associate professor

Kevin Foster, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, said he believes that TedxAustin lacked diversity in its speakers. Therefore, he decided to create “Blackademics TV,” a 30-minute TV show featuring black scholars and professors from across the nation.
Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

TEDxAustin was nearly everything Kevin Foster, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, expected it to be — informative, thought-provoking and intriguing. The only problem: Nearly all the speakers were white.

Foster said TEDxAustin lacked a wide range of minorities’ perspectives, such as those of African-Americans. This left the audience with an incomplete understanding of educational research, American culture and academic opinions. He decided to create “Blackademics TV,” a 30-minute TV show that features black scholars and professors from across the nation. 

The program tapes in front of a live audience at the KLRU-TV studio on the UT campus. The show’s third season premieres in the fall. 

“I don’t see anything on the landscape that looks exactly like what we’re doing,” Foster said. “This is just the early 21st-century version of black studies. People like W.E.B. Du Bois, like Carter G. Woodson — all of these folks were scholars who lived in action.”

Gabe Whitaker, UT alumnus and “Blackademics” volunteer, said the show “Blackademics” is similar to a big brainstorming session in which influential leaders from different African-American communities come together to educate people on the need for positive change.

“You have people talking about these heartfelt emotions and causes and problems that we have in society,” Whitaker said. “Last year was tough regarding minorities in this country because of police brutality, incarceration rates and drop-out rates — and that’s all the negative stuff. But also you have the rise of professionals that are people of color.”

“Blackademics” aims to carry on the legacy of African-American pioneers from years past. The television show is part of a larger organization, the Institute for Community, University and School Partnerships, which provides academic tools and programs for students who want to obtain higher education.

Kendra Chambers, UT alumna and associate producer for “Blackademics,” found out about the TV program through a high school engagement event. Chambers said “Blackademics” is a much-needed resource that teachers in high school and college settings use.

“[‘Blackademics’] ignites perspective; it ignites conversation; it ignites discussion at a scholarly level,” Chambers said. 

The first two seasons are available online at Chambers said the show creates an alternative path to education because the program is free. From university professors to people who are curious to know more, “Blackademics” provides a way for traditionally marginalized groups to have a chance to share their views on trends in society, Whitaker said.

Foster said he views easily accessible media as an opportunity to present content that can supplement current education. He said Texas schools don’t offer a full picture of black history or the history of racism in America. Programs such as “Blackademics” aim to close the gaps that traditional educational institutions have left open, according to Foster.

The challenge is that anybody with a computer can generate content, and it might be inaccurate,” Foster said. “So it’s incumbent upon scholars, particularly scholars of color, to speak about marginalized groups and to generate high-quality content so they don’t get drowned.”  

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

The Department of African and African Diaspora Studies will offer a class spring 2015 titled “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” which will highlight how the actions of these women reflect aspects of black feminism. 

Natasha Tinsley, associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, created the concept for the class and will teach it. She said she chose these two women to be the focal points of the course because she believes they are currently the two most quoted women in the world, and they have the capability of reaching a larger audience than any other activists. 

“Their words reach around the world in a way no other African-American or Afro-Caribbean woman’s currently does,” Tinsley said.

Beyoncé and Rihanna have both sold millions of albums worldwide and are ranked in the top eight of Forbes’ “The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities” of 2014 list. 

According to Tinsley, a course on the feminism of women of color is important because it serves as a reminder that this topic offers insight on race, class, gender and sexuality, which are applicable to everyone.

“Since black women’s voices have traditionally been excluded from the academy, it’s important to offer courses that feature those voices so that students can have access to the rich analytical tools black feminism offers,” Tinsley said. 

This course is one of many offered by the University whose curriculum is focused on popular culture. Mary Beltrán, associate professor who teaches “Film & TV Stardom” in the Department of Radio-Television-Film, said it is important to teach classes about popular culture because it reflects what is relevant in our time period. 

“I think that it’s helpful for people to consider that pop culture reflects our culture and cultural values and our ideas about race, gender, class and social power,” Beltrán said. “It can be a way to study American history and what was important in our culture during that time.”

Another course offered by the University that focuses on this theme is “Advertising and Popular Culture” in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. Finance sophomore Adrian Robison, who enrolled in the course last semester, said he took the class because he thinks it is important to understand what we are exposed to on a regular basis. 

“I took the class to learn where pop culture comes from — how it’s created,” Robison said. “It helped clarify some of pop culture’s diverse range of origins — some of its ambiguities — and how we interact with it.” 

Tinsley said she hopes the course can provide students with an understanding of what feminism looks and sounds like. 

“I hope, first, that they will take away the idea that theorizing is something that black women do everywhere and all the time,” Tinsley said. “Feminism isn’t about hating or detracting from anyone but about cultivating respect and love.”

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

In a talk at the School of Law on Monday, Laura Carlson, associate professor at Stockholm University School of Law, and Samuel Bagenstos, professor at University of Michigan School of Law, both said a main difference between the Swedish and United States’ approach to employment discrimination is the way the two countries view legislation.

The talk, which focused on approaches to employment discrimination between Sweden and the United States, was part of the Rapport Center’s 2014 Colloquium on Comparing European and North American Approaches to Human Rights.

Carlson said that, in Sweden, legislation is viewed as an extreme measure, and not a solution to solve problems the country may be experiencing.

“Legislation is seen, at least in the Swedish context, as a last ditch effort because society has failed.” Carlson, who has lived in Sweden for 20 years, said.

According to Carlson, Sweden is a society based on social rather than individual justice, and the difference between the two is that social justice lacks legal justice.

“Social justice, in some ways, excludes individual justice,” Carlson said. “What happens with social justice is that it says society as a whole has to have these levels, but the individuals don’t receive the same attention.”

Bagenstos highlighted what he said he believed to be issues in the way the United States approaches discrimination against the disabled. According to Bagenstos, it is hard to find attorneys to fight against employer discrimination.

“The basic problem with finding attorneys is that it is very difficult to prove a case that you have not been hired because of any particular characteristic,” Bagenstos said.

Bagenstos said that it is easier to prove employment discrimination in the United States than in Sweden because statistical evidence is excluded from plaintiffs’ cases in Sweden. In 2011, there were a total of 300 lawsuits filed based on the merit of employment discrimination. 

Tovah Pentelovitch, a graduate student in social work and law, said the political polarization the United States faces slows down the process of creating laws to aid employer discrimination.

“Governments have trouble coming to a common ground where they can create policies that can help the most people,” Pentelovitch said.

According to Pentelovitch, an effective method of preventing employment discrimination is to host more talks like the Rapport Center’s Colloquium, as they give students a global perspective and incite conversation.

The Texas State Board of Education’s vote to eliminate algebra II as a public high school graduation requirement will decrease the student body’s diversity and college readiness, according to associate professor of education Julian Heilig.

The state’s minimum foundation program dictates the 22 credits a student must complete to graduate. The program will require three math credits instead of four after the changes go into effect for students entering high school in fall 2014.

Heilig said African-American and Latino students disproportionately receive high school diplomas that have lower degree requirements. Heilig said measures such as House Bill 5, the bill that allowed for the elimination of the algebra II requirement, will have a disparate effect on the students.

“Our state is changing, and we really want our University to represent the state,” Heilig said. “[If we] don’t have students that are college-ready or [they] don’t have the right credentials from high school, then what it will do is impact the diversity of UT over the long term.”

Heilig said in order to be competitive applicants, students must have four years of math, science and English.

“If you don’t start early on the pathway to college, then by the time a student is a junior and decides he wants to go to college, it’s too late,” Heilig said.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said algebra II is still required for students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class to be eligible for guaranteed admission to a state-funded public university.

“We encourage students to determine what plan they want to choose, and one of the things we emphasize is that students consider including the Distinguished Achievement Program, especially if they want to attend a four-year university,” Culbertson said.

Culbertson said the bill aims to increase coursework options that will allow students to graduate and to reduce the number of required standardized course exams from 15 to five.

“The goal is to create more paths to graduation for students,” Culbertson said. “It mostly gave [school] districts more flexibility.”

Laura Lavergne, assistant to the director at the Office of Admissions, said University applicants who exceed high school coursework requirements may benefit during the application review process. Lavergne also said certain colleges within the University have a calculus readiness requirement for admission. The requirement may be met by attaining a minimum score on the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate calculus exam, or the Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces exam.

Out of 15,335 students admitted to the University for the summer and fall 2013 semesters, 12,517 students graduated from Texas public high schools, according to Lavergne.

Heilig said after compulsory education was established in Texas, the state created vocational tracks for students who were considered incapable of receiving college degrees. He said the bill eliminating algebra II as a requirement is reminiscent of this historical narrative.

“It’s been reframed as ‘students need an option,’” Heilig said. “It’s not actually students who are making these choices — it’s the state and those districts.”

Xavier Livermon addressees a crowd in support of UT Professor Matt Richardson's new book "The Queer Limit of Black Memory" on November 11, 2013. 

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Though the existing field of black lesbian literature and analysis is limited, it recently became a little bit bigger with the release of a UT professor’s new publication on black lesbian culture.

Matt Richardson, an associate professor in African and African diaspora studies and women’s and gender studies departments, celebrated the release of a piece 16 years in the making on Monday, when he participated in a discussion with faculty and students about the strenuous process he went through in researching and finding material on black lesbian culture. 

Richardson’s book, “The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution,” looks at archives of work dealing with black lesbian culture, a topic for which Richardson said there is not a large collection of work to be referenced in academia. Initially, Richardson was discouraged from pursuing a dissertation on this subject because of the small resource pool, but he stuck with what he wanted to do and chose specific pieces to use in his own publication.

While conducting his research, Richardson spent time in Scotland at the Glasgow Women’s Library, but he was still frustrated with what he found, he said. He then went and identified authors who wrote black lesbian literature and conducted his own interviews with them to get a better grasp of the knowledge at hand.

“That my book would be important for those who come after me, that it would open up space and it would give things they could reference and find useful and helpful intellectually and creatively — that’s what I hope for,” Richardson said. “And that people who aren’t academics can get something from it that they can find books they’ve never heard of.”

According to Patena Key, a women’s and gender studies graduate student, students still struggle, like Richardson did, to find published work to reference for their thesis papers.

“There’s two books that focus exclusively — at least from a theoretical standpoint — on black lesbian literature, and that’s important to me because that’s what my thesis is about,” Key said. “That work is really important to me, especially as a grad student, whereas in my undergrad I tried to write a thesis on a similar topic and it was extremely difficult to find important text from scholars.”

A panel of faculty shared their thoughts about Richardson’s piece at the release Monday, where Omi Osun Joni Jones, an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, said she felt Richardson’s piece offered a unwavering look at violence perpetrated on black bodies.

“When you have an opportunity to read the book, prepare yourself for the end, where Matt offers a very terrifying litany the black bodies that have been killed, [and] mutilated because too often we are a people born into violence,” she said.

Associate Professor of Anthropology Maria Wade lectures on the preservation of historical archives at the Student Activity Center on Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Maria Wade, associate professor of anthropology, gave a talk Monday afternoon titled, “Ojo — The Eye on the Archive,” that discussed the ways viewers take in an archive and the problems that come with archival construction.

Wade discussed the issue of how to present information in an archive so the viewer has the best opportunity to take meaning from it. 

Wade is an archaeologist and ethnohistorian whose work concentrates on the colonial and post-colonial periods in Northern Mexico, Texas and the Southwest. She is currently working with UT graduate and undergraduate students on an archaeological research project in Portugal to excavate a hilltop settlement.  

“The job of figuring out what the connections are within a particular collection is a difficult task for the archivist,” Wade said. “Then for the viewer, the ojo, to see the connections and from that decipher what they mean — it’s a complicated, filtered process.”

Wade also discussed the inevitability of error that accompanies necessary omission when constructing an archive.

“Some things are kept and some things, most things, are discarded,” Wade said. “What is kept often depends on who is in charge of making that decision.”

Richard Oram, associate director of the Harry Ransom Center, said a dedication to lessening the opportunity for error is a necessary characteristic in any archivist. He discussed archival finding aids which are guides designed by archivists to summarize their collections.

“Archival finding aids are intended to be pathways into the archive and are by definition flawed, since they are only representations,” Oram said. “However, all good archivists are willing to work with researchers to create better instruments and to correct inaccuracies.”

Wade ended her talk with a quote from Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin.

“Anytime I’m in trouble, I go look at Bakhtin to help me think,” Wade said. “He said, ‘In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding — in time, in space, in culture.’”

Anthropology professor John Kappelman said what Bakhtin celebrates is that all speech is actually derivative of prior speech.

“I respect the impulse to unjumble and place information — because it’s proper of archaeologists — but also to some degree it has to be understood that [jumbling is] inevitable,”Kappelman said.

Christy Moore, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, thanks members of City Council on Thursday afternoon for unanimously approving a motion to name part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve after her late husband, Dr. Kent Butler. Dr. Butler was associate dean of the School of Architecture and Program Director for U.T.’s graduate program in Community and Regional Planning, as well as a prominent environmental advocate in Central Texas.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

In honor of late UT associate professor Kent Butler, Austin City Council members have renamed a section of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in an effort to keep his memory alive.

Council members announced the official Kent Butler Ecological Reserve during the regular council meeting at city hall Thursday.

Butler began teaching in the School of Architecture in 1978 and later became associate dean for research operations and program director of the graduate program in Community and Regional Planning. He also dedicated much of his time to environmental issues and helped establish the preserve, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer groundwater management district and the environmental department for the Lower Colorado River Authority.

“One reason they’re naming [the preserve] after him is because he played a crucial role in its creation,” said Fritz Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture. “He took a leave for about two years to work on a plan that made the preserve a reality.

He was an environmental planner and he was a real pioneer in the field, so this was integral to his interest.”

The reserve also contains a protected area for the Golden-cheeked Warbler, an endangered species of bird which nests exclusively in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Though Butler was originally a business student at the University of Pennsylvania, he went on to earn three degrees in water research management and used that experience to influence environmental planning students at UT. He participated in many water and nature conservation projects and worked with the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, the Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act and plans to create an urban rainwater system.

Butler died of injuries sustained from a fall while on a hike in Yosemite National Park in May. According to published obituaries, the fall occurred when Butler moved on a trail to let other hikers pass by.

“[After his death], we were thinking about ways to commemorate him through scholarships, but our daughter Emily wanted to see a natural preserve named after him,” said Butler’s wife, Christy Moore, senior mechanical engineering lecturer. “We all stopped because it was both daunting and perfect for him. I hope these honors bestowed on Kent inspire us to be environmentalists and citizens.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who knew Butler, reached out to the family and offered to pay tribute to Butler’s years of service to the community.

“It became clear very quickly to find a beautiful piece of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and name it after Kent,” said Matt Curtis, spokesman for the mayor. “The Butler reserve both represents his dedication to the Edwards Aquifer, which lies beneath the preserve, and the canyonland preserve he helped create.”

Butler’s family said they appreciated the support from the Austin public and the city council.

“This [honor] has been awe-inspiring,” Butler’s stepson Nick Kinkaid said. “The response from the community has been really positive during this time and we can really see the effect Kent had on the community.”

The UT School of Architecture will hold a symposium in Butler’s honor from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Jessen Auditorium in Homer Rainey Hall.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Reserve named in memory of late associate professor who dedicated two years to project."