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Higher_education
editor's pick
Baylor regents decline to meet with LGBT student group as alumni advocates step up efforts
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 
 05.15.19

The Baylor University Board of Regents declined to hear from an unofficial LGBT student support group during the board’s meeting that started Wednesday, but the group’s president said members will continue to push for recognition.

More than 3,000 Baylor professors, students, alumni and others with connections to the university signed an open letter last month requesting the university recognize LGBT student groups for the first time. The student group, now known as Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY, sent a request to regents May 4 after administrators did not respond to the open letter.

“For decades, we and other LGBTQ+ students at Baylor have sought to prevail upon University decision makers about recognizing a student group to no avail,” the letter states. “Baylor has more than 350 student organizations but not one for LGBTQ+ students.”

In a response to the group’s request for an audience with regents, board Chairman Joel Allison wrote that the university is still processing Gamma Alpha Upsilon’s application to be chartered as an official student group and that regents do not allow outside groups to address the board directly.

GAY President Anna Conner said after multiple attempts to have the group recognized through the Division of Student Life, the group decided to appeal to the board directly. She said the board’s response felt callous.

“We explained in the first letter that they (Student Life) were the ones who were consistently telling us ‘no,’ ” Conner said. “If you’re referring us back to them, we’re going to get the same response.”

GAY officers have said the group is meant to support LGBT students who are struggling or isolated and that the group’s inability to gain official recognition from the university hurts its efforts to connect with students who do not know about the group.

Conner said the group has no plans to visibly demonstrate or protest the decision. A visible protest could be considered a form of advocacy by the university, a designation that would disqualify them from receiving a charter.

“One of the biggest reasons we’ve not been chartered is Baylor’s ‘Statement on Human Sexuality,’ which specifically says you cannot have LGBT advocacy (groups) on campus,” Conner said. “We’re not an advocacy club, but Student Life has decided that we are.”

Conner said the group was initially optimistic when the open letter garnered signatures from prominent alumni, former administrators and current faculty members.

“There was a little bit of apprehension, like, ‘Is this going to put a target on our backs?,’” Conner said. “They were pretty excited about the potential of being an actual organization on campus.”

Conner said the group will continue to make appeals to the regents next school year.

While the unofficial student group is out of options for the moment, another group has taken a more active role. The open letter’s authors, alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff, recently launched bubearsforall.org.

“What started as a letter making a modest request that Baylor recognize LGBTQ+ student organizations quickly grew into thousands of Baylor family members joining the call for the University to treat people equally,” the trio said in a statement about the new site. “The letter seemed to tap into a grave need and put voice to a movement. There are people who signed who have been disconnected from Baylor because they lost faith in the moral direction of the University over the last two decades. This effort has brought them back to the table realizing they still have a place.”

In addition to the “Statement on Human Sexuality,” Baylor’s sexual conduct policy states “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.” The policy refers to the “Baptist Faith and Message of 1963,” which was amended in 1998 to state “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”

The Baptist document goes on to state “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

The bubearsforall.org site states the group’s purpose is to “ensure that no Baylor student, faculty member, staff member, or alumnus is discriminated against or treated unfairly as a result of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We seek these things not in spite of Baylor’s religious affiliation, but because of it. Baylor University is a community of Christian scholars informed by our Baptist heritage. As such, it has never been a University organized around a single priest or credo, but is one that affirms the priesthood of all believers and each believer’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This tradition makes room for all at the table, and we are dedicated to a loving embrace of all members of the Baylor family, including LGBTQ+ people.”

GAY has existed as the Sexual Identity Forum since 2011, and other LGBT student groups have sought recognition from Baylor. In 2002, The Baylor Lariat student publication ran a story about Baylor Freedom, a now-defunct LGBT group at Baylor. In another article the same year, a group member identified only as “Josie” discussed the group’s chalk messages being removed from campus. In both articles, the students used pseudonyms.

Baylor alumnus Paul Williams also formed a group now known as BUGLA for LGBT alumni in 2000. The group now has about 200 members. Williams said the group started out on Yahoo, later moved to Facebook, and is closed for privacy reasons.

“If there are other alumni who don’t know about us, I want them to find out,” Williams said.


City_of_waco
editor's pick
Residents take electric scooters for spin through downtown
 Kristin Hoppa  / 
 05.15.19

Retired U.S. Postal Service worker Arno Frosch moved his foot from the downtown pavement onto the deck of an electric scooter as it quickly picked up speed, much to his surprise and excitement.

“Well, it was a little scary at first,” the 91-year-old Robinson resident said with a laugh. “I read about the scooters in the paper, so I made a point to come check it out. I had to let off the gas a little bit at first to slow it down, but it was fun.”

Frosch and dozens of other local residents visited with representatives from Charleston, South Carolina-based Gotcha Bikes during a demonstration Wednesday at Indian Spring Park. The company is set to launch app-based electric bike and scooter rentals in Waco by late next month.

After his ride, Frosch said he is sold on the idea of bringing the company to Waco and looks forward to seeing the mobility options find a place in Waco for residents at any age.

“One of these days I won’t be driving, in about 20 years when I’m about 110 years old,” Frosch said. “Then I’m going to come down here and get me a scooter.”

The company’s Waco fleet will include 50 electric scooters and 50 electric pedal-assist bicycles.

“We are really hoping this is going to build a vibrancy around Waco with tourism that you are seeing,” Gotcha partner experience manager Clarissa Carr said. “This is also great for residents here if they are trying to find a different option from using a car all the time.”

After a year of discussions, the Waco City Council has amended ordinances to clear the path for Gotcha’s rental operation. A one-year contract with the company will leave the option to renew for another year if the deal is beneficial to the city, said Chelsea Phlegar, a senior planner with the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“Everything is still a work in progress, but we expect them to be on the ground in late June,” Phlegar said. “Right now, the Gotcha team is trying to figure out where parking hubs will be and present a draft to the city to review and have a chance to say ‘Yes, this works,’ or ‘No, it doesn’t work.’ ”

Ceonn Williams, 18, of Waco, said he and two of his friends were downtown to take photographs, and the Gotcha demonstration caught their attention. He has ridden on an electric scooter before and thinks they will be a popular option downtown, Williams said.

“I didn’t expect it to be that easy, but it was. It was a little faster than I though too,” he said. “It gave me a little jerk, but it was a lot of fun. Depending on the price, I definitely think we’d come down here to ride scooters.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Ceonn Williams, 18, of Waco, said he thinks electric scooter rentals that will be available downtown starting next month will be a popular option.

Users will download the Gotcha Bikes smartphone app and pay a fee to rent the bikes or scooters. The company, which will collect the fees, operates in more than 80 cities and universities.

Gotcha representatives are in town this week looking at site locations for the 10 to 12 parking areas, which will include city bike racks, Gotcha hubs and virtual hubs in a 2-square-mile area downtown, along the Brazos and in a sliver of East Waco.

Though the designated parking areas will initially be in a limited area, the bikes and scooters can be used throughout town.

Revised ordinance

Phlegar said a newly revised city ordinance prohibits riding on sidewalks and applies to the rentals. Gotcha Bikes also requires riders to wear helmets and limits speeds to 15 mph. Frosch will be happy to know there is no upper age limit, but Gotcha requires users to be over the age of 18.

“You are not allowed to ride a bike on the sidewalk if you’re an adult, so the e-bikes and e-scooters will follow those same rules according to the city ordinance,” Phlegar said. “They will be allowed on a shared-use path, like the riverwalk or some other similar path where the city says it is OK for bikes and scooters to intermingle with pedestrian traffic.”

Enforcement policies are still under consideration, she said.

The Waco Walks group helped organize Wednesday’s demonstration, and founder Ashley Bean Thornton said she hopes residents will be eager to try out the new scooters and give feedback about the program.

“Waco Walks is all about encouraging people to walk in town, help people feel more comfortable walking and helping find a better place to walk,” Thornton said. “Some people are excited about the bikes and scooters coming, and some people are a little bit worried about it being hazardous for walkers. But we just wanted to give people a chance to ask questions.”


Courts_and_trials
editor's pick
CASA gets new location, seeks donors, volunteers to further child-centered mission
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 
 05.15.19

CASA of McLennan County, whose volunteers help find “forever homes” for abused and neglected children, launched a fundraising campaign Wednesday to complete renovation of a historical church’s former building into new CASA headquarters.

CASA, or Court-Appointed Special Advocates, calls its campaign “Forever Home” because that is what the nonprofit organization works to find for the almost 700 children in state foster care in McLennan County.

Besides a fundraising goal of $750,000, the group also is seeking to add another 200 people to its force of 80 CASA volunteers, who walk hand-in-hand with a foster child during his or her journey through the foster care system.

During a ceremony Wednesday officially kicking off the public aspect of the fundraising campaign, CASA Executive Director Anna Futral, longtime CASA volunteer Lacy McNamee and others welcomed visitors to what will become CASA’s new 5,000-square-foot headquarters, the former home of Mount Zion United Methodist Church at 1208 N. Fifth St.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

CASA officials launched a campaign Wednesday to raise money to complete renovation of the nonprofit’s new headquarters in a former church.

CASA bought the church in July for $210,000, and workers have gutted the inside. Thanks to donations from the Cooper, Bowen Family, Waco, Rapoport and Magnolia foundations and the Philanthropy and the Public Good class at Baylor University, CASA has raised about $500,000, or two-thirds of its $750,000 goal to complete renovations.

No one knows the need for more CASA volunteers better than Futral. She and her husband, Trent, were foster parents for Child Protective Services for years and never had a CASA volunteer assigned to one of their kids because there were not enough to go around.

The Futrals have since adopted three of those foster children, and now Futral has come full circle to become CASA’s executive director.

“I was able to turn my passion into my every-day work, basically,” Futral said. “I see my own kids in the faces of the kids we serve now with CASA, and it is my drive and motivation to recruit more volunteers to serve more kids.”

Currently, local CASA volunteers serve about 150 kids in foster care. Volunteers are appointed by the court to become, along with court-appointed attorneys, another advocate for the child’s best interests while in foster care, a process that can take from a year to 18 months.

Reunify families

The goal ultimately is to reunify families if possible. That happens in about half of the cases, Futral said. The others often find homes with family members or are adopted.

“Volunteers are not foster parents, but they do play such a vital role in getting to know the child and making recommendations to the judge and to the court about how it should end up,” said McNamee, a CASA volunteer for about 12 years. “Sometimes that is as small as the child needs after-school tutoring and the foster family hasn’t communicated that to CPS. The CASA is there to be solely dedicated to that child or group of kids and to make sure they are cared for just as every child should be.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

CASA of McLennan County officials are converting the former home of Mount Zion United Methodist Church, 1208 N. Fifth St., into new headquarters for the nonprofit.

McNamee said there are a few more foundations CASA officials are waiting to hear back from about possible donations to help complete renovations to the building. CASA is eager to move out of cramped quarters at 1001 Washington Ave., which it shares with Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas.

“After that, it’s going to be a communitywide effort, your typical $50 here, $100 there,” she said. “That is what it is going to take to make this place become a reality in the long run.”

Judge Gary Coley of 74th State District Court spoke at the launch ceremony and praised the work of CASA volunteers.

“The CASA program plays a critical role in the lives of our kids who are in CPS care,” Coley said. “And by establishing a forever home and a permanent location, you are really sending a message to the community that these are our kids and we really want to make a difference in the lives of these kids. I think it is a community effort to make a difference for our kids, and this really is a great stop in cementing that forever.”

More information about donating to the building fund or becoming a CASA volunteer is available at casaforeverychild.org.


AP
Alabama governor signs near-total abortion ban into law
 
 05.15.19

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s Republican governor signed the most stringent abortion legislation in the nation Wednesday, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

The bill’s sponsors want to give conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide, but Democrats and abortion rights advocates criticized the bill as a slap in the face to women voters.

“It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue,” said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.

The abortion ban is set to go into effect in six months, but is expected to face a lawsuit to block it from halting abortion access.

Coleman-Madison said she hopes the measure awakens a “sleeping giant” of women voters in the state.

But Republican pollster Chris Kratzer noted that there is no congressional district and likely no legislative district with enough swing voters to put Republicans at serious risk in the state. “The people who are outraged about this are not the people who are electing these guys, generally speaking, especially when we’re talking about the primary,” he said.

Further, Kratzer argued, there aren’t enough potential swing voters and disenchanted Republicans to make the issue any kind of advantage for the lone Democrat elected to statewide office, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, who scored a surprise win in a 2017 special election.

Jones upset Republican Roy Moore in part on the strength of GOP-leaning college graduates abandoning the controversial Moore. But Kratzer said that was more about Moore’s long history of flouting federal courts as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and accusations that Moore sexually harassed teens when he was in his 30s — not Moore’s hardline stance on abortion.

The legislation Alabama senators passed Tuesday would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk. Women seeking or undergoing abortions wouldn’t be punished.

Rep. Terri Collins, the bill’s sponsor, said she believes the measure reflects the beliefs of the majority of the state electorate. The vote came after 59% of state voters in November agreed to write anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, saying the state recognizes the rights of the “unborn.”

Ivey acknowledged Wednesday that the measure may be unenforceable in the short term. Even supporters have said they expect it to be blocked by lower courts as they fight toward the Supreme Court.

“It’s to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?” Collins said.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The Alabama bill goes further by seeking to ban abortion outright.

Abortion rights advocates vowed swift legal action.

“We haven’t lost a case in Alabama yet and we don’t plan to start now. We will see Governor Ivey in court,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Evangelist Pat Robertson on his television show Wednesday said the Alabama law is “extreme” and opined it may not be the best one to bring to the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning Roe “because I think this one will lose.”

“God bless them they are trying to do something,” Robertson said.

How quickly could it reach the high court?

One mile from the Alabama Statehouse — down the street from the Governor’s Mansion — sits Montgomery’s only abortion clinic, one of three performing abortions in the state.

Clinic staff on Wednesday fielded calls from patients, and potential patients, wrongly worried that abortion was now illegal in the state. They were assured abortion remained legal in the state.

Dr. Yashica Robinson, who provides abortions in Huntsville, said her clinic similarly fielded calls from frightened patients.

“This is a really sad day for women in Alabama and all across the nation,” she said. “It’s like we have just taken three steps backwards as far as women’s rights and being able to make decisions that are best for them and best for their families.”

But Robinson said the bill is also having a galvanizing effect. With phone lines jammed, she said messages came streaming across their fax machine.

“We had letters coming across the fax just asking what they can do to help and telling us they are sending us their love and support our way,” Robinson said.

Not that quickly. The law is certain to be challenged in federal court in Alabama and almost surely will be blocked because it plainly conflicts with Supreme Court precedent. Review by the federal appeals court in Atlanta would come next, and only then would the Supreme Court be asked to weigh in. Emergency appeals by either side could put the issue before the justices sooner, but that would not be a full-blown review of the law.

How might the court lineup affect a ruling?

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in October leave the four liberal justices playing defense, or trying to prevent the court from undoing earlier decisions. Kennedy was a key part of the court majority that reaffirmed abortion rights in 1992 in a decision that measures restrictions on abortion by whether they place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have one.

The justices don’t overturn precedent often, even when it’s a decision they disagree with. And when they do, it’s usually because an earlier decision is “egregiously wrong,” as Kavanaugh put it earlier this term.

Justice Stephen Breyer offered the latest recognition of the difficulty his liberal side of the court faces in a dissent in a case unrelated to abortion that the court decided Monday, one in which the five conservatives voted to overturn a 1979 decision.

Breyer, joined by liberal colleagues Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, cited the 1992 abortion decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in a dissent that concluded: “Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the court will overrule next.”

Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member on record as supporting overruling the court’s abortion precedents. In his most recent comments in February, also in a case unrelated to abortion, Thomas likened Roe to the court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which said African Americans weren’t citizens. Both, he wrote, were “notoriously incorrect.”

What about Roberts?

With Kennedy gone, Roberts is now the justice closest to the court’s center. The chief justice also has a track record of preferring smaller bites before making significant changes in constitutional law.

“You do see consistently in the chief justice’s career a willingness to go incrementally and only decide what the court needs to resolve in the case before it,” said Michael Moreland, a Villanova University law professor.

Roberts also is aware of the questions the court would face if a conservative majority of justices, all appointed by Republican presidents, were to reverse the abortion decisions, Moreland said.

Still, Roberts has, with one exception, favored abortion restrictions. His provisional vote to block the Louisiana clinic law was the only time he voted in support of abortion rights in more than 13 years on the court.


Higher_education
featured
Waco homes of late 19th, early 20th centuries subject of Mayborn lecture, exhibit
 Carl Hoover  / 
 05.15.19

Anyone wanting a shorter, condensed version of Kenneth Hafertepe’s recently published “Historic Homes of Waco, Texas,” can get one Thursday evening when the author talks about it in his 6 p.m. lecture at the Mayborn Museum, 1300 S. University Parks Drive.

It is a subject near and dear to Hafertepe, a Baylor University professor of museum studies and an architectural historian who has lived in Waco for 18 years.

His book features photos, histories and architectural descriptions of 120 homes in Waco built between the 1850s and 1940s. He has narrowed that scope to 30 representative homes for his talk, complete with photos and a corresponding “At Home in Waco” exhibit opening this week at the Mayborn and running through April next year.

Hafertepe’s book and lecture stretch far wider than the five mansions rescued and maintained by the Historic Waco Foundation, tapping multiple neighborhoods and decades of history.

Hafertepe said he will address the specific histories of certain houses and the people who lived in them, and discuss broader contexts including the city’s leading architects, the architectural styles found in the city and neighborhoods including Castle Heights, Sanger Heights, East Waco and Karem Park.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Baylor University graduate assistant Alex Hampton adjusts photos in the Mayborn Museum's "At Home In Waco" exhibit opening this week. It is based on museum studies professor Kenneth Hafertepe's "Historic Homes of Waco, Texas."

Part of his lecture will deal with “lost Waco,” notable homes and buildings that were important in their day but torn down over time. That discussion will serve as a reminder of the role of historic preservation, he said.

Hafertepe also will share the historical sleuthing he did in census reports and industry newsletters and bulletins. A reception will follow his talk Thursday, and he will sign copies of his book, published by Texas A&M University Press.

Hafertepe has another Waco book in the pipeline, a guide to historical Waco buildings and homes, arranged by geography and neighborhood.

His lecture is included with regular museum admission: $8 for general admission, $7 for senior adults, $6 for children and free for museum members and Baylor students.


Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file 

Hafertepe