and requiring an excessive time commitment. By far the worst offender is the “filler class,” taken because it is apparently the most unchallenging class that fits into one’s schedule and that helps one progress toward graduation.This approach to a class is extremely insolent. It is disrespectful to the professors who devote substantial effort to creating the curriculum and evaluating the assignments; it is disrespectful to other students who take the class out of sincere passion for the material; and most crucially, it fundamentally invalidates the purpose of a university edification by corrupting the honest spirit of academic exploration and intangible merits of education. It is, in summation, profoundly anti-intellectual.Fortunately, not everyone here has this attitude toward education. For those of you who see the challenges of a course as more than the upcoming problem sets, who see the rewards from a class as greater than the sum of all A’s received on the papers written, who see classes as an indispensable segment of the grand lifelong voyage of learning — keep at it.However, maintaining this desirable perspective isn’t always simple. When confronted with a particularly grueling assignment, we may be hard-pressed to consider the enduring benefits to be gained past this immediate task. In moments like these, we would do well to remind ourselves: We are at a time in our lives when our minds are most flexible and receptive to new ideas. We should savour these precious years and the rich humanistic education with which we are being bestowed, and which (as most of us are still vaguely conscious of) is meant not only to make us better doctors, lawyers, consultants and engineers, but also better people. The liberal education we are receiving is a glorious privilege. Why reduce it to a mere credential?The countless hours of reading, writing and problem solving that go into a class allow us to easily forget that the true value of an education lies in cultivating a scholar — a rational and critical thinker — in each of us, something that can hardly be abbreviated into a series of letters. By the time we are into our sixth jobs, the grades we earned here will be nothing more than ink on paper. In contrast, the expansion of our mental fac ulties, sharpened through conscientious reflection on our coursework, will help us lead productive, positive and meaningful lives. As we venture into the new term, remember that we are here to enrich and refine our souls, not to try and trade them for an A.