Texas Hillel and Texans for Israel held their 17th annual Israel Block Party on Wednesday. For the first time, Israel Block Party organizers set up discussion tables in the East Mall, where students could talk to others and express their opinions.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

While more than a thousand students came to celebrate Israeli culture at the Israel Block Party on the East Mall, dozens protested the party from feet away.

Texas Hillel and Texans for Israel held their 17th annual block party, where students stopped to enjoy Israeli food, participate in discussion and take selfies with camels.

From across the street, the Palestine Solidarity Committee held a protest, as they have done almost every year the event has occurred. 

Moriah Sonsino, Israel Block Party co-chair and international relations and global studies sophomore, said the party is not a political statement.

“We don’t expect them to take away from any of our activities — we just do our own thing [and] make this as much as a cultural celebration as it is,” Sonsino said. “We try to focus on our own stuff and not focus on what anyone else is doing because this is a topic that we really, really care about.”

Ali Khan, an economics and computer science senior who helped organize the protest, said he believes the party adheres to a pro-Israeli political agenda.

“Our biggest goal is to send a specific message [and] express exactly what we feel the block party is doing, which is a propaganda event which hides a very heinous reality of cultural appropriation and genocide,” Khan said.

A group of students from the Palestinian Solidarity Committee held a protest across the street from the Israel Block Party. The committee believes that the party is a propaganda event. 

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff‚Äč

For the first time, Israel Block Party organizers set up discussion tables in the East Mall so students could talk to others and express their opinions. The event also had multiple booths on different topics, including human rights, diversity, politics and innovation.

“Especially this year, we just want to make sure people have a good idea of what Israel is,” said Joshua Posner, Israel Block Party co-chair and undeclared junior. “We’re not trying to politicize the issue and make anyone have a certain opinion. We want people to form their own opinion based on what they see and the facts that are given to them.”

Khan said crimes committed against Palestinians are depicted in the media as “normal,” but that doesn’t make them acceptable.

“I think the resistance has to continue,” Khan said. “The struggle continues for Palestinians every day, whether or not there is military presence within Palestine. I think it’s important to point out that these are persistent issues.”

In the days leading up to Israel’s national elections last week, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would never support the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu, who is now working to form a new coalition government, had previously said he supported a two-state solution.

Since the election, Netanyahu has retracted his statement, but Mohammed Nabulsi, a law student who helped organize the protest, said he believes as long as Netanyahu is prime minister, unrest will only continue.

“Before, there was room within the Zionist movement to say, ‘No, no, no, we still want peace, and we still want a Palestinian state,’” Nabulsi said. “But, now that the right wing party in Israel has shown its teeth, there’s no denial that all the State of Israel cares to do is expand, to build settlements and continue to violate international law.”

Posner said the intention is still to celebrate Israel and its culture despite the political protest.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the region and a lot of unrest,” Posner said. “We just want people to understand that beyond all the politics of it, there’s a group of people, and there’s a worthwhile culture to understand.”

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

In an effort to find ways to ease transfer students’ social and academic transition to the University, the Senate of College Councils formed an ad hoc committee to address the issue.

The Transfer Student Ad-Hoc Committee, which is open to both Senate and non-Senate members, met for the first time Thursday to set an outline of which issues are most important for transfer students. At the meeting, the students discussed the possibility of a transfer student services office, an extended transfer student orientation and the tracking of transfer students. Students also spoke about their personal experiences and concerns.

Committee co-chair Corey Hayford said transfer students lack these resources on campus.

“When you’re talking about a population that is that large, and for them not to have the resources offered to other students, I think that’s a key issue that needs to be addressed,” said Hayford, who transferred to UT from St. Edward’s University.

The committee is divided up into subcommittees for CAP and PACE, external transfers and internal transfers. The committees will submit proposals that will then be examined and potentially implemented.

“We’d like for each group to do their own research and have a proposal set up by April, so we can thoroughly do the research we need to do,” Hayford said.

When the new Senate session starts, Hayford said he hopes the committee will become its own Senate agency, a group that reports to Senate but operates somewhat

George Bennett, a computer science junior who is not a member of Senate, said he joined the committee because he thinks transfer students lack the same resources as freshman and don’t get basic information, such as how to register for classes, explained in enough detail.

“Personally, I had a lot of negative experiences with orientation and things like that — that they kind of walk freshmen through but that they don’t really do that for transfer students,” Bennett said.

One of the topics the committee discussed is transfer credit. Hayford said many students lose credit because the University does not make it clear to transfer students what courses do not transfer from outside institutions.

“My experience hasn’t really been that bad because I’m going to graduate in the summer, so just a little over four years [without] losing a lot of credit,” Hayford said. “But I have been around a lot of students who have had a bad experience and who have not had the proper resources.”

Hayford said the biggest problem for internal transfer students is the lack of access to restricted classes required for a given major.

“The major issue with internal transfers is that the applications for the internal transfer process are not read until June and you pick classes in April,” Hayford said. “If you’re not in that college in April, then you’re not able to register for those restricted classes.”

The committee is also looking into aiding transfers with social adjustment to UT by creating a transfer student Camp Texas, an extended orientation that adds social activities to the orientation and resource and career fairs.

“There are not a lot of transfer student organizations and stuff for transfer students on campus,” said Nick Sajatovic, co-chair of the committee. “They definitely don’t feel at home right away when they come here, like freshmen do.”

Lawmakers request information regarding regent, UT employee correspondence

A joint committee composed of members of both houses announced Tuesday that they have requested information from the UT System Board of Regents necessary to investigate allegations that the board is “micromanaging” administrative decisions at UT.

Speaking at the first meeting of the relaunched Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, committee co-chair state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he wishes to maintain a positive image of the state’s higher education institutions. To do so, it is important to understand how university systems govern their institutions and if the governance structure needs to change, Branch said.

“It would be my hope that the point here is to not create any harm to any particular system, certainly not to our state, and see if we can calmly and deliberately improve the situation at this one particular system and by application improve governance at all of our systems,” Branch said.

The information requests, addressed to Regents Chairman Gene Powell, seek a variety of communications and records between regents, System employees and University employees dating from Jan. 1, 2012, primarily communications sent “at the direction of a regent.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus relaunched the joint committee last month after regents intensely questioned UT President William Powers Jr. over a number of topics at a Feb. 13 board meeting.

The week after the board meeting, the Legislature passed three resolutions defending and honoring Powers, culminating in a ceremony on the Senate floor. During an emotional testimony, Dewhurst decried the regents for “micromanaging” Powers.

Powell released a statement that week defending the regents and saying that Dewhurst’s allegations “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

Last week, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, emailed Powers instructing him to refrain from deleting emails in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the pending audit review of the UT Law School Foundation. Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, in December 2011 to resign after it was revealed that Sager obtained $500,000 in forgivable personal loans from the UT Law School Foundation. 

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Tuesday that regents are engaging in an effort to oust Powers that is distracting from the mission to administrate UT.

“I think there’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt to try to remove one of our best presidents in the state of Texas, of our universities,” Pitts said. “And, I hope that we’ll be able to end these witch hunts and put this to bed so that the president of a tier one university can govern that university and not have interference from the board of regents.”

Committee co-chair state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said higher education institutions’ mission to achieve excellence is hindered when they are embroiled in controversy, which the committee aims to address.

“Excellence is very seldom achieved by controversy or by rumor and things like that,” Seliger said.

Last month, Seliger filed a bill that would limit regents’ authority over the individual institutions they govern. It would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system.

Seliger, who also chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, said his committee will examine the bill within the next two weeks.

“There’s no point in waiting, we want to get it moving,” Seliger said.

Faculty Appreciation Week is halfway over, but students can still show appreciation to their professors. 

Hosted by UT Senate of College Councils, Faculty Appreciation Week is a good time for students to foster relationships with professors, said Yaneli Rubio, marketing sophomore and co-chair of faculty affairs. During the week, the Senate encourages students to write thank-you notes to their teachers.

“This year we have 5,000 [thank-you cards], and we’ve been going at a good pace to use them all, so I think we’re going to reach our goal,” said Becky Pickert, BHP accounting sophomore and co-chair of faculty affairs.

“During Faculty Appreciation Week the University honors a different group of professors in the President’s Reception each year,” Pickert said. “Last year, the reception focused on tenured woman professors, while this year it honored new professors.”

On Tuesday, the Senate awarded George Pollak, UT neurobiology professor, $1,000 and declared him professor of the year.

Rubio said when visiting professors during office hours, she noticed the cards displayed on the bulletin boards.

Chemistry professor David Vanden Bout said it is always nice to receive feedback from students and he appreciated the random notes from students.

When asked about the challenges of connecting with and impacting students, Vanden Bout said faculty members face both an opportunity and a challenge caused by constant technological changes.

“I think one of the things that we are working on all the time is useful ways to incorporate technology into teaching, because I think we can incorporate online services,” Vanden Bout said.

An example of this is Piazza, an online service students and professors can use for homework help. “This allows students to do things at their own pace and on their own time, and it allows professors to answer questions outside of scheduled office hours,” Vanden Bout said.

Published on March 7, 2013 as "Students appreaciate top-notch professors".

Human Rights Campaign members Erin Gurak, Glenn Bagley and Anna Powell were part of the Austin Pride Parade last Saturday to bring more awareness on LGBT equal rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the country, supported by more than one million people.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Through the flurry of Gay Pride parade preparations, including building a four-foot-tall sparkly equal sign, the Human Rights Campaign members held strong to the issues they value. Even though the parade was a fun spectacle, awareness of the organization increased greatly through participation in the event.

Erin Gurak started a little over a year ago with the Human Rights Campaign as a volunteer for the Membership Outreach Committee and within five months she moved up to co-chair.

“If I wasn’t going to be able to work with an LGBT organization as a career, I knew I had to be involved at least in a volunteer fashion,” Gurak said. “My interest was piqued when I started looking into Prop 8. I then decided to just show up to a HRC meeting where I ended up meeting my future co-chair Glenn Bagley.”

Founded in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign is currently the largest LGBT equality rights advocacy group in the nation. In 1995 Stone Yamashita developed the current logo of a yellow equal sign on a blue background as a symbol for equality for all.

“I had seen the sticker with the equal sign everywhere but didn’t know exactly what they worked towards,” Gurak said. Now she works to make sure people know exactly what the Human Rights Campaign does.

The local HRC chapter holds many events in Austin. The Membership Outreach Committee’s main goals are to sign up and renew members so they can add to the 1 million nationwide supporters and use that number to lobby Congress for LGBT legislation.

Anna Powell, a Membership Outreach Committee member, shares the Human Rights Campaign’s desire for equality education in the workplace.

“In 30-plus states, including Texas, you can be fired for being a homosexual. You can lose your livelihood just for your boss not liking that you are gay. I have friends and members of our organization that have been fired for being gay,” Powell said.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, initiated through a local LGBT rights organization, Equality Texas, is legislation that would prevent this from happening to anyone else.
Glenn Bagley, Membership Outreach Committee co-chair, was discharged from the U.S. Navy for, according to military documents, “homosexual acts.” “HRC works locally to work nationally, that way our grassroots work makes a strong case for such legislation as ENDA to go national,” Bagley said. “No matter where people are, if they are like-minded, we will get involved with them because by volume and by number we can make a difference. I believe we are on the right side of history.”

Gurak said it is incredibly easy to get involved, either by volunteering or becoming a member for $15. By visiting or the local Facebook page,, you can sign up to volunteer or check out what local events are coming up.

“I started out as a volunteer and got more involved quickly,” Gurak said. “Actually, a UT junior is our newest member of the steering committee. Since steering committee members aren’t forever, we roll off eventually, it’s a great starting point for beginners.”

Gurak, Powell and Bagley each have a personal connection to the cause of LGBT rights.

“I’m a straight ally, so a big inspiration to me is my friends and family,” Gurak said. “My aunts got married in New York last year after being together for 23 years. They called me and said part of their inspiration to get married was the work HRC does and my involvement with them, it was very meaningful.”

Powell finds that the work the Human Rights Campaign does toward marriage equality is not just about the cake cutting or ceremonies but about how it affects families’ everyday lives.

“If I were to have a kid get sick in the hospital, I legally could not visit them,” Powell said. “I would have no legal recourse. If a partner were to die, I would not get their benefits. I’m involved so the families get a fair shot.”

The most poignant and astounding thing Bagley has heard came from straight ally and co-chair Gurak.

“I asked her why she did this and she said, ‘The rights and privileges I enjoy mean nothing if everyone cannot enjoy them,’” Bagley said. “That’s what we do, we fight for the underdog.”

Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: HRC localizes tolerance

Government freshman Alexis Denis and business freshman Dumytru Horda discuss the several destinations offered by UT Office of Study Abroad in front of a world map at the Perry-Castaneda Library on Monday afternoon. Students can visit the Map Room at the PCL and mark down the destinations they have been, one of the most unusual trips taken by a student was in Antarctica.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

A colorful world map covered with pins placed by Longhorns on cities in which they have studied abroad was mounted in the map room of the Perry-Castañeda Library earlier this week and was unveiled Monday.

The map has been an ongoing project of the Study Abroad Office, the University Libraries and the Student Senate Academic Enrichment Committee.

Psychology senior Anne Marie Norman was co-chair of the project and said the idea was to coordinate with the libraries to create a map that showed the variety of destinations students to which students choose to travel.

“We’ve covered every continent,” Norman said. “The funniest part was we got Antarctica before Australia.”

Norman said the map can be marked by anyone who has studied abroad and by international students, who can mark their home countries with pins amongst the destinations of other students.

Katherine Strickland, spokeswoman for PCL Reference Services’ Maps Unit, said the project is ongoing, and students who return home from studying abroad are encouraged to come to the map room and leave their pins.

“I’m excited that it’s interactive and that it will continue to grow,” Strickland said.

The map was carried and displayed around campus as part of “Map Mondays” during September and October. Students passing by were asked to place a pin on their study abroad destination and share their individual experiences.

“It’s really interesting to see where people go,” said ancient history and classical civilization and Latin sophomore Andrew Zigler, co-chair of the project. “It’s even more interesting to see where students haven’t gone. We hope to see it grow. It’s like this seed that we’ve planted, and we want to see it get better.”

Study abroad is an opportunity to take courses of interest in a new setting and gain insight as to what another part of the world is really like, said youth and community studies senior and Study Abroad peer adviser Alejandra Santillanes.

“I was more focused on the courses than the location,” Santillanes said. “It was an interesting way for me to learn about sports abroad. It definitely allows for an open mind.”

The project has been nearly two years in the making, and Norman said it has been a rewarding experience to take part in.

“The best part was talking to students and hearing their experiences,” she said. “We’re collecting pins and stories.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Study abroad cities pinpointed on map