Juan Portillo


During a panel discussion hosted by the Department of Sociology on Tuesday afternoon, panel member Juan Portillo, a PhD student in sociology, discusses the issue of race, gender, and class-related incidents that have occurred on campus.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Students have the power to organize themselves to make the University a more accepting place, student and faculty panelists said at a discussion Tuesday.

During the event hosted by the Department of Sociology, panelists said the University’s social structure and learning environment marginalizes minority students.

Juan Portillo, a sociology graduate student who led the panel, said recent reports of bleach balloons being thrown in West Campus and race-themed parties hosted by students are examples of struggles minority students face. Portillo said the University’s structure caters to white male students and faculty, which creates tension on campus. Portillo said students are discriminated against by their race, gender and sexuality or a combination of these different identities.

Portillo said everyday interactions that question someone’s presence on campus can cause students to feel estranged. He said a white-centric curriculum can also disconnect minority students from their classmates and professors.

“If you point out someone’s accent or question their citizenship status or you joke about a woman’s intelligence, this may not sound to some people as great grievances, but they add up and they take a huge toll on the students,” Portillo said.

Rocio Villalobos, panelist and Multicultural Engagement Center program coordinator, said the nature of the University may cause minority students to struggle finding acceptance on campus and force them to create new student organizations to meet their needs.

“Many of these efforts to make the institution not only a more welcoming space but a place that is truly supportive have been led by students of color,” Villalobos said. “Students have a long history of pushing for changes on campus for their needs and interests and concerns to be taken seriously in a way that acknowledges that they exist at the intersection of these multiple identities.”

Panelist Marianna Anaya, an ethnic studies and radio-television-film junior, said she could not find an organization on campus that offered her support as both a Chicana and lesbian. Anaya co-founded La Colectiva Femenil, which she said aims to support feminine queer-identified students through discussions of identity to encourage empowerment.

“There was no space for us in Latino groups or queer groups or in female-centered groups,” Anaya said. “There really wasn’t a place for this intersectionality to take place, so we made one. We were so frustrated, and there was really no other place to discuss these issues.”

Villalobos said La Colectiva Femenil is an example of how students can embrace their struggles to find a place of acceptance.

“We have to actively create opportunities to make these discussions more visible and public and stop silencing the ways in which we have been deeply wounded as a result of our existence at the intersection of these multiple identities,” Villalobos said.

Printed on Wednesday, October 31, 2012 as: Panel explores minority issues 

Texas women seeking abortions must now receive a sonogram and hear audio of the fetus’s heartbeat 24 to 72 hours before their procedure.

These additions to the sonogram bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, were ruled constitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The sonogram bill, passed in the 2011 legislative session last August, requires women to receive a sonogram one to three days before their abortion. Prior to the bill, women were not required to have a sonogram unless medically necessary and could receive an abortion in one visit.

Physicians already performed sonograms prior to abortions before the bill was passed, but the bill now requires them to perform trans-vaginal sonograms, a procedure that Sarah Wheat, co-CEO of Planned Parenthood in Austin, said is not medically necessary.

“The sonogram was already being provided since October in this most evasive manner,” Wheat said. “The difference now is that the physician has to verbally describe the songogram images and provide a heartbeat if audible, even if the person says they do not want to hear it.”

Wheat said the center has consulted with their medical staff and attorneys to decipher how to enforce the state mandate. She said the transition has gone smoothly and she has seen no changes in the number of abortions requested.

“Before the politicians got involved, about a third of the women wanted to see the image and even took home pictures,” Wheat said. “Most women who are choosing a safe abortion have already prayed on this and deeply discussed why they are choosing this regardless of what enforcements politicians make.”

Wheat said the ruling will have a great impact on college students because most abortions are performed on women under the age of 25.

Juan Portillo, a women’s and gender studies graduate student, said the new ruling will only add stress to an already difficult situation.

“It’s really just another way of pretty overtly controlling our bodies,” Portillo said. “It’s easy to have an opinion and pass or change laws without really knowing what goes through the heads of women who are making this decision.”

Portillo said the law will have more of a negative impact on college-aged women who have to deal with the stigmas of young motherhood and single-parent families when making their decisions.

“It’s a matter of what position you are at in life and how able you are to withstand the repercussions,” Portillo said. “Older women may be more independent as mothers, caregivers and career women, whereas college students go home to an empty apartment and have to deal with their situation alone.”

Portillo said politicians should put their focus on giving pregnant women social, cultural and educational support instead of telling doctors and patients how to conduct their abortions.

Lori DeVillez, executive director at the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, said the sonogram bill is a pro-woman bill that ensures good medical practice and the center has not seen any changes from its enforcement.

“If you are going in to any other surgery you meet with your doctor and understand exactly what it is you will be going through,” DeVillez said.
DeVillez said the sonograms allow women to connect with the reality of their situation and the 24-72 hour time period before abortions gives them time to assess their decisions.

“When they are able to have the sonogram it becomes real to them and they see that the baby is a part of them,” DeVillez said. “A lot of times they feel they have to do something right away and this gives them time to think.”