Texas Union

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Campus Events + Entertainment hosted the annual Texas Revue talent show on Saturday night at The Texas Union. Nritya Sangam won best overall and Dirty Douth Dandiya won The Cristi Biggs Memorial Award for Technical Excellence. Warning: The slideshow may not be visible on some mobile devices. Click here if viewing on mobile.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Sitting around a table in the Texas Union, the creators of UT’s new self-esteem boosting club try to describe their project in one word. One describes it as “groundbreaking,” another says “community,” but the group comes to a consensus on the word “human.” 

Undeclared sophomore Micaela Williams, radio-television-film sophomore Elaina Woods, finance sophomore Caio Porciuncula, undeclared sophomore Antonino Cummings and several other students came together to create Esteem, Growth, Optimism, or E.G.O., a club focused on promoting high self-esteem and personal growth.

The club meets Thursday nights in Waggener Hall to hold an open forum where members can discuss aspects of everyday life, including mental health, body issues, gender identity, racial identity, sexuality and religion. Williams explained that by creating a safe space to hang out and talk about these issues, they hope to instill in their members a greater sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

“The point is to allow everybody to reach their full potential, which sounds kind of corny, but we are here to provide a place of support and acceptance, so people can grow and love themselves,” Williams said. 

According to a 2013 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental illness, excluding developmental and substance abuse disorders. One in five children either currently suffer or have suffered from a mentally debilitating disorder. According to Cummings, this club is the creators’ response to the mental health crisis. 

“I think we’re starting to realize we can’t just ignore it anymore, and it’s going to take a focused effort,” Cummings said. “In a way, I think this group is a response to that, to our culture. It’s us saying ‘Hey, let’s do something about this.’”

The club began with a Facebook post on the UT transfers page, which all of the founding members liked and commented on. As they began talking, plans for E.G.O. began to form. 

Woods explained that this club is the first of its kind at UT because of its focus on a broad range of topics. She said the creators’ goal is to bring different perspectives and life experiences into each meeting. By doing this, they hope to fight some of the stigmas associated with mental health issues. 

“Feeling alone, feeling sad, feeling conflicted is a very human thing and a very natural thing. We all feel like that from time to time,” Porciuncula said. “We want to humanize these issues and make sure that people know that they can feel that way, and there are people they can talk to — you know, there is a solution to the problem. We want to be that solution.”

In the future, they plan to have guest speakers at their meetings and host events, such as the Mad Hatter Tea Party and what they call a Be-You-Ty Ball, where they will encourage attendees to come dressed in clothes that are most comfortable for them, whether they are pajamas or formal wear.

For now, the creators are focusing on promoting their club, building membership and reaching out to youth clubs and schools where, according to Williams, they hope to promote high self-esteem in young children. 

The Division of Student Affairs announced Monday that Mulugeta Ferede will be the new University Unions executive director, replacing Andy Smith, who resigned from the position in August.

The unions executive director supervises a staff that works directly with students and manages the Texas Union, Student Activity Center, Hogg Auditorium and Student Services Building. The director also oversees Campus Events + Entertainment and business and food services at the Union.

Smith officially retired from the position in August after 27 years with the unions. Three years before his resignation, Smith was criticized for a proposal to close the Cactus Cafe & Bar in the Union.

Smith will continue to work with the unions until the end of the year, at which point Ferede will take over. Gage Paine, vice president for student affairs, said she appreciates Smith’s willingness to work with the unions in the interim period. 

Ferede, who has worked with unions for almost 20 years, will leave his post of eight years as senior associate director of the Illini Union at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In his time at UT, Ferede said he hopes to build an energetic atmosphere. 

“My interest is really the students,” Ferede said. “I must be a teacher at heart — I’m interested in helping and mentoring students.” 

Paine said she is excited Ferede has experience in working directly with students and managing facilities. 

“He brings a business sense and student engagement sense into the mix,” Paine said. “I have expectations that he’ll bring great energy into our programs. … When a new person comes in, no matter how strong an organization is, a new person sees new things and asks questions that someone who has been there for 27 years doesn’t ask.” 

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said during the interview process Ferede demonstrated qualities she was looking for — including integrity, passion and a student-centered mind-set. 

“I’m hoping that the student body will have the opportunity to get to know him and share their vision of what they would like to see as we continue to build on the excellence of our program and facilities,” Reagins-Lilly said. “I am looking forward to a collaborative process to determine the future growth that includes students at the center.”

What started out as a single, dirt path students would walk across on their way to class has transformed into the pulse of the University for students to table and to protest.

The West Mall, located west of the UT Tower, is known for it’s tree lined walkways that stretch to the Texas Union, where many student organizations rent tables to distribute flyers and information.

Former UT historian Jim Nicar said in the 1930s the University, which had about 11,000 students, had horse-drawn trolleys to transport students to class and drop them off in front of Guadalupe. This path from Guadalupe up to the west wing of the Main Building became known as the “West Walk.” Nicar runs a blog called “The UT History Corner” including history about the university.

“If they had built the east wing of the Main Building first, the Drag may have wound up on Speedway,” Nicar said. “Stores started popping up around the trolley stop which became an active part of campus. In fact, it’s almost like a second main entrance to campus.”

In 1933, a French architect named Paul Kret designed the campus master plan of the University. Kret is the architect of the Tower, the Union, Goldsmith Hall and designed the way the West Mall should be laid out.

Nicar said Kret designed the two square towers of Goldsmith Hall and the Union to frame the west entrance of UT because of its heavy student traffic.

In the 1950s and 1960s the West Mall became an important place for student elections, football rallies and a center of social life on campus, Nicar said. Protests didn’t really start until the ‘60s with the Vietnam War. In 1970, planters were put in the middle of the sidewalks by former UT System Regent Frank Erwin to discourage large gatherings of students.

Now, the West Mall allows student organizations to promote their initiatives. 

While some universities may have designated locations for free speech, UT allows free speech across campus, said Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students.

The rally space in front of the steps facing the West Mall is also equipped with plugs where amplified sound may be used from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Many students consider the rally space the University’s free speech zone. 

“The entire campus is a free speech zone, but what people get confused about is amplified sound.” Mercatoris said. “In their minds they replace amplified sound zone with a free speech zone.”

Mercatoris said UT has 1,148 student organizations this year, who all have the right to bring guest speakers and rent tables on the West Mall.

“Whatever the topic is, we’re advocating for that free speech and assisting them to have an event where speech can flourish,” Mercatoris said.

Economics senior Jocelyn Matyas tables for Colleges Against Cancer to advertise to the University and give out information to students.

“[West Mall] is a high traffic area where people expect student organizations to advertise and engage with the community,” Matyas said. “It’s a great way to spread information around campus.”

As a first-generation college student, I learned a lot about university life from films like “Animal House” and “Old School.” They taught me that I’d eventually have to face a powerful enemy in the form of a vindictive, narrow-minded administrator.

Upon joining the Student Event Center’s Distinguished Speakers Committee, I was certain I’d found my nemesis in the form of Andy Smith, the Texas Unions director. He was almost too perfect. Always dressed in suit and tie with a helmet of white hair he could easily pass for one of Dick Cheney’s henchmen. The one Dick Cheney’s other henchmen were afraid of.

I’d heard stories, too, about how he’d ruthlessly killed programs the campus community loved, cutting at the budget like a butcher from his perch in the corner of the Union.

My first few interactions with Smith put us immediately at odds over the budget, over facilities usage and once even over the sleeping habits of people in the Texas Union. It wasn’t just what he thought, but how he presented it. Even when talking about mundane things like the weather he’d recline in his chair and lean his chin forward, lowering his voice conspiratorially, as if the rain we’d been having lately might be part of a larger plot.

Yet the more I worked with him, the more disappointed I was. Or, at least, the part of me that wanted a foe was disappointed. He was hardly the heartless administrator who aimed to consolidate power and money that I’d expected. Even when I disagreed with him, Smith’s machinations had the long-term best interests of the student body and the University in mind.

As a Texan columnist, I met many professors, staff and administrators. All of them mean well, but not all knew how to function in the massive and complex bureaucracy that is UT. Smith understood how the system worked better than anyone I ever met during my time at UT. 

Though his role wasn’t as an educator, watching him maintain and expand the Union and allow the expansion of student programming was one of the best educations I got at the University of Texas. 

His legacy is obvious. Student programming at UT is among the best in the nation. The original Texas Union is more attractive, more efficient and more student-friendly than it has ever been. The new Student Activities Center, though conspicuously absent of big comfy couches perfect for napping, serves the campus community well. 

And if you should find yourself enjoying a late night Frosty at Wendy’s, you owe a small debt of gratitude to Smith. He loves that damn Wendy’s so much. If you’ve never seen Andy Smith excited, try to grab him before he retires and ask him about it.

His other legacy, though, isn’t quite so obvious, but it’s the one that’s more important in my estimation: his impact on students who had the privilege to work with and/or against him. That so many of the former members of the Union Board of Directors now serve as leaders in business and government is encouraging and not at all surprising.

If Smith had one flaw in his leadership, it was a desire for secrecy that some saw as insidious, but was usually an attempt to protect student programming in the face of campuswide budget tightening or to shield students from the whims of public scrutiny in order to give them space and time to make the hard decisions. When it backfired, it backfired spectacularly, as with the Cactus Cafe controversy, but go back and look at any student-drafted Union budget if you want to see the possibilities of competent student leadership under wise administration.

That secrecy also means he’ll probably be the last one to stand up, before he retires, and recount to you all the things he’s done to keep both the physical Union and the idea of a student union alive, so I’m happy to do it for him.

Matt Hardigree is a former SEC president and Daily Texan columnist. He graduated with government and geography degrees in 2005.

Wei Ren explains his energy saver experiment to Travis Wilson at the UT Energy Saver Forum at the Texas Union. The forum brought together scientists who have been developing ways to save energy.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

The two-day UT Energy Forum, a conference addressing energy issues and discussing improvement of the energy market, began Thursday morning in the Texas Union. 

This is the UT Energy Forum’s third year. The mission of the conference is to provide a platform for experts from industry, academia and government to discuss the future of the energy industry. Through workshops and panels focusing on energy policy and energy technology research, the Energy Forum aims to develop environmentally sustainable solutions to global warming and its effects. 

The Energy Forum is hosted by McCombs CleanTech Group, an organization that works to promote a future economy that is energy efficient and sustainable.

Arpit Desai, CleanTech member and business administration graduate student, said he appreciates the mix of attendees attracted by the forum.

“You have people who are in all different aspects of energy,” Desai said. “This forum is a good way of keeping discussion going between those groups. The experts that attend bring their knowledge, and the students bring innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.” 

Thursday’s schedule included six workshops covering subjects like the promotion of economic development in Central Texas through clean energy practice and the legal and technical obstacles expected in the energy industry in 2013. 

A workshop titled “Influencing and Measuring an Individual’s Impact on Energy Use” discussed ways faculty and students can help meet goals set by the President’s Sustainability Steering Committee to reduce energy and water consumption. The workshop was led by the UT Energy Stewardship Program, an organization that works to promote conservation on campus.

“There are a lot of energy initiatives just here at UT,” business administration graduate student Jacob Lohman said. “This gives us an opportunity to showcase what’s already going on and recruit individuals who can get something new started.”

Thursday’s keynote speaker David G. Victor, an international relations and pacific studies professor at the University of California San Diego, discussed the energy industry’s current concerns and ways government and policy can make change possible. 

“Past treaties have yielded 0 percent impact,” Victor said. “These are faux treaties, treaties designed to produce a high level of compliance that accordingly have little to no effect. We need to offset climate change, and the current policy won’t do that.”

Victor works with the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, exploring which international laws work and why. He founded a research program at Stanford University which focuses on the energy markets of emerging countries. 

“What everyone wants to know is how long,” Victor said. “How long will it take to make this transformation in our energy system? If we work, and really work, we can make a major impact within 50 years.”

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Forum talks key energy issues". 

Chanting slogans in Spanish, UT students and community members marched into the Texas Union building Friday afternoon and disrupted a conference hosting top Mexican government officials.

Holding signs written in Spanish such as “We are the Outraged” and “Felipe Calderón: Murderer,” the demonstrators protested a potential teaching position being offered to Mexico’s outgoing president, Felipe Calderón. Some said they belonged to the Yo Soy 132 group, a group fighting for democracy in Mexico, and that they believe that Calderón is responsible for crimes against humanity and the deaths of thousands of Mexicans. Demonstrators expressed concern that a teaching position at UT would be a way for the Mexican president to avoid prosecution in Mexico.

“There’s currently a petition going around in Mexico and the international community to get Calderón to be tried by an international court for crimes against humanity for the deaths of over 60,000 people,” Spanish-Portguese graduate student Rene Carrasco said. “[A teaching position] is a way to open the doors for immunity and not to get justice done.”

In August, the Dallas Morning News reported that Calderón and President William Powers Jr. had met at least twice to discuss the idea of teaching at UT after his term is over in November. The protesters aimed to convey their opposition to Mexico’s Secretary of Interior, Alejandro Poiré Romero, who spoke at the conference. They held signs accusing Calderón of crimes against humanity and said they hoped their message of opposition would reach the Mexican president.

UT Police Department officers responded to the protest but no arrests were made because it was a peaceful protest, police said.

UT spokesperson Tara Doolittle declined to comment on any talks regarding Calderón and his future teaching position at UT.

Charles Hale, director of Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, said he welcomed the viewpoints of the demonstrators, but that they could have been expressed in a more constructive manner.

“[The Institute] strongly endorses the principles of free speech,” Hale said. “In this particular case, my reaction was to endorse and respect the protesters’ right to express their views. In fact, I wanted to hear their views articulated more fully, and I was disappointed that their participation was mainly in the form of chants and slogans rather than substantive questions and challenges to the speaker.”

The Friday workshop in the Union Building was organized by the Long Institute for Latin American Studies in collaboration with the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the UT School of Law. Speakers included Poiré, Instituto Federal Electoral advisor Benito Nacif Hernández and Mexican election judge Manuel González Oropez.

Printed on Monday, September 24, 2012 as: Students protest Calderon, UT

Former Wendy’s employee Ishmael Mohammed Jr., known as “Junior,” left the restaurant in the Union after 14 years. Junior broke the world record for most sales in a fast food restaurant in under thirty minutes and was the subject of a documentary aired during South By Southwest and directed by a UT alumnus.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

After more than 13 years at the Texas Union, Junior, “The Wendy’s Guy,” has gone home.

In January he transferred to the Wendy’s at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, and a few weeks ago he was no longer part of the company and had moved back to his hometown in New York state, said Dannie Badillo, manager at the MLK Wendy’s.

Badillo said he does not know why Junior has left, but that Junior came in for his last paycheck and only said that he would not be continuing to work in Austin.

Known for his excited performances and speed while calling up orders for customers at the Union’s Wendy’s, Ishmael Mohammed Jr., or Junior, worked at the Union from 1998 until last month. In 2005, Junior broke the world record for most sales at a fast food restaurant in 30 minutes, making 246 sales — $1,035.43 — for Wendy’s in the 30 minute time span between 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Junior had by then developed a cult status among UT students as an icon of the Texas Union. Junior inspired UT alumnus Stephen Stephanian to make “The Wendy’s Guy,” a 12-minute video on his record-breaking sales day that went on to premiere at South By Southwest and other film festivals.

“[Junior] and the Union were synonymous,” said radio-television-film senior Athan Bernal. “He was super outgoing and always enthusiastic. He was quick and he could cut down a line of 15 people in a minute. He was good at what he did.”

UT students will miss the iconic salesperson, said biology senior Liana Renteria.

“I’ve been wondering where he’s been,” Renteria said. “He was smiley and super sweet, and you could hear him shouting out orders from anywhere in the Union. Now that’s
not there.”

Everyone has seen the “fire and brimstone” preachers on college campuses. In fact, in front of the Texas Union last Thursday, several such speakers were present and held a large sign that read in big print, “Trust Jesus and sin no more, you sinners!” A crowd of students encircled the speaker and the man holding the sign. It seemed as though a riot was forming. As an older man preached, students responded with angry comments and by yelling obscene things at him. Other students continued to mock the speakers, and one student even took off his shirt and put on a Spiderman mask to taunt them.

The group that was on campus Thursday travels five days a week to universities around the country to spread its religious message. But who are these preachers trying to attract, and what is their purpose? Religious discussions are supposed to foster meaningful dialogue, not hatred. Whatever message these preachers intend to convey is lost in the wind of anger and contention they create.

Faith and religion are important topics among college students. College is a transition in students’ lives where religion shifts from a parents’ or grandparents’ decision to an individual affirmation. There is a perception that when religious students go to college, they begin to turn away from their faith because of the supposed liberal and secular perspectives found at universities today. However, a 2007 study co-authored by UT associate professor Mark Regnerus found that students who pursue advanced degrees are more likely to retain their faith than those who do not go to college.

One reason this may occur is because of the thoughtful discussions about religion that colleges foster. These discussions can confirm a student’s faith or leave a student seeking deeper answers.

Talking about faith should be a common topic among students, especially on a campus as diverse as UT. Such conversations allow students of differing backgrounds to ask or answer questions of faith that they would typically not think about naturally. These conversations create a culture of tolerance where tough questions are asked in hopes of finding truth. Sadly, the abrasive methods many preachers regularly use shatter that environment.

The scene on Thursday was not a situation that allowed students to think deeper about faith. Although many students were disturbed by the preachers’ message, Christian students seemed to be the most saddened by the scene. They said that the speakers and their message did not truly reflect their faith due to the condemnation and hatred it promoted. For example, Mary Martha Bauman, a Plan II Honors senior, explained, “It’s incredible how some can be so ‘off’ on what the Gospel is about and on God’s nature. ... What they say bothers me.”

So the question remains: How can we, as a University, create an environment that allows students to openly discuss religion and faith in a manner that generates dialogue, promotes truth and does not distort religious doctrine?

One suggestion is to boldly question each other. Often, religion is not deeply discussed outside of philosophy and religion classes. However, if students are more willing to casually discuss these topics with each other, then students could collectively create a more thoughtful culture on campus.

As colleges foster the search for knowledge on many different subjects, the search for faith should not be regarded as taboo. Instead, conversations must be open and marked by a spirit of love and tolerance.

Dafashy is a Plan II senior.

Every year, the College of Communication recognizes people who have helped its programs in some way by giving them the college-created Jeffrey Award.

Recipients of the award are not always directly related to the College of Communication, as the award is given to individuals who have dedicated time and effort to helping the college. The five recipients will be honored on Friday during a Friends of the College dinner at the Texas Union.

The award was established in 2006 to honor Bob Jeffrey, the dean of the college from 1979 to 2003, who helped build the college’s endowment and brought in many of its celebrated faculty members.

“He had a very compassionate and warm personality, so the award was created to honor people who embody that and the spirit of the college,” said Erin Geisler, College of Communication spokeswoman. “[The award] honors the college’s greatest ambassadors.”

Up to five individuals receive the award every year, and John Barnhill Jr,, Ray Farabee, Thomas Schatz, Stephen Leslie and Terry Hemeyer were chosen to receive the award this year.

Barnhill graduated from UT in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was on the UT System Board of Regents from 2003 to 2009 and is being recognized for his encouragement of communication between alumni and the College of Communication. Farabee, another UT graduate, serves as the chairman of the advisory board for KUT, the student-run radio station on campus. He is receiving the award because he contributed to the creation of the KUT Public Broadcast Center and helped it become a unit of the campus.

The other three recipients are current faculty members at the University. Schatz, a professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Film, is receiving the award because of his contributions to the radio-television-film department’s top-five ranking, said Geisler. Another faculty member recipient is Leslie, executive vice president and provost of the University. He is being honored for his contributions to the creation of the Belo Center for New Media and supporting other enterprises within the University, according a press release.

Hemeyer, a senior lecturer in advertising and public relations, is another faculty member. He has taught at UT for 16 years and drives from Houston to teach his class. He has also served on the advisory council for the College of Communication.

“When Hart called me, I was surprised,” Hemeyer said. “I’ve been driving from Houston for 16 years because I enjoy what I do and it’s my passion. I want to advise students on what to expect when they get their first job.” 

Printed on Thursday, November 3, 2011 as: Five dedicated recipients earn Jeffrey Award