OP-ED: The Genocide Must Stop

Joshua Cirotto, President of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality at ACC, gives his and the group’s views on the Palestinian struggle during its developing conflict with Israel.

By Joshua Cirotto

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine.

 For three-quarters of a century, the Palestinians have been driven off their land, constantly bombarded with missile attacks, murdered en masse, relegated to the status of second-class citizens, and had what little remains of their territory converted into open-air prisons. Under these conditions, the Palestinians have engaged in a desperate yet brave uprising against the apartheid state of Israel. Predictably, the response has been the most savage repression by Israeli forces and is supported by all the major imperialist countries, combined with a propaganda campaign being led by popular media corporations to demonize the Palestinians. An invasion of Gaza has been launched, with 1.1 million Gazans being forced to flee the north of the territory. “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals,” declared Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The IYSSE condemns those who condemn the violence of the Palestinians and those who purport to take a neutral stance as being complicit in the genocide. History should not judge the violence of the oppressed rising up against their oppressors the same as the violence used by the oppressors to keep them in their state of oppression. Nor was the most recent experience of the neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the deaths of hundreds of thousands at the hands of U.S. imperialism lived through in vain. A “terrorist,” according to the definition of the United States, is anyone that opposes its geopolitical interests.

Disgust at the violence is legitimate but it is vain and hypocritical when it is used to justify complacency. Those who prate about the ‘complexity’ of the situation are but the flip side of the coin to the criminals in the political establishment such as Joe Biden who condemn the uprising as “unutterable evil.” The violence is not inexplicable. Blame must be placed where it belongs.

Full responsibility for the horrors now unfolding lies with the Zionist State of Israel, its imperialist backers in the US and other NATO countries, and ultimately the geopolitical and economic structure of world capitalism. The state of Israel was founded on the theft of Palestinian land in 1948, involving the murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands. The Gaza strip, which if it were a country would have the third greatest population density in the world, has been under blockade since 2007, relying on international aid to survive. In the peaceful Gaza border wall protests in 2018 through 2019, 189 Palestinian demonstrators, including 31 children, were killed by Israeli security forces. Under apartheid rule in Israel, Palestinians do not have the right to vote.

Those who have courageously spoken out in favor of Palestine have been repressed and slandered as anti-Semitic. In reality, many Jews have been the first to speak out in opposition to the genocide, denouncing attempts to exploit the legacy of the horrors inflicted on Jews last century to justify new ones. At the same time, it is the myth of Zionism, which equates Judaism with a national identity and the Jewish people with the reactionary endeavor to create an ethnically-exclusivist apartheid state based on the forcible removal of the Palestinians, which is responsible for the growth of antisemitism.

All attempts to divide people along racial, ethnic, and religious lines are done in the interests of the oppressors. It is not insoluble religious hatred which is primarily responsible for the long-standing tensions in the region which are now exploding. Rather, it is the imperialist intrigues of the United States and other NATO powers, for whom Israel has always been a proxy, which have purposefully and cynically perpetuated religious antagonisms. The real dividing lines in society are beginning to shine through. The connection between the repression of democratic rights and the waging of war is widely understood. Just earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to oppose Netanyahu’s attempt to usurp powers from the judiciary, one of the main purposes of which was to facilitate the incursions of settlers and far-right paramilitary organizations into Palestinian land. In many Western countries, the mass protests which are erupting are met with savage repression and seized upon by the ruling elites as a pretext to strip their populations of democratic rights.

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality, or IYSSE, recently formed a branch at Austin Community College. It is affiliated with the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Website, which have endorsed the call by Palestinian trade unions for workers around the world to refuse to handle weapons designated to be sent to Israel. It has furthermore called for a political general strike capable of fusing together the ongoing struggle of workers across many industries to win back decades of concessions given to the companies by the unions, together with the fight against war. The IYSSE is fighting to arm the emerging mass movement against the Israeli genocide with the perspective of world socialist revolution. Students who want to get involved in this fight should read the World Socialist Website and contact the IYSSE club through the Student Life webpage.

*DISCLAIMER: The opinions, ideas, and beliefs that are expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, ideas, and beliefs of ACCENT Student Media or Austin Community College as a whole.

OP-ED: Anger Isn’t Enough

ACC Student Ruby Krimstein speaks about the danger of division that she has witnessed in college spaces following developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

By Ruby Krimstein

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine.

Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel we’ve seen an precedented level of violence for the region. With news of the ongoing war, the effects of the conflict have amplified contentions beyond the warzone. Both online and in public life, it’s now common to see sympathies veer into something resembling a team sport. But this kind of dynamic flattens the real and grave conditions people are facing, and stagnates productive curiosity. Communication in this state renders a tragic, complicated, and a deeply personal issue for many, into an unwinnable war of good vs. evil.

On Oct. 7, Israeli civilians were brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped. Yet because of the political backdrop, their deaths were immediately followed by Anti-Israel protests. Bubbles of activists praised these acts in the name of Palestinian support. One Cornell professor even claimed to be “exhilarated” by Hamas’s actions. At the time of his comment, graphic details of these actions are circulating online. Live footage taken and spread by Hamas shows how sadistic this slaughter was, and how gleefully it was committed. It was unimaginably depraved. There’s nothing exhilarating to me about rape, torture, or murder.

My views on this war are still so raw, and so deeply personal that they feel ineffable. Rather than framing my perspective around a single political force, I’m drawn to much more confusing realities. Realities like my work with Israeli children at a Jewish daycare and how, the other day, I saw a photo of a bullet-ridden entry to a kibbutz Kindergarten; its welcome sign, decorated with owl stickers and Hebrew comic sans, looked so familiar to me. 

It’s surreal and sobering to glimpse the utter mundanity of lives now destroyed. In a war of lineage, religion, and identity, I can’t tear my eyes away from the secularity of anguish. It’s clear that anguish has no bounds in this conflict; it just expands and destroys lives. 

I don’t know the Palestinian perspective as innately as the Jewish perspective, but I can’t possibly restrict my sense of horror when I see the news from Gaza. The suffering there is unbearable, and I’d be inhuman not to see that. I can’t help but want to scream at the sheer arbitrariness of faith, politics and land when it comes to human life.

But I’m not naïve. This war is a mess, and it’s not fought with reason, morality, or logic. The truth is that too many fates are interconnected and too many factors complicit in this ongoing war for it to fit in a narrow perspective.

So much of this moment leaves me exasperated, but none as much as the rigidity of thought in popular discourse. There seems to be a prevailing push towards admonition, and away from pragmatic analysis. There are certainly many forces worthy of admonition among the leaders of Israel and Palestine, but too much focus on blame flattens the immediate and more important question of safety and peace. 

As an American Jew, I can’t help but see how much gets lost in the fractured rhetoric, and I can’t help but be hurt by it. By nature, I see the world from a Jewish lens; I look at all jews as an extension of myself. The civilians of Israel are often referred to as colonizers, but most of them were born there for generations. Further, those who settled there after the Holocaust weren’t driven by colonial intentions, but to flee from genocide. I’m not arguing that this negates any detrimental impacts, but that the distinct motive matters.

So much seems overlooked that I feel unable to address, like how Hamas explicitly declared their intention to “fight Jews and kill them”, and refuted coexistence in their 1998 covenant. I personally find the Israeli far right just as complicit in the war, and many Israelis have long opposed Netanyahu, and consider settlers a rebuked minority.

It saddens me that I feel the need to explain that Israelis are not a hive mind. I feel constantly put into a state of defense because the reality of Israelis gets routinely flattened by the false dichotomy of “Pro-Israel” vs. “Pro-Palestine.” If there’s anything to glean from the brutal scope of this conflict, it’s that no side is wholly good or wholly evil. 

 The reality of peace has been constantly obstructed by the most dogmatic and power hungry forces from both sides. Neither Hamas nor the Israeli far right want peace, they want total power. Total power from either side of extremists would undoubtedly mean total obliteration of the other. 

I fear the dark side of pain and grief; the side that forges self-protection into weapon. I fear the instinct of revenge, especially in a situation fraught with grief on all sides. I believe this mutation of pain is at the core of the staunchness that led to the. Pushed too far and too long, the impulse of self-protection becomes an impulse to vanquish the “other”. I fear this very impulse is permeating society beyond the warzone, turning concerned outsiders against each other rather than utilize their privilege of freedom and safety to work together for peace.

Whatever one believes about ancestral claims, the realities of Palestinians and Israelis are knitted together. Whatever solution lies ahead, one side can’t simply be amputated.

It’s paradoxical that college campuses are major settings for political hostility. A higher education is a choice, a privilege, an effortful and expensive endeavor but, above all, it’s a pursuit of education. Universities are the last place that diverse perspectives should be shut down. Students in community college particularly know that college is not just a passive pursuit. The privilege of receiving a higher education is access to the wider world and learning by means of interacting with it. 

History is important in this conflict, but the present and the future are urgent. Engaging in this conflict is anyone’s right, but in doing so one has a responsibility not to amplify animosity. If the most important concern is the safety and long term wellbeing of civilians in danger, then anger isn’t enough and retribution is premature. If the goal is to help, then make an effort to know the function of your words and actions. Nothing about this situation is trivial. A poorly executed solution could mean the mass death or deportation of an entire human population.

At this point I’m tired of arguing. Everyone will have a different perspective founded upon their full human experience. Differences of personal grief can’t be resolved by blame, charged words, or attempts to justify violence. 

Anger gives a false sense of clarity and control. In a state of outrage, you don’t have to entertain confusion or uncertainty. Those in the warzone are angry and terrified because they are in an active fight to survive. Though one can still feel their pain beyond the warzone, we have the privilege of safety, but also its responsibility. Safety allows us the ability to think clearly and rationally, and that is far harder to access under life threatening conditions. If we care, and want to actually work to secure a better future for Palestinian civilians, we shouldn’t take our safety for granted.

*DISCLAIMER: The opinions, ideas, and beliefs that are expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, ideas, and beliefs of ACCENT Student Media or Austin Community College as a whole.

ACC Artist’s Show Off for the Austin Studio Tour

Not to be left out of the fun, Austin Community College held its own portion of the city wide Austin Studio Tour at its Highland campus during the first two weekends of November of the local event. Several students, staff, and alumni from various fine arts and digital media departments at ACC had rigorously prepared to participate.

By Isabella Strimple

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine.

The Austin Studio Tour is an annual event throughout Austin, Texas, which aims to celebrate Austin’s “vibrant art community and its journey of growth and transformation”. Every year and all around the city, local artists are given the chance to show off and sell their creative work and connect with the greater community. Again, for this year’s 30th iteration of the tour during three weekends of November, hundreds of different artists –  including painters, dancers, musicians, photographers, ceramicists, and more – partook in the festivities and showcased their different talents.

Not to be left out of the fun, Austin Community College held its own portion of the tour at its Highland campus during the first two weekends of November of the local event. Several students, staff, and alumni from various fine arts and digital media departments at ACC had rigorously prepared to participate.

“In many artistic practices, our processes happen in isolation from the public. It is not until the ‘final product’ that the work is made visible in a publication, gallery, performance, or production,” commented ACC Adjunct Dance Faculty member, Rebekah Chappell. “AST invites the community to engage with both process and product.”

When walking through Building 4000 of the Highland campus, attendees were met with many tables set up around the campus that displayed the students’ artistic works, including almost everything from paintings to jewelry to pottery. The pieces on display were being sold by ACC students and alumni alike in an art sale held on the campus from 1 p.m to 5  p.m every day of the event. 

Antonio Carmona III, a studio art major at ACC, was painting a self-portrait on a canvas in real-time using a painting technique known as grisaille, in which an artist paints with gray or neutral colors to imitate sculpture. “I thought participating in the Austin Studio Tour would be a good way to ‘show face’ and get more connected with the local art scene, being that I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s fun, it’s a new experience, [but it’s] definitely out of my comfort zone,” said Carmona. When asked what he planned to do with any funds he earned from selling his work at the art sale, Carmona divulged that any money earned would be “reinvested” back into his work.

 Another student, Gracie Miller, is in the continuing education program, and describes herself as a “self-taught” crocheter. At the studio tour, she was selling her colorful yarn and crochet work, which consisted of items such as hats, bags, and keychains. Like many other participants, it took Miller hours upon hours to create all of the pieces she had up for sale. “I’d like to start selling my crochet stuff more regularly, so this is just good practice for me… I’ve already sold a couple of things, which I was not expecting… so I think I’ll definitely do it again in the coming years…”

 Antonio Carmona III paints a self-portrait for the Austin Studio Tour event at ACC’s Highland Campus. Photo Taken by Kyle Sandiego on Nov. 4, 2023.

Also on display inside Building 4000 was the Art Gallery of Children’s Artwork from the Student Advocacy Center Department. Children of different ages and skills had their artwork on display for attendees of the tour. Riley and Marah, siblings of ages 11 and 7 years respectively, were both excited to have their work shown and at the event and each gave insight into their pieces.

To create his piece, Riley arranged crayons on his canvas and left them out in the sun until the crayon wax would melt into an eccentric design, while Marah, inspired by their family’s pets, created a “cute and cuddly” portrait of their cat and dog. After taking a moment to reflect, Marah stated that she wanted to show her piece at AST because, “it made [her] feel like when [she] grows up, [she] might become a famous artist.” Her mother confirmed her love for creating art over the years. “I love art. I’ve made a lot of art over the years,” agrees Marah. 

Siblings Marah and Riley pose in front of art they showcased with the Student Advocacy Center Department at ACC’s Austin Studio Tour event in the Highland Campus. Photo by Kyle Sandiego on Nov. 4, 2023.

Four “Dance Improv Jams” were held in Building 2000, one on each day of the ACC Austin Studio Tour and each led by a different professor. These improv sessions were particularly unique because they were open for the general public to join. As different types of music played in the dance studio, dance and non-dance students could be seen moving as they saw fit.

On the final day of ACC’s AST, a Barbie themed improv session was led by Adjunct Dance Professor Dawn Loring. “[Barbie themed improv] has been a very effective tool for understanding and experiencing embodiment, and it is also a great way to practice performing physical humor and while not breaking character,” Loring remarked.

The photography department of ACC spotlighted their Spring 2023 exhibition entitled “Through the Looking Glass,” found in Building 1000. The theme was inspired by the physical act of looking through glass when viewing photos in a picture frame. Photography Professor Bret Brookshire and ACCMe Member Reagan Ellis explained that it was chosen due to a desire for a theme that would allow room for creativity from the department’s large number of students.. The exhibition was actually curated by ACCMe, “a student run, commercial photography studio operating within the Department of Photographic Technology” according to the organization’s website. Pictures for the exhibition, after being submitted, had to be sorted, chosen, printed, and hung by ACCMe, which took many days of work altogether. Ellis revealed her hope for people who view the exhibition is that they realize “how much work students put into this.”

There were many other happenings taking place at the Highland campus for the Austin Studio Tour. Many departments gave demonstrations and tours of their studios, such as the jewelry department, where professors demonstrated how to cast jewelry, among other techniques, and the audio technology department, where professors gave tours of the sound studios and expounded on what students focus on within the program. The Art Galleries of ACC were also open during the event, displaying their current exhibit: Narrated Memories. Toye Peters, a local resident and an attendee of the school’s AST event, had high praise for Laurie Frick’s piece, Felt Personality, remarking how it “caught his eye.” Peters came to the event after happening to run across it whilst passing by the Highland campus and declared he would consider coming again next year. Right outside Building 4000, an aluminum pour demo was performed by ACC’s 3-D Art Club. Event guests were able to purchase an aluminum tile for $15, or $5 in the case of Design II students, and carve a design in which the aluminum would be poured, resulting in a mold of the design of hardened aluminum, as Doug Dawkins, a member of the club and studio art major, explained. Funds from the tiles sold for the event also went back into the 3-D Art Club. 

ACC students have a “Dance Improv Jam” at the Highland Campus during ACC’s event for the Austin Studio Tour. Photo taken by Collin Eason on Nov. 4, 2023.

Additionally on campus, students were put in charge of running several musical performances at the Flex Factory: Matthew Linder’s play, My Neighbor Teddy Roosevelt, was read by ACC’s drama department, musical compositions of ACC students were performed by ACC staff in the recital hall, and R.B., Austin Community College’s esteemed winged mascot, could even be found walking around the event, taking pictures with visitors, and striking up quirky poses. 

Nicole Dimucci, the Event and Outreach Coordinator of Arts and Digital Media for ACC, had this to say about ACC’s involvement in the Austin Studio Tour: “Bringing that event into our campus to show off our programs and student work has been essential to exposing our community to the expertise in the arts found here at ACC, and allowed our community members to connect with our student artists to support their work through purchasing their art, while also learning about opportunities to become students themselves at ACC. ” Future Attendees can expect the next Austin Studio Tour to take place sometime next fall.

For those interested in the Austin Studio Tour, check out the event website www.austinstudiotour.org.

New Leadership. New Opportunities.

ACCENT Writer Josie Hurt interviews the new Chancellor of ACC, Russell Lowery-Hart about his past career and upcoming plans as head of the college.

An interview with the new Chancellor of ACC, Russell Lowery-Hart about his past career and upcoming plans as head of the college.

By Josie Hurt

Photos by Nathan Adam Spear

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine

On a cold and wet night, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart was sleeping on the streets of Waco, quietly crying. He was reflecting on how the next morning his life would pretty much go back to normal. It was the second night that Lowery-Hart attempted to simulate living homeless in order to understand what students who experience poverty go through. He says this was a transformative experience for him.

 Reflecting on what happened he says, “The feeling of isolation was overwhelming, but what hit me even harder was the devastation I felt knowing this simulation is a reality for too many people.”  This unconventional approach towards understanding the student experience is what defines the new Chancellor’s leadership style. 

When ACC’s previous Chancellor, Richard Rhodes, announced his retirement in January of this year, the board of trustees began an extensive nationwide hunt for someone to fill his shoes. The months-long search concluded when the board unanimously approved Lowery-Hart as the next Chancellor of ACC. 

So what is a chancellor anyways? For those of you who don’t know – a chancellor is essentially the academic leader at institutions of higher education. It is basically the Mayor, CEO, or President of the College who oversees the entirety of the ACC’s service district – which means 7000 square miles, several cities, and 11 campuses. The chancellor formulates the plans and programs of the school as well as directs all of the administrative responsibilities. The Chancellor operates under ACC’s board of trustees, who represent the residents of ACC’s tax district. They establish policies and provide guidance and leadership to meet the community’s needs. Basically, voters in an ACC service district elect the board who in turn hire the chancellor to carry out the day to day operations of the school.

Lowery-Hart is no newcomer to the higher education system. Russell, as he prefers to be called, served as the president of Amarillo College for nearly a decade. Before that he was Vice President of Academic Affairs at Amarillo. With him in charge, Amarillo College won the 2023 Aspen Prize; a prestigious award for community college excellence.

 Guided by his new understanding of student homelessness, Russell met one on one with students in his community to better understand their needs. He says his “loving systems of support” helped Amarillo students meet basic needs like free transportation, food pantries, low cost daycare, and even free dental care. According to Russell, “the only way to make education possible for more people: help eliminate barriers and literally love them to success.”.

Russell is a native Texan and grew up on a farm in a small town outside Lubbock.  “Most people are surprised I wore boots and wranglers all the way until my freshman year of college”. After highschool, Russell started his lifelong journey with higher education. In an interview with the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation he says, “I went to West Texas A&M for my undergrad and really felt like I found my personal voice. College was a place where I realized I could be who I was and could define what that meant.” He graduated from West Texas University with a B.S. in Communications and continued his education with a  master’s degree from Texas Tech followed by a doctorate’s from Ohio University. 

In order to help ACC students understand what Russell does, and his future plans, ACCENT reached out for questions from the student body. In our recent conversation, Russell was able to answer some of the concerns as well as share his plans and aspirations for the college. In the following interview, Russell shares his wisdom and a glimpse into his early plans for ACC’s future.

Russell Lowery-Hart tours the Student Care Center at ACC’s Highland Campus as part of his tour in his First 100 Days. Photo taken by Nathan Adam Spear on Oct. 15, 2023.

Hurt – It seems that a lot of students don’t really know what a chancellor does, in your own words how would you describe what you do?

Lowery-Hart – I think more than anything the chancellor sets the vision and the path and then puts processes in place to ensure that we can build those paths with the student voice at its center and then once we do that, we hold our college accountable.

What are the most important issues that you hope to address here at ACC?

The issues that I worry about at ACC aren’t uncommon to the issues that we see across the country. I especially worry in this community about the wealth gap and how that’s directly affecting our students. The student’s journey to ACC is so critically important, not just to their lives but to the lives of our community, our region, and the country. I want ACC to provide skills and credentials and degrees, and transfer pathways that lead to success for our students so that we build ourselves around what the student tells us they need from us.

I’m curious how this differs from a lot of the issues going on in Amarillo College?

I think one is the size and the scope of this community. The workforce needs and the workforce opportunities are dramatically different. This is a tech economy, it’s in an urban setting that has a lot of resources and opportunities, but it also has a really challenging cost of living and wealth gap. Those things are really different from where I came from.

Do you think you are going to have any challenges adjusting?

So, I have worried about that since the first few weeks I have been here, and even in the two weeks before I moved to Austin and met people.The campus is much bigger but students have the same needs; they are the same group of magical voices that we build ourselves around. I’ve met colleagues here that are really committed to doing what it takes to love our students to success and so I’m more excited and comfortable today than I was on the first day. I’m not going to lie; on day one, I was scared. I walked to work and was like, “it’s a big place and we have campuses all over the region”. I wanted to make sure that I could honor all parts of the district: the students, the employees and the community. It’s a big task, but what I learned is that the talent that exists here, the commitment, the team approach meant that it wasn’t anything that I should have been worried about.

Where were you when you first found out that you were going to be chancellor? What was going on?

That’s a great question. I was in the middle of teaching a class at Stanford University in California and my phone kept blowing up in my pocket because people were texting and notifying me. So in a break I got notified that the board had voted to approve me. Then I immediately started working with my friends in communication to craft messages and connect with the community in an authentic way.

Obviously Dr. Richard Rhodes has left quite the legacy here in his 12-year tenure, in what ways do you plan to pick up where he left off or maybe differ?

Yeah, he has. I talked to Richard this morning and you know it’s the start of my third week and my first board meeting. I just thanked him for the legacy that he’s created – for the resources, community partnerships, and community trust and support. Because those things are incredible and speak to the power of this institution. We’ll continue to honor those external partnerships and be innovative in responding to workforce needs, but my focus will be – at least in the first year – internally focused on our students and employees ensuring that we build systems that we all honor.

More specifically, do you have any projects in mind that you’re planning on working on in the first year?

Well I think that’s what I’m trying to discover in the first 100 days, by going to every campus meeting our faculty, staff, and students. Trying to understand what is working really well so we can scale it and know where our opportunities are, our challenges are, so that we can address them. I’m already seeing issues across the district with ensuring that every campus feels seen and included and that our systems allow for ease in accessing things like books and the equipment and tools that they need. Those are things that we’ll continue to work on but I don’t plan on making any changes or decisions in the first 100 days because I want to honor the process and honor what’s already been here and I don’t want to bring my own history or my own potential biases to that process yet.

Looking past the first year and into the next couple years, what is your vision for ACC?

That it will be a place that will have doubled our graduation rate, maybe tripled our completion rate. That we built systems that love our students and our employees to success, both inside the classroom and outside.

How do you think your previous experience at Amarillo College will inform the decisions you make here?

The work at Amarillo College that I engaged in around poverty and accelerated learning received a lot of national attention and won the Aspen Prize as the top college in the country. Those are important experiences that I bring with me to this role but I’m also committed to knowing that that path need not be reflected in this one. That’s what I wanted to spend the 100 days doing, ensuring that the skills and experience I bring match what the district needs, not super-imposing my past on the future of this institution. It can inform the way I lead and the questions I ask but our path needs to be ours and not someone else’s.

I’m sure you’ve been keeping an eye on Texas politics going on and there’s a lot of stuff that’s affecting education. Are there any things specifically that you’re worried about in the near future?

I don’t understand the need for the politics around Senate Bill 17. It’s outlawing DEI offices. The law doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand the need for the law, but it’s not my job now it’s passed to question it. My job is to ensure that we build systems and experiences that honor all of our students and that we can build belonging and compassion and care and connection into everything we do. So we’ll still work on issues on inclusivity and diversity and we’ll still honor all of our students’ journeys to us. But I don’t care what we call it. I just care that we become a place where every student can have their own success story with the resources and support they need from faculty and staff who know and understand them and have the resources they need to love them.

ACCTV records an interview with Chancellor Russell Lowery-Hart at the Student Care Center in ACC’s Highland Campus. Photo taken by Nathan Adam Spear on Oct. 15, 2023.

What role do you feel like a community college plays in the community?

That’s a great question. I spent the majority of my career in universities and I left the university world and came to a community college world because I felt like higher education in universities were choking themselves in traditions that weren’t built on who our students are. They were built on who they wished their students were or who they were when they were students or who our students were historically; and community colleges were a space that was nimble, innovative, and courageous. When you look at the transitions that our communities are needing to take, not just in this region but across the country and you look at the challenges in the wealth gap and poverty, you’ll see that universities are not positioned to solve those issues and community colleges are. Austin Community College in particular has the talent and the resources and support to truly be the institution that can redefine how higher education works.

This is a very forward question. Richard Rhodes was here for 12 years, a record breaking amount of time, how long do you plan on staying at ACC?

I hope to finish my career here and I can officially retire in 11 years and I would hope that in 11 years we’re having a conversation of celebrating the legacy that we built here that’s not specific to me but is a legacy that’s honoring our students and our community. 

House Bill eight is something that is going to change ACC’s funding from enrollment based to performance based. How do you plan to make sure that ACC is ready for this policy?

I am really excited by the House Bill eight changes, but it will call us to transform in ways that we have not before. Because we are in a population center it’s easy to fall into the trap of enrollment based funding. Now we have to get great at outcomes, which is why we need to double our graduation rate and triple our completion rate. We need to build systems that can ensure our students can finish what they start and House Bill eight incentives us to do that. It will give us the resources to – if we can do it correctly – to pay more and to have the kind of tools and technologies and support systems that our student and faculty and staff need.

 What role does student collaboration have in your leadership style as chancellor?

It is the foundation of our leadership style. I use secret shoppers a lot and I’ve already engaged some secret shoppers just to help me understand how students are receiving us as a district and how they navigate our processes and I intend to elevate those student voices in helping us reimagine our values and ensuring that our strategic plan clearly articulates how the student voice gives us the path forward.

There’s also the loan moratorium that recently ended. How do you feel like this will affect community college students?

I worry about it because I think that our community college students could be the most impacted.

The good thing is that if you’re enrolled in classes with us you’re exempt and so let’s make sure our students are in pathways to a high wage job that can make loan repayments easy, but I think that in our community, not just in the region but in the country too, that it will impact our economy because right now that loan moratorium allowed students to pay rent or to buy clothes for their kids going to school in the fall maybe to buy a used car and now those things will not be deployed in the economy they’ll be paying back a loan. I worry about that.

This is the last question. Are there ways students can reach you easily and what kind of issues are you willing to work with them on?

I’m willing to work with students on anything. If you go to the chancellor’s website there’s an opportunity to comment. We watch that everyday so if a student has a comment, I’ll see it before the end of the day. The other option that we’re going to have is student town halls every semester just with me. It’ll be virtual where they can log in and they can tell me what they want and, if they really need to see or connect with me, they can call my office and I’ll always prioritize what a student needs over what my own professional needs are.

Elgin Hours

As the eastern side of Austin Community College’s zoning district explodes in population, some students state that ACC’s Elgin campus hours do not adequately service student needs.

By Tiara Allen

Photos By Jaime Bajanero

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine

ACC’s Elgin campus is the district’s easternmost campus and services students in Elgin ISD, Bastrop County and eastern Travis County. It is also the home base for ACC’s Veterinary Technician and Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurship programs, and has 17 acres of student-run farmland. However, the campus, alongside services such as the library, the counseling center, and the Learning Lab, is only open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and has no weekend hours. 

In contrast, most other ACC campuses open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, with more limited hours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. San Gabriel Campus is the only other exception; it closes at 8 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, which still offers a three hour increase for students – one that some students believe would make a significant difference.  

Elisha MacGregor, an ACC student and Elgin resident, is displeased with the limited campus hours and course selections at the Elgin campus, and states that it does not adequately address the growth of the Elgin population, as well as the increased immigrant population in the area.

As a student, she has had firsthand experience with the campus’ limited hours. She has noticed that students will come to campus as early as 7:00 am and sleep outside while they wait for the campus to open, and she and her peers have experienced what she describes as a “rush” to leave the building before it closes at 5:00 pm each evening, which she strongly dislikes. 

“I pay taxes [in Elgin]. I also pay my tuition out of my pocket, because I don’t use any scholarships, nothing. So I’m basically an investor, and I’m being kicked out at 5:00 pm,” MacGregor said.

Elisha MacGregor, an ACC student displeased with the library’s early
closing time, tours the Elgin Campus. Photos taken by Jaime Bajanero on
Nov. 8, 2023

If a student is interested in using campus services such as the library or the Learning Lab after the campus closes, they will need to travel to the nearest campus, Highland Campus. The Highland Campus is close to 20 miles away, and travel time can often be extended by traffic. However, MacGregor states that this drive may not be accessible at all to some students.

“A lot of those high school kids, they don’t have a car to come to the city,” MacGregor said. ACC Elgin is home to Elgin’s Early College High School, where Elgin ISD students can earn an associate’s degree alongside their high school diploma.

Places for students to study within greater Elgin are also limited. Elgin has a public library, which closes at 6:00 p.m or 7:00 p.m on weeknights and at 2:00 p.m on Saturdays. Additionally, the public library does not open on Sundays or Mondays. There are also a few coffee shops in the area; however, dissidents believe that the early closure of the Elgin campus has much more far-reaching consequences than a lack of study space.

“It’s not just ‘we’re closing at five,’ but [there are] consequences that [are brought] not just to the students, but to the community,” MacGregor said. 


Elgin is one of the fastest growing communities in Texas. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Elgin has experienced a population growth rate of 72 percent from 2000 to 2020 – for scale, Texas’s growth rate was cited to be 40 percent. Elgin has achieved such large growth in part due to its location – Elgin’s economic development website boasts that it is 20 miles from downtown Austin and 10 miles from State Highway 130. The ACC Elgin campus is also close to Highway 290. 

This proximity to several highways and a major metropolitan area, paired with its rural location and charm, has made Elgin a popular site for relocation for those moving to the Austin area. It is also a community of many different ethnicities, races, and cultures. According to the 2020 US Census, Elgin’s population was 48.56 percent Hispanic or Latino origin; 31.69 percent of Elgin’s non-Hispanic White, making Elgin a majority minority community. The increased growth and change in demographics has led to a new set of needs that ACC Elgin’s limited hours leave it unable to meet.

MacGregor states that ACC’s free English as a Second Language classes used to be offered at the Elgin campus, but with the shorter opening hours, they are no longer offered there. The program does offer distance learning classes that can be taken online, but MacGregor believes that the lack of in-person classes in Elgin leaves a deficit in the community.

“How many immigrants are coming to Texas every day?” MacGregor asks. “Elgin is growing rapidly right now. Even in front of my ranch, there [are] five hundred houses that are going to be built….we are not adapting to the rapid [growth] of the city, and, unfortunately, we’re going to be left behind because we’re not adapting.”


MacGregor is also an active member of the Student Government Association, which has been researching the impacts of Elgin’s open hours on the student body. A survey distributed by Student Government Association (SGA) in collaboration with ACCENT Media to Elgin campus students also shed some light on how students’ habits have adapted to the closing times. Out of 66 respondents, 60.6 percent stated that they would like for campus to open later, with 8:00 pm as the most popular suggested time 37.1 percent. 

Respondents had the opportunity to share where they go to study in lieu of campus. Many students stated that they returned to their home. Some mentioned that they went to other campuses, such as Round Rock or South Austin, and others mentioned visiting nearby public libraries, including Bastrop Public Library. A few mentioned visiting a local McDonald’s or coffee shop, and one student said that they studied “on the street somewhere that’s safe enough.”

The survey allowed space for students to share what they believed to be the benefits of keeping campus open later than 5:00 pm. Many students stated that they would appreciate a safe space to study after hours; however, other students suggested that campus could provide access to Wi-Fi and printers to those who did not have access to them, as well as take more classes and provide more schedule flexibility, especially for dual credit students or students who worked 9:00 to 5:00 jobs. One student even mentioned that later hours would allow for a “safe space to be a student.”

Outside of study space, many students were interested in expanded access to ACC campus services. 90.8 percent of respondents stated that they would like to have after-hours access to the library; 63.1 percent wanted more time with the Learning Lab, and 38.5 percent craved more cafeteria or dining options. 


MacGregor believes that extending the hours and increasing class options for Elgin students is not only the right thing to do, but will also financially benefit ACC and the City of Elgin as it pushes to expand financially. 

“Having access in the community [to classes] will help to…integrate [into] the community, but also get better salaries…that will help them,” says MacGregor. “[They] will be paying more taxes and will be contributing more to ACC.” 

This increased investment, MacGregor posits, also has the potential to make ACC Elgin a more attractive option for potential students. As college costs have risen across the country, affordable, accessible education for people of all walks of life becomes a priority to many families. MacGregor says that expanded hours and more class options will allow for Elgin-area students to consider attending Austin Community College.

“It is a win. It will be more appealing to people there because then they won’t have to come to Highland,” MacGregor said. 

While MacGregor has been displeased with the direction Elgin’s campus has taken, she has faith that a potential change will be supported by the community at large. 

* Since written, the Administration responded to the Elgin Community’s request, and the campus hours were extended. Offering English as a Second Language classes is still an ongoing discussion.

A Growing Program

ACC’s Sustainable Agriculture department has implemented new Volunteer Fridays at their 17-acre
student farm in Elgin, and that’s only one example of their recent and ambitious growth.

By Nathan Adam Spear

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine

It was 2021, Matthew Olson was selling fresh produce at a farmer’s market in Elgin when another local job opportunity was brought to his attention by a couple of other regulars at the weekly market. The job? Farm Manager for the 17-acres of land outside Austin Community College’s campus in Elgin.

Olson had previously held a salary position in student services at the University of Texas but left after choosing to pursue his true dreams of full-time small-scale farming. Working since for a couple of Elgin’s local growers, but without having a preferred master’s degree in education or agriculture, he wasn’t hopeful after submitting his application for the ACC position. However, fast forward to a little over two years later; Olson is now giving tasks to over a dozen ACC students for the college’s first volunteer Friday, and the student farm itself is looking better than ever.

Located directly off Highway 290 is the Elgin campus’ main building and further in is the wide stretch of green being used for ACC’s Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurship Program. Here, students in the program can work with a fully functioning greenhouse and market garden, as well as learn about raising livestock and beekeeping with the farm’s specialized instructors.

Since arriving as manager, Olson has been working with Senior Lab Assistant Miranda Maldanado to keep the student farm running and improving in between classes. Recently — with the help of several interns and other members of their department — the two have been working on some new developments for the educational space as well. Most notably, they have started adding several new rows of produce on the land outside of the market garden, in a project referred to as “expansion”. Most exciting, Olson emphasizes, is the new chicken coup being welded by Professor Hunter Eichman and the farm’s interns for the addition of laying hens on the farm.

“I really feel grateful to be here, to be able to share my passion and try to really grow this program with the really cool people here,” said Olson.

Olson (left) leads the farming interns in setting up a new fence for their expansion project. Photo taken by Nathan Adam Spear on October 23, 2023.

I had first met the student farm’s manager with Maldanado outside of their typical grassy environment and selling fresh produce from a stall outside of the Highland campus. Appearing weekly on Mondays in Elgin and Wednesdays at Highland, the two farmer’s had started the small stands last year to distribute the market garden’s fresh produce and raise awareness for the program. The money that they make from the stands comes back directly to the farm’s operating budget, and Olson adds that the financial records provide an additional lesson for students to, “understand that farming is a business too.”

Maldanado agrees, emphasizing, “you need to know your accounting, you need to know your math, have records and keep your receipts.”

Consistently selling out weekly, the farm stand’s success in reaching students has also helped them address the growing need for more hands around the farm. In October, to celebrate Campus Sustainability Month, ACC’s agricultural science course began opening their doors – or perhaps, fences – every Friday for students outside of the course to check out and help around the school’s 17-acre farm.

Olson says, “we’re trying to serve as an example for the ACC community that [sustainable farming] is doable, it’s important, and it’s here for them.”  

On the first Friday, volunteers enjoyed a welcome morning breeze while removing weeds from the farm’s large market garden. Olson, in the suggested dress code of working boots and floppy hat, was joined by the similarly styled Senior Lab Assistant Miranda Maldanado in delegating tasks; her high energy complimented the farm manager’s mellower tone. Beyond pulling weeds, the first volunteers – including Sustainability Manager Amber Orr, several members of ACC’s Green Team and myself – also replanted several trays of seedlings that came from the farm’s greenhouse.

Tucked in the corner of the garden, the greenhouse is a translucent structure that looks much more industrial than its surrounding area; largely due to the two protruding vents in the front that help regulate the environment inside. Maldonado explains that nearly all of the farm’s various melons, peppers, leafy greens, and other plants start as seeds grown inside of the greenhouse;  the classroom-sized lab has a controlled climate that gives the seedlings a better chance of surviving their early stages. After retrieving the young plants, volunteers began moving them into the pasture’s high tunnel.

Miranda Maldanado shows the progress on the young plants in the greenhouse, sectioned off like brownies in a pan before being replanted outside. Photo taken by Nathan Adam Spear on October 23, 2023.

The high tunnel is a skeleton of metal poles covered with a large translucent tarp — standing tall outside of the market garden, it looks like a cross between the greenhouse and a very large tent. The structure’s tunnel shape regulates the internal climate by using the clear tarp walls and roof like a magnifying glass for the light coming in on the plants, effectively lengthening their warm season inside. Unfortunately, for some time and on that first Friday, the high tunnel’s tarp was tattered from damage sustained by strong winds, but Maldanado assured us that a replacement covering was on its way. Working with, or around, the weather has been an obstacle lately, according to Maldanado who is thankful for the departure of the previous Summer’s record-breaking heat – which required the farm crew to rework hours and hold off on the stand for the whole month of August. 

With planting soon finished and noon arriving, the volunteers were dismissed after being offered some extra produce to take home from the market garden. Besides attracting new students to the program, Maldanado says the goal of the farm’s new volunteer Fridays is, “to show where your food comes from, how it’s prepared, how it’s grown, and all the work and labor that goes into it.”

Several years ago – before Olson’s arrival – Maldanado was the department’s first intern, and she remembers that not-so-distant time when the farm and market garden wasn’t as populated nor as impressive. When she started her internship in 2020, the farm was in its beginning stages and so was COVID-19.

With the farm being an outside space, Maldanado and the department’s previous Lab Assistant were still able to work during lockdown, but this work was slow with just the two of them and no farm manager or community engagement. At that point, the high tunnel was just metal frames surrounding overgrown grass and the market garden was reduced to only a few rows of tomatoes and beets.

“[The farm] was very much just kind of for learning purposes,” says Maldanado, “so it’s really cool to compare to now when every row has something planted and we have a plan.”

Senior Lab Assistant Miranda Maldonado enters through the hand painted doors of her “favorite part” of the student farm: the greenhouse. Photo taken by Nathan Adam Spear on October 23, 2023.

The development of the student farm has been a long-time project for ACC – ever since the school’s Elgin campus opened in 2010 with the intention of adding courses in agricultural science. The arrival of ACC’s voter-elected bond in 2014 is what started making those plans a reality, by starting a continuing education course in sustainable agriculture and beginning two phases of construction at the Elgin campus for the facilities needed to offer related associate degrees.

When phase two of construction finished in 2018, the associate degree courses were set to start in 2020 and agricultural science was finally recognized as its own department by ACC. Prior to this recognition, the student farm was under the direction of Program Coordinator Evelyn Rosas and ACC’s Continuing Education Division, who had been sustaining the farm’s new greenhouse, orchard, and market garden at the time with their non-credit classes.

After the new degree courses were offered, however, Rosas and the CED were taken out of the program and Savannah Rugg was soon brought in as the inaugural department chair. Rugg, who was 26 years old at the time and the program’s only full-time faculty member, had a slow start in getting the new department fully realized and maintained.

“I had some experience in higher education,” she says, referring to the several years she spent as a teaching and lab assistant at the University of Texas Rio Grande, “but there was definitely a learning curve [when coming to the ACC position].”

Navigating ACC’s bureaucracy was, and is, its own challenge –  plus the pandemic’s arrival with the new courses didn’t help speed things up much either; but Rugg was able to keep things moving with online and hybrid classes. In 2021, as things were getting safer, Rugg says she “hit the jackpot” after bringing on Olson as the new farm manager, whose first project was fully revitalizing the market garden.

Now, after seeing the student farm’s continued growth – literally – and the successful transfer of students in the program to nearby universities, Rugg has found herself successful in pushing the program further than it has ever been previously. But that doesn’t mean she is slowing down now either; a few days before I spoke to her, Rugg returned from a conference about “incubator farms” which she plans to implement in Spring at the Elgin campus. The incubator farms would be small plots of land on the student farm’s acres for growers to use and manage independently from the land used by the Agricultural Sciences Department.

The farm continues to struggle with student engagement despite its rapid improvements. “Not a lot of people even know that we are out here,” says Rugg, who is hoping that collaboration with other campuses and departments will help change that.

Passion for sustainable farming and getting the community engaged with it appears to be shared by all the members of the department that I spoke with. After listening to the several educational farmers’ passionate beliefs about the vital significance of small farms and practicing mindful consumption, I experienced an almost cult-like persuasion as I began to have life-altering thoughts about off-the-grid sustainability – but ultimately ceased when I started to question whether I look good enough in overalls. 

Specifically, Olson says that, “disengaging from oppressive [food] systems by growing your own food, engaging in your local economy, and treating yourself well by not putting chemicals into your body are very important things for every individual to do on some level, not that everyone has to farm.”

He is right that not everyone has to farm to live sustainably, but with the farm gates now open every Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. for the entire ACC community, it has never been easier for you to, as Olson puts it, “get your hands dirty”.

Behind The Memories

The Art Galleries of Austin Community College joined ACC’s fiftieth anniversary celebration with a welcoming exhibition of alumni artists.

The Art Galleries of Austin Community College joined ACC’s fiftieth anniversary celebration with a welcoming exhibition of alumni artists.

Story by Marisela Perez Maita

Mural process pictures courtesy of The Art Galleries team.

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of ACCENT Magazine

The exhibition Narrated Memories: Artworks by ACC Alumni Laurie Frick, Heather Parrish and Michael Villarreal – now on display in Gallery 2000 at Austin Community College’s Highland campus – explores storytelling through the recollection of memories with the artwork of three accomplished ACC alumni artists. Guided by Peter Bonfitto, Director of The Art Galleries (TAG) at ACC, with the collaborative effort of the TAG staff and the featured artists, Narrated Memories embodies art, education, and community. 

The Idea and The Artists

Bonfitto curated the exhibition along with Gallery Assistant Norma Bickmore and Consulting Curator Erin Keeveris to celebrate ACC’s fiftieth anniversary, “We wanted artists that had a strong connection with ACC. Artists that would really have great stories that they could share” says Bonfitto. 

The thorough search led them to the three artists that the gallery now presents, Laurie Frick, Heather Parrish, and Michael Villareal—all former ACC Art students who have gone on to gain recognition for their artistic practices at a national level. “This is an exhibition featuring artists who had been working for years in their own artistic practice, our job was to create a cohesive narrative within the exhibition” Bonfitto says.

The three artists have distinct styles but similar themes on human identity and time. Laurie Frick takes information from data sets and creates new visual and reflective narratives. Heather Parrish opens a door to the collective past of Austin, looking directly at the wounds of urban segregation. Michael Villareal explores the value of being in the present through his memories of home and childhood. In one way or another, the three artists explore the notion of memory and art as a means to create a new narrative of the past. The exhibition is called Narrated Memories because the artists are “taking information of some sort, personal, historic, or raw data, and using it to tell a new story,” Bonfitto explains.

Another aspect that the artists have in common is that they represent different types of ACC students. Olivia Spiers, the Gallery Coordinator for Outreach and Programming for TAG, says that the academic journey of the artist adds to the educational programming of the exhibition. “Michael Villarreal was a bit more of the traditional type of student. He was first generation, so he was the first person from his family to pursue higher education. . . .he pretty much started his academic journey at ACC like many students do when they come right from high school and they go to college” Spiers explains, “But Laurie Frick, had established a whole career in tech, and is what we consider a second-career student. She had a career and then ended it and then started taking classes at ACC and launched her artistic career.”

“Then, Heather Parrish is another type of student that we have at ACC, especially in the Art department. Sometimes we get students that continually take classes, and are non-degree seeking students.” Spiers explains. Parrish attended Studio Art classes at ACC from 2001 to 2011, during which time she focused on Printmaking/Metal Arts, and then pursued a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking from the University of Notre Dame. No matter how they spent their time at ACC, all three artists went on to earn an MFA.

The artists in Narrated Memories represent different paths to art and education, bringing to the public an experience that is beyond visuals and reflecting experiences, but also an opportunity to connect with the diverse community of ACC and Austin. “This is a community college. It’s about community. All of those different categories of demographics, we want to have educational programming that matches.” Bonfitto explains.

TAG’s goal is to create an atmosphere where students and the general public feel comfortable asking questions and learning more about art in a conversational way, “We want to educate the general public. It’s an educational space as much as it’s a gallery.” Bonfitto says.

Far left Michael Villareal’s artwork. Right wall Laurie Frick’s mural and Felt Personality pieces. Source: Narrated Memories exhibition brochure.

TAG Install Process and Creating an In-Gallery Mural

The TAG Team spent over a year and a half planning the exhibition, from doing research, selecting the artists, discussing the exhibition plans and making it come to fruition through the efforts of the TAG staff. “We approached all of the artists and had some preliminary conversations. I always want to know what they’re working on at that time, because it’s great to show works that they had been working on recently, as well as works that they’re known for” Bonfitto says.

The gallery exhibits former projects, such as the piece Felt Personality (2018) by Frick, as well as new projects from this year, such as all the paintings by Villarreal and Parrish’s installation piece Double Down. Some of these were specifically designed for the gallery, as is the case of the mural A Mood by Frick. TAG’s staff Bess Siritanapivat and Ellen Crofts worked on the install and design of the gallery while also leading the mural project. According to Siritanapivat, “Peter met with the artists, they came, looked at the space, and from there we kind of talked to them about which spaces made sense for what they were trying to do.”

It was important to visualize the space and find which part of the gallery made sense for their work, “That’s why Heather’s work is in that back area,” Bess says, “She wanted an enclosed space to build her installation.”

Siritanapivat and Crofts explain that organizing the gallery came with different challenges and processes. According to Crofts, “It was easier to see a vision for Villarreal’s artwork because they are complete, separate paintings. We sort of knew what it was going to look like, but not exactly.”

However, with Parrish, who envisioned an installation, Crofts explains, “we had to wait and see what it looked like. You couldn’t even visualize it. It’s like really a lot of different levels of seeing how it goes.” 

Double Down by Heather Parrish. Source: Narrated Memories exhibition brochure. Photo by Joaquin Morin.

But the challenge is exactly what made the project gratifying to the team, “That’s what’s so exciting about the job because different things happen with different parts of the show,” Siritanapivat says emphasizing Frick’s mural, which was unique in its creative collaboration with the TAG staff and Studio Art students. 

The TAG team and Frick decided to use the north wall of the gallery for her mural, and collaborated with the ACC Music Department for the subject matter and musical score. They sent music compositions to Frick that were written by ACC music students to choose from. Among the pieces, Frick selected the music piece “A Mood” by ACC Music Composition student Elizabeth Vary.

Once the piece was selected, she started working on the design for the mural. As a data artist, Frick focuses on the patterns of the information she is analyzing. She studied the mathematical pattern and musical score of the piece, creating a vibrant, visual flow that maps the composition. In connection with the concept of Narrated Memories, the mural is an ephemeral project, and will be painted over once the exhibition is over.

She sent her design to the TAG team, who worked in the gallery to transfer her piece to the wall. Frick was not present while the design was painted; however, she and the mural team communicated throughout the whole process, “We corresponded with her by email. Sending pictures and receiving feedback back and forth” says Crofts. 

At the beginning stages, the mural team transferred Frick’s design into Adobe Illustrator and then projected it onto the wall. The leads, Siritanapivat and Crofts, traced the image, working around lighting grids and fire alarms. The following hand-painted step included a team of eight people, from TAG and Arts and Digital Media staff to Honors Studio Art students. Each member worked together and around the other, picking a singular color at a time and filling in as many designated spaces as could be reached. The team consistently referred back to Frick’s design, the original musical score, and their own color-key to confirm accuracy of color placement.

Before finalizing the design, Frick sent color swatches to test them on the ACC campus walls. Once approved by the mural project leads, they decided on a paint-by-number style to paint the design. The colors were labeled one through thirteen in accordance with the music note they represented in the design. The 14th color was the gray outline of the mural, suggested by Ellen Crofts once she noticed a black outline may be visually too harsh. “We kind of pitched that to Frick. She agreed. Then she picked the gray that she wanted to go with the color palette.” Siritanapivat explains. “It was great to work with her and get her feedback. She had a very clear vision of what she wanted.”

“A Mood” design by Laurie Frick. Source: “Narrated Memories” exhibition brochure.

From the initial idea to the final brushstrokes, A Mood took three weeks to complete. The mural team confesses that working and communicating with Frick by email, figuring out the process, and painting a mural for the first time in their lives was both exciting and challenging. Bailey Robinson-Forman, who was a major in Studio Arts at ACC and now works at the gallery as a Gallery Assistant, expresses the gratifying experience of collectively creating this piece. 

“From a student perspective, helping out with this mural really allowed me to see what big projects like this look like from the other side of things, beyond just the fun of painting. It really can take a village to ensure all details are finalized to even begin a project of this scale” Robinson-Forman says.“Working without the artist on site was a unique experience as well, having to refer consistently to Laurie’s instructions, and checking with the team to make sure everyone was on the same page as we worked.” 

The mural extends on the wall of the exhibition as a memory of shared creation. The history of art is filled with the studio collaboration that brings wide and challenging artworks together, just as when renaissance painter Michelangelo worked alongside apprentices to deliver his commissions. A Mood embraces the same cooperative accomplishments. “It is definitely an art tradition,” Siritanapivat reflects. As Robinson-Forman expresses herself, “I saw how impactful collaboration can be for different departments, like Art and Music at ACC for example, and what great opportunities it creates to invite people of other majors into our space to share and enjoy art.”  

Be it from the artworks it exhibits to the process they were created, Narrated Memories is a gallery that appreciates the past and tells a new, collective story. The exhibition is on view in The Art Gallery in building 2000 at Highland campus through December 7. 

Help Wanted: Meet the Three Finalists for Chancellor of ACC

In its 50th year, ACC is already nearing the final stages of its first middle-aged major change. Announced in an email to students, staff and faculty on June 16th was an invitation to meet the three top candidates to succeed Dr. Richard Rhodes in the role of ACC’s supreme position, the Chancellor.

By Nathan Adam Spear

In its 50th year, ACC is already nearing the final stages of its first middle-aged major change. Announced in an email to students, staff and faculty on June 16 was an invitation to meet the three top candidates to succeed Dr. Richard Rhodes in the role of ACC’s supreme position, the Chancellor.

The candidates – Dr. Robert Garza, Dr. Joyce Ester and Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart – have been highlighted as top choices for the position by the selection committee formed after Rhodes announced his departure in January, expressing love for the school but a desire for more time with his family. 

The school’s chancellor – or to put it a little less ‘Star Wars’, the president/CEO – works under ACC’s board of trustees, leading the college district in essentially all major decisions. Understandably, this makes the transition to a new chancellor a pretty big priority for the school and board, with Rhodes’ impressive and record-breaking 12 year tenure coming to an end.

The task of selecting someone to fill these shoes has been put in control of the aptly named Chancellor Search Advisory Committee. A 35 person team composed primarily of community members and ACC’s board of trustees, as well as various associations made up of administration, faculty and two ACC students.

“What I’m looking for is a relational leader who thinks and acts systemically to address the challenges of ACC and builds off our successes,” said Dr. Barbara Mink, sharing her notes for the board of trustees after hosting all three days of the candidates’ Q&A forums at Round Rock and Highland. 

As Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mink is a member of the search advisory committee and has been an active part throughout this nearly six-month long search process. Far from her first chancellor-picking rodeo however, Mink joined the board in 2000, and was originally hired as a dean for the school in 1973 – ACC’s first year of existence.

The Board Chair says that right now, the school could use a chancellor focused on, “internal housekeeping.”

Mink and the rest of the board organized a whole day’s worth of open-invite Q&As at three different ACC campuses for each of the candidates. 

“It’s Austin, people want to be involved,” said Mink, describing the importance of community forums in the search process. Starting up north with a session in Round Rock, each candidate on their respective day had to then travel south for two more stops at Highland and then finally, the South Austin campus. 

Although it’s a busy schedule – and not to mention over 50 miles worth of travel – Mink says that’s probably a good thing for the future president of (currently) 11 campuses to be getting used to.

As each session began to accumulate a size-able and outspoken crowd, some perspective on the chancellor’s importance to the ACC community was given along with the memory of a time before the pandemic. 

Several members of the board and selection committee made appearances; the Sociology Department Chair, Rennison Lalgee, had even referred to the event as a, “who’s-who,” of ACC faculty and staff as he arrived with his colleagues at the recital hall in the Highland campus. 

Robert Garza

The first day of forums introduced Robert Garza to the three campus audiences. Since 2018, Garza has been serving as Palo Alto College’s seventh president. Having around 30 years of experience in higher education, he first began working for the Alamo College District, which PAC is a part of, in 1999 before moving to Dallas College as the president of their Mountain View campus in 2015. 

In his hour of speaking, guided by approved questions from the search committee before taking questions from the audience, Garza made an initial point to learn who it was he was speaking to. Asking for a show of hands, he found in attendance at the Highland Q&A was a large amount of staff, a bit less faculty and only one enrolled student (me, but several more hands went up once alumni were included).

The largely framed but seemingly kind-hearted candidate had a familiar Texas accent and adopted a salesman-like approach to his answers – including light relatable humor, personal history and even a few rhetorical questions too, like: “Who thinks it’s easy to go to college nowadays?” or, “Is anybody a parent?” 

Similar to his previous employment, Garza’s academic history is Texas-centered as well. With a master’s in public administration from UTSA and both a doctorate in educational administration and the V. Ray Cardozier Alumni Excellence Award from UT; it was the bachelor’s degree from A&M in College Station that got a small “woo!” from someone in the crowd.

By describing some of his previous leadership initiatives, he stressed his strengths of collaboration and effective communication with both students and employees as the proper tools for leading the school.

“A chancellor is only one person, I can not say this enough,” worded Garza, “it will take everybody in this room and everybody who is not in this room to work together to help our students be successful in every possible way.”

Garza places priority in reaching out for feedback to target issues directly, and says to do that he currently hosts routine meetings with associations like his school’s staff and faculty senate. He also described his frequent “Whataburger with the president” days where he shares a meal at the famous Texas fast food chain with students or an organization while sporting his Whataburger guayabera.

Garza also has experience in collaboration outside of the school as well; as an example he referred to Alamo College’s involvement with 23 school districts for dual-enrollment programs and AlamoPromise which gives free tuition to students from participating local high schools.

Also during his tenure, negotiations with a nearby Toyota manufacturing site led to securing a work-study program between the under-staffed plant and Alamo Colleges. 

“They donate equipment, they donate money and they hire our students.”  Says Garza, acknowledging the importance of outside partnerships.

Though his authority is limited to Palo Alto College’s one campus, Garza assures that the increase in size at ACC won’t be a totally new experience. The Alamo Colleges are the state’s only current multi-college system, he says, meaning the need to travel and balance multiple locations makes it a similar experience to the multi-campus system here at ACC.

Perhaps due to his awareness of the audience’s demographic, Garza’s desire to increase employee morale was largely emphasized throughout the session. He advocated for hybrid (online and in-person) work days, and mentioned the one hour a week that his current employees get for on the clock “self-care”.

“You know as well as I do that folks are doing it anyway,” he says,  “I don’t want them feeling bad about it.”

Wanting to expand appreciation for the staff as well, the candidate mentioned his current school’s history of honoring good work by planting trees and devoting plaques to outstanding individuals.

“She has worked here for 50 years!” He said, referring to a woman he spoke with earlier who was now in the audience, “What are we going to do to remember her?” 

The room filled with laughter after she quickly responded with her own idea of, “More than a plaque!”

Garza has heavy pride in his Hispanic heritage and is even Board Chair for the Mexican-American Civil Rights Institute, a national organization which he says has a museum opening in San Antonio. 

Even with this cultural pride, Garza emphasizes that, “People are who we need to be supporting, it doesn’t matter what language you speak or what you look like, we’re all human beings.” 

Before adding, “I mean, I haven’t met a robot yet.” 

Joyce Ester 

Garza’s three forums seemed like a tough act to follow; the person to do it was top candidate and fifth president of Normandale Community College (NCC), Joyce Ester. 

In front of a very similar audience to yesterday’s, but at a much quicker pace than Garza’s slightly long-winded points, Joyce Ester introduced herself as having over 30 years experience in higher education – but only after first sharing her story. 

“Serving as president – or in this case, chancellor – is what I do, not who I am,” she says, “and who I am is a child of a single mom.” Understanding the many obstacles that can come in the way of academic success, she says this part of her identity is important for students to know and connect with more easily. 

There are several differences between Ester and her fellow candidates, the obvious two being that she is both African-American and a woman; but a less clear distinction, yet a more important one for some, is that she is the only choice from outside of Texas.

Her academic history, a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California in Santa Barbara and a B.A. in Sociology from Northern Illinois University, led to several faculty and staff positions in California before holding the position of president at both Kennedy-King College in Chicago and later at NCC in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The audience seemed to like her despite the lack of Texas experience – especially after her comparison of a Minnesota native saying, “that’s interesting,” to the Texas equivalent she learned about recently, “bless your heart.”

Not Texan, but she does have experience with large school systems. NCC is the biggest college in Minnesota, and only one of the 30 state colleges and seven universities that comprise the Minnesota State system – all of which are handled by one board and a chancellor.

“It’s really important to look at what our policies and procedures are.” Says Ester, adding that avidly reviewing and renewing policies is another goal she would take on as chancellor, “For many student’s the problem is that we made policies that maybe made sense five to ten years ago that we need to take another look at.”

Similar to Garza; First, knowing the specifics of a problem to advocate for creative solutions is Ester’s strategy for addressing the needs of a community. Due to ACC’s size and diverse needs, she assures that lots of time and the beginning of her tenure would focus on learning and understanding each campus.

She adds that it is important for her to know every campus’ “Jerry,” – a hypothetical person she explains is involved with the school and knowledgeable about its niche details. “[Jerry] knows where all the bodies are buried, and who put them there.”

One example of her history with using data to target change, she highlights, is NCC’s establishment of the “campus cupboard”. 

It was started with only small sustaining snacks, but after acknowledging that around half of the college’s students reported feeling “food insecure”, the “cupboard” – which is actually around the size of a classroom – grew to include basic groceries and even hygiene items at no cost to students. 

She also mentions an initiative taken at NCC to continue providing resources for students while also keeping the Maintenance and Operations department employed during the pandemic. While they weren’t needed at the schools, the worker’s in the department switched to food delivery for food insecure students.

“That was something that came from them,” Ester admits, “but I think my responsibility as a leader then was to empower them, to help them think outside the box and be a part of that process.”

She had a tendency to speak quickly; seeming almost out-of-breath at the beginning of her speech, the audience laughed when she worded a playful apology to the ASL interpreter for her pace – feeling guilty from her history working as an interpreter herself and teaching the subject as an adjunct professor. 

With significantly more time to ask their own, the larger audience than the day before likely wasn’t too upset about the speed she got through the initial questions. 

Some of the concerns regarded handling conflict and the importance of employee wellness. The audience seemed satisfied with her answers of, “[handle] conflict before it becomes a major conflict,” and, “We can’t take care of students, if we don’t take care of ourselves.”

Ester was also asked about her experience with a performance-based funding model, she denied having any but says she understands its existence, relating it to a car dealership saying, “if you’re not selling enough cars, then you’re not working here.”

She says that establishing better “metrics” for a student’s post-performance is important when not using an enrollment-based model, with credits at a community college often leading to multiple avenues beyond just graduating.

After a long history in the field of education, Ester’s retention of energy and passion for the job was evident and encouraging. 

She says, “I love the work that I do, it’s all about access and opportunity for all of our students.”

Russel Lowery-Hart

“I’m standing before you today because I think that higher education, and the bureaucracy that defines it, is broken.” says Russel Lowery-Hart, early on in his forum at the Highland campus.

Even while wearing a multi-colored bow-tie, Lowery-Hart approached his audience with a more serious tone, in contrast to the lighter approach made by his preceding candidates. 

Acknowledging HB 8, which passed legislation in Texas and transitions ACC to receive funding based on student outcomes, Lowery-Hart puts repeated emphasis on the need for a focus on ways to “double graduation rates” so ACC can have the “financial flexibility” necessary to address its employment needs.

He presents his 25 years of experience and nine-year tenure at Amarillo College, as evidence that he’s the one for the job. During his presidency there, which began in 2014, his college’s work at raising the student success rate resulted in it co-receiving the 2023 Aspen Prize for top community colleges, along with Imperial Valley Community College in California.

He says, “[Amarillo College] won that award because we closed equity gaps intentionally and thoughtfully, increased completion from 19 to 60 percent, doubled our graduation rates and deepened learning.”

After seeing an unimpressive success rate early in his presidency, Lowery-Hart focused on finding out the story behind the numbers through the use of focus groups and what he calls, “secret shoppers” – first-time students that were hired to enroll in college and report their experience.

He discovered that, “the top things that were keeping [students] from being successful in the classroom had nothing to do with the classroom.”

Using this observation and other data collection strategies he determined the average student at Amarillo College, located in the Texas city of the same name, is a Hispanic woman with 1-2 children. In an effort to humanize this statistic, he commonly refers to this typical student as “Maria.” 

Focusing on a way to help this large but struggling demographic, Lowery-Hart says he worked to develop Amarillo College’s “theory of change,” which states, “if you can remove a life barrier in an accelerated learning environment and a culture of caring, then Maria, our typical student, will complete.” 

To reflect this theory of change; social workers, poverty training and more emergency aid was implemented to help remove life barriers. He says the school started embracing eight-week classes as well as requiring integrated tutoring to improve both accelerated learning and its availability.

“Maria,” is likely similar to ACC’s demographic in the predominantly-hispanic population of Austin, but Lowery-Hart says that developing values and communicating a “theory of change” that is specific to the needs of ACC is crucial.

“I’m not going to be asking you to be a social service agency, I’ll just ask that you understand your students’ lived experience,” he says.

Lowery-Hart had done some research on ACC as well; looking at the school’s employee climate survey, he determined the need for an inward-focusing leader. 

The 2022 climate survey was conducted to report employee morale and reported negative feelings from faculty and staff regarding the college culture and listed stress as their second largest issue (the pandemic was number one.)

Marilyn, who teaches government at the Highland campus, said that she is “over the moon” to hear about a candidate wanting an internal focus; adding that ACC has a tendency to always be “chasing the next big thing.”

Like ACC, Amarillo College is a multi-campus system but with only six campuses in a 400 mile radius. Even with his experience in handling different locations, Lowery-Hart maintains honesty in his ability to efficiently communicate and become quickly acquainted with each of ACC’s campuses. 

“I think the answer that people want to hear… is that I’m just going to go to every office and sit down to have coffee with you,” he says, responding to a question about handling the school’s size, “but the scale is not going to allow that to happen in the first two years.”

Saying a 3-4 year process is more likely, Lowery-Hart’s strategy for upscaling the school’s impact involves building systems that train middle management to act on their own while using the data they have access to. 

He says it’s important to, “address the unique nature of each campus, but also unify the student experience.”

The audience was receptive to his personal history, providing a heartfelt “aww” when he explained that the “Lowery” and hyphen in his last name comes from his 27 year marriage.

This reaction was then followed by audible surprise from the audience, after learning his adopted son has been Mufasa in the touring production of the Lion King for the past six years. Chris, his adopted son, is a “six foot three, black, gay man,” that Lowery-Hart says changed his life.

“This isn’t the white savior moment, he saved us.”

In his forum at Highland, Lowery-Hart did neglect to mention his academic history: a Ph.D. from Ohio University, an M.A. from Texas Tech University and a B.S. from West Texas State University.

What Next – 

The entirety of the search process is divided into 11 steps, beginning with a request for applications and a long list of candidates from the executive search firm, Gold Hill Associates. 

Step eight – where the candidates participate in several community forums – is complete, and ACC now approaches step nine, which involves members of ACC’s board of trustees reaching out to the current schools of the three finalists. 

The board will use the feedback from these campus visits and the response papers collected from the forum’s audiences to make their final decision.

Roads, Rails and Riders: A Look into the Austin Transit Experience

In 2019, city council unanimously passed the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, detailing a mission to bring the number of people driving alone to work down to 50%. Through interviews and new first-hand experience on public transportation, Nathan Adam Spear tries to see what Austin is doing to make this dream a reality.

By Nathan Adam Spear

Photo by Matthew Mateo

The similarities between Austin and the other metropolises of America grow each year as skyscrapers fill the landscape and more large businesses become our new neighbors in the Texas capital. With Austin’s developments also including an accelerating population and frequently mind-numbing traffic, the city has found the need to develop another big city similarity – public transportation.

Due to the sprawling geography of Austin, and subsequently Austin Community College, high-capacity public transportation networks like the New York subways or the London Underground, have so far refrained from being Austin’s primary public transit style. Currently, Austin takes the bus.

Since its establishment in 1985, Austin’s transit-service, CapMetro, has led the way for Austin’s public transportation through its fleet of 358 buses and 83 routes. ACC specifically has nine of its eleven campuses serviced by CapMetro, the two currently excluded being the Hays County and Elgin locations.

ACC students, faculty and staff are even allowed free access to the CapMetro Green Pass as of 2019, providing unlimited use of CapMetro services. Still, according to a transportation survey in 2019 by ACC’s office of energy and sustainability, only 7% of respondents had utilized public transport to get to campus.

As a long-time member of ACC’s car dependent students, my own experience with public transportation is likely similar to many others – severely lacking. 

My car parked on the curb in Pflugerville Texas, April 29, 2023. Photo by Adam Spear.

The car I’m dependent on – a red Chevy Sonic equipped with several strips of duct tape, a broken taillight and an increasingly unbearable noise every time I push the brakes – continues to fight the title of ‘efficient’ and ‘preferable’ with every use, making other transit options grow more attractive.

It was the evening of April 6th when I began my first public transit journey aboard the route 20 bus headed toward Capitol Station. Besides being within walking distance to its namesake building, Capitol Station also begins my eight-minute walk to ACC’s Rio Grande Campus, the location of my Thursday afternoon American Sign Language class.

My first commute on the bus had a promising start; the recommended stop and route was easily found with the CapMetro app on my phone. Directions to my stops were also on Apple Maps, which has an option for public trip options readily available. My ticket, a local day pass, was also purchased conveniently for $2.50 through the CapMetro app – a temporary expense before I set up the available ACC Green Pass.

Ruby Krimstein, an ACC student and ACCent writer, has experience on the bus that far exceeds my own. Having previously resided in cities like Chicago and New York City which have very developed transportation networks, Krimstein has never owned a personal vehicle or even a driver’s license.  

A CapMetro Bus drives near Highland Station, which services the ACC Highland campus with bus and rail commuting options. Photo taken by Matthew Mateo in Austin Texas, April 25, 2023.

“Everyone would say to me ‘you need to have a car, you’re moving to Austin, this is the time to get your license, this is the time to get a car,’” says Krimstein who, since moving in January, has found these friendly warnings not to be the case.

Splitting her time as an English major between the Highland and Rio Grande campuses, she not only utilizes the bus, but CapMetro’s commuter rail – AKA the Red Line – as well. Krimstein says she has found surprisingly few issues getting where she needs to go from her apartment in east Austin, even compared to her previous experience commuting in more mass transit-oriented cities.

“There’s an idea of Texas being very ‘car-centric’, but I think [public transportation] is more efficient than people realize.”  

The efficiency in Austin has not been without some effort; in 2019, after four phases and two years of brainstorming, city council unanimously passed the Austin Strategic Mobility plan, the first adopted transportation plan since 1995. 

This 358-page citywide plan of action aims to decrease the 76% of the city’s drivers that take a car independently to work down to a bold 50% by the year 2039, with transit ridership increasing to 16%. The reason being to handle the predicted traffic congestion as a result of population increase as well as lower the city’s carbon emissions.

“We are trying to reduce our consumption, there are lots of ways to do it, but transportation has the biggest impact,” says Lonny Stern, public involvement manager for the Austin Transit Partnership, “Choosing to share your trip, even just carpooling, that’s a 50% reduction right there.”

Commuter delay, affordability, travel choice and safety were found to be the primary concerns of the focus group formed by city officials before drafting the ASMP.

Affordability isn’t an issue as an ACC student, but Krimstein is well aware of the occasional delay and feeling of discomfort experienced while using the city’s public transportation. Most especially, though, she finds issue in a “lack of autonomy” from relying on public transit. 

On the CapMetro Red Line, that she uses frequently to access the Highland campus due to its “cleaner” environment, Krimstein says missing a train can sometimes lead to hour-long waits for the next.

A train from CapMetro’s Red Line, which began operations in 2010, awaits departure at the Highland Station. Photo taken by Matthew Mateo in Austin Texas, April 25, 2023.

With the bus’s varying service times and limited travel distance, she says some freedom is lost without owning a car.  Often, events that are on a far side of the city or in a different one altogether are practically unreachable when depending on public transportation.

As for my own maiden bus trip, I fortunately arrived at my stop on time with the bus arriving shortly after to pick me up at the scheduled 5:00; However, frequent stops and a minor delay (after the driver answered a phone call and stepped off for a few minutes) made the future of getting to my 5:30 ASL class on time grow unlikely.

With all this stress for an otherwise roughly 15 minute car ride, I wondered what might make daily-use of these services, when other options are available, appealing.

“I’ve found it’s a good way to see the city,” says Krimstein, “It’s like an effortful journey which can be fulfilling.”

With that I can agree; getting to spend time outside in the community, with my eyes off the road and on the view around me, I find myself feeling unexpectedly content with my place in life and society. As Krimstein says, public transport isn’t so isolated compared to driving independently.

I was nearly finished practicing, ‘Sorry, I’m late’, in sign language when the bus came to its hissing stop at Capitol Station. My relaxing city walk turned into a sweaty urban jog, but I arrived at class on time, slightly damp, but on time.

It was 2020, when voters not only addressed improving the efficiency of its transportation by funding the Transit Enhancement Program, but also approved the planning for a different type of transportation entirely  through funding Project Connect.

Project Connect, supported by a portion of the city’s property tax revenue and run by the Austin Transit Partnership, is primarily focused on the construction of a new citywide light-rail system. The light rail, named for its smaller size, boasts high-speeds with frequent arrival times.

Focused on implementing the light rail without displacing low-income communities, ATP was formed to lead the program and works along CapMetro’s and the city’s ETOD or, Equitable Transit-Oriented Development, strategies as well. 

Initially, Project Connect planned 28 miles of accessible light rail throughout the city and presented these plans in early 2020; But after necessary changes to the rail’s design had accompanied the city’s accelerated cost of living, the original $5 billion cost estimate was doubled, and the vision was replanned.

Lonny Stern (left) , representing ATP, explains the initial plans for Project Connect to a student passing his table for ACC’s Earth week. Photo taken by Adam Spear at the Riverside campus on April 20 2023.

“In a way, we were building our dream home,” says Stern who, I discovered later, is a local realtor. “But now we know we need to start with a starter home and add on to it.”

Stern has been conducting community outreach for ATP since the light rail’s open house in March. Along his quest for public input and as part of ACC’s Earth week, he presented five options for the first phase of Project Connect’s construction at the ACC Riverside Campus.

The presentation was scheduled to include an electric vehicle demonstration, but the weather had other plans according to Amber Orr, the ACC energy and sustainability manager. 

Stern assures that the five more affordable options he presented are just for phase one of the long spanning project, and that the plans promised in 2020 have not ceased entirely, just slowed considerably. For Stern and ATP this brings the issue of finding routes to service first. 

“Some people may look at this and say, I want to go as far as possible, pick the cheapest branch, let’s do that, and there are other folks who are more specifically concerned about where we are serving,” says Stern. 

Focused on implementing the light rail without displacing low-income communities, ATP works along the city and CapMetro’s ETOD or, Equitable Transit-Oriented Development, strategies as well. 

Each of the five options, which fit into a more conservative budget, presented a portion of the original light rail system. The underground and elevated lines that were promised initially were only offered in the shortest of the five lines due to the unexpectedly high production costs of specialized rail. 

ATP’s outreach to ACC’s Riverside location was because one of the presented tracks did not reach far enough to service the campus efficiently; The northernmost reaching option, starting from North Lamar, only went as southeast as Pleasant Valley, whereas the others continued southeast to Yellow Jacket or, in one, all the way to the airport.

With troubles even arising at this year’s legislative session, in the form of House Bill 3899, it seems Austin’s light rail future is still some time away with speed having only increased semi-recently. After the the bill lost steam and the comment period ended May 2nd, it was less than a month later when ATP announced its agreed first phase of development.

“Full steam ahead!” posted CapMetro’s Twitter account announcing their board’s agreement on June 2nd 2023. The plan is a modified version of the five presented by ATP last month. Graphic from @CapMetroATX on Twitter

Most notably, the approved $4.5 billion plan will begin from 38th street down to Yellow Jacket, with a “priority extension” connecting Crestview up north as and from Yellow Jacket directly to the airport.

Last Friday, CapMetro’s Twitter announced that the CapMetro board unanimously approved the adjustments, putting Project Connect finally on the road, or rail, to construction.

Even with this decision being a big step towards the optimistic plans that we were shown in 2020, construction for this first phase will likely not feel much quicker; and several public comment periods can be expected in the meantime.

After acquainting myself with the city’s current transportation options and some of its riders, though a fulfilling experience, it does still have room for improvement with limited distances and varying delays. Austin’s Transit Enhancement Program, voter funded in 2020, provides a place for those of us using the bus to be heard while we wait further for Austin’s transit future.

Vision+Voice Makes a Comeback 

Students share their thoughts at ACC’s revived literary festival.

By Angelica Ruzanova

Humans are storytelling creatures. From cave drawings of star clusters to our fast-paced appetite to connect in the digital terrain today, we discover the world and ourselves through waves of proliferating knowledge. Our curiosity makes us human, and Austin Community College aims to facilitate a space to embrace that. 

On Friday, April 28, the liberal arts: humanities and communications department hosted the annual Vision+Voice Literary Festival at the Highland Campus showcasing poetry and creative writing from K-12 and ACC students. The event included an open mic and an award ceremony for winners of the League of Innovation and Cacciatore projects where each poem was read aloud by their author in the main presentation hall. Winners were individually invited to record their narration of the poems in the PBS studio across the building prior.  

ACC Mascot, R.B, struts his stuff at the presentation hall for the Vision+Voice Literary Festival. Photo taken by Angelica Ruzanova in Austin Texas on Friday, April 28th, 2023.

Moderated by Dean of Arts & Digital Media Perry Crafton, the event introduced special guests from the board of trustees, English and creative writing programs involved in judging the submissions.

Divided into grade levels, the winners received posters designed by ACC Digital Media students who visualized their own versions of each poem with chosen artwork, internally competing amongst themselves as well. 

“We are witnesses to your answer. Your work is published, your voice is heard,” said Board of Trustees member Nora Comstock in her opening speech. 

The festival was at the crossroads of all life paths. Poems from elementary grade poets exhibited raw imagery of the world as students shared experiences from school playgrounds to their thanksgiving dinner tables. Fifth-grader Mateo from Boone Elementary wrote:

“I am the green of the trees
The grass is as still as space
The shining sun with little gold lace

I wonder why the moon and sun are never together
Why the little small voice is always whispering hush

I hear the small breeze
and my breath being released
and the swings in a sea of rust

I see the green mixed with the night sky
of the chairs, the sky blue as a ripe blueberry

I want the yellow roses with rocks and sticks of all colors and the grass to brush my feet as I walk

I am the sky, the clouds, the sun, and moon
I am me”

…while Lyric, a first-grader from Maplewood Elementary, shared: 

“I hit my head
I hit my head
I hit my head
I hit my head

I bit my bed
I bit my bed
I bit my bed
I bit my bed.”

The first through fifth grade category was met with ACC poetry and creative writing winners Shannon Williams and Seth Moloney. Both students read their respective poem and short story to the live audience of faculty and students.

The middle school arrangement explored friendships, maturity and coming of age in this big, complicated world. The faces of these readers had wide eyes as they touched on themes of identity, expectations and losing those around you in the midst of adolescent angst that permeated their words.

“Today, we are reminded of what the world was like when we were young, feeling experiences with new eyes.”

Eighth-grader Stella from Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders read: 

“…It is easy
To get lost here
In this maze of identical streets
The same house
The same yard
Over and over again
Blue and gray

Our world is fading
We are fading into the carpet
That covers old hotel rooms
The random dots on the carpet describe our whole universe
Everything we have ever known
Will be walked over
The carpet
Is the color of soldiers uniforms
The carpet
Is the color of the houses
The carpet
Is blue and gray.”

Then, for dessert, the existential contemplation of high school contestants and their physical and spiritual realities. These poems dealt with the pains and dreams of young adults unafraid to shed their vulnerability as 11th grader Claire from Stephen F. Austin High School expressed: 

“The busy streets filled with cheer
Deep breathes, not a fear
Take a step, unlock the door
Dark sky with waves ashore
The feeling of unreality, it makes me feel fake
Take time for the value
No mistakes

Flying sheeps, counting stars
I want to stay forever where you can’t get scars
Peace and closure, feeling free
Close the door, use the key
Step out into the world where people feel pain
If only dreams were real where there are no complaints.”

The poetry was not solely limited to English work; Jhoselin from Austin Achieve Public High School was one of the winners for the 10th grade category with her work titled “Sentimentos No encontrados.” Part of the goal at Vision+Voice was to celebrate ESOL students through the Transpositions project for those taking English classes at ACC. 

Outside of the presentation hall, the festival featured the first edition of a student academic journal Curiositas designed by Professor Watkins, showcasing composition, research and literary essays from current ACC students.  

The Vision+Voice program began in 2013 but was halted during the last three years due to the pandemic. The festival is a revived opportunity for young poets to become published as they experience an authentic audience alongside writers both younger and older than themselves.

“We need to hear, listen, and connect,” said Creative Writing Department Chair Prudence Arceneaux in her introductory speech. “Today, we are reminded of what the world was like when we were young, feeling experiences with new eyes.”