Search

D. Alex Lynch

Various works and musings of an aspiring journalist

Category

The Daily Lobo

Evicted eatery petitions to stay

Here’s the original story on The Daily Lobo’s website

Which is why Sahara’s owner, Helen Nesheiwat, and the restaurant’s employees were caught completely off guard when they received a notice early last week saying they are being replaced, and have until May 22 to pack up and leave.

“We were shocked when we received the letter,” Nesheiwat said. “We never had any problems [with UNM]. We had good numbers and very very good service.”

Chartwells, UNM’s food service contractor, is planning to replace Sahara and Times Square Deli, both local businesses owned by the Nesheiwat family, with Subway. Nesheiwat said the move confounds her.

“If another local business was going in, that’s okay. Give a chance to other people. But a chain? We’re supposed to support the community,” she said.

Kristine Andrews, communications director for Chartwells, said that the contractor is constantly thinking about staying up do date with what UNM students want.

“Local, regional and national brand vendor relationships are reviewed once per year by a number of measure, including but not limited to faster service, student preferences and food trends,” she said.

According to a statement form Chartwells, on Friday, April 17, the Student Union Board Retail Subcommittee considered options for changes before voting unanimously to the switches, along with replacing Saggio’s with WisePies.

The changes were then approved on April 20 by the SUB Board.

According to the statement, “A mix of national brand recognition and continued support of local brands was important to the student and campus leadership.”

But Nesheiwat said that if students have been desiring something else, she has seen no signs of it.

“We’re always on the code, we’re always on the spot, we always give our best service,” she said. “You can check with thousands of students, and they will tell you the same thing.”

And not just students, as a matter of fact. Scott England, a professor at UNM’s School of Law, said that he rarely comes to the SUB but when he does Sahara is his preferred option.

“From my perspective, it’s a great place. They serve great food, the service is outstanding. It’s the best place to get food in the SUB, and it’s a great local business. So I’m disappointed that the University is choosing to get rid of a local business in favor of a national chain,” he said.

Nesheiwat said that her business itself won’t suffer. There is another Sahara on Central across from the University, as well as a location on North Campus. There will also be a new Sahara opening soon on the west side, Nesheiwat said. But that isn’t the issue that upsets her.

“What about the employees we have at the SUB? What’s going to happen to them? They have children, they have their bills, they have responsibilities, they have mortgages to pay or rent,” she said. “You just have no idea how upset they are.”

She said she sees the move as unfair, due to the scarcity of Middle Eastern cuisine on or near main campus. She said the University shouldn’t remove a restaurant that caters to a specific group on campus.

“There’s a lot of Arab students – they pay fees, they pay tuition, there’s an Arab crew that works there. And they want Sahara, they want the Middle Eastern food,” Nesheiwat said. “It’s not okay to put a chain in there, but that’s their business. But [to] take out Sahara, I think this is discrimination.”

Andrews said that Chartwells has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination, and that they actually tried to continue their partnership with Sahara.

“We offered Sahara the opportunity to license some menu items so that we could offer them at locations across campus but they declined,” she said. “Chartwells will still integrate Middle Eastern dishes into retail and residential menus.”

But that isn’t enough for supporters of Sahara.

The restaurant has been taking signatures all week from students petitioning for the business to stay. The comments on the petitions range from “Keep business local!” to “Awesome place!” and “Great food!”

Nesheiwat said that at noontime on Monday they had already over 500 signatures from students who support Sahara. By late Tuesday afternoon, Sahara’s employees in the SUB said they had at least twenty pages of student names that they plan to present before the University at some point.

Raul Ayala, a sophomore double majoring in history and Spanish, was helping out Sahara on Tuesday by taking a petition sheet and going around the SUB getting signatures.

Ayala said that while taking away Sahara would partially eliminate the diversity of food options that the SUB offers, he also said he just wants to support them for the personable service he consistently receives.

“I eat there literally three days a week and I really like the service that they give me, they know me well, they know what I get every time,” he said. “I’m really just trying to help them out because they’re really nice guys.”

Nesheiwat said that the SUB is Sahara’s busiest location, and that 18 percent of their profits go to UNM. Andrews said that that commission is in place of rent that Sahara or any other restaurant in the SUB pays.

Andrews was unable to say whether the other restaurants in the SUB pay the same percentage of commission, because “sales information is confidential and not released publicly,” as well as contract details.

However, Andrews did say that termination clauses are a standard part of contracts, so that they can cater to students’ needs as they see fit.

“A 30-day termination clause allows parties to separate with 30-days’ notice so subcontractors can leave if their business needs dictate,” she said.

David Maile, a graduate student studying American studies, said that the move to bring in Subway oppresses local businesses in favor of capitalistic ventures.

“Choice is good, but providing better choice of options between corporate businesses like Subway here in the SUB is damaging to smaller companies like this that make better sandwiches than Subway, to be honest,” Maile said. “I think it goes to show the nature of capitalism is incredibly violent, and the University is complicit in that.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

ASUNM divestment resolution fails after hours-long debate

The legislation would have called upon the University to be transparent in its investments, and it specifically urged UNM to pressure companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar contributing to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The debate also included comments from several student organizations. About 70 students, teachers, alumni and others packed the gallery, which was clearly divided into supporters and opponents of the resolution: specifically, Students for Justice in Palestine, who authored the resolution, and Lobos for Israel and their respective allies who opposed it.

Andrew Balis, president of Lobos for Israel, said his group’s main concern was what the resolution implied about their country.

“(The resolution) serves that Israel must be dismantled. It will foster an environment of hostility on campus,” he said. “Instead of adopting a resolution that seeks to harm a country politically, ASUNM should foster discussion.”

Elisabeth Perkal, a member of SJP, said that neglecting to put focus on Israel would contradict the group’s objective.

“The reason we wanted to talk about Israel is because it’s important to us that we call out the racist and colonialized policies of that country,” she said. “It doesn’t target a student group, it addresses the state of Israel and these corporations.”

There were multiple points of contention contributing to the length and climate of the discussion, but the dividing line was between senators who prioritized the safety of Israeli students on campus and those who supported Palestinian students and the occupation in their home country first and foremost.

Many senators, including Kyle Stepp and Alex Cervantes, felt that the resolution should fail so that a more complete legislation focused on general transparency can be brought before ASUNM in the future, without alienating certain groups.

Stepp said bringing in more student organizations, as well as focusing on a more globalized picture instead of only a handful of companies to divest from, would make the resolution even stronger.

“Right now this room is divided, but imagine if this room was together, with every single person behind a resolution saying that we want to divest from companies that commit human rights violations in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, in America,” he said. “That’s what we can do if everyone came together.”

Still, some senators believed that it was common sense to immediately support those living in a Palestinian warzone. Sen. Udell Calzadillas Chavez said delaying the resolution would do more harm than good.

“This is something that must be addressed now,” he said. “If we wait, people are going to be dying, people are going to be suffering. We live in a globalized society, and we cannot look to the side when atrocities are being made.”

Sen. Tori Pryor said it was a problem that the resolution didn’t focus on the climate at UNM and the potential impact the resolution would have domestically.

She cited previous resolutions, such as legislation condemning Islamophobia and supporting undocumented students, as ones that were successful because they did not “shift the climate of fear” from one group to another, as she and many senators believed Resolution 12S would if passed.

“You have to value perception more than, if not just as much as, you value intention,” she said. “We want safety for everyone. We listen to our Palestinian students; should we not listen to our Israeli students?”

ASUNM senators weren’t the only ones contributing to the dialogue. On multiple occasions they yielded time for additional comments from those in attendance.

The conversation eventually turned into a debate, and then came to resemble a court case, each organization pleading its side, directly addressing the other group and leaving the floor to raucous applause from supporters.

Several backers of the resolution pointed to its urgency, insisting that it was something that simply could not wait. Izzy Mustafa, a Palestinian-American and member of SJP, said that the senators’ concerns were minute in comparison to those who must live in the occupation.

“I will not tolerate people ignoring the plight of our existence,” she said. “There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable on campus and not knowing if you’re going to have a life when you go back home.”

Mustafa was among the most vocal supporters, saying it was imperative the resolution pass, and reciting several anecdotes of human rights violations and cruelty she had witnessed in her home country.

“Think about the people who are closest to you and think about not knowing if you’re ever going to see them again,” she said. “UNM is like home to me, and I don’t want home for me to affect another home.”

Alex Rubin, a senior majoring in economics, said that although the resolution does not claim to target individual students, its direction is implied nonetheless.

“If this vote were to pass, I would no longer feel safe,” he said. “I would no longer feel comfortable as a Jewish student.”

Calzadillas Chavez, one of three senators who sponsored the resolution, proposed an amendment removing two clauses referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that UNM must take part in, citing that as the main source of contention.

It passed, but Balis and Lobos for Israel were not swayed.

“No matter what you strike, the thing is the same,” Balis said. “It’s still calling for BDS even if you don’t talk about it. For that reason we still can’t accept this.”

Sen. Nadia Cabrera eventually expressed her disappointment in how the discussion between senators had gone, questioning the ways they were arriving at certain conclusions.

“I think we’re letting the politics of the people in this room cloud our judgment,” she said.

The resolution had to be called into question six times, meaning the Senate was ready to vote on it, though it usually only takes one or two tries. The vote to call into question requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and multiple times it failed by only one affirmation before the resolution was finally voted on around 9:45 p.m., nearly four hours after the meeting began.

Soon after the vote, SJP’s twitter account, @UNMSJP, tweeted “Divestment resolution failed. 4-14-2. We’ll be back next semester, with an even stronger coalition! #UNMDivest.”

After the vote, Sen. Rebecca Hampton, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, resigned from ASUNM.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

UNM’s sports district plan gains motion with partner

Marble Development’s proposal is essentially a 1.4 acre plaza that will house a restaurant, a coffee shop and a taproom, according to a UNM press release. There will also be a stage for entertainment and live music before big events.

There is currently no estimated cost for the project, but Thomas Neale, director of financial transactions for LDC and director of UNM Real Estate, said the University itself won’t have to pay a single penny.

“There will be absolutely no cost to the University, it will all be through the ground lease,” Neale said.

The terms and conditions of that contract are currently being worked on by both parties. Neale said they hope to come to an agreement by mid-May.

Jabez Ledres, a junior majoring in athletic training, said the project has the potential to benefit UNM in more ways than one

“I think having an entertainment district is probably going to be cool for the students,” he said. “Obviously it will be something to draw people to UNM, and [it will] boost morale. We’ll have more to do around Albuquerque.”

At a time when the University is facing a budget crisis partially due to a drop in enrollment numbers, the project has the potential to not only generate revenue, but to attract students and sports fans alike to UNM.

ASUNM President Rachel Williams said the University will have to do some out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to making up an expected $3.6 million shortfall in the budget for next year.

“Academics haven’t been a great return on investment [for UNM]. We’re working on it, but we can see maybe more of a return on investment if we start putting money into things that accrue revenue, things that attract students to the University,” she said.

Williams, a senior, said she looks forward to how the plaza turns out.

“I’m kind of sad that I’m leaving because I think it’s going to be really exciting,” she said.

The area to be developed, on the corner of University Boulevard and Avenida Cesar Chavez, is currently used for parking for surrounding sports venues, including University Stadium and WisePies Arena.

The project is just one of many that comprise a master plan for South Campus development and renovation. Other potential future projects can be found at lobodevelopment.org.

Such plans, according to the LDC’s website, work towards “continue[ing] its mission of investing in UNM for the betterment of the students. Through its unique position as a private entity owned by the University, LDC has the support of the University and capability to create new successful developments in the future.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

UNM student voters approve pronoun initiative

All pronouns in the constitution will now consist of they/them/they’re as the primary form of identification.

ASUNM President Rachel Williams said she sees the amendment as a big step towards campus-wide inclusiveness for students who may want to serve in ASUNM to feel more welcome.

“It’s about comfort at the end of the day,” she said. “Should we have a student who does identify as gender-neutral who comes into ASUNM and is participating any way (not feel) like the Constitution is binary and exclusive and they don’t really feel like they’re as much as a part of it as they could be just because a couple of words that are very obviously easily changed?”

Constitutional amendments, per ASUNM policy, require a two-thirds vote by elections voters to pass. That number was widely surpassed as 987 of the 1,528 who made it to the polls voted in favor of the change, while only 225 voted against, amounting to 81 percent of students who voted on the amendment being in favor.

The amendment was originally proposed in fall 2013 and put on the ballot for that semester’s elections, but it failed. Williams attributed that to the abundance of amendments on the ballot semester, leading to voter fatigue.

“(There was) just way too much on the ballot that they didn’t really care,” she said.

Sen. Kyle Biederwolf re-introduced the proposed amendment in February and it passed the Senate.

Frankie Flores, administrative assistant at the LGBTQ Resource Center, attributes the change in student sentiment to growing awareness about the transgender community.

“I think that people are talking about transgender individuals in an open manner and considering the amount of violence that has been enacted upon the transgender community; I think that’s coming to light more so that people are more conscious of it.”

Williams said that the language in the constitution will also now be more uniform with the ASUNM Law Book, in which terms like “they” and “the body” are used.

Williams said she’s excited that both governing documents of ASUNM will now be gender-neutral.

“I 100 percent throw my weight behind this and I’m so happy that 81 percent of the voters agreed that this was something that our constitution needed to see.”

UNM was recently ranked 17th by BestColleges.com for providing outreach and resources to LGBTQ students. Flores said that the amendment continues to lead that initiative of working towards a more inclusive campus.

“I think that other organizations are going to be much more mindful of making sure the language is as inclusive as possible,” he said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news
@dailylobo.com or on Twitter 
@RealDavidLynch.

Hagengruber wins ASUNM presidency

Out of 1,528 undergraduate students who made it to the polls, 950 voted for Hagengruber, who currently serves as vice president of the undergraduate student governing body.

While she was nervous for not only herself, but for her team in the moments leading up to the announcement, Hagengruber said the overwhelming victory of her slate was the best feeling.

“It’s cool to know that all of that work and progress was successful, because to see that the people that I’ve spent the last three months working with are going into office just shows me that we have such passionate and hard working people on our slate,” she said.

The 1,528 student voters was more than double the turnout of the fall election, when only 682 made it to the polls.

Justin Cooper, a freshman business administration major, got the most votes of the 35 senatorial candidates with 628. He said working closely with his slate, and ensuring that everyone was working for each other and not just themselves, was key to Drive for ASUNM’s success.

“We all worked together,” he said. “We had a pep talk this morning, and we went in with our motto that we’re all driven for the same goal.”

Six of the nine new senators already had ASUNM experience at various levels, ranging from Emerging Lobo Leaders, the preparatory program for future senators, to attorney general.

Cooper said that that experience will be vital to what he and his elected team members plan to accomplish while in office.

“We’ve already started working on it and now I think it’s a good time for us to continue to pursue, accomplish it and make it a reality,” Cooper said.

Gabe Gallegos, a freshman double majoring in political science and strategic communication, got the third most votes for senatorial candidates with 561 and will serve as an ASUNM senator for the first time after going through Emerging Lobo Leaders this year.

Gallegos also attributed his victory to the close collaboration of Drive for ASUNM, and said he is excited to get started as a senator.

“I want to work tomorrow. For me, this has been a process for months now. I had to think about if this is the best decision for me, and this really validated that for me,” Gallegos said.

Hagengruber’s opponent for the presidency, Sen. Mack Follingstad, garnered 450 votes. He said he told Hagengruber beforehand that no matter the outcome, he is confident in the future of ASUNM.

“We knew it was going to be a tough race, and I’m not at all disappointed,” he said.

Two senatorial candidates from Follingstad’s slate, GO ASUNM, rounded out the eleven new senators that will begin serving in the fall.

One of those is Randy Ko, a sophomore biochemistry major who will serve half a term, sitting in place for current senator Udell Calzadillas-Chavez, who will graduate in May. He said he hopes to make ASUNM more inclusive.

“I want to be able to bring information to the students rather than them having to go out and look for the information, and I have plans to do that and bring more people to the office,” Ko said.

The other new senator from the GO ASUNM slate is sophomore English major Olivia Padilla.

Hagengruber said that students can expect a visible ASUNM, focused on outreach and asking students what they want and working to make it a reality.

“I want to make sure that we’re all putting our best foot forward and working our hardest to make sure that the students understand that we are not a separate entity, that we are representing you,” she said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the 
Daily Lobo. He can be reached atnews@dailylobo
.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Student causes stir with viral video

Michael Noah Guebara, a sophomore criminology major, posted the almost-two-minute-long video, titled “pro isis panel at unm,” on his Facebook page. It was clearly shot from the stairs adjacent to the atrium — a position from which it is difficult to hear what the panel is saying.

Guebara can be overheard saying, “This is disturbing, people. This is very disturbing,” and, “As a God-fearing, gun-loving American, I am scared.”

Guebara declined to give comment to The Daily Lobo, saying in a Facebook message, “I will not be giving a statement to the daily lobo as I do not support your liberal views.”

Event organizer Rehab Kassem said that the video mischaracterizes the purpose of the panel, which she said was to educate attendees on how the actions of ISIS are not in line with Islam.

“What this guy is doing is counter-productive to what we’re trying to do,” she said.

She said many attendees took videos of the panel, and they were allowed to do so, but that Guebara’s video, along with the comments he makes, takes the event out of context.

“You can’t even hear what the panel is saying,” she said of the video. “You can only hear what he is saying.”

At press time the video had generated upwards of 48,000 views and nearly 1,700 shares. At the end of the clip Guebara calls on right-wing political commentators Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to “please bring this up on your show.”

On Thursday afternoon the MSA posted raw footage of the entire panel — about two hours in length — on its Facebook page in order to “clarify the misconceptions regarding the panel.”

Event coordinator Masood Mirza started the panel by saying, “This is actually more of an anti-ISIS panel. We’re going to be talking about the non-relationship between Islam and ISIS.”

Kassem said that people who watch Guebara’s video may reach inaccurate conclusions due to the clear display of a sign reading “ISIS” in large letters. But she said the purpose of the sign was to attract listeners, which it did.

She said it was the group’s largest event thus far.

“It served its purpose: We left it on the podium because people who were walking, it stopped (them) and caught their attention,” she said. “We want to reach out to as many people as we can.”

Kathryn Lafayette, a Muslim who sat on the panel, said that it seemed most people in attendance understood that the panel was anti-ISIS.

“It’s a University with intellectual people, and they automatically know that there’s a big disassociation between the Muslims they go to class with and this crazy group in Syria and Iraq,” she said. “And that was good; it was refreshing for us to see.”

Lafayette said she and her fellow Muslims who sat on the panel actually put themselves in harm’s way because ISIS kills more Muslims than it does any other group. Guebara’s video potentially puts them in greater danger, she said.

“I think it was very dangerous and irresponsible of him to post this, and potentially risk some sort of backlash from the students here,” she said. “My concern is that people are watching this and taking it as the whole picture, and I feel like that’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

In the footage that the MSA posted, Guebara is seen engaged in passionate discussion with the panelists, bringing up verses from the Quran that seemingly condone things like violence and rape.

But one of the panelists countered by asking him to look up a similar verse from the Bible and read it out loud.

Lafayette said it is wrong to judge a religion based on individual verses taken out of context.

“It’s extremely ignorant to take one sentence and pull it out of all historical and literary context and say ‘this is Christianity’. That’s the point we were trying to make,” she said.

While Guebara said on Facebook that he was being attacked by the panelists for his Christian beliefs and was told to leave, the panelists can be seen in the video thanking him for speaking his heart and respectfully addressing each of his points.

The exchange lasted about 15 minutes, after which the panel suggested he relinquish the microphone to others in the audience who also had questions.

UNM Communication Director Dianne Anderson said that the MSA followed all procedure and protocol concerning the use of the SUB and UNM’s speech policy. She emphasized that University campuses should be a place for ongoing and engaging debate, even when dealing with controversial topics.

UNM didn’t have an official comment on Guebara’s video.

Guebara posted multiple videos on Facebook in response to critics telling him the panel was anti-ISIS, referring to himself as “Mr. America.”

“To all of ya’ll that think you can vilify me for posting the truth, take your pro-ISIS panel and shove it up your ass,” he said.

In another video that has since been taken down, Guebara addresses Muslims directly, saying he’ll retaliate if they damage his way of life. In the video, he had what appeared to be shotgun at his side.

“Understand: try to take my guns, try to hurt my America, and we’re gonna have a f—–g problem,” he said.

He ended by thanking everyone who had shared his videos.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached atmews@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. Jonathan Baca, Moriah Carty and Aaron Anglin contributed to this report.

Senators forget homework on failed resolution

Resolution 8S sought to ease admission and accessibility to UNM and its resources for the undocumented student population who do not have social security numbers.

However, confusion and debate over the structure and preparation for the resolution ultimately led to a general uneasiness about passing it. Sen. Kyle Stepp said the Senate passing the resolution without doing its due diligence is the wrong thing to do.

“There’s a lot of things that have not been answered that can affect this resolution,” Stepp said.

Contention over the resolution was mainly among senators who were looking at the big picture driving the resolution — supporting undocumented students — and those who believed it would do more harm than good in its current state.

The confusion primarily stemmed from lack of information by the Student Enrollment Department that was vital to the action the resolution strives to accomplish. Stepp brought that issue up to the Senate.

“Have any senators actually tried just going and asking if it can be removed?” he asked his fellow senators.

When no one answered, the discussion turned primarily to the lack of preparation on the part of the individual senators, as well as what exactly the resolution was trying to do.

Several senators, including Sen. Udell Calzadillas-Chavez, who sponsored the legislation, looked at its broader perspective, which was allowing access to UNM for those who may not already have it.

“I think the issue here is making a statement so that undocumented students feel comfortable,” he said. “It would take away that shadow of fear that transfer students and first-time applicants would have in applying to UNM.”

However, several senators, including Sen. Ashley Hawney, said they did not feel comfortable voting on the resolution because it is essentially contradictory.

“It is an option [on a paper application],” she said. “Just stating that we want [providing a social security number] to be optional … it already is.”

According to the Office of Admissions, online applications — the primary method for prospective students to apply — require a social security number. Paper applications do not.

Sen. Nadia Cabrera made the point that each senator should have done their homework beforehand to be able to make as informed a decision as possible. But she did agree with Calzadillas-Chavez that the resolution is making a statement about UNM’s accessibility.

“If anything, this resolution is increasing awareness to students from all around the country that we are here, you can apply here and we’re working to make it even more accessible to you,” she said.

The discussion even provided changes of stance on the issue. Sen. Caleb Heinz said that while he was previously in support of the resolution, he became “uneasy” about the issue after hearing what his fellow senators had to say.

“It seems like there is a system and it’s pretty solid,” Heinz said. “I think it should be changed to asking for immigration status instead, and only that — but then that’s a whole different kind of resolution with a different purpose.”

Stepp made a motion to table the resolution, meaning it will be held off for voting until the next senate meeting, by which time more information can be gathered about the application process. Hawney agreed with the move.

“If the senators in this room, even just one or two, have confusion on this, what is it going to do to the students?” she said.

However, ASUNM Vice President Jenna Hagengruber pointed out that, should the resolution be passed at the next Senate meeting in two weeks, it would be in place for less than a month.

It took multiple votes to call the resolution into question, meaning the Senate was ready to vote on the resolutions as it stood. The resolution was finally voted on after about an hour of animated discussion.

After four of the 19 senators present voted in favor, Sen. Travis Gonzalez said that most of the discussion on the failed resolution was directionless, calling it a waste of time.

“The reason I voted no is that by the end of the discussion, no one knew what was going on, no one knew what we were trying to do here,” he said. “The real message of this resolution was lost in the complications.”

Sen. Jorge Guerrero, who authored and introduced the legislation, said there were points brought up by the Senate that he did not previously think about. He plans on inquiring about them and making the necessary changes.

“Then, hopefully, (we can implement) them into the resolution and finally reintroduce it in committee and full Senate,” he said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Pop culture classes add substance to material

But UNM also offers several courses based on popular cultures that don’t seem to have educational value at first glance. A variety of pop culture-affiliated curricula are offered at UNM and its branches, including Rock Music Appreciation and courses centered on Route 66 and even food.

Yet instructors in these courses — like those focusing on hip-hop, Harry Potter and fashion — do feature typical academic approaches and concepts that serve higher educational goals.

Webster Matjaka, an American studies graduate student who facilitates a hip-hop music and culture course, said that by exploring the music genre’s origins, students learn about specific societal movements whose mark can be seen in history.

“What we like to teach in the American studies department is critical thinking skills,” he said. “What I mean by that is students being able to situate things or events in a broader context. I use hip-hop as a case study.”

Matjaka said that even though most modern hip-hop artists are driven by money and selling platinum records, it didn’t start out that way.

“It developed under conditions of people questioning society and their identity, as a way for people to comment on their social conditions in places of oppression,” Matjaka said.

Surprising as it may be, Matjaka said if students are at least interested in taking a certain pop culture course, they will find that the subject matter explores exponentially more than students initially expect.

Julie Hillery, a professor in UNM’s Honors College, teaches two classes focused on contemporary fashion and also said that by studying the subject matter, students can learn much about the world that they live in.

The majority of Honors College courses tend to delve into multiple academic fields, and Hillery said her class curriculum examines fashion from sociological, psychological, anthropological and business perspectives.

“[The courses] are very much rooted in social science, meaning we look at clothing in the context of society,” she said. “We can tell a lot about what is going on in society at any given moment by examining what people are wearing at a particular time. We look at topics such as beauty ideals, gender issues, aging and appearance, race and ethnicity and body modifications.”

Hillery said it is common for students to judge her classes simply by the word “fashion” and envision an easy class. She said they turn out being surprised at the academic value her courses hold.

“I believe that there is definitely a stigma concerning fashion classes and that many of them think of the classes as blow-off courses,” she said. “I have had many students tell me that they didn’t expect to learn as much as they did, and that the classes were much harder than they expected.”

Michael Rogers-Oty, a sophomore East Asian studies major, said he was surprised and excited to see the Honors College’s Harry Potter course, and signed up for it based only on its reference to the popular book and film series’.

According to the syllabus, the course highlights character analysis and compares views of standards of morality in the series to real-life philosophies and theological theories.

“It’s a bit more than I expected,” he said. “I guess from reading the description I didn’t fully grasp the kind of materials we’d read. I’ve learned more about Harry Potter and just the general theme of the class: good and evil in the world.”

Rogers-Oty said it was hard beforehand to see the educational value in something so mainstream. He said the teacher, Sheri Karmiol, has even had to defend the legitimacy of the course because it is so engrained in culture as a topic of entertainment, not academics.

“The majority of people at UNM grew up with Harry Potter and a lot of people see it as something for kids and therefore see no value to the class because it is so entwined with Harry Potter,” Rogers-Oty said.

Matjaka said students come into his course curious about what exactly they’ll take from it, but he starts the semester by hoping that their perspectives about hip-hop change as the class progresses. They usually do, he said.

“One of the things I was afraid of was that students would think this class is too easy. That they can just come in and take the class and think they can just have fun,” he said. “Most students who come in this class are very interested in hip-hop. They come in curious. What I find is that there are changing interests from the beginning to the end because they are learning new things.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached atnews@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Growing Chicano studies program gets votes from faculty senate

Irene Vasquez, director of the program, said that growing the program has been an ongoing process since 2011. In 2013 a bachelor’s degree was installed, and in the fall it will get even bigger.

Departmentalization allows for better infrastructure, something that Vasquez said was a huge obstacle for success when developing the plan for a major.

Vasquez said the faculty senate’s vote was an event she’ll never forget.

“It was a wonderful moment that I will cherish in my memory. We had a very large turnout of students and community members and staff and faculty who were there with the most positive intentions to be able to celebrate what we anticipated would be a positive vote for departmentalization,” she said.

Most of the faculty in the program is either joint appointment, meaning instructors are primarily with other departments like American studies or history, or they are hired on a year-by-year basis.

“So you can imagine that doesn’t give the program the stability it needs,” Vasquez said. “It makes a world of difference to be a department because we can attract our faculty who are rooted in the field and then we can promote and tenure them.”

Now Vasquez said she has her sights on developing a graduate program for Chicana and Chicano studies, a goal which has been a part of her master plan since the beginning.

“When we established the major, what we began to do was structure the whole degree around offering high impact practices, [which are] strategies and approaches in teaching and learning that are more likely to retain graduate students,” she said.

Vasquez said it is all about creating a support system for students in the program, giving them the resources they need for when they go on to graduate or professional school, something that is a common target for her students.

She would like to have a master’s program within two years, and a doctorate program within four. That timetable, Vasquez said, is for the benefit of her students.

“I can say with absolute certainty that we have cohorts of students that are interested in studying Chicana and Chicano studies at the graduate level,” she said.

Departmentalization of her program, Vasquez said, will help UNM fulfill the promise of diversity and multiculturalism. She said the program will play an important role in leading the forefront to assure that those students who move on to graduate programs are a diverse group.

“When we look at who is graduating with graduate degrees, we are falling short,” she said. “Our program will really help the state of New Mexico become more diverse in terms of education and getting students into all kind of professions, career and economic opportunities.”

Divana Olivas, a senior majoring in Chicano and Chicana studies and Spanish, said that she has been fortunate to bear witness to the evolution of the program.

“The very first class I took in my first semester was an introduction to the Chicano movement, and three and a half years later seeing that it’s become a department on campus and has really established its identity as an academic and intellectual space on campus makes me really happy,” she said. “It’s really special.”

Olivas said the program has helped them form their identity by asking the questions they never previously thought were important to ask.

“Personally I’ve really found who I am, and that’s just more than you can say about other programs on campus,” she said.

For Claudia Avila-Mitchell, a graduate student studying American Studies, those questions included where her family came from and the lifestyle they endured.

Avila-Mitchell said she never saw the value in asking her mother and grandmother about what they went through, and that she realizes what she missed out on.

“Now that I’ve been exposed to all these things they’ve done or even just critically asking what they’ve been through…those are things that I’m thankful for that have helped me grow a lot,” she said.

Avila-Mitchell says she would like for the program to install a graduate degree as quickly as possible so that she can jump right into it.

Olivas advocated Vasquez’s drive to acquire a graduate degree for future students.

“In terms of faculty mentors and more funds to be able to do research or get to travel, those opportunities are going to be priceless for students in the future once the departments really gains more status and prominence on campus,” she said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑