Posts Tagged ‘University of Texas’

Andrew Messamore has arguably enjoyed the most interesting reporting day within collegemediatopia so far this semester.  He flew to Washington D.C. last week, reporting live Wednesday from the hallowed chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Daily Texan enterprise reporter was there to cover oral arguments in a high-profile case involving the “race-conscious admissions process” employed by the University of Texas and many other schools nationwide.

As Messamore explains in a related report, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin involves “Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to UT in 2008.  Fisher sued UT claiming the university violated her right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment because the university included race as a factor in her application.  UT says race-conscious admissions are necessary to create meaningful diversity, but Fisher argues the university racially discriminated against her because its policies favor underrepresented groups.”

In the brief Q&A below, Messamore discusses his coverage’s aims and what it was like reporting from inside the Supreme Court.  He also offers advice for other student journalists faced with reporting on similar broad-based issues of national significance.

How did you end up covering the case?

I expressed interest in the case earlier in the semester.  I wanted to explore the subject.  I was an intern for the San Antonio Express-News over the summer, where I worked as a government and politics reporter.  I had come to know a little bit about the case.  I’d gone through some of the briefs and some of the filings.  I was really curious as to what the decision would be.

Amid the many news outlets providing coverage of the oral arguments, what was your particular goal and focus?

I had a pretty set purpose.  A lot of the media have focused disproportionately on the individual stories of the case.  [For example] The New York Times took the position of looking at this through the lens of Abigail Fisher [the young woman denied admission to UT]. . . . The Wall Street Journal took this from the perspective of [Supreme Court Justice] Anthony Kennedy, who everyone is looking at as the swing vote.

There’s a merit to using that kind of individual storytelling to explain a social issue.  But what I wanted to do was explain what was going to happen to the legal precedent and the big picture of how this case may really change the way we think about diversity and race.  I wanted to get away from focusing too much on only the people and move toward understanding how structures of thinking about race– and how race matters in our society– are more relevant and help our readers understand the subject we’re trying to get at.

The core was also to understand the arguments.  That’s what I was there to do.  That’s what really sets the tone for the country [on any given case], what goes on in the room.

[In part, he said, he used a portion of the argument before the Supreme Court as a way to explore the true meaning behind diversity within higher education.]  Is it a racial category?  You just admit students who are self-identified as different things.  Is it a number?  Is it a group of people you put into a room?  Or is it something else, something kind of looser, such as the concepts addressed or embodied by people when they come to university . . . including people who challenge stereotypes such as an African-American fencer or an Hispanic who has mastered classical Greek.

Those kinds of different challenges to the stereotypes I felt were very central to this issue and I think the Court was trying to find a way to measure that.  And I’m not sure what their final ruling on that will be.

What was it like to witness the arguments and the Justices in action firsthand?

It was really exhilarating.  First off, you’re a college journalist, working with parking meters or student organizations, these small issues, and then you walk into a room where these larger issues like race, zoning, and demographics become part of this national discussion about what it all means.  You see how these little things you cover day to day as a local reporter enter the national discussion and how it all comes together to decide the policy and law that will determine the narrative of race in American society.

To see the Justices, the very people on the highest court, tackling the same questions you have analyzed, is an amazing experience.  You see your level of reporting and discussion entering a whole other level of conceptualizing and discussing an issue.

I felt very honored to represent the university and to be sitting on the same bench as reporters from The Washington Post and New York Times, in a room where I was one of only a few people able to witness history unfold.  There’s nothing quite like it. . . . I was thinking, “It’s really amazing I’m here, but I’ve got a job to do.

What is your advice for student journalists covering a nationally-significant story like this?

The best way to get into these kinds of national issues is to not get too wrapped up in individual stories, to not get too wrapped up in the people.  Keep in mind always the bigger things going on, the bigger issues.  Keep in mind the ideas. . . . Think about how a structure of thought can physically impact the lives of individuals, but also the story of those concepts.

Maybe it’s the chicken or the egg.  On the one end you have the broad idea and on the other end you have the person.  The egg, for me, is the idea.  Start with the idea and then go to the person.  Don’t do it the other way around.

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A University of New Mexico staffer apparently beat a duck to death earlier this summer with a metal trash grabber– and tossed eggs from its nest in a pond.  When confronted by an eyewitness– who wrote a letter this week to The Daily Lobo— the assailant said she was simply following school policy and cleaning up the nest’s mess.

Every Friday night at a bar near the University of Texas at Austin, raucous drinkers gather to watch turtles race.  Apparently, the shelled creatures move faster than some spectators expect.  Why is the event held?  In a new Daily Texan video, “The Slow and the Furious,” one young woman said about a recent race, “I didn’t get what the purpose of it was, but I thought it was really cool.” :)

Columbia Daily Spectator online editor Jake Davidson recently walked into his homestay in Morocco– where he is living and studying this summer– to find a chicken in the laundry room.  At first, he thought his homestay family was planning to eat it.  Now, he’s not so sure.  As he tells the Spectator, “It’s been a week and the chicken is still there.  I don’t know if we’re keeping it as a pet or what.”

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The director Texas Student Media, the board overseeing major student media operations at the University of Texas at Austin, has abruptly “resigned under pressure” only eight months after being hired.  The Austin American-Statesman reports that Gary Borders quit without consulting other members of the board, which is described as “quasi-independent” of the university.

Specific reasons for the sudden departure are murky, but appear to most directly stem from a single UT administrator’s dissatisfaction with his job performance.  The American-Statesman: “Borders, 56, told the American-Statesman on Thursday that he resigned Feb. 8 after Juan González, vice president for student affairs, informed him that he could quit or be fired. González had been unhappy with a proposal Borders floated to sell the TV station’s federal operating license, Borders said, adding that he had dropped the idea upon learning of the vice president’s opposition. Borders said a major part of his job was to reduce a deficit that was $175,000 when he came aboard.”

Former Texas Student Media executive committee chairwoman: “I think the issue here is the actions of the vice president of student affairs without the advice and consent of the Board of Operating Trustees.  It’s troublesome.”

In an American-Statesman blog post this morning, the “complicated relationship” between the board and school is described as “lately . . . a bit tense.”

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The age of “paranormal erotica” is upon usaccording to The State Press.  In a recent column in the Arizona State University student newspaper, Mary Richardson writes that numerous books, films, and songs are implanting an overt, otherworldly sexuality into popular culture that is upstaging romantic interactions among mere mortals.

Or as the column’s headline states more simply, “Human sex just isn’t trendy anymore.”

From our embrace of the “Twilight” series to certain Kanye West ballads (including “Monster” and the Katy Perry collaboration “E.T.”), Richardson argues society’s collective lust is now aimed squarely at “galactic figures” such as vampires, zombies, goblins, ghouls, and good-ol’ extraterrestrials.

“The creatures that left us terrified as children now contribute to our sexual charge,” Richardson contends.  “How did that happen?  The paranormal fad shows either that people are becoming kinkier or that they are just more open to expressing it now. Kanye West poses, ‘Tell me what’s next, alien sex?’  Apparently so.”

Separately, one fad that has caught on at the human level: slow sex. According to a report late last month in The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin, the slow sex movement is centered on establishing “deeper connection, deeper intimacy or help in communication” among couples.  Daily Texan staff writer Pooneh Momeni writes that its popularity is a pushback against the evermore all-encompassing cyber distractions keeping partners from enjoying their time together without thoughts of texts and tweets.

“In today’s hyper-connected world . . . [m]eaningful sex has taken a backseat to instant gratification,” Momeni confirms.  “Sex has become so time consuming that 17 percent of cell phone users admit to checking their gadgets during sex.”

Yikes.  By comparison, in slow sex workshops, participants are ordered to slow down, engage in deep conversation with their partner face-to-face, and discuss their desires and what they notice about the other person when they are giving them their full attention.

Meanwhile, this past spring, across the border, the attention of many activists shifted to York University in Toronto.  As The Exacalibur student newspaper first reported, a local police officer speaking at an early April campus safety information session advised female students to not “dress like sluts” in order to avoid being sexually assaulted.

The comment prompted worldwide backlash and the birth of a new movement named for its chief activity: the SlutWalk.  The provocatively titled protest march involves women– and men– strolling in public while dressed in a sexually suggestive manner.  It is aimed at eliminating the misperception that clothing choices cause sexual violence.  Among the signs carried by the walkers, according to NextGen Journal‘s Adrienne Edwards: “Don’t tell me what to wear; tell men not to rape.”

As Alex Wagstaff notes in a mid-June Excalibur column, “Studies have found that a woman’s clothing has no bearing on her likelihood of being raped.  Most rapists don’t even remember what their victim was wearing.  The most common outfit for rape victims is jeans and a T-shirt.  Sexual victims aren’t just the women in short skirts. They are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters.”

Edwards, a University of Pennsylvania student, writes separately that the walks also relate to a larger push for greater respect.  “It is not just about feminism, it is not just about violence; it is about a common concern for our fellow human being,” she argues.  “[T]he marches are begging the question, if we do dress like sluts, what then?  Are we not still entitled to the same respect that any other human walking this Earth does?  It challenges everyone to think about how we relate to other different people.  Is it really OK to disrespect the homeless man you saw on the street today?  Is it really OK to disrespect someone perceived as less powerful than you?  Is it really OK to disrespect a woman because of what she is wearing?

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