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UT-Austin president to resign

July 9th, 2014

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers submitted a letter of resignation today to University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. The letter of resignation, which Cigarroa accepted, will be effective June 2, 2015.

According to a UTS statement, Powers said he hopes to guide UT-Austin through their legislative session, which begins January and aims to carry out a smooth transition to the university’s new leadership before his departure. In the statement, Cigarroa said his decision to ask Powers to resign was due to “long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate.”

Powers is the 28th president of UT-Austin. Before taking office February 1, 2006, he served as dean of the university’s School of Law. Powers joined the law school faculty in 1997 and was named to the university’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1997, according to his UT-Austin biography.

Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster plans to begin a national search next month for the selection of UT-Austin’s next president. The press release also stated that a search advisory committee will assist in the search and will incorporate representation of deans, faculty, students and community representatives of the university. The committee will also have at least two current presidents from UT institutions and at least one member of the Board of Regents. The press release did not reveal if the presidents or Board of Regents member had been chosen.

“I truly believe that it is time for a fresh start and a chance to build a strong relationship,” Cigarroa said in the statement. “We will all be successful if we keep the future of UT in our hearts and minds. I sincerely thank the UT Austin faculty, students, staff and the UT System’s Faculty Advisory Council for their important input over the past week.”

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Culture meets art

July 2nd, 2014

Life can sometimes be controlled by responsibilities individuals face, but for two local artists they share a talent that helps them have freedom where they most want it: art.

Cultures collide at the Beyond Arts Gallery in Harlingen with an exhibit by Charles Wissinger and his wife Fulden Sara called North to South, East to West, the 2 of Us.

Wissinger and Sara revealed their gallery June 12, which will be open to the public until July 31, and holds more than 50 pieces of the pair’s art. Sara said she and her husband of 12 years have held shows together before, once at Coastal Bend College in Beeville and at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen.

Wissinger is a professor and director of Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s art program while Sara is a lecturer in TAMUK’s art department.

Wissinger, a former UTPA art professor, explained how featured mediums such as graphite drawings, sculptures and clay molds are used to portray the couple’s cultural background and reflect inspiration gained from traveling to Canada, Turkey and the Middle East.

“The extraordinary difference between my wife and I, is she’s from Istanbul (Turkey), which is one of the most magical, cosmopolitan cities of the world, and she’s Muslim,” the 67-year-old explained. “I’m from Pennsylvania Hills, Pennsylvania, so I come from a very rural, Christian background. That’s about as different from Istanbul as you can get.”

Sara, born and raised in Istanbul, said her art was inspired by her own European heritage mixed with the ancient Byzantine and Seljuk-Ottoman cultures.

The Byzantine Empire capital was Constantinople, now modern day Istanbul and the city was captured by the Palaiologos in 1261 CE until the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453 CE, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire was one of the longest standing empires until its demise in 1922.

In addition to her deeply historical roots, Sara has a Hispanic background as well.

“The color of my pieces definitely come from the Latino and Hispanic culture,” the 2003 UTPA alumna said. “I’ve never been that much into color, but now I am because I’ve been here in this culture 17 years. I’ve learned a lot, I blended. I never feel like I am one thing. I am many things.”


The 44-year-old’s clay series, or what she calls Turkish Tortillas, is scattered throughout the gallery. At seven inches in diameter, about 40 clay molds hang at eye level for viewers to enjoy, each decorated with different vibrant colors, flowers, and mosaic surfaces.

The Kingsville resident said the meaning behind her Turkish Tortillas series is rather simple. She explained that tortillas are not only common in Latino history but in Indian, Turkish and Italian cultures as well.

“I find the tortilla subject in many cultures so that’s what I try to show…like we’re not really different from each other,” Sara said. “I think it’s very important to learn about each other’s culture; not just to focus on our own ethnicity, but learn other cultures because once you start learning, all your prejudices disappear and you realize that we all are very similar.”

Sara believes society is not only alike through food, but in the technological sense as well.

“(The world) is more connected and we’re more aware of what other people do and I think we’re living in a more global environment,” she said. “We can’t just focus on our own culture or our own ethnicity, because with all the technical changes in the world we know more about each other and I want to reflect all those things.”


Wissinger’s graphite drawing of Hangen with the Fishes is fixed across from Sara’s Turkish Tortillas. His piece depicts a profile of a man surrounded by crabs, fish, stingrays and skulls. He said he was influenced by his passion for fishing as well as his Christian upbringing.

“(The fish) represent abundance on one hand, on the other hand they represent the wild. People might think the wild is wonderful, but everything that’s in the wild is pretty much there to be eaten by something else,” he said. “If you look at it from that point of view, it’s kind of scary.”

Wissinger also highlighted that what he liked most about being both a professor and an artist is feeling much freer to create what he wants.

“If I was making work where I had to make a living off of it, I would have to pay more attention to audience responses and I really dislike doing that because every other aspect of my life is manipulated and controlled by something; eating, responsibilities and school,” he explained. “But with art it’s totally up to me. If I make it, fine. If I don’t make it, fine. If I don’t sell it, it’s fine. I like that freedom. It’s kind of the only place in my life where I have it.”

Wissinger and Sara create individually, but with the North to South, East to West, the 2 of Us exhibit, they found a way to show both of their cultural backgrounds along with other ways of life.

The couple is preparing for Corpus Christi’s 2015 Festival of the Arts, where Wissinger’s and Sara’s pieces will be on display along with that of many other artists. The event will be held the last weekend of March at the Corpus Christi Art Center.

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First baseman goes from Broncos to Broncs

July 1st, 2014

The UTPA baseball team has signed Correy Davis to a National Letter of Intent for the 2014-15 academic year June 16.


The Aubrey, TX native is coming to the Rio Grande Valley as a junior having previously played two seasons with the New Mexico Military Institute Broncos. While at NMMI Davis primarily played in the first baseman’s position for both seasons.


While at NMMI he held a .375 batting average, with 17 doubles, 48 runs scored, three triples and 42 RIB with three home runs. Davis also comes to the Broncs with 13 stolen bases, surpassing UTPA senior Alex Howe. He held the team record for the 2014 season for the most stolen bases standing at 12.


He has improved his performance since his freshman year at NMMI, originally hitting .261 with five doubles, three triples and one home run to his name. He had a 31 RBI, 21 runs scored and nine stolen bases.


“Correy is a terrific young man who also happens to be an excellent baseball player,” Head Baseball Coach Manny Mantrana said. “(He) is a middle of the line-up type…who can really hit. His baseball abilities and character will be a great asset to our team.”

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A place to be proud

June 28th, 2014

After a brief hesitation, UTPA student Samantha Herrera takes a quick breath to compose herself, then begins telling the audience at the patio of McAllen’s Cordoba Cafe of her coming out experience.


This was the scene at the LGBT Pride Speak-Out event, which took place at 1303 N. 10th St. The function was hosted by several UTPA organizations including UTPA’s Feminist Club, which Herrera is a member of.  The gathering was held in June to commemorate Pride Month, a month-long celebration to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots. According to the Library of Congress, the Stonewall Riots were a series of protests at a Manhattan gay bar following a police raid, and the event is considered to be a major tipping point in the fight for LGBT equality.“My aunt and uncle, who I was living with at the time in Edinburg, were Baptist ministers so I wasn’t going to tell them,” the 22-year-old English major said to the hushed crowd June 22. “I didn’t feel safe to tell anyone about my identity as a queer woman until I went away from home to Michigan for my freshman year of college.”


The LGBT Pride Speak-Out included a viewing of the film Antes Dios, Todos Somos Familia, or Before God, We Are All a Family. The 2013 film consists of interviews with several openly gay Catholic LGBT members and their families who talk about how they balance their religion and their sexuality. Following the viewing was an “open mic,” where audience members were invited to take the stage and talk about their experiences with homosexuality.


For Herrera, the open mic was the first time she had come out publicly, an experience she said was as scary as it was empowering. She was motivated to do so to celebrate her identity and inspire others to do the same.


“We don’t come out just once. First, we have to come out to ourselves, then to our family and friends, then we have to do it whenever someone asks us,” she explained. “As long as we create a space where we’re proud of ourselves, then I’m going to keep doing it.”


The UTPA chapter of the Texas Freedom Network helped organize LGBT Pride Speak-Out. Texas Freedom Network is a liberal organization whose members seek to protect individual liberties and religious freedom. Ruben Garza, a field organizer for the group, was on hand at the event.


“We’re trying to get the message across that there’s a community of acceptance right here in the (Rio Grande) Valley, especially since down here it’s a predominant Catholic and ‘machismo’ culture,” said the 2013 UTPA Mexican-American studies and political science alumnus. “We want to create a space of understanding, unity, acceptance and visibility, especially since some events happening [in Texas] may not inspire hope for LGBT citizens.”


The Edinburg native was referring to several events that happened in Texas this past month that have gained national attention. These include a family court judge in Tarrant County, located in Fort Worth, denying parental rights to the biological twin boys of a homosexual couple, as well as the Texas Republican Party recently voting to adopt a platform that supports “reparative therapy” for gays.


Reparative therapy, otherwise known as “conversion therapy” according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a form of treatment that seeks to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. The APA and other organizations oppose this therapy because it is based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder, or that people can change their orientation, which the APA declassified in 1974.


According to The Washington Post, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal recognition to married same-sex couples last year, seven more states have legalized same-sex marriage. This has raised the number total number of states that recognize same-sex unions to 19. The rest of the 31 states have a same-sex marriage ban and have pending lawsuits challenging the ruling as unconstitutional, according to the Human Rights Campaign.


After the event, which had approximately 25 attendees, Garza admitted that there was a missed opportunity due to the video screening and its intended audience.


“Most of the attendees were college-aged students who may have probably severed all ties with the church,” he said. “We wanted to invite several people, including the older generation, to make the movie relatable to them since they went through the same thing as the parents in the film, but we can always improve that for our next event.”


Lorena Singh, a community advocate for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also attended the open mic. She quoted a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that surveyed 7,000 13 to 21-year-old LGBT students and the violent experiences they’ve faced because of their sexual orientation. According to the study, one in five LGBT students is a victim of physical assault in school.


“We need to be able to do better than this,” the 43-year-old UTPA alumna said. “We need to show the LGBT youth that they do have support available and they should never have to be afraid just because of who they are.”


Other Pride events included the third annual Pride March hosted by the campus group the UTPA LGBT alliance. The march was held Friday, June 27 in the C-1 parking lot at UTPA at 5:30 p.m.

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Applying again

June 19th, 2014

The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, the result of the merger between the University of Texas at Brownsville and UTPA, officially enrolls its inaugural freshman class in one year and two months but the faculty that currently work at the University begin their application process this summer.

The hiring process is divided into two phases: Phase I, which is exclusively for UTPA and UTB tenured and tenure-track faculty members and Phase II, which opens the application process to UTPA and UTB faculty members who were not accepted in Phase I, lecturers and all external applicants. The Phase I application opens to eligible faculty July 21.

According to Thomas White, who served as chair of the Faculty Senate for the past two years, a select group saw the drafts of the process in April. The group consisted of two faculty members from both UTPA and UTB, two lawyers from the University of Texas System Office of General Counsel, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes, and Dan Sharphorn, the UT vice chancellor for legal affairs.

When the information regarding the UT-RGV hiring process made its official debut last month, after approval from the UT Board of Regents, there were mixed reactions from faculty, according to White. However, the process is required due to the fact that UT-RGV is a new institution.

“I know a lot of people were very disappointed that it wasn’t just completely automatic- everyone on board,” said White, who is entering his sixth year with the UTPA Faculty Senate. “But according to the lawyers, there has to be some type of application process.”

According to a document sent to faculty, the first step in the hiring process was to determine the programs UT-RGV will offer, which academic units will host these programs and how many tenured and tenure-track faculty will be needed for each program. In late May, a list of tentative UT-RGV programs was revealed, but the specifics regarding how many faculty positions will be allocated for each will not be determined until July.

“So there’s allocations being made on the basis of what they’re calling ‘program units’- departments, programs, basically any concrete unit,” White said. “(UT-RGV President Guy Bailey), with his transition team, is supposed to be  allocating faculty and determining the numbers this month. The (UTPA) provost, Havidan Rodriguez, has been optimistic…there should be plenty of positions, but we just don’t know until there’s actually an allocation.”

In addition, certain criteria for the first phase of the hiring process raised questions. Faculty members must have a terminal degree, or what is commonly considered the highest degree, in his or her field, to be hired during Phase I. But this may vary depending on the field.

A doctorate may be commonly considered the highest degree achievable in a given field, such as philosophy or engineering. But the term may hold a different meaning for fields where the highest degree achievable is unclear. According to, a website that provides information on graduate programs, the term “terminal degree” may be used when referring to the highest level of education that needs to be obtained to gain employment in a certain field.

For example, a bachelor’s degree may be considered the terminal degree for teachers since it’s the highest level of education a student will most likely achieve to gain employment, according to the website.

“There’s some discussion about what is a terminal degree because they are not always doctorates,” he said. “Like there’s many in the health sciences where the terminal degree is a master’s degree. There’s also some of the arts where the terminal degree is regarded as a master’s degree.”

But according to a statement provided to The Pan American by Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the UT executive director of public affairs, this concern and many others will be dealt with in the coming months as the full hiring process has not been finalized yet.

“The creation of a new university and abolishment of two is unprecedented in this state,” LaCoste-Caputo said in an email. “It does take time to develop processes that facilitate the employment of as many staff and faculty members from the current institutions as possible.”

However, if a tenured faculty member does not wish to undergo the hiring process, a voluntary buyout option was made available to them in May. UTPA President Robert Nelsen announced the option, called the Voluntary Incentive Separation Program, via email May 21. The University offered to pay half of a nine-month salary to those who qualify under the Rule of 80, which is about 100 faculty members. The rule stipulates that the tenured faculty member must have a combined total of 80 years between age and years of service at the University as of May 15, 2014, according to The Monitor. Those who accept the offer will leave the University May 31, 2015.

According to the timeline provided to faculty, they will know  their fate  by November when they will receive the final Phase I decisions. But UTPA Faculty Senate member Danika Brown doesn’t predict a great deal of change.

“I can’t imagine there’s going to be a lot of retraction,” said Brown, who has served on the faculty senate on and off for a decade. “If  anything, we’re growing.”

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PS4 vs. Xbox One

June 19th, 2014

When the Xbox One and Playstation 4 launched last November, it had been seven years since a video game console had been released with the PS3 debuting in November 2006. At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual video game convention held June 9-12, Microsoft and Sony tried to convince gamers why their respective system should be the one sitting in consumers’ living rooms.


Sony announced the Playstation 4 at a press event in New York City Feb. 20, 2013. Three months later, Microsoft countered with its announcement of the Xbox One and its updated motion tracking device, the Kinect. When bundled with Xbox One, the improved Kinect can monitor the player’s heart rate during gameplay. The PS4 and Xbox One feature improved online services and realistic graphics.


Now that the dust has settled, E3 2014 has given the gaming community at UTPA a clear roadmap of prices, services and games before making the decision of which next generation console to invest in.



After both systems launched worldwide in November of last year, the PS4 has overtaken the Xbox One in terms of sales. Microsoft announced May 13 that the Kinect was no longer part of their console’s package, which dropped the Xbox One’s price to $399 June 9. The new price will allow Microsoft to be on even footing with Sony.


The Xbox One is the console of choice for Jose Padilla, a computer science major at UTPA. He prefers to play against other players online on Xbox Live over Playstation’s PS Plus service and finds Kinect’s motion tracking technology useful.


“I log into my Xbox account using Kinect’s face recognition,” the 21-year-old said. “I also frequently used the voice gestures to launch apps without having to use the controller.”


Yet given a choice between the two Xbox bundles, the Weslaco native said he would opt for the cheaper Kinect-less version. He enjoys the early access to downloadable content that Xbox Live offers for games, like Call of Duty: Ghosts.


Xbox Live Gold and Playstation Plus are premium subscription services that each company offers to online multiplayer games. Playstation users can purchase a year-long Playstation Plus subscription for $50 while Xbox users get a year of Xbox Live Gold for $60. However, a PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold subscription isn’t required to access apps such as Hulu Plus and Netflix.


The difference between the two online services comes down to early access for downloadable content and games. PS Plus offers two free game downloads a month, downloadable content discounts and exclusive early access to games that haven’t been released. For example, throughout the month of June, PS Plus members will have access to the first person-shooter game Destiny for free. It is scheduled to be released September 11. Xbox Live Gold, on the other hand, also offers two free games a month and timed exclusive DLC for games like Call of Duty: Ghosts. Xbox Live Gold members also have access to multiplayer content, such as new maps for Call of Duty: Ghost before anyone else.



At this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, Sony took its formula for catering to the hardcore gamer by releasing new trailers to PS4 games such as Uncharted 4 and The Order: 1886 from Sony-owned studios Naughty Dog and Ready at Dawn.


Sony also debuted a white PS4, which will include Destiny in its bundle. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic future where humans are on the brink of extinction. Sony also announced early access and exclusive content for Far Cry 4, Dead Island 2 and Batman: Arkham Knight.


Robert Garcia, a pre-med biology major, plans on getting a next generation console but is waiting for a price drop on the PS4. Garcia frequents the Student Union’s Game Room, located on the building’s second floor where students can use PS3, Xbox 360 and play billiards. The McAllen native viewed this year’s E3 and is leaning toward a PS4. He currently owns a PS3 which he also uses to watch high-definition movies.


“I have always considered Playstation systems ahead of the curve,” the 24-year-old said. “My PS3 can play Blu-ray movies and PS2 games, plus Playstation games are better than what Xbox One has to offer.”


This year, Microsoft focused on their games, as opposed to last year, in which the company made Xbox One’s TV integration and Kinect its centerpieces. Game company Harmonix debuted the Kinect game Dance Central Spotlight. Insomniac, another company, showcased the Xbox One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive, which is set in a dystopian world where players can team up with eight friends against hordes of zombies.


Microsoft announced that Call of Duty: Advance Warfare, The Division and Dragon Age: Inquisition will be getting add-on content on Xbox One before its competitor Sony. Microsoft also reminded the audience that their product was now $100 cheaper.



Victoria Olivarez, a computer information systems major, finds both systems too expensive. Olivarez is still clinging to her Playstation 2, which was released Oct. 26, 2000, but might consider buying a new system if the price is right.


“Both systems are beyond my budget right now,” the 19-year-old said. “Maybe once they price them around $250, I might consider it.”


Olivarez is already looking forward to next year’s E3 with hopes of another price drop. The La Blanca, Texas native is also keeping a close eye on this year’s Black Friday sales for any possible deals.


“I’ll definitely be the first in line if there’s any deals on Black Friday,” Olivarez said. “I want a next gen system like everyone else.”


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Let’s hear it for the ‘Guy’

June 19th, 2014

With a doctorate degree in English linguistics, the University of Texas System’s newest employee Guy Bailey said his education background will help him communicate effectively with students at the soon-to-be University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Bailey was officially assigned the role of inaugural president of UT-RGV May 20 and became an official University of Texas System employee Monday.

In a visit to UTPA May 16 Bailey talked about UT-RGV being the first university to be created in the 21st century and how happy he was to be selected as the person to head the new institution.

“This is the most exciting opportunity I have ever had and the most important thing I’ll ever do,” the expert in sociolinguistics said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for all of us.”

Bailey received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at the University of Alabama and his doctorate in English linguistics at the University of Tennessee. He said that his extensive experience and research in the field of sociolinguistics, the study of sociological aspects of language, will guide him as president of the new university.

“There are two aspects of my research that are really important in what I’ve done administratively. First, if you’re a social linguist it means you interview people, and to be a good interviewer you have to be a good listener, so that’s the first thing I learned through my research, was to listen more than I talk,” Bailey said. “The other thing is that I learned quite a bit about quantitative analysis and how to analyze data.”

While discussing his time at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Tech and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bailey pinpointed one thing that made the institutions he worked at good ones.

“The first and most important thing I’ve learned is that there is no success at an institution apart from the success of its students. What makes any university good or great is what happens to students,” he said. “You think of Harvard as a great university because of its students and former students (who) have done great things.” 

Bailey said his time as a student at UA was very important for him because he was the first in his family to attend college. Because of this, he holds a special place in his heart for first-generation students. 

“I was a first-generation college student myself,” Bailey said. “I have a particular interest in the success of first generation students, it’s kind of a personal thing.” 

Campus involvement will add to the success of students, according to Bailey, who added that a student who works on campus is better equipped to enter the workforce after graduating. He feels that the opportunity to do work-study is beneficial to all students and plans to expand this area at UT-RGV.

“If you look nationally at the success rates of students, the single group of students that is most successful is those who are working on campus and I think we want to build a significant part of our financial aid around opportunities to work on campus,” the former Alabama president said. “The more we get you on campus the better chance you have of making good grades and graduating and going on with something great in your lives.”

Aside from putting emphasis on student success and financial aid, Bailey hopes that the new university will have positive effects on health care issues in the Valley.

 According to the Hidalgo County website, the Rio Grande Valley has a diabetes prevalence rate of 26 percent, more than three times the national average. This statistic, combined with the fact that the RGV has a 35 percent poverty rate according to USA Today, gives Bailey some ideas about the new university’s goals and priorities.

 “Part of our role and function is to help improve health care and to help the Valley. (UT-RGV) is set up to address some of those problems and health care is one of them,” the former UTSA provost said. “The other thing we’ll do, we’ll work very carefully and closely with school districts who want to be partners to build the education pipeline. If you think about it, good help and good education are the keys to easing poverty.”

Alongside trying to decrease the high poverty rate, research on diabetes is another goal Bailey said the new university will aim at. 

“The medical school will also practically look at ways to enhance health care. One of our first areas of strength will be diabetes research,” Bailey said. “We’re built to address these problems and we see that as our mission.”

While admitting that these problems are difficult to ignore, Bailey said that the Valley is his favorite part of the state. He said that this area, in his opinion, is an “underutilized area to study” and that the people of this area are eager for higher education.

Bailey also said that he and his late wife had made plans to retire in the Valley prior to her death in 2013. When the opportunity to apply for the RGV position arose, Bailey said that it piqued his interests and felt right.

 “To be able to start a university up from the beginning and to shape it around the problems that are most important in an area, and to be the first university in Texas along with the one in Austin to combine the medical school and the general academic,” Bailey said. “I thought, ‘this is a chance for me to apply everything I have learned in my administrative career in an area of the state that I like.’”

 Bailey’s previous position was as the president of Alabama. His time there began in the summer of 2012 but he resigned by September of that same year because his wife’s health condition had worsened just after he began the presidency. This was the reason behind his less than three month stay at the university.

 “After I got to Alabama, very quickly, within three weeks or so, (my wife) took a significant turn for the worse and it was clear to me at that point that she would not survive much longer, so I stepped aside to spend the rest of her life with her and really doing the health care for her.”

 Bailey’s wife died one year later—Sept. 13, 2013. He described it as “probably the single most difficult day of my life.” No more than three months later, he received a phone call from a University of Texas System search firm saying he had been nominated for the presidency of UT-RGV.

 “My daughter, who is doing her postdoc at Duke, said ‘dad, you’re too young to retire.’ She might have been saying, ‘dad, you’re in my hair too much.’ I don’t know,” Bailey recalled. “I thought, this sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime.”

 Bailey, along with University President Robert Nelsen, Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz and former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, became finalists in the spring for the position of UT-RGV president. Bailey was named the sole finalist for the spot April 28. Three weeks later he was officially dubbed the inaugural president. Monday marked Bailey’s first day as an official UT System employee.

 While Bailey admits that some students and staff may be upset to see former president Nelsen leave UTPA, he feels that he will be able to build strong relational ties with faculty and students alike.

 “Over time, they will get to know me,” the inaugural UT-RGV president said. “I’ve had very good relationships with faculty and students and I don’t expect it to be any different here (in the Valley).”

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Brothers and sisters

June 19th, 2014

While fraternities have brothers and sororities have sisters, UTPA has a different type of fraternity. Delta Psi Alpha is a coed Greek organization consisting of 17 male and female students.

Delta Psi Alpha was founded Nov. 24, 1998 at Northern Illinois University. The founders wanted to be a part of an organization that embraced culture, individualism, leadership and teamwork, as stated on their webpage. When they couldn’t find a Greek organization with those qualities, they established one themselves.

Delta Psi Alpha is currently established at nine universities across the nation, including Texas A&M International University and UTPA. The University’s chapter of Delta Psi Alpha was founded Oct. 14, 2007 by alumni Yuridia Bazan, Maria Hinojosa, Roldan Castro and Estefania Cara Zeigenbein.

According to current fraternity president Bianca Sanchez, the 17 active “brothers and sisters” follow the same structure and beliefs the chapter founders envisioned and work on creating an environment for students to excel in, promoting cultural and gender diversity and fostering a coed fraternity.

Sanchez first came across Delta Psi Alpha during Rush Week in spring 2013. The 21-year-old was captured by the familial bond the fraternity shared and has been an active sister since.

“I love being a part of Delta Psi Alpha. Not many people can say they are part of a coed fraternity or say they have ‘brothers and sisters,’” the anthropology major said. “Being a part of a coed frat, you get to experience not only brotherhood or sisterhood, but a family.”

Sanchez explained that Delta Psi Alpha currently has the most members they have ever had. Although other Greek organizations may have more active members, this group’s Assistant Dean of Associates Lucio Lopez, who helps recruit new members and encourages current members to meet their academic goals, believes that having a smaller organization is what makes it comfortable for him. He said the number of active members will also vary depending on how many events and activities the group participates in.

“A good amount of members in each fraternity will depend on the perspective of each fraternity or sorority,” the 20-year-old said. “In my point of view, I think 17 is a good amount of members. I’d rather have quality than quantity.”



Sanchez explained that the fraternity is involved with several community services both on and off campus. One such event is the UTPA Bronc Round Up, an orientation that welcomes freshmen to the University. Another is the Cancer Advocacy Movement for Colleges and Outreach’s bone marrow drive.

Event wise, Delta Psi Alpha plans to continue hosting its annual event, “Aria Day,” with the hopes of making it bigger each year. Aria Day is celebrated to honor a fallen sister who was lost to the Northern Illinois University shooting Feb. 14, 2008. Each Valentine’s Day, the group hands out chocolate roses to students as well as information about school safety. Next Aria Day, Feb. 14, 2015, Delta Psi Alpha plans to hold safety seminars with campus police.

Delta Psi Alpha is currently in the process of establishing a chapter at the University of Texas at Brownsville. The group, along with other Greek organizations, is working on the new Greek system for The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley while planning future events.

“The merger in no way concerns us. The chapter will still be an active organization in the new university,” Sanchez explained. “(Delta Psi Alpha) has already contacted the University of Brownville to meet policies and requirements to start recruiting this fall.”


Delta Psi Alpha brother and Chapter Dean Jose Garza said he is proud to be a part of something different and hopes the group continues to break the stereotype that Greek organizations are separated by gender. The rehabilitation major looks forward to expanding the fraternity to more students and other universities as well.

“Being that (Delta Psi Alpha) is the first and only coed fraternity on campus, it does give you a certain sense of pride,” 19-year-old Garza said. “This aspect of our fraternity helps break many stereotypes that come along with being Greek. It is pleasing to know I have both brothers and sisters.”

Along with Garza, fraternity sister and Chapter Treasurer Mayela Ruiz explained that Delta Psi Alpha is not just a fraternity, but a family that helps each other when a member is going through a difficult time.

“Through the good and the bad Delta Psi Alpha is together and never apart,” said Ruiz, a criminal justice major. “It’s difficult to explain to others why you’re in a fraternity if you’re a girl, but I love it because it’s something new.”

Sanchez said she is excited for Delta Psi Alpha to continue its journey onto other universities. Her goals for the group are to educate individuals about coed fraternities and make their events bigger to affect more students.

“If I was not a part of this fraternity I wouldn’t have met these awesome people that I call my brothers and sisters. We all have different personalities, different senses of humor and different ways of life, but we all accept each other,” Sanchez said. “We push each other to become better individuals. I always go back to the fraternity motto, ‘United in spirit, mind and heart; Delta Psi’s together, never apart.’”

Delta Psi Alpha can be contacted by students who are interested in joining on their Facebook page, UTPA Dpsi Coed Frat.

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Cracking down on sexual harassment

June 19th, 2014

The number of sexual harassment cases in U.S. universities has increased by 50 percent over the course of 10 years, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics released June 10.

UTPA is one of 60 colleges and universities nationwide named in the U.S. Department of Education’s list of schools under investigation for harassment complaints and/or their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints under Title IX.

Title IX bans gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The law also guarantees females equal access to sports in addition to regulating how universities handle sexual violence, according to the Department of Education.

According to a statement by the Department of Education, this is the first time it has released a list of all open investigations currently under review. The list, which was released May 1, includes universities and colleges in 27 states and the District of Columbia with two in Texas, the other being Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Being on the list does not necessarily mean that the university in question is guilty of any wrongdoing.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a press release May 1. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

Under federal law, sexual violence is considered a physical sexual act committed against a person’s will or where a person is unable to give consent, including sexual coercion, rape, sexual abuse, sexual battery and sexual assault.

According to Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in the month of April it is estimated that for every 1,000 women who are attending a university or college, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year. The total number of sexual assault incidents in Texas in 2012 was 17,835 as reported by the Texas Department of Public Safety. There were a total of two sexual offenses at UTPA in 2012 and one at a residential facility, or college dormitory.

The federal agency first disclosed the names of universities under investigation early last month, with 55 schools initially, but the number of campuses currently under review has increased to 60. The list is comprised of institutions under investigation as early as 2010.

The schools included range from large public institutions such as Arizona State University and the University of Michigan to private universities such as the Catholic University of America and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. There are also Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton.

When an investigation is settled, the Department will release information upon request regarding whether the Office for Civil Rights has reached an agreement to address compliance concerns at a specific university or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation.

A press release by UTPA May 1 stated that the University is taking the responsibilities under Title IX seriously and condemns sexual violence, misconduct and harassment by or against any member of the UTPA community. The press release also stated that the University would attempt to treat all litigants, who are individuals involved in a lawsuit, with dignity and respect to reach a verdict that is fair to all parties in a timely manner.

The purpose of the UTPA Police Department’s Office of Victim Services is to assist victims of violent crimes and aid detectives who investigate offences, according to their main website. Their goal is to reduce the psychological and emotional trauma that results from a violent crime.

“The location of the assault or the perpetrator do not matter,” said Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin. “So if the assault occurs off campus by a non-student, we would still provide options such as referral to a specialized sexual assault medical exam, counseling options either on or off campus, assistance with missed classes (or) tests and options to file criminal or student conduct charges.”

All universities, colleges and schools K-12 that receive federal funds must comply with Title IX. Schools that infringe on the law and fail to address the problems recognized by the Office of Civil Rights can lose federal funding or be referred to the Justice Department for further action.

The list indicates open investigations as of May 1 but does not reveal case-specific details or facts about the institutions, aside from when the investigation was opened. The list will be updated regularly and made available to the public upon request.

According to the Department, by releasing its list they hope to advance a vital goal of President Barack Obama’s White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault by bringing more accountability to the federal government’s enforcement around this matter. Obama established the Task Force Jan. 22 with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts.

“I just think that the skepticism that sexual assault victims face and the lack of support they receive from institutions helps to create a climate in which women don’t speak up and where sexual harassment isn’t challenged,” said Stephen Merino, an assistant professor of sociology at UTPA. “One of the interesting things that happened as a result of that California shooting was the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter and many women speaking openly about instances of rape or sexual assault.”

About 16 percent of sexual misconduct complaints are fully investigated by the Office of Civil Rights and one in 10 of those investigations find a school to be in violation of Title IX as stated by the Michigan Policy Network.

The UTPA Office of Victim Services helped create the Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation Project in 2013 with the intention of decreasing sexual and domestic violence against men, women and children in addition to increasing awareness of how serious this problem is in the RGV.

The CAVE Project began by organizing a Campus Violence Prevention Project and looked to address sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and domestic violence. The goals of CAVE are support, research and prevention.

“(When a) person at UTPA is notified of a sexual assault, we are responsible to provide specialized services to that student,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Our first priority would be to ensure that the student is medically and emotionally taken care of.  Secondly, options to prosecute the alleged perpetrator criminally and/or the student code of conduct.”

Public Affairs Representative Gail Fagan said the University has no further comment at this time.

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Making a movement

June 19th, 2014

A choir is traditionally composed of several people singing in sweet harmony. The second annual McAllen Mini Maker Faire will feature a choir, but with a cast of musical fish and lobsters performing all over a parked car.

The McAllen Creative Incubator on 601 N. Main Street will house dozens of projects for guests to see for free June 21. Houston resident Richard Carter will bring his art car, which he named the “Sashimi Tabernacle Choir” and consists of several sea creatures performing acapella numbers.

Event producer and organizer Eduardo Millet explained how Carter’s art car showcases what being a “maker,” or creator, is all about.

“This is a great example of the Maker Movement because the owner of the vehicle and his team are volunteering,” he said. “They’re doing this because they want to have fun. They did everything from painting the vehicle to getting the electronics to work because they have a passion for it.”

At last year’s Faire, Millet stretched his creative muscles by orchestrating the McAllen Minecraft Village Project. Minecraft is an eight-bit-styled online video game where players use their avatars to build, alter and destroy anything their imagination will allow with several types of materials and tools. The Yucatan, Mexico native planned to challenge 30 kids to recreate the City of McAllen in the game and when there was a turnout of 50 kids instead, he was ecstatic.

This year, the 43-year-old McAllen resident will host the McAllen Cardboard Challenge, in which participants must build a model of McAllen out of said material, introducing the Rio Grande Valley to what he called “a growing movement.” The Imagination Foundation is responsible for spreading the Cardboard Challenge around the globe, showing kids how much they can create solely out of cardboard. The activity first gained steam in 2012 when 9-year-old Caine Monroy spent his summer constructing an entire arcade out of the recyclable material.

Millet also said the Movement is expanding across the country and feels that events like this will help it grow even larger.

“The Maker Faire is about collaboration, sharing ideas and celebrating making,” he said. “It’s always about discovering projects and you get to see the person or team who made something display their passion and the pride they have in their projects.”

One group of proud makers who will be in attendance is a startup company team of UTPA students named Eve Unmanned Vehicles. They will have a presentation called “Personal Drones of Today and Tomorrow” in which students will showcase their homemade personal drones as well as discuss the industry of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Roger Pecina is a founding member of the company and agrees with Millet about the Maker Movement’s development, which is what pushed him to participate in the Faire. He said events like this inspire future inventors and businessmen to take their first steps to success.

“All of these garage tinkerers and amateur inventors who make up the Maker Movement share the same blood as great Americans such as Henry Ford, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard and Steve Jobs,” the 25-year-old mechanical engineering student said. “Henry, Bill, Dave, Steve and many others started in the garage just having fun messing around and ended up creating the future. I hope this Maker Faire in the Valley inspires more local people to do the same.”

Although the Faire includes a variation of technological projects, it will not be limited to that. Millet added that there will be people teaching guests how to produce candles and soaps, among other crafts. The event’s organizer said it all serves a purpose for the Valley: sending a valuable message to children and adults alike.

“It’s beautiful to see how other people observe children being involved with these things, igniting their creativity which then pushes them to start pursuing their dreams,” he said. “But what is important is that those dreams need to become tangible. We need people to act on those dreams because if not, they’re only dreams.”

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