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OPINION 9/10/14 5:44pm

Students should be taught to be virtuous, respectful

As a student at Rice University, I have read message after message regarding sexual assault. It’s one of the most pervasive issues at this time in our lives and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving. The federal government, Rice’s administration, and the students and colleges have all made efforts to discuss and educate upon preventative measures, consequences and expectations, and make environments more hospitable to reporting and assessing sexual assault incidents. However, almost every discussion (and commentary on these discussions) presented has been handled with negative connotations regarding the solution to the problem. There is a clear leaning in the language used and solutions called for which suggests perpetrators of sexual assault are always going to do so and cannot be reasoned with. To combat the perceived onslaught of potential perpetrators, continual attention is given to the repercussions of sexual assault, with little consideration to the plethora of circumstances that lead up to assaults making their way into discussions on how to handle the problem.

OPINION 9/3/14 2:34pm

Focus of sexual assault education, culture deserves reconsideration

After what seemed like a successful Orientation Week, which included discussions on the alcohol policy and a Project SAFE session addressing sexual violence, one of my freshmen approached me and said, “What I’ve learned from all of these talks is that it’s worse for me to have Everclear in my room than it is for me to rape someone.” As an advisor who also sat through the talks in question, I realized that my new student had a point.

OPINION 8/29/14 2:51pm

Ravi writes in

Welcome to the 2014-15 school year! I would like to share with you why I joined the Student Association (SA), and what we are working towards – with your help – this year.

OPINION 4/24/14 2:37pm

Ravi Writes In

As of today, I have served 44 days as your SA President. I would like to highlight some of our key accomplishments:

OPINION 4/24/14 2:36pm

Students must stand up to misguided drop limit proposal

The time has come once again for students to stand up to the University Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum and its latest attempt to change the way dropping classes works at Rice University (“Proposed legislation limits number of class drops to four,” April 16). And it is also time to acknowledge what is really happening here. In focusing our attention on students’ selection of courses, the CUC is — whether intentionally or not — distracting our community from the more important issue: the number of courses and sections offered, which is closely tied to the number of faculty members Rice is willing to hire.The CUC’s proposal to limit to four the number of courses students can drop between the week two add deadline and the week seven drop deadline without an indication of a withdrawal on their transcripts is not a solution. It is overly broad with regard to the purported problem and utterly useless as a response to the actual problem.It is disconcerting that each time the CUC raises this issue, the claimed problem and justifications change, but effectively moving the drop deadline to week two is somehow still the solution. This should lead us to suspect that the CUC is just looking for a justification that resonates with the community.Why would the CUC want to do this? Perhaps it is the usual reason: Rice should follow its peer institutions in order to maintain its reputation.Prior to his campaign for Student Association president, in which he promised to stand up to the administration, Ravi Sheth served as  external vice president and worked with the CUC and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to conduct the survey the CUC is using to justify its proposal. In an emailed response to my concerns about biased questions, Sheth defended the survey and claimed this is about more than just registration problems.“The more egregious problem, however, is the fact that you can drop a class with no impact on the transcript,” Sheth said. “In comparison with our peer institutions, this is incredibly lax, to the point that other institutions demean the quality and meaningful nature of Rice transcripts.”However, the Thresher quoted CUC Chair Susan McIntosh as saying some peer institutions’ drop deadlines are near week two, but others range from weeks five to nine.Rice is not in poor company. Among those with  similar drop deadlines are Cornell, Harvard and Princeton. If this proposal is meant to improve Rice’s reputation, it is a solution in search of a problem.This leaves us with two other purported problems the CUC claims its proposal will solve.First, the Thresher quoted McIntosh as saying the current system encourages students to take on overly rigorous and stressful course loads, reducing their academic performance.This cannot be inferred from 45 percent of respondents reporting that they register for more courses than they intend to complete, many of whom may have meant that they drop the extra courses during the shopping period. This is not a problem; it is the point of the shopping period. Furthermore, the CUC has not reported the overlap between those 45 percent of respondents and the 44 percent who said they dropped courses because they had too large of an academic load.However, we should grant that even after the add deadline, some students keep more courses than they plan to finish, in part because it is often still unclear at week two what a course will be like.This is a problem to the extent that it prevents other students from taking those courses. But the resulting stress and academic consequences do not warrant the CUC’s pseudo-parental response. Rice students are adults, and those who take more courses than they can handle are responsible for the consequences of their decisions. The entire student body should not be penalized for some students’ irresponsibility.This brings us to the problem as presented in the survey’s most spectacularly biased question.That question reads, “In order to enable more students to enroll in high-demand classes, a change is needed to the add/drop policy. Recognizing this, what should be the disincentive(s) to dropping after the first two weeks of classes? Select all that apply.”There was no option to say that no change was needed.According to the Thresher, 44 percent of respondents said they could not get into courses they wanted. The CUC seems to think this is caused by 45 percent of students registering for more courses than they plan to take. Rice faculty members should know better than to confuse correlation with causation.Furthermore, it is unclear what is really meant by students not getting into courses they want. The data do not distinguish between freshmen unable to get into popular electives filled by seniors (that’s life), students unable to get into required courses because not enough sections are offered (a problem not solved by the CUC’s proposal), and students unable to get into courses because they are full and some of the students in them are registered for more courses than they intend to take.I suspect the third type of experience is shared by far fewer than 44 percent of students. It is nevertheless a problem, but one that warrants a narrowly tailored solution.For example, Rice could keep the drop deadline at week seven but impose a fine for students who, after week two, drop courses that were full at the add deadline, with exceptions for extenuating circumstances and where the fine would present an unreasonable financial burden.Anything beyond a narrowly tailored solution will merely harm students for no additional benefit. If the CUC wants to fix the problem of students not getting into classes they need or want, it should recommend a real solution: Rice needs to account for its larger student body by offering more sections of popular and required courses and, where necessary, hiring more faculty.Students should be offended that the CUC is essentially blaming them for registration woes stemming from inadequate availability of courses. We must stand up against the accusation that the problem is that we are registering for too many courses — by paying full-time tuition, we purchase the right to take anywhere from 12 to 20 credits each semester. We are not breaking the system by doing so. Our current registration problems will not be solved until Rice puts its money where its mouth is by offering enough courses and sections and hiring enough faculty to meet the needs of its expanded student body.The Student Association exists to serve and advocate for the interests of students. We, the students, therefore need to encourage our representatives in the Student Senate to stand up to the CUC. The Senate should pass a resolution opposing the CUC’s misguided proposal and advocating for a real solution instead. We stalled this once; let’s now stop it for good.Brian Baran is a Duncan College Junior and a UCourt Chair

OPINION 4/24/14 2:34pm

Should student athletes be paid?

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the idea of amateurism in collegiate athletics. Thanks to athletes like Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M University and Shabazz Napier from the University of Connecticut, questions are being raised as to how the NCAA treats student athletes. 

OPINION 4/15/14 3:59pm

EMS proposal

The Thresher supports Rice Emergency Medical Service’s recent proposal that EMS in-charge’s be guaranteed on-campus housing (see story, pg. 1). In-charges work hard and devote much of their time to a program we all appreciate; because our campus has an EMS in which students are the responders, many students are more comfortable calling EMS in difficult situations.

OPINION 4/15/14 3:59pm

Love ain’t so simple

I grew up inundated in a world that built up my hope for “the One” — my idealized, perfect life partner — story by story, through every personal anecdote, movie, Jane Austen novel, fairy tale and happily ever after. 

OPINION 4/15/14 3:57pm

Language classes

The Thresher is disappointed to hear that multiple 300-level language courses will not be offered the Fall 2014 term at Rice (see story, pg. 1). While Hebrew, Portuguese, Russian and Korean are not necessarily the most popular language courses that Rice offers, they are still important.

OPINION 4/9/14 12:40pm

RUPD email language harmful to students

Trigger warning : This article discusses issues surrounding sexual assault.Before I begin, I would like to emphasize that I know nothing about the specifics of the event which occurred recently, nor is it my business to investigate said incident outside of the information that the student body received from RUPD. I am focusing exclusively on the language of the emails, which many students and alumni other than myself have found to be problematic. In addition, I would like to also articulate that I am writing this with the explicit permission and guidance from a representative of the Lovett College community as well as other survivors to ensure that I am entering this discussion as sensitively as I possibly can.With regard to the emails the student body received two weeks ago, I have managed to obtain clarification on the RUPD communications from both administrators and fellow students more familiar with these issues. Although this has already been publicly explained a couple of times, I would like to reiterate my findings for those of us who did not have prior knowledge with regard to the discrepancy between Rice policy and the Texas Penal Code, so that members of the community who are still unfamiliar with this distinction — particularly out-of-state and foreign students — can be better informed.My initial assumption was that the confusion resulted from a simple miscommunication; this was not the case. The confusion stemmed from the fact that I, as well as other students, wrongly assumed the Rice sexual-misconduct policy is consistent with Texas state law. The Student Code of Conduct includes non-consensual sexual contact in its definition of sexual assault, which is the case in many state laws — including New York, Pennsylvania, California, Utah, Kansas and Louisiana, just to name a few. However, this definition is not, in fact, shared by the Texas Penal Code (Sec. 22.011). Instead, the Texas Penal Code describes acts of non-consensual sexual contact as simple assault (Sec. 22.01). However, I was told intent of sexual assault — despite the implication of the name — is actually considered a more severe offense than simple assault. I was also told the reason the emails were worded in this way is because RUPD typically launches investigations by using the definitions provided by Texas law.Despite all of this, the issue I am trying to bring up is not one that has to do with the nuances of Texas law. Instead, I would like to focus on the fact that the student body received communication from RUPD that directly contradicted Rice policy. Hopefully, I will be able to explain why I think this is a concern.Every student at Rice University is bound by a set of core values outlined in the Code of Conduct, which includes the university’s policy on sexual assault. The wording of the emails, although expressed using language regarded acceptable by the Penal Code, came across as insensitive to these values. Although the incident involved an outside party, the notifications were ultimately sent from and received by members of the Rice community. That being said, I believe the RUPD communications had the unfortunate side effect of confusing a university policy which is already misunderstood by so many of us — including myself. Such confusion is a threat to student safety, because most perpetrators typically do not realize they are committing a crime (some victims may not immediately realize it either). I know that many students other than myself would feel much safer knowing there is no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what constitutes acceptable behavior at this university, which is one reason why we found the emails disconcerting.Protecting students is not just about fighting misconceptions. More importantly, it’s about implementing a much-needed sensitivity toward a victimized community, whose aftermath is often colored by fear and distress. To integrate a broad definition of sexual assault is to communicate sensitively on such issues without opening discussion to the details of the event itself. The more unnecessary information the community is provided with, the higher the chances are that subsequent conversation will only promote further distress. In this respect, I believe the notifications included unnecessary details about the incident which failed to give the victims and the case space. The communication was thus unsuccessful in reinforcing one of Rice’s core values, which is to put the physical, emotional and mental welfare of the community above all else, including, on some occasions, our collective desire for information.In light of this unhappy incident, I would like to make some productive suggestions. Since the university’s definition of sexual assault is often something students already find confusing, and since seeking clarification can have the undesired side effect of inciting additional trauma, I believe communications of this nature should seek to limit the narrative in such a way that it does not contradict Rice policy. In accordance with the Clery Act, the RUPD crime logs use the term “sex offense” in reference to such crimes. I believe this classification is broad enough to encompass both Texas law and Rice policy, and therefore sensitive enough for our community in that it does not necessitate any specific accounts of the event. This kind of language goes a long way in reassuring students who, like me, feel extremely protected by policies which embrace a broader definition of sexual assault.There has been discontent amongst students with the fact that the notifications were sent so late in the timeline — a logistical issue which I certainly hope will be addressed in the near future through further productive dialogue. Despite all of this, I would like to mention that I personally am extraordinarily grateful to both the administration and to RUPD for working hard to keep us safe and for being surprisingly open to discussion. I hope they will continue to do so in the future. Finally, I would like to bring attention to the fact that April 7-10 is Sexual Assault Awareness Week at Rice; this is a good opportunity for all of us to further educate ourselves, revisit Rice’s policy and continue to support one another as we continue to navigate these issues.Adelina Koleva is a Martel College senior

OPINION 4/8/14 5:42pm

Murray's lecture diminishes Rice's prestige

I’m still in shock. Rice University, home of one of the most prestigious think tanks in the nation, just hosted the man who wrote The Bell Curve and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, two works that were published without peer review and, as it turns out, for good reason. In his hour long discussion, Dr. Murray made enough offensive, uneducated, unsupported comments to fuel a separate hour-long discussion by itself. This was especially disappointing given that I find his newer thesis about class segregation quite interesting.Murray was certainly aware that the majority of the people attending his talk were there to protest and did not view him favorably as he opened up with “according to your [the audience’s] standards I am racist, I am sexist, I am ageist, I am ablest...”It was really painful listening to him since he’d make claims like marriage civilizes men, women choose to be single mothers, and minorities should appreciate oppression since it has made them stronger without giving any evidence past personal anecdotes, his opinion or his liberal interpretation of data. Perhaps he did have credible evidence. If so, he irresponsibly did not focus on it during his talk.Murray’s “research methods” include designing surveys based on his stereotypes of white people from high versus low socioeconomic backgrounds (see his survey for yourself at PBS.org) and going to bars to collect opinions which anyone with even a basic understand of statistics would find to be an extremely skewed sample.Additionally, Murray failed to successfully measure or even quantify "empathy" or lack thereof between social classes. I am sympathetic to his argument that we have a dearth of empathy in America, but not persuaded by any of his efforts.Murray attempted to steer clear of his opinions on race, intelligence and poverty in favor of his opinions on the differences between upper middle class and working class white Americans perhaps in part because his audience was mainly protesters (240 students RSVPd to the protest versus only 40 students for the actual event). Nevertheless, he still made some interesting assumptions about the audience. He assumed most of us in the room were upper class, which clearly tells me he is not familiar with Rice’s financial aid practices. He assumed none of us belonged to or could empathize with white, working class Americans. He assumed none of us have had a job where working has caused a part of our body to hurt (an example from his survey). He assumed the most contact we have had with people of a different socioeconomic status from us was from working at soup kitchens just because we needed service hours, our parents made us, or we wanted a nice looking resume. Ouch! This also tells me he assumes that Rice is a homogenous community rather than a diverse community with people representing different socioeconomic backgrounds along with different races, different life experiences and in turn different political opinions.I haven’t even touched on Bell Curve. I have two questions: Since when has performance on Intelligence Quotient tests, a misnomer anyway, equated to intelligence, and since when has only intelligence equated to success? Even if one were able to find differences in IQ scores between races, race is not entirely a biological construct, but rather a social one. Furthermore, Murray has not been able to establish a causal effect between race and IQ score. I invite you to read Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth by Claude S. Fischer and five other co-authors. You would think that if Murray were not biased, he’d want to consider social inequality factors as well like unequal educational opportunities, varying access to stable housing and nutrition and exposure to violence that may be more prevalent among minorities due to historical exclusion, discrimination and disenfranchisement. If Murray had ever rationalized racism, you can be sure it was not by truly rigorous academic means.I will say I am extremely proud of the organization and execution of the protest. Students representing several Rice groups, including BSA, HACER, RASA, CSS and APASA, as well as Queers and Allies and the Women’s Resource Center, came together to speak out and create dialogue. It definitely challenged the common saying that Rice students are apathetic regarding social and political issues. I hope this sets a positive precedent concerning the power of unified voices taking a stand at Rice. Thank you to all of the bold students and supportive faculty who practiced free speech without diminishing anyone else’s.

OPINION 4/8/14 9:53am

Murray invitation serves legitimate purpose

As I’m sure many of you are aware, this past week the Baker Institute Student Forum and the Federalist Society teamed up to host an event featuring controversial scholar Charles Murray. As many students have correctly pointed out, Murray is well known for contentious statements he made in his 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he forwards some blatantly racist and sexist notions. Let me be clear –– I find these viewpoints outrageous and despicable. However, this does not mean BISF or the Federalist Society were out of line for bringing him to campus.First off, Murray is hardly a fringe figure; his views are arguably as central to modern political dialogue as many of the other speakers who have been invited to campus. He is part of the American Enterprise Institute, a major think tank the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin recently described as the “dominant conservative think tank.” His viewpoints have recently been cited by former VP candidate Paul Ryan and Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. A majority of the Rice population, including myself, may not agree with his ideas, but he is an entirely reasonable guest for BISF to invite considering the club’s mission is to encourage policy discourse.Furthermore, Murray is not discussing the views put forth in The Bell Curve. His talk is centered around his current book, Coming Apart, which is included on the New York Times’ list of 100 Notable Books of 2012. His current work has pulled away from his focus of 20 years ago; Coming Apart is about his perception of the decline in traditional values among lower and middle class Americans, not I.Q. differences between genders and races. It has been hailed by highly-respected authors, such as David Brooks (who spoke at Rice in 2011), as an extremely important book about the state of American society. Again, like it or not, Murray is an extremely significant figure in the political world, and it is entirely reasonable for clubs intended to promote policy discourse to invite him to address his views.Next, I would like to address Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson’s commentary about the event. In his public statement, Hutchinson condemns, in principle, the idea that someone with views he finds “ignorant or repellant” should ever be invited to speak at Rice University. Universities have an important role to play as free spaces for the exchange and critique of ideas. They are not incubators for one particular perspective, but rather places where students can be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints and consider them and react accordingly. Columbia University demonstrated this when it invited the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak in 2011. Those who invited Ahmadinejad probably did not agree with his abhorrent viewpoints, but they understood the importance of allowing students to gain access to a viewpoint that is present in the world and which they are often sheltered from in a liberal, academic setting. Mr. Murray’s views may be repugnant to students educated at an academic institution like Rice, but they are widely accepted by many other sectors of the population. For a university to deprive its students of any viewpoints just because they are controversial is to not prepare them for the real world, in which such views are widespread. Hutchinson’s statement is incredibly disappointing because it implies that Rice is a place that penalizes those who wish to expose students to any perspective outside of the norm.As an officer in BISF, I find Hutchinson’s accusation that “there is a very strong implication that the invitation and advertisement implies endorsement” to be highly offensive. It suggests that our decision to provide a forum for views outside of the liberal norm makes us racist and sexist, and that is very hurtful. Does Hutchinson also suggest that we ban other forms of expression that give a forum to unpopular views? Should we ban publications like the New York Times, which publicizes controversial op-eds by figures like Vladimir Putin? Should we withhold invitations to other speakers who decades ago may have opposed marriage equality, decriminalization of abortion or other elements common to the liberal policy agenda?Hutchinson’s remarks endanger free speech on campus by implying that students must ensure a speaker has views conforming to Dean Hutchinson’s or else risk personally-directed, public backlash by the administration. It implies that we must avoid inviting any speaker to campus who has previously made statements deviating from the liberal norm.Again, I do not agree with Murray’s point of view, and I fully support students’ decisions to protest after they have given him a chance to speak. However, I am disappointed in the administration’s condemnation of the Federalist Society and BISF for inviting him to campus. The real world is not a liberal haven in which unpopular views are repressed, and students need to be equipped to respond to these perspectives. The invitation was not an “endorsement,” but rather a brave endeavor to allow students to hear a prevalent, while controversial, perspective and defend their values against it. It is, in fact, a university’s responsibility to provide this opportunity to students in a safe environment. If every invitation was an endorsement, BISF members like myself would be juggling a messy handful of contradictory political ideologies.Students and administration –– be confident in your beliefs and values, and welcome the opportunity to defend them in the face of criticism. As philosopher John Stuart Mill famously pointed out, it is to everyone’s benefit to hear all dissenting views; even if your mind is made up, listening to counter-perspectives will reinforce your beliefs and equip you to defend them. A well-rounded university like Rice should provide a diverse mix of perspectives that students will encounter outside the hedges, not isolate itself as an incubator for single-perspective popular thought.