Tags: HHS, Hobby Lobby Notre Dame’s third request for relief from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring the University’s insurance plan to cover contraception was denied Feb. 21, but the Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 25 on other cases against Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of the Department of HHS.The Court will rule on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, two consolidated cases brought by companies owned by Christian families.Like Notre Dame’s lawsuit, these two cases center on contraceptive coverage and religious liberty. Currently, the University must provide contraceptive coverage under an “accommodation” that allows it to use its third-party health care administrator Meritain Health.In its most recent request for relief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Notre Dame argued that this agreement with Meritain Health regarding the University providing birth control is against its Catholic beliefs.Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett, who specializes in freedom of religion and constitutional law, said the University and the companies fall under different rules due to their institutional differences.“Notre Dame is obviously a ‘religious’ institution and a non-profit, while Hobby Lobby is a for-profit business operating in the commercial sector,” he said. “The ‘accommodation’ that Notre Dame is currently subject to is different in form from the rule that applies to Hobby Lobby.”Because Hobby Lobby is not presently eligible for the accommodation Notre Dame has, Garnett said the company is seeking a different exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).“Hobby Lobby is seeking an exemption, under RFRA, from the requirement that they include certain contraceptives — not all, in Hobby Lobby’s case — which Hobby Lobby believes can operate as abortifacients,” he said.Garnett said while the Constitution, as the Court has interpreted it, “almost certainly does not entitle Hobby Lobby to an exception,” RFRA was enacted by Congress precisely for the purpose of providing more generous accommodations to religious objectors than the Constitution requires.Accommodating religion by statute is more flexible, he said, but if the Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, Congress has the chance to respond and change the final outcome.“If the Court rules for Hobby Lobby and Congress disagrees with that result, it has the authority to revise RFRA and, say, exclude business corporations from the Act’s coverage,” Garnett said.The parallels between Notre Dame’s case and Hobby Lobby’s center on the institutions’ understanding of their “religious exercise” rights, he said.“In all of these cases, the employers are saying that it would burden their legally protected ‘religious exercise’ rights to apply the relevant preventative-services-coverage provision to them,” he said.A February statement from Paul Browne, University vice president for public affairs and communications, maintained that Notre Dame is “concerned that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.” Garnett said this concern is “certainly legitimate.”“Of course, to say that the concern is legitimate is not to say that other burdensome regulations that interfere with or burden Notre Dame’s Catholic character are guaranteed, or to predict what form they will take,” he said. “But, the logic of the government’s argument in the HHS mandate context is one that underemphasizes and underappreciates the extent to which the University of Notre Dame does ‘exercise religion,’ and does have a religious-liberty right to pursue a distinctive vision and mission, animated by a distinctive charism.”Browne told The Observer on Tuesday that Notre Dame’s attorneys “are engaged in a review of options available to us” concerning the case.
Notre Dame football players will join their peers in singing the Alma Mater after every home game, win or lose, in the 2014 season.Student leaders, who make up the Unity Council of the Notre Dame football team, met Monday with members of student government to finalize their decision, which had been in discussion within the team for several weeks, according to Irish sophomore receiver Corey Robinson. Robinson also serves as athletics representative to student government.Robinson said elected representatives from every class year make up the Unity Council, which voices player opinions to the coaching staff. The Council voted unanimously to sing the Alma Mater after every home game, and the team voted “nearly unanimously” in favor, he said.“I brought this to the Unity Council two weeks ago and we discussed it amongst the team with the students’ [and] alumni’s perspective in mind,” Robinson said. “The team nearly unanimously voted that we sing the Alma Mater win, lose or draw out of respect for what it means to the University and to its students, alumni and supporters worldwide.“It’s bigger than us and it’s bigger than football. We, as a team, see the Alma Mater as an instrument of unity; we are Notre Dame regardless of what happens on the field. We know how our students fiercely support us rain, shine, sleet or snow and we want to show them our sincere appreciation by standing and singing as a unified student body celebrating our wonderful University.”Robinson and Irish senior cornerback Matthias Farley met with student body president Lauren Vidal, vice president Matt Devine and Campus Ministry representative to student government Grace Carroll, all seniors.Although last season’s captains and team decided to sing the Alma Mater only after wins, this season’s Unity Council reopened discussion of the policy because both players and students expressed dissatisfaction with the decision, Vidal said. She said she did not know if the decision would be revisited every year.Student government researched the policy along with student opinions and presented Farley and Robinson with five copies of a bound book containing direct quotes from students about the Alma Mater, Vidal said.“The books contain about 100 quotes from the students — each quote represents that student’s interpretation of the alma mater and what it means to them and our University,” she said.Robinson said the meetings with student government aimed at creating a relationship of mutual respect between the players and the student body.“We know how our students fiercely support us rain, shine, sleet or snow and we want to show them our sincere appreciation by standing and singing as a unified student body celebrating our wonderful University.”Members of the football team had expressed concern with past incidents of students disrespecting the football team, Vidal said.“We students have to stand with [the football players] and part of standing with them is being with them through wins and losses, standing together as a family… and understanding that they are vulnerable,” she said.Robinson said the team and the Unity Council weighed those concerns as well as student and alumni opinions through “open discussion” as they reconsidered the previous decision to sing the Alma Mater only after wins.“The respect factor was a big factor for us,” he said. “Of course we don’t want to let you guys down. When we lose it’s embarrassing for us too. We want to support you guys and we want to appreciate you guys.”Former Irish quarterback Tommy Rees faced boos from the student section during his time with the football team, Robinson said. He said moments like that show how the players are “in a vulnerable position,” even though the majority of fans do not behave disrespectfully.“There have been times in the past when items have been thrown at us and we have been booed,” Robinson said. “We understand that this is a intense game, but we hope to be treated with respect when we sing the Alma Mater with the student body and fans.”Robinson said the fans’ commitment to the team through wins, losses and weather — such as the freezing temperatures during the Nov. 23 game against BYU — encouraged the team to decide to continue singing the Alma Mater.“It’s not about us,” he said. “It’s about the school. It’s about unifying.”
At a quarter to 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, Corby Hall will open its doors for the 15th annual Corby Night event, welcoming any young men on campus considering religious discernment.Fr. James B. King, religious superior of Holy Cross priests and brothers at Notre Dame and director of Campus Ministry, began Corby Night in 1999 while serving as director of the Office of Vocations. The current director, Fr. Jim Gallagher, now heads the event.“What we are trying to do at Corby Night is give guys an opportunity to gather with us for prayer and informal interaction to just see more about what the religious life is like,” Gallagher said.The evening will feel very much like a regular evening as a brother of the Holy Cross, Gallagher said.“Our community life is that we pray together and we socialize together and then go about the work that we are doing,” he said.Holy Cross priests and brothers, as well as some seminarians, will accompany Corby Night attendees in a prayer followed by a brief introduction by Gallagher about Corby Hall, the Holy Cross community and other discernment opportunities. The night will conclude with pizza and further conversation in one of the common rooms of Corby Hall.Gallagher said the night is designed for any young man who is considering the possibility of the religious life or the priesthood and is not restricted only to those considering the Congregation of the Holy Cross.Freshman Redmond Tuttle said he intends to become a diocesan priest but still plans to attend Corby Night.“I am ecstatic about Corby Night because it is a great opportunity to meet other young discerning men and priests who have already responded to the call,” Tuttle said.Each year about 30 to 40 men attend Corby Night, with 10 to 15 men actually entering the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Gallagher said.“That shows that there are a lot of guys open to thinking about and interacting with discernment,” he said.Gallagher hopes the men will “talk about discernment, and then if it does connect, and they do feel drawn to it, follow where that leads.”“One of the toughest things in life is that sometimes we have questions on our mind — should I do this, is this what God is calling me to do? But then we just sit and think about it over and over again,” he said. “What I want to do is give guys an opportunity to think about discernment, to do something about it and to get a clear sense of what God is calling them to do.”Gallagher said he anticipates Corby Night will be such an opportunity.Tags: Congregation of the Holy Cross, Corby Night, discernment, Holy Cross, priests
University President Fr. John Jenkins announced Tuesday that the Class of 2015’s commencement ceremony will take place in Notre Dame Stadium instead of the Joyce Center, as the University originally planned. Emily McConville | The Observer University President Fr. John Jenkins revealed during the town hall meeting that Commencement 2015 will take place in Notre Dame Stadium. Controversy erupted when the University previously announced plans to relocate the ceremony to the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center.Jenkins made the announcement at an undergraduate town hall meeting in DeBartolo Hall, during which Jenkins, University Provost Tom Burish and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves also updated the student body on staff diversity and inclusion, the Keough School of International Affairs, the core curriculum review and Campus Crossroads progress.Commencement 2015Jenkins said the Commencement ceremony’s location change comes due to a relatively mild winter, which led to better-than-expected progress on the Campus Crossroads project.“Campus Crossroads won’t be finished; there will be a little inconvenience, but I’m sure it will be minimal, and it will be a great Commencement,” Jenkins said.Jenkins said he “can’t speak definitively” on the location of the 2016 Commencement, but did not rule out the possibility of having the event in Notre Dame Stadium.“I think it looks good,” he said.Keough School for Global AffairsWhile the focus of the new Keough School for Global Affairs will be its Masters program, Burish said the School will offer an undergraduate program in international affairs.“It’ll be initially be a supplementary or a secondary major, and there may be a five-year Bachelor’s/Master’s program,” he said.Burish said the School, Notre Dame’s first new college since 1921, will be housed in Jenkins Hall, a building which will replace the parking lot on Notre Dame Avenue in between the Hesburgh Center for International Studies and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.Burish said the Keough School is part of a larger effort to become a “global University,” which includes sending more Notre Dame students abroad and setting aside space in the two new dorms for international students.“No university can be a great university unless it’s a global university,” Burish said. “If you focus on a specific region, even if that region is the United States of America, your education will be outdated, and it will be delimited. It won’t acknowledge the interaction and interconnectedness of all the countries in this world.” Emily McConville | The Observer University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves spoke on the Campus Crossroads project during the town hall meeting Monday. He addressed student concerns over the budget of the endeavor and outlined what facilities will move to the new buildings.Core curriculum reviewBurish also addressed the upcoming review of University course requirements. He said over this semester, the Core Curriculum Review Committee will consider five questions, including the curriculum’s relation to Notre Dame’s Catholic character and the role of Advanced Placement credits.The committee will make a recommendation for a new core curriculum and lead a campus-wide discussion for a year before a final decision is made. Burish invited the student body to attend forums and focus groups and to send feedback to the committee by email.“Examining the core curriculum and how it could help you in your future and expanding the way we become a global University are two of the most important [academic concerns], and I hope all of you will participate in both of those,” he said.When asked if the two theology course requirements were in danger, Burish said while all University course requirements stand to be reworked, there is no push to reduce or eliminate the theology requirement.“We’ve asked everyone to address any one of the questions,” Burish said. “We haven’t said, we won’t listen to you if you ask about theology classes. Someone might say, there should be three. Someone might say, there should be one. Someone might say there’s a different way to substantiate Catholic character which includes theology, but we should add other kinds of courses. We’re not going to say, we won’t listen to you; we’ve already made up our minds.”Campus CrossroadsGraves primarily addressed Campus Crossroads, the $400 million stadium addition which began construction in November. He said the project will add academic and student space to an area close to where students live and go to class.“At many many other schools that have built up around their stadium, the decision was to move the stadium. We weren’t going to do that. At least, I wasn’t going to do that and live,” Graves said. “So the question was, can we use the stadium in some way? And that was really the genesis of the idea. So the idea was to include some academic spaces in the complex in the heart of campus, and then put a student center there which would serve all the students.”The additions, built on three sides of the stadium, will house the music, sacred music, anthropology and psychology departments, as well as a digital media center, a student union with restaurants and a common space, a gym to replace the Rolfs Sports Recreation Center, space for clubs and student media, the Career Center, a ballroom and premium seating for the stadium.“Instead of having a beautiful football stadium, very traditional, in the middle of campus, used eight or nine times a year — six football games, the Blue-Gold game, commencement, which is what it gets used for — we’ll take it and make it a space that is used 300 days a year,” Graves said.When asked how the University will keep the project on budget, Graves said $200 million of the project’s budget comes from donations and money already set aside for specific purposes, such as moving the psychology and anthropology departments. The other $200 million will come from the sale of season tickets for the premium seating.Graves said Rolfs will become a practice facility for the basketball teams and the Rockne Memorial Gymnasium will remain a gym. The future use of other buildings such as Haggar Hall, which currently houses much of the psychology department, is unclear.By August, the steel structures on two sides of the stadium will be constructed, and the project will be complete in July 2017, Graves said.Diversity and InclusionJenkins recapped three of the motivations in the University’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, which he said has been of special importance to the administration for the past year.“First, it’s a richer educational environment if it’s a more diverse environment,” he said. “Second is, we can attract a wide variety of students, faculty, staff. The third is that the people who are here, if we’re more diverse and inclusive, are happier with their experience.”Jenkins said the University’s student diversity initiatives included spreading awareness of Notre Dame’s spirit of inclusion; the creation of Speak Up, a website with information about and a reporting mechanism for sexual assault and harassment; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations; increasing hall staff diversity and awareness of socioeconomic diversity and the first-year course that will replace the physical education requirement.Jenkins said faculty diversity initiatives have included surveys, ongoing inclusion training and special efforts to recruit and retain faculty of color. New staff now have multicultural competency training; the University recently hired Eric Love as director of staff diversity and inclusion and Christina Brooks as diversity recruiting program manager, and it created a strategic plan to address staff diversity issues.When asked to elaborate on staff diversity initiatives, Graves said he directed his office to create a two- to three-year action plan for increasing staff diversity and inclusion, which would address specific areas such gender and ethnic diversity across different categories of staff, though he did not give any concrete plans.“I purposefully try to avoid putting in a quota,” he said. “What I’m trying to do across my division, which is mostly the business side of the University, is to say, what are the areas where we need to improve, and to challenge my nine direct reports to tackle the situation. I’m not going to go to one person and say, you have to hire someone. What I’m saying is that across the nine of us, two years from now, we should look differently from how we do now. We jointly have to take that responsibility.”DivestmentIn response to a student’s question asking whether the University would divest from fossil fuel companies, Jenkins said the plan is to move towards a more gradual reduction of fossil fuel usage.“We’re sitting in a room that’s heated and lighted, and when we drive to where we go, we use fossil fuels,” he said. “It seems to me that it would seem to be hypocritical to say, ‘we’re going to divest from the companies we rely on for the energy, what we need to do business.’ So I think what we need is a gradual but more determined effort to make our use of energy sustainable.”Tags: Campus Crossroads, Commencement, Diversity, divestment, inclusion, John Affleck-Graves, John Jenkins, Notre Dame, Tom Burish, town hall
In an effort to raise awareness about different disabilities and their effects on every aspect of individuals’ lives, student government partnered with the LOGAN Center of South Bend to organize a sensory-friendly movie showing of “The Red Turtle” in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Browning Cinema on Sunday afternoon.Sabrina Battiston, a sophomore who was one of the event’s organizers, said the screening catered to attendees’ viewing preferences.“The idea is that we want to minimize sensory overstimulation in a movie,” Battiston said. “People might be sensitive to loud noises or might not be able to sit still for a long time, and this can be related to mental disabilities or just general sensitivities.” Sensory-friendly showings provide disabled individuals and their families with the opportunity to see a movie without worrying about the reactions of other moviegoers, Battiston said.“We had the lights halfway on, so people could see if they wanted to get up and walk around, and it was very casual,” she said. “If kids needed to talk to their parents, they could do that. There’s no judgment there. Also, the sound was lower than in normal movies.”The movie, “The Red Turtle,” is a critically acclaimed animated film from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese studio that produced such classics as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” Battiston said. She said she met with Ricky Herbst, cinema program director at Debartolo Performing Arts Center, to get his opinion on the best movie for the showing.“It’s animated, it’s colorful, all ages like it. It was nominated for an academy award this year,” Battiston said. “[Herbst] thought it would appeal to all audiences.”The showing drew a variety of viewers, including families with young children, elderly couples and Notre Dame students, Battiston said. She said the event was co-sponsored by the LOGAN Center of South Bend, which supports individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.“It went really well, and we had a great turnout,” she said. “We’re hoping that this will become a regular thing, maybe once a month,” Battiston said.The showing was part of the student government policy department’s push to raise awareness and sensitivity toward the difficulties of living with all different disabilities, including developmental, physical and mental disabilities, Battiston said.“We don’t always realize the everyday things that people find difficult,” Battiston said. “They might have to accommodate themselves to the experience rather than the experience being accommodated to them.”Tags: debartolo performing arts center, movie, sensory-friendly, The Red Turtle
Observer File Photo Notre Dame students gather at a table during Students for Child-Oriented Policy’s WRAP Week last year. This year, in the wake of WRAP Week, there have been calls for the University to implement a pornography filter on it’s WiFi. This proposal has been met with controversy.Officially, Notre Dame’s “Responsible Use of Information Technology” policy forbids using campus WiFi to access pornography, except for pre-approved or academic purposes.While FIRE agreed that Notre Dame, as a private institution, reserves the right to enforce its “Responsible Use” policy, the nonprofit drew attention to the University’s Standards of Conduct, which states “students and student organizations are free to examine and to discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately.”FIRE program associate for the Individual Rights Defense Program and social media manager Ryne Weiss, who authored the statement, said implementing a pornography filter would prevent Notre Dame’s community from engaging with a full range of ideas.“Free speech is meant to protect specifically the ideas that are controversial or offensive,” he said. “Ideas that are popular or in line with community values — those are the things that don’t need protection because people already agree upon them.”This is not the first time FIRE has crossed paths with SCOP.In 2014, the student group — already the subject of controversy for its anti-same-sex marriage views — was denied official recognition by the Club Coordination Council (CCC). The CCC argued SCOP was superfluous as it “closely mirrored” existing clubs. In a letter addressed to University President Fr. John Jenkins, FIRE denounced the CCC’s decision and called for administrative intervention, arguing that such denials of recognition were often pretexts for viewpoint discrimination. SCOP received recognition later that year.Weiss said because SCOP has been on the receiving end of censorship it should be wary about calling for a pornography filter.“SCOP, of all organizations, I think should know that when you put other principles above free speech, you are only opening up the possibility that you will be censored for your unpopular viewpoint,” he said.In response to FIRE’s statement, senior James Martinson, president of SCOP, said the filter would not infringe on individual rights because the First Amendment does not cover vulgar content.“It is agreed by the Supreme Court and appellate courts that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment,” he said.He also noted that as a private university, Notre Dame reserves the right to regulate technology use at its discretion.“Notre Dame absolutely has the ability to respond in any way they see fit that would be in line with its mission as an academic university, as an academic institution that’s interested in protecting its students,” he said.Michael Griffin, senior vice president of Holy Cross College, said Holy Cross currently uses a web filter to block access to pornographic content and pirated media. The filter was originally implemented to facilitate WiFi use, he said.“Back about 15 years ago, when they put it in, one of the reasons was actually the College did not have a lot of bandwidth,” he said.When Holy Cross upgraded its WiFi the filter was kept for moral reasons, Griffin said.“We sort of took that bandwidth principle and on a higher level we felt like it … would help preserve our moral bandwidth,” he said.Griffin said the filter detects and blocks restricted content automatically.“It does work really well, we rarely have issues where a legitimate site is blocked,” he said.John Gohsman, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Notre Dame, said adding a pornography filter would be neither technologically difficult nor costly as the University already blocks websites on a large scale to protect against system attacks and break-ins. However, he said the University has little incentive to implement a filter because it would be easy to circumvent.“We don’t necessarily believe from a technical standpoint it would be an effective approach,” he said.Paul Browne, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications, said the University presently has no plans to implement a filter.“It’s hard to argue with the motives of this group in wanting to censor,” he said. “But I would hope and expect that the standards are such at the University that the people within our WiFi capabilities would be self-censors.”He added that he does not believe it is the University’s place to monitor students’ media use.“God’s given us the choice of whether we’re going to be sinners or not, you know?” he said.Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the court where American Bookseller’s Association v. Hudnut was heard. A panel of judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in the case on June 14, 1985.Tags: #SCOP, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, pornography, Pornography filter The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit group that works to protect human rights on college campuses, condemned the call for Notre Dame to implement a pornography filter on its WiFi, spearheaded by the group Students for Child Oriented Policy (SCOP), in a statement published Oct. 26.The nonprofit wrote that a pornography filter would violate students’ First Amendment rights, citing the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit case American Bookseller’s Association v. Hudnut, which upheld the legality of pornography under the belief that “‘the government must leave to the people the evaluation of ideas.’”
While a large number of graduating Notre Dame seniors may decide to enter the workforce or pursue a tertiary degree upon graduation, other seniors decide to pursue a year of service spanning an array of programs and activities.Gemma Stanton, who is graduating with a civil engineering degree and minors in resiliency and sustainability of engineering systems and Catholic social tradition, is spending her year at Bethlehem Farm in Alderson, West Virginia.“Their mission statement is to transform lives through service with the local community and the teaching of sustainable practices,” Stanton said. “I’m going to help volunteers who come with home repair sites — teaching them how to use tools, as well as being there to help them out on sites.”Stanton said she chose the program at Bethlehem Farm because of its emphasis on sustainability.“Senior year I started looking at the application processes and what stuck out to me about Bethlehem Farm was that I knew what I would be doing would be really tied to sustainability, which I knew I wanted,” she said.This feature is also important to Stanton, as she completed coursework on this subject during her time at Notre Dame.“An exciting thing about Bethlehem Farm is that they just got a couple of grants to do sustainability audits of houses, so they’re going to be analyzing how the homes they go into are sustainable and how we can make them better, not just safer or warmer but also more sustainable,” she said. “I think the things I’ve learned are going to be useful for having a technical background and that perspective on it. It’s not just, ‘Oh, I like solar panels,’ but I can actually do some math and figure out how many solar panels are needed to power a house.”Maria Heiman, who studied accountancy with a minor in poverty studies, is also embarking on a year of service. Heiman will be working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in Minneapolis.“I will be working with individuals experiencing homelessness and providing resources like transportation and opportunities to get them to stable housing and stable employment,” she said.Heiman said she has always wanted to do some form of service, especially at this time in her life.“A year of service was something that I always felt called towards. For me, I always wanted to give myself to something greater,” she said. “I thought as long as I’m young and flexible and had the opportunity, I thought if I don’t do it now, I might never do it. Living in community with others also was something that I unknowingly was looking for. Being at Notre Dame and being around people who are always cheering you on and always being there for you in that aspect was something that I was searching for and hopefully have found with JVC. Also, I would say the spirituality component, too. I am always looking to increase my faith life, so I found a great opportunity to do that within the Jesuit order that I am not as familiar with.”Heiman’s coursework at Notre Dame also influenced her placement within the JVC, she said.“Part of what I’m doing with my placement is starting up a financial readiness program there. Obviously my business coursework will help me in that aspect, but I think a Notre Dame education overall is what I’ll bring the most to JVC,” she said. “I am excited. I think just being able to be in a new territory and find my place in that community, not just the JVC community, but the broader region.”Tags: Commencement 2019, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, service, sustainability
The Associated Press in 2016 released a report compiled by the Austin American Statesman stating that Hispanics and Latinos are largely underrepresented politically across Texas.The American Statesman reported more than 1.3 million Hispanics in Texas live in cities or counties with no Hispanic representation on their city council or commissioners court. Disparities remain high even when accounting for non-citizens.This is very much the case for Jefferson County as well where Hispanics and Latinos make up 20 percent of the population yet do not have representation on the Jefferson County Commissioners Court. Equally as concerning is the city of Port Arthur, where Hispanics and Latinos make up 33 percent of the population yet have not seen a consistent Hispanic presence elected to the City Council for a number of years.Across Mid County communities, Groves has the highest population of Hispanics and Latinos at 4 percent. Yet Hispanics and Latinos have zero representation there, as well.Representation of all ethnic groups across local government is important to ensure all citizens have a voice. Representation in local government needs to change as communities grow and as their demographics change. City-data.com states that the current ethnic makeup of Port Arthur shows African Americans represents 38 percent of the population, Hispanics are at 33 percent and White/Caucasians are at 21 percent.That is vastly different from 2000, when African Americans represented 44 percent of the population, White/Caucasians were at 32 percent and Hispanics at 17 percent.Back in the 1980s, when white/Caucasian ethnicity was much higher that other ethnic groups in Port Arthur, a change was made at the local government level to increase the number of city council seats to nine. This added two citywide seats and two overlapping district seats. The mindset was to allow ethnic groups with lower population numbers an opportunity to acquire equal representation on local government councils.Fast forward to today, where out of the nine seats on The Port Arthur City Council, eight are held by people of African American ethnicity. There are zero Hispanic/Latinos as well as zero white/Caucasians. So why is it that? Why do Hispanics and Latinos stay away from consistently being a part of local government?The most obvious reason is our lack of voter turnout, which continues year in and year out. When you have a 4 percent voter turnout on a regular basis, candidates are basically relying on the registered voters to whom they reach out and entice to the polls. They are not reaching out beyond that.In simple terms, they only want the voters who will get them elected — voters they know will show up to the polls.Voter turnout will only get worse if eligible individuals don’t vote consistently. They will become structurally excluded from the political process. That means candidates will not campaign for an individual’s vote if that person is not a regular voter.The Austin American Statesman report also suggests a few reasons for this lack of presence and representation. Texas laws have made registering to vote more difficult, redistricting efforts were designed to dilute Hispanic influence and there is a perceived abandonment of Hispanic voters by statewide political parties.To increase Latino representation among local governments, reports suggest, they need to feel more engaged. They need to have a stake in it. They want to have an equal place in society.But many feel they do not, are overlooked and do not have a voice. They need to see that change will be beneficial and that their voice is just as important as every other legal citizen.Latinos are a highly supportive group with strong family ties. Those ties are also very strong for leaders that will push for issues they feel are important to their culture and families.Find a candidate or candidates who can push for the issues important to the Hispanic and Latino population and change in the lack of political representation here would come now, not later.
KATY — The Lamar Cardinals knew when and where they will be playing next. Friday afternoon they found out who they would be playing.The Cardinals (22-6 overall, 17-1 Southland Conference), who are the No. 1 seed in the Southland Conference Tournament, will face the fourth-seeded Nicholls State Colonels in the tournament semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy. LU, which received an automatic berth in the semifinals as the top seed, faces Nicholls (17-13, 11-7) for the second time this season. The Cardinals were 76-61 winners at Nicholls on Jan. 24.Nicholls, which had a first-round bye, held on for a 61-59 win over fifth-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in Friday’s second-round game. Saturday’s other semifinal sees second-seeded Stephen F. Austin taking on third-seeded Central Arkansas at 3:30 p.m. The Cardinals, who were outright Southland Conference regular-season champions for the first time in program history, are making their 13th straight appearance in the SLC Tournament as they seek their first tourney title since 2010. LU is just one two teams, joining Stephen F. Austin, who have been in the tournament every season since the conference moved the tourney to Katy.“I think that speaks well for our program,” Harmony said. “We try to put out a good product every season. That’s a credit to everyone involved.”The Cardinals are guaranteed to be going to a national postseason tournament for the third time in Harmony’s five seasons at LU. Winning the conference tournament would give LU an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. If the Cardinals are not selected for the NCAA Tournament, they are assured of a spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament as a result of being the conference’s regular-season champion.“We don’t have to worry about seeing if we’re going to a tournament,” Harmony said. “The NCAA and WNIT are both prestigious tournaments. It is a relief to know that we are going somewhere.” The tournament’s championship game is scheduled for noon Sunday.LU has been idle since Saturday when it ended the regular season with an 81-72 victory at McNeese State to secure the outright title. LU coach Robin Harmony hopes the added rest will prove to be beneficial for the Cardinals.“It’s good to have the two byes because you’re guaranteed to be in the semifinals,” Harmony said. “You can give your kinds a couple of days off that normally you can’t do. At this point of the season, an hour and a half of practice; in and out. We already know what everyone is going to do. We know our stuff. It’s to stay fresh and stay in shape.” ALL-TIME SERIESThe Cardinals and Colonels have met 39 times, with LU winning 24 of those contests.ON THE AIR AND ONLINEAll LU postseason games will be broadcast on KLVI-AM 560, with Harold Mann providing the play-by-play. Saturday’s semifinal game will be streamed online on ESPN3. Sunday’s championship game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network (DirecTV 221, Dish Network 158, Verizon Fios 94 and 594, Spectrum 315).SLC TOURNAMENT TICKETSTickets are available on game day at the Merrell Center. LU fans who purchase game-day tickets at the Merrell Center are encouraged to purchase their tickets from the LU ticket window.
Vavasseur must register as a sex offender for 10 years. BEAUMONT — Judge Raquel West has sentenced Kirt Vavasseur, 32, to 15 years in prison for second-degree online solicitation of a minor.Vavasseur was also sentenced concurrently to 10 years in the Institutional Division in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on three other charges of online solicitation related to the same investigation.In an issued statement, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office said that shortly before Halloween 2017, law enforcement assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force conducted Operation “Trick or Treat” to target individuals attempting to prey on children over the internet. A task force member posed online as a 14-year-old girl named “Jane” and Vavasseur contacted her. Vavasseur told “Jane” he was 16 and not long into their conversation, Vavasseur sent “Jane” four pictures of himself and his genitals. Over the next month, they exchanged sexually explicit messages and he asked her to meet him in person.On Nov. 27, Vavasseur made plans with “Jane” to meet at a store in Fannett where law enforcement identified him and later arrested him on four charges of online solicitation of a minor.Three of the cases were third-degree felonies, with a range of punishment of two to 10 years in TDC. The fourth case was a second-degree felony with a punishment range of two to 20 years TDC because of Vavasseur’s attempt to meet with “Jane.”