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Speak your mind

July 17th, 2014

According to an October 2009 study by Daniel Eisenburg, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, students at UTPA are less likely to seek help from their families regarding mental health issues than students from other universities.

This was just one tidbit of information shared at the “Speak Your Mind Texas” event held in the University Ballroom July 14. The event, sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services is part of a statewide campaign to bring awareness to mental health and substance abuse issues. UTPA was one of 16 locations in Texas to host the town-hall style event, with more than 100 attendees showing up.

“We’re pleased to be able to host (this event)…which just shows the importance of mental health and substance abuse and what it means to us as individuals, as groups and as a family and a community so that we can respond to something that I think is not spoken about enough in public until it’s a crisis,” said Mari Fuentes-Martin, associate vice president and dean of students at UTPA.

Speakers at the event included Mauro Ruiz, the DSHS program manager for Health Services Region 11, Assistant Dean of Students for Support Services Eugenia Curet and Dr. Francisco Fernandez, the founding dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical school.

“One in four Americans in the United States suffer from a mental illness,” said Fernandez via Skype. “That’s 64 million individuals in our society that suffer from a mental illness.”

In addition, a panel of seven individuals that each deal with mental health issues in his or her given field was present to provide feedback and answers to attendees of the event.

Community members at the event were divided into tables and allowed time to discuss mental health issues among themselves before a “facilitator” from each table posed questions to the panel on behalf of their group. One topic discussed was the need for mental health outreach efforts targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

“When we look at depression and suicide rates in the LGBT community, it’s higher than in the non-LGBT community,” said panelist Christopher Albert, a clinical psychologist with UTPA Counseling and Psychological Services. “There are some special issues there, additional stressors such as discrimination. I think also within the mental health community there’s not maybe a full understanding of how to help those who identify as LGBT. And I think that’s coming around, I think we’re getting better at that.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most research suggests that LGBT individuals are at higher risk for depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Curet added that being LGBT also raises the risk of suicide due to bullying from peers.

“Those children who kill themselves while in school, many of them had been bullied (for) being gay,” said Curet, who received the Leadership on University Campuses and in the Community Award from the Texas Suicide Prevention Council in 2013. “It has prompted children as young as 8 years of age to kill themselves.”

Another topic discussed was the stigma and stereotypes associated with mental illnesses.

“The thing about mental health issues is they are not so easily seen,” Albert said. “It’s definitely not as easily understood by many and it’s harder to have that as a conversation piece.”

In an August 2013 article by Psychology Today, studies show that stigmatising attitudes toward people with mental health problems are widespread and commonly held. The most commonly held belief is that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, the article said.

“The overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are much more likely to be victimized than they are to be the perpetrator of crimes,” said panelist Terry Crocker, the chief executive officer at Texas Tropical Behavioral Health.

The article in Psychology Today goes on to state that these stigmatizing attitudes can result in feelings of shame for the mentally ill individual and lead to poorer treatment outcomes- an issue that attendee Javier Segovia takes seriously.

“(The event) was very informative,” said Segovia, a senior majoring in social work. “Lots of great brochures, experts…it brought together many individuals who are passionate about mental health. It’s a very small step to breaking stigma and helping the people of the RGV.”

Albert echoed Segovia’s sentiments and said continued conversation is paramount to bringing change.

“Hopefully with conversations like these we can continue the momentum and (attitudes about mental health) will change,” Albert said.

The next “Speak Your Mind Texas” event will take place July 21 at Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas.

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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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Texas attorney general candidate Sam Houston meets with Valley voters

June 19th, 2014

Greeted by more than 40 supporters, Democratic attorney general candidate Sam Houston visited Infusions Restaurant in McAllen June 12. The meet-and-greet fundraiser was part of a two-day campaign through the Rio Grande Valley. Houston made stops in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties to listen to people and introduce his platform to Valley voters.

The Houston resident visited the RGV in 2008 when he ran as the Democratic nominee for the Texas Supreme Court. After the campaign, Houston maintained ties to the RGV through business associates from his Houston law firm and friendships made from his 2008 run.

Though he lost the race, he won 46 percent of the vote, the most any Democrat received for the high court in Texas on the 2008 ballot, according to election results. After securing the Democratic nomination in March 2014, his sights are now set on becoming Texas attorney general, and he will face State Senator Ken Paxton, R-Tx,  representing District 8, in November 2014.

Attendees were asked to donate to his campaign and had the opportunity to speak with the lawyer about his platform. After talking with guests for more than an hour, Houston gave a short speech, thanking friends and supporters from the RGV and detailing his vision for the position.

“It’s been an honor for me to spend a couple of days in the Valley,” Houston said. “We’re in the business of solving disputes. That’s what I like to tell people I’ve done for 26 years…I’m a lawyer and that’s exactly what we need in that office. Not a politician, and not someone who is a businessperson. We need a lawyer, and that’s the job.”

The position is currently held by Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, whom Houston accuses of focusing too much on political ambition rather than public servitude of the office.

“Years ago, the attorney general’s office was looked at as the office of the people, or the office of all Texans,” the Houston resident said. “One of (Abbott’s) big policies was that, ‘I get up and sue President Obama.’ Look, we need to get away from that. We need to get to where the office is about being a lawyer and not about politics.”

Another position of Houston’s platform involves his plans for public education and the need for more funding after the $5.4 billion cuts made by the Texas Legislature in 2011.

“One of the reasons (budget cuts in education are) allowed to continue is the attorney general’s office basically defended this process,” Houston said. “I will work to find a solution to end that, not to continue it. I think as a public servant, it’s my obligation to make sure Legislature follows our state constitution and adequately funds public education.”

One of the guests at the meet-and-greet was Gary Mounce, an associate professor of political science at UTPA. Mounce attended the event to show his support, and invited his class to it, encouraging involvement in politics.

“If the Valley votes, if the Valley registers, if they turn out to vote in sort of, normal numbers, we can change the whole state,” Mounce said. “Mexican-Americans and the people of the Valley can change the whole state (and) make it more progressive.”

Leading up to election day Nov. 4, 2014, Houston said he hopes to reach voters in all regions of Texas, especially those hailing from the RGV.

“There are many parts of the state that are important, I consider it as important as any other, and that’s why I’m here,” the Democratic nominee said. “Anyone who wants to be a public servant (should) come down to where the people are and tell them their views whether they accept them or not.”

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UT-RGV Smart Hospital dedication

May 29th, 2014

The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Smart Hospital was dedicated May 28 at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.

The service was opened up by The University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and was followed by a video that showcased what the state of the art Smart Hospital has to offer. Before beginning a tour of the facility, attendees of the ceremony listened to remarks from Francisco Fernandez, founding dean of the UT-RGV Medical School, Tina Garza, principal of Harlingen School of Health Professions and Joseph McCormick, vice president of South Texas Programs.

Tours began on the second floor of the hospital and gave people, like newly appointed UT-RGV President Guy Bailey, a view of what the Smart Hospital will offer to students of all grade levels. Students from UTPA simulated the intensive care unit (ICU), which included a manikin – life-sized anatomical human models used in education - going into cardiac arrest. Middle school students from Harlingen ISD showed those on the tour a simulation of a recovery room scenario, which also used a human patient simulator.

The goal of the Smart Hospital is to train students from the middle school level up to the medical school level in patient safety and quality care by using manikins that simulate real life health situations.

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A taste of culture

April 24th, 2014

While holding a red poster board April 9 with the words “This is not AZ” plastered across it, senior Eloy Gonzalez patiently waited to hear the fate of Mexican-American studies in public schools.

That day, the Texas State Board of Education voted 11-3 to validate the development of an approved Mexican-American studies curriculum that will be available to public high schools all across Texas. Along with Mexican-American studies, the SBOE also approved the development of African-, Asian- and Native-American curriculum. The courses, which will be considered electives, are to be recognized as Special Topics in Social Studies and implemented in Texas schools for the 2016-2017 academic school year.

The development of a Mexican-American studies course was first proposed by SBOE Representative and Brownsville native Ruben Cortez in November 2013. Since then, educators and activists, such as Tony Diaz of the state-wide movement El Librotraficante have reached out to educators and organizations all over the state to push for the proposal.

Preceding the vote was a march April 8 organized by Diaz and members of El Librotraficante to gain support for the proposal; the group was made up of scholars, activists and students from across the state. Among the 30 people that participated in the march were Gonzalez and UTPA students Eloisa Moreno and Ruben Garza. Additionally, 50 people testified before the board on the necessity of implementing the course. Gonzalez, who is president of the UTPA Mexican-American Studies Club, was one of the 50.

“I was a little nervous but determined to testify in front of the whole State Board of Education on how Mexican-American studies has changed my life and its importance in the lives of all Mexican-American youth,” said the senior Mexican-American studies major. “It feels that I have done something positive for my community.”

Gonzalez also commented on the diversity of supporters for the course who attended the march.

“Something very interesting was that not only Mexican-American scholars, activists and students were there, but also people from other ethnicities such as the African-Americans that were in favor of the implementation of Mexican-American studies,” Gonzalez said. “This whole movement was for the implementation of the contributions that have not been acknowledged from different groups such as Mexican American, African American, Asian American and Native American.”

While Gonzalez, Moreno and Garza advocated in Austin, members of the Mexican-American Studies Club showed their support on campus with a rally led by member Amalia Ortiz.

Supporters of the proposal felt that implementing these courses will be beneficial to students of the state, particularly Hispanics. Statistics from the Texas Education Agency showed for the 2012-13 school year, 51.3 percent of Texas public school students were Hispanic, a number that continues to grow as the population of the state changes.

School districts in Texas will have access to a state-approved curriculum for these courses. The state is planning to reach out to publishers for materials, which could benefit Latino authors and writers. For some people, it was a long-awaited victory, including Marci McMahon, graduate certificate coordinator of the Mexican-American Studies Program at UTPA, who explained its significance.

“It will only work to help educate students about the history of diverse groups in this country,” McMahon said. “I think while the universities recognize Latino studies as a legitimate field, it’s the public school systems where it needs to be recognized.”

While the initial proposal was for a stand-alone course on Mexican-American studies, Cortez had agreed to the compromise to have this course and other ethnic-related courses available as electives. McMahon commented on these other options.

“We’re a multicultural society,” McMahon said. “I was actually glad to hear that the elective wasn’t just Mexican-American studies and that it was other groups.”

While many educators and organizations supported this approval, it also received its fair share of negative views. Skeptics, such as board member David Bradley, stated that having these courses will promote “reverse racism” and bring further division into society.

“Mexican-American studies does not teach to hate America but to understand the history and to love America for what it is: the land of the opportunity,” Gonzalez countered. “What Mexican-American Studies and these other courses do is teach how to value all cultures, be a positive representative in your community, and do something for the betterment of your community.”

McMahon also noted that this notion of “reverse racism,” a theory of discrimination occurring against a more dominant race, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I think that’s just a very faulty way of thinking about American identity,” McMahon said. “Mexican-American history, African-American history, Asian-American history, that’s part of American history and I think to say it’s reverse racism completely misunderstand the history of race relations in this country.”

While the classes will be available to students at the public school setting, Gonzalez hopes it will be equally beneficial to students like himself.

“I can just imagine what Mexican-American Studies will do for students at an earlier stage such as high school,” Gonzalez said. “It will encourage students to reach their Mexican-American dream.”

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Shutting down

March 27th, 2014

Michael Rangel made a trip to the UTPA Student Union March 19 to speak with students about the services Planned Parenthood provides and discussed how the closing of the McAllen clinic has impacted the community.

Rangel, a community educator for McAllen’s Planned Parenthood, continues his outreach to universities and the Rio Grande Valley, despite the last abortion clinic in the Valley closing its doors March 6.

“It’s rather depressing, especially considering that it’s the last one in the Valley,” Rangel said. “I mean, we lost Harlingen, we just lost McAllen, so the nearest clinic is currently in Corpus Christi, but considering how the legislation is going, God only knows how long Corpus Christi is going to last before everyone is going to have to start going to San Antonio or take the risk and go to Mexico or finding illegal drugs in the flea markets here.”

After nearly 10 years of being the only abortion provider in the McAllen community, Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen closed down as a result of new medical guidelines passed in the Texas Legislature during the 2013 session.

House Bill 2, the anti-abortion law signed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry last July, bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, four weeks earlier than what was set by Roe v. Wade. In 1973, Roe v. Wade determined that no state could impede an abortion during the first three months, or trimester, of a pregnancy. Additionally, HB 2 restricts the way doctors can administer abortions with medication.

Jesus Garza, a freshman philosophy major, thinks that no longer having the clinic open will encourage families to discuss and analyze the different options available to  pregnant women.

“I think people might feel uneasy about this change in legislation, but I want to reassure women and remind them that they are not alone,” Garza said. “This opens up the possibility for women to choose life, which could potentially lead to the birth of the next future scientist who may find the cure  for cancer.”

Since the legislature began passing new restrictions on pregnancy termination in 2011, the number of  Texas abortion clinics dropped from 44 in 2011 to 20 after the recent closing of the McAllen and Beaumont clinics. The law requires all clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers, which means abortion providers must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. It also requires facilities to administer the abortion-inducing medication, RU-486, in person as opposed to letting women take it home.

“I think this law advocates for women’s safety and their general well being,” Garza said. “I think it will help women choose life and it will help them reconsider other options, such as adoption or parenting, with the help of a number of resources available to them in the Valley.”

Whole Woman’s Health, which currently runs four abortion clinics and one ambulatory surgical center in Texas, provides women with cancer screenings, birth control, women’s health and abortion services for low-income women, according to ABC affiliate KVUE. The Beaumont center was the only abortion provider between Houston and the Louisiana border, according to The Huffington Post.

Anti-abortion lawmakers said the legislation is needed to protect women’s health, but Irish Bautista, a senior nursing major, believes otherwise.

“I think it will impact the health and safety of women in general,” the 25-year-old said. “If this bill is thinking about the health and safety of an unborn child, (then) why couldn’t they consider the safety of the woman who is carrying the child too?”

The clinic in Corpus Christi, which is about 150 miles from McAllen, has until September to comply with the law. If it fails to adhere to new regulations, Valley residents who want an abortion will have to travel almost 300 miles to San Antonio for their procedure. Women in Beaumont will not have to travel as far, but will have to make multiple trips, according to The American Prospect, a Washington D.C. based political magazine.

Under Texas law, women who want an abortion must first get a sonogram from the physician who will be performing the procedure at least 24 hours beforehand. If a woman lives more than 100 miles from the abortion clinic, the patient is exempt from the law. The women in Beaumont live about 90 miles from the nearest abortion center in Houston.

Rangel, a UTPA graduate, believes shutting down the clinics will only make women take measures into their own hands.

“Women are still going to want an abortion, they just made it impossible for them to get a safe one. So (anti-abortion lawmakers) just put women at risk and their family at risk,” Rangel said. “I just really hope that after these election cycles are over that the people we have in the Senate, the House and the governor will hopefully realize the problem they’ve created and try and fix it.”

The Rio Grande Valley has one of the highest rates of self-induced abortion in the U.S., according to The American Prospect. A survey from 2012 found that 12 percent of women living in close proximity to the Mexican border said they had tried to terminate their own pregnancy before asking for professional help.

“Since there are no abortion clinics in the Valley, I really think women are going to start going to Mexico for services,” Bautista said. “They’ll also start buying those pills for abortions. That’s kind of a scary thought. They don’t know what kind of side effects that will get. Who’s advocating for these women? Not Rick Perry, clearly.”

Based on a 2013 analysis by Politifact, Texas provides more than 70,000 abortions each year. When the ambulatory surgical center requirement takes effect in September, clinics in major urban areas, including San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas, will begin to serve the patients from closed clinics.

According to KSAT 12  News, Planned Parenthood plans to open a $5 million abortion clinic in San Antonio that will comply with HB 2. The new clinic will be the only Planned Parenthood facility in San Antonio that will also be a surgical center.

“I just think the government should focus more on issues that affect the entire population,” Bautista said. “Why are they so focused on cutting off power from women to have a choice? I think the government should be focusing more on preventative measures (like) education, proper family planning, birth control and things like that. The more educated we become, the better we can take care of ourselves and hopefully prevent unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.”

UPDATE: According to a press release from Whole Woman’s Health, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against HB 2 April 2. The organization, which is based in New York City, has fought for reproductive rights for more than 20 years The federal lawsuit consists of two parts. The first asks for an immediate court order to bring an end to the law’s requirement of admitting privileges at local hospitals. The second part aims to end HB 2’s requirement of every reproductive health care facility, that offers abortion services, to meet the same provisions as an ambulatory surgical center.

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News Briefs: Week of November 21, 2013

November 21st, 2013

UT cancels ‘Catch An Illegal Immigrant’

The Young Conservatives of Texas at the University of Texas at Austin cancelled the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game after administrators said it was “completely out of line with the values” of the university, according to NPR.

Originally, the organization was going to have some of its members walk around campus Nov. 20 with an “illegal immigrant” label on them. According to the original Facebook post, any UT student who caught an “illegal immigrant” and brought them back to the group’s table would receive a $25 gift card.

“The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” the group stated on their Facebook page regarding the event.

However, UT President Bill Powers did not approve of the event.

“As Americans, we should always visualize our Statue of Liberty and remember that our country was built on the strength of immigration,” Powers said. “Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration. I ask YCT to be part of that discussion, but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students.”

Supreme Court won’t block Texas abortion laws

By a vote of 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers seeking to block abortion laws in Texas Nov.19. The laws have led to the closure of 12 clinics in Texas so far, according to Reuters.

Passed in July of this year, this legislation does not allow abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers and requires any doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The appeal specifically targeted the last of these provisions.

This is not the first opposition this specific provision has faced. Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court in Austin declared Oct. 28 that “the act’s admitting-privileges provision is without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus,” according to The New York Times. This happened one day before the provision was to take effect, but a three-judge appellate panel overruled the judge.

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Texas Senator Wendy Davis visits Poncho’s Mexican restaurant

November 15th, 2013

Greeted by more than 100 supporters inside, and a group of four local protesters outside, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-TX, visited Poncho’s Mexican restaurant in Pharr Nov. 6 two days after a visit to the University of Texas at Brownsville. She showed her thanks for those supporting her campaign for Texas governor in 2014, announced by Davis Oct. 3.

 Volunteers from across the Rio Grande Valley joined together in the large tiki hut event room located at the back of the restaurant and made phone calls to local voters, asking them to support Davis. After two hours of volunteer phone calls, the Texas governor candidate arrived to personally thank the volunteers and gave a short speech before doing a meet-and-greet with her supporters.

Davis jumped to national acclaim through social media earlier this year after her filibuster against Senate Bill 5, a bill that changed abortion laws and put greater restrictions on abortion access. This stance made her an opponent for Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, the current Texas governor, and Greg Abbott, R-TX, the current Texas Attorney General and fellow candidate for Texas governor.

 During her speech, Davis, discussed her childhood in north Texas and related it to the struggles with poverty that are seen in the Valley. She put an emphasis on public education, as well as higher education, as a means of lifting the region out of its current state of poverty.

 “Growing up in poverty and being a single mother, I know what it means to not be able to pay for higher education,” Davis said. “There needs to be an emphasis on public schooling and higher education in our great state of Texas.”

 According to an article by Texas Monthly, the McAllen and Brownsville metropolitan areas are ranked number one and number two as the poorest cities in the nation, respectively. Davis mentioned this problem and spoke about ideas on how easier access to education can help resolve this problem.

 “This region is one of the poorest in the nation and there is much to be done that can fix that,” said the Texas senator, who is now in the middle of her second term. “I want to restore that faith in Texas and give those who came from nothing, like myself, the opportunity to receive a quality education and make something of themselves.”

 Aside from discussing public and higher education needs in the region, Davis also touched on the upcoming university merger between UTPA and UTB and the creation of a medical school. She thinks the merger will be greatly beneficial to the region and ended by saying she hopes this merger will create opportunity for young Valley residents.

 In stark contrast to the positive energy of local Democrats inside the event room, protesters outside felt differently about Davis.

 This summer, Davis gained national attention with her 13-hour filibuster against SB 5. While Davis received support from abortion rights activists, according to The Washington Post, but she was also ridiculed by anti-abortion organizations for her views.

 Frank Beall, a director at Outreach RGV’s ministry, an organization aimed at defending Christianity, and protestor outside of the Pharr event, spoke candidly about his reasoning behind the protest.

 “People don’t like our message, but what we are doing is pushing people to consistency,” Beall said. “Wendy Davis claims Christianity, she doesn’t claim atheism (and) she doesn’t claim materialism. She claims Christianity and is not consistent with it.”

However, despite the presence of protesters, Davis said these visits to the RGV are the first of many to be made during the next year of her gubernatorial campaign, leading to election day November 2014.

 “This is a wonderful and beautiful community,” Davis said. “I’m so proud to be able to come here and be received with so much support and love.”

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Texas Voter ID law takes effect

October 3rd, 2013

 Photo identification is now required when voting in person in any Texas election. The first official enactment of the law  Nov. 5 is in the upcoming Texas constitutional amendment election where Texas residents have the opportunity to vote on proposed amendments to the state constitution.

The Voter ID bill was first passed by the Texas Legislature in September 2011, but after three civil lawsuits, such as the one filed by the Justice Department, who quickly blocked it. Despite the lawsuits, the U.S. Supreme Court put it into effect in June 2013 by determining Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be unconstitutional.

During the Civil Rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to alleviate voting discrimination. Sections two through five of the act banned practice of rejecting or limiting people’s ability to vote based on race or color.

Miguel de los Santos, an associate professor in the department of educational leadership at the University, said he does not support the new requirement and believes it interferes with a person’s right to vote.

“I think it’s being passed by legislatures with bad intentions,” de los Santos said. “It discourages minority, poor and old people from voting. It makes it very difficult and all the studies that show that voter fraud without voter IDs has been almost negligible.”

Opponents to the Voter ID laws argue that they generally affect minority, low-income groups and elderly that are inclined to vote Democratic. Brennan Center at New York University conducted a study that concluded 11 percent of voting-age citizens do not possess the required photo ID needed to vote and many residents in rural locations have difficulty finding ID offices.

The study showed that in the 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws, approximately 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and reside at least 10 miles from the closest office that issues IDs.

Since 2004, Attorney General Greg Abbott has pursued 66 people in Texas on charges of voting irregularities, with four cases actually involving illegally casting a ballot. In the majority of his cases, the voter fraud violations were mail-in ballots, the others involved felons who weren’t authorized to vote.

Jacen Sammons, a sophomore life sciences major, said he supports the new law, thinks it will help prevent voter fraud and believes it can prevent those without valid citizenship from affecting the election process.

“The law is meant to allow only those who are citizens of the United States to vote in our elections,” Sammons said. “If you’re not a citizen, I’m sorry but you haven’t earned the right to vote in the USA. After all, would I, an American citizen, go down and vote in a Mexican Election?”

VOTER ID STUFF 300x275 Texas Voter ID law takes effect

Organizations such as the NAACP of Texas, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Justice Department have all filed lawsuits to overturn the voter ID law. They argue that the Republican-controlled Legislature generated an illegal block to voting for those who live in rural areas and poor minorities. According to the Associated Press, minorities account for the majority of voters who do not currently own one of the six types of ID required.

“I believe (Republicans) fear that the Hispanic population is growing so fast and becoming a majority that they’re looking for ways to prevent more Democrats, if you will, or more Hispanics, from being elected,” said de los Santos. “Those who are in power, which is the Republican Party, are trying to put a halt to that.”

According to a poll by CBS News, 64 percent of Hispanics who were born in the U.S. prefer Democrats while the number to favor Republicans is 30 percent. It is estimated that 11 percent, or about 20 million people, do not have government issued IDs. At this moment, 33 states have proposed or already adopted the same voter ID laws.

“I suspect that fewer people that are minorities and elderly will vote,” de los Santos said. “I think that we’re gonna have a lot, especially among the elderly and the poor, those who don’t have transportation, will not go vote because they don’t have a driver’s license or they don’t have an ID.”

 Gov. Rick Perry argues that the requirements are designed to control voter fraud. In the course of the Bush administration, 196 million votes were cast and the number of cases with voter fraud reached 86. Of the 33 voter ID laws, 32 were proposed by Republican legislatures, passed by Republican-controlled state houses and signed into law by Republican governors.

“The ID laws will prevent fraud and make voting fair across the board,” Sammons said. “I don’t see how this would prevent minority groups from voting. After all Latino, White, Black, we all must have valid drivers licenses to drive right, which are issued by the state, which requires you to prove citizenship when you apply.”

Valid picture identification required from voters before entering a poll include a driver’s license, election identification certificate, Dept. of Public Safety personal ID card, U.S. military ID, U.S. citizenship certificate, U.S. passport or a license to carry a concealed handgun issued by the Dept. of Public Safety.

The new rules will also shorten early voting by a week, end straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to select a party’s complete list of candidates with just one ballot marking and end same-day registration, which permits residents to go to the polls on Election Day, register and then vote on the same day. There are currently four types of states with voter IDs: strict, non-strict, photo and non-photo. Strict states do not allow voters to cast a valid ballot without first presenting ID. States, such as Texas and Tennessee, require that the ID presented at the polls must show a picture of the voter.

“These are very political moves, very strategic, the argument that is being used by those who are passing the laws is that it’s preventing fraud,” said de los Santos. “But all the studies show that there is almost no fraud whatsoever with the system we have.”

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Volleyball an injury apart

September 19th, 2013

The women’s volleyball players represent the University by playing their sport and are counted on to do their best and win games, but at times this comes with a price.

Despite the cheers and recognition, the team experiences the dangers of injury after returning home from four games on the road.

Masaki, a junior setter on the volleyball team, laid prone as she received treatment for her stiff back. She explained how the season tends to take its toll on the players.

“We’ve had a lot of games on the road and it has been physically tiring for a lot of us,” Masaki said. “But recovery and coming in for treatment will help us in that process to get better.”

Though aches and pains are part of an athlete’s everyday life, when it comes to keeping the players safe, it falls to Jim Lancaster, associate athletic director for sports medicine, to make sure they receive the proper attention, despite the player’s urge to play.

“Obviously these kids wanna be out there,” Lancaster said. “When you get to this level of athletics a lot of them don’t even want to say anything to you because they don’t want you to pull them out of the game. But…(coaches) have to think about tomorrow or the next day. I’d rather take a student out for one game and give them a chance to recover and potentially save them for the rest of the season.”

According to, there are about 1,600 women’s college volleyball programs throughout the nation. All these programs must watch their students, and there are certain areas that are more prone to getting hurt.

One of the jobs of volleyball players is to sometimes dive and fall, which causes an added injury risk to the ankles and knees. Because of this, indoor volleyball players must wear knee pads and ankle guards.
There is not just a risk of injury to the lower body, as women’s volleyball Head Coach Brian Yale explained.

“The shoulders (are) obviously (at risk) with the swing that we do at the net and the activity that happens up there,” he said. “(But) in female athletes, knees are always a concern. As far as going to the floor and things like that, we work it into practice…it’s part of the game and it needs to happen. It’s a matter of turning it into what we call muscle.”

Repeated overhead motions, such as spiking and blocking, often cause injuries to the shoulder. In addition volleyball athletes must pay close attention to their hands as they are prone to finger injuries.

In light of this, the National Collegiate Athletic Association keeps a close eye out for collegiate athletes by watching the count of injuries and citing which areas are injury-prone. They do this by collecting data based off of their Injury Surveillance Program. The NCAA’s ISS is a comprehensive database that assesses injury risk.

The program defines an injury as a traumatic incident that results in a player getting pulled from a game or practice. The ISS has pulled statistics on injuries since 1982. Information from this program helps them make sure that collegiate sports have the most up-to-date safety guidelines to keep its student athletes safe.

This defines what Lancaster’s job actually is; he makes sure that his players walk off the court healthy. He prefers to be safe rather than sorry.
“It’s (about) using the policy (that is set in place) to support the trainers being on the safe side,” Lancaster said. “To me, it’s unfair for sacrifices to be made when this kid might be someone’s son or daughter. If it were your own kid, would you be cautious with them?”

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