SXSW: Katharine Manning on Trauma-Informed Workplaces

Mental safety, as is dealing with trauma, is vital to creating a healthy workplace. Katharine Manning guides these topics for employees in the workforce.

by Foster Milburn

As students, we often question what to expect once we enter the workforce, particularly internships. The classes we take in undergrad help us contextualize topics in which we major, but extracurriculars can only prepare us so much for the workforce once we enter it. How can we know what we value in a workplace when we don’t know what it means to be part of a corporate environment?

You have probably seen some of her books regarding empathy in the workplace. She is an advocate for unheard voices, including those affected by the Pulse nightclub and South Carolina AME church shootings, and an attorney who guides the Justice Department through responding to trauma victims. She is Katharine Manning, and she is an author, professor, and attorney.

Through what she refers to as “The LASER Technique,” Manning offers a five-step process for a compassionate response to employees with trauma for managers and anyone overseeing a group of people in the workplace.

The LASER Technique as presented by Katharine Manning at SXSW

The first step is Listening, Manning advises, “don’t interrupt and don’t problem solve; just let [the employee] speak. Make room for that.” 

The second step is Acknowledge – “it is straightforward: ‘I’m sorry,’ or, ‘that sounds difficult.’ It lets [the employee] know you heard them, and they are likely to listen to what you share next,” Manning said. 

The third is Sharing information, “John F. Kennedy said in times of turbulence it is more accurate than ever that knowledge is power,” Manning said. “When we share, we get a little of that power back.”

Step four is Empower. This step is about recognizing that the person in trauma has their own journey to walk. She advises, “you must set boundaries for yourself, but within that, you can give [the employee] tools to take with them on that journey.” 

For example, if the company offers mental health resources, share those with the cohort. Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.

Step five – Return. By setting boundaries, you’re caring for your mental health while helping the individual facing trauma. It would help if you watched for yourself, and Manning’s advice for that is investing in self-care. “I do a little bit of yoga and meditation every morning. Just do something every day that gives back to yourself,” she said. 

Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.

This is how we respond, but next is making sure that the people that come to us in the first place are encouraged to do so. “People underestimate how valuable it is to check in on the people in our lives,” Manning said.

From highlighting common incidents such as workplace violence and employee safety, to recognizing needs and developing resources such as miscarriage leave, gender-affirming medical care, or domestic violence, sharing resources is vital. “Do you have these policies within your organization? If not, think about that,” Manning said.

This is the second pillar of trauma-informed workplaces. Manning advises, “make sure you’re getting input from those affected – don’t create a phenomenal gender-affirming care policy without first talking to transgender individuals.” The dormant items will not do anyone any good if they’re sitting on a shelf with no one discussing them.Her book, “The Empathetic Workplace,” describes other pillars in responding to trauma and distress amongst our coworkers and supervisors. Next month, she is launching a course diving deeper into making workplaces more empathetic, thus creating a healthier work environment for all employees. You can check out the website for more details.

Riverbats Call On ACC’s Administration to Act On Housing

“They want us to be like our mascot and sleep under bridges.” The administration’s lack of support enables housing insecurity to persist, student government members say.

by Daniel Sadjadi

Last August, ACC’s Student Government Association (SGA) members presented a recommendation proposal to the Board of Trustees to address the shortage of affordable housing for students. 

The solutions included immediate steps such as creating a housing message board for students to connect with roommates, medium-term solutions such as creating a housing committee and increasing resources for affordable housing initiatives and programs, and long-term solutions such as working with the SGA and community partners to create more affordable housing options. 

The SGA also surveyed ACC students on their financial and living conditions. They received 533 responses and found the following:

  • 71% of students worry about paying rent
  • 61% have faced housing insecurity
  • 12% of students reported facing homelessness
  • 30% of students spend more than 60% of their income on rent
  • 31% report struggling to pay their bills after rent 
  • 20% have received rental assistance
  • 80% say COVID-19 has drastically impacted their ability to work and pay rent
  • 40% of students have been behind on rent
  • 11.3% of students have faced eviction
  • 7 current students surveyed were homeless

According to SGA Senator, Julia Cloudt, upon being presented with this information, ACC’s Board of Trustees asked SGA to return with more data on students’ housing situations. SGA members, who have already volunteered dozens of hours of unpaid time to gather data through surveys distributed in tabling events, classes, and through word of mouth, felt frustrated according to Cloudt.

The main issue for ACC students finding affordable housing is the lack of support from the administration, Cloudt said. 

“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students,” she said. “I think one of the main issues is that we brought a lot of evidence to the administration and I think they see it as ‘it’s housing, it’s too big of an issue.’”  

Some of the main solutions proposed by the student government included providing information on affordable housing within a ten-mile radius of each campus and creating an app to connect students looking for housing. However, the administration has not taken any significant actions to address this issue, leaving SGA to deal with it themselves, Cloudt said. 

“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students”

Cloudt says that there is a misconception that students are looking for a huge solution to the housing issue, but they are only asking for help to help themselves. Cloudt also expressed that the lack of guidance and support provided by ACC to the Student Government is discouraging. Cloudt believes that the excuses given by ACC might be both legitimate and illegitimate, as there is data that ACC already knows that students are struggling with housing and even homelessness. 

Rent in Austin has increased 93% since 2010 and the majority of students reported struggling to afford housing. Cloudt experienced housing insecurity herself during her senior year in high school and was forced to stay with friends after facing homelessness. She struggled to find work and save up to get her own apartment. Struggling to find housing and a job while homeless made a significant impact on her education as she was unable to attend school regularly during that time.

“I didn’t know where to go. I had no savings. I had no job. No support… I just had to stay with friends while I was looking into getting a job so I could save up and get my own apartment. That was like three or four weeks after me having to just go struggle by myself. I didn’t go to school that entire time. I had teachers reach out to me and call me because they were like, you haven’t been to class. I was using an old iPod Touch, so I didn’t even get the messages until after I was back home. I was real-life struggling. I almost slept at a bus stop one night, but I was so scared for my safety that I walked four miles to my friend’s house, it’s either that or maybe getting raped or assaulted.” 

The lack of affordable housing affects students’ ability to focus on school and their overall well-being, as their basic needs are not being met. The transportation system is also a significant problem for people who do not have stable housing, as many are forced to rely on public transport, which takes away time and energy from their studies.

During a meeting with a trustee, they confirmed that the city fined ACC $1 million for not keeping apartments at Highland campus affordable, said Kay Trent, SGA’s president. At Highland, the Ella Parkside apartment building features 300 units but only 30 of which are reserved for affordable housing. A one-bedroom apartment would set you back $1,400 a month. “You need three or four times the rent to be able to sign off on it… my own teachers don’t make four times that amount. It was beyond affordable housing,” Cloudt said. 

Frustrated by the lack of action, a group of SGA members organized a peaceful protest on campus by putting sticky notes onto advertisement posters for the Highland campus, containing quotes about the high cost of housing and living expenses. The sticky notes were taken down the next day but the group plans to continue protesting and keeping the pressure on the board to address the housing issue.

“The SGA hopes to find solutions within ACC but is also looking to reach out to other sources for help if they continue to be ignored,” Cloudt said. The protest was successful, with the group receiving coverage in a local newspaper.

Trent said that ACC has the money to buy or build student housing, but is choosing not to. She suggested the closed ACC Pinnacle building could be used for student housing instead of converting it into a vineyard for the culinary department. Trent stated that ACC has displayed a lack of care for their students that is reflected in the budget, which is close to a billion dollars but not being used to build affordable housing. 

At one of the Board’s meetings, the topic of the administration’s frivolous spending while ignoring basic issues came up. In 2019, ACC Chancellor Richard Rhodes received a 5% raise which brought his salary to $360,000. SGA members say this money should have been used for student housing instead. Trent also noted that the administration rejected a $20 living wage proposal for ACC employees. 

Trent said that the investments made by the college are not always in the best interest of the students, like offering food services but making them prohibitively expensive to students, such as in the case of $9 ‘grab-and-go’ snack options at Highland.

Trent says that the college should invest more in resources that would benefit students, such as affordable housing for those without families and single mothers. Trent believes that providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”

Trent said that the city’s efforts to combat homelessness have not been effective and that the issue has only gotten worse without any permanent solutions. She stated that the city council needs to be more active and work together to find a solution, ‘as everyone is talking in circles about housing but nothing is actually being done to address the issue.’

“I just think that it’s selfish that a city can continue to go on this way. Or they try to push you out of the city, because the surrounding areas – Round Rock, Leander, Georgetown, all of that they still consider that to be Austin. But to live in Austin, you have to give up two legs and a half a year to afford it… Everybody’s sacrificing, like I sold my car because I was like, ‘Well, I can walk to school, I really don’t need a car per se,’ but also I couldn’t afford the gas, and insurance and gas are a big killer, especially if you’re already barely making rent.” 

Providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”

For ACC students struggling with housing insecurity or looking for a place to live, the college has a student emergency aid program that gives out a maximum of $500 to help with temporary housing, but there is no one on staff to talk to for more permanent solutions.

Trent has been working since April to address the issue of students not having their housing and other basic needs met. She has been reaching out to different departments for help and working to build bridges between them. She believes the ball is in the Board of Trustees’ court to find a real solution. 

“Nobody’s asking them to build an arcade, a gym, or anything. All those things would be lovely to have, but we just want housing right now… and so it’s just a lot of holding them accountable, a lot of physically going up to the Board of Trustees meetings, being in there, having interviews with people across the city. It’s a very challenging task, but it’s not impossible.” 

She plans to continue the fight, even after she graduates from ACC, to hold the Board of Trustees accountable for not addressing the issue of housing. She is also looking to partner with other organizations to help find a solution.

SGA (Student Government Association) at Austin Community College is a group that helps students with various issues, including housing. They represent 72,000 students on campus. The best form of contact is to reach out to the ACC SGA email address listed below. 

SGA tries to help students who are being redirected endlessly by other organizations on campus. SGA is a group of people who are tirelessly fighting for students and trying to help them. Change can only happen when people become involved, so the SGA encourages students to become involved and reach out to them. You can find more information and volunteer to get involved with SGA here.

Student Government Association Email: [email protected]

Inside ACC’s Professional Nursing Program

The Health Sciences department at ACC has a profound reputation in Austin.

by Foster Milburn

Graphic by Claudia Hinojos

Health science students at Austin Community College are prepared for the fast-growing healthcare industry as the college offers a flexible education pathway, realistic hospital settings, and a high state pass rate. 

A career as a registered nurse might be ideal for students who are driven to help others and are passionate about science. 

Post COVID, the supply and demand for nurses has resulted in a shortage of nurses globally. With the high demand, the pay remains an appealing incentive for entering the work field.

According to Indeed, the average yearly salary for a registered nurse (RN) in Texas is $89,905; a well-paying salary in the field results from the long hours and the emotional pressure of being a nurse. 

At ACC, students have a wide range of options in picking their major or starting a trade-specific program. 

Professional nursing is different from other areas of study as it requires the student to apply and be accepted into the program, whereas other studies are open to students at any time. To be registered in this program, students are also expected to complete a series of prerequisites. 

If a student is interested in nursing, they should go to the ACC website. Professor Abraham, an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) level two professor, advises: “Definitely, the Health Sciences page is the best place to start.”

One thing to think about prior to considering nursing school is the complexity and dedication required. “What helps is having a realistic goal when starting nursing school,” Professor Abraham said.“Nursing school is a full-time job.” 

That might raise the question of whether you can work outside the classroom to provide income for your living expenses beyond what you receive from loans. “Yes, you can. It will not be easy, but it is possible.” Christina Berger, a level II ADN Student at ACC and a mother of two, points out.

For many students, having a job while in school is necessary. An outside income is a requirement as some live independently or have children. Christina Knighton discussed working while being in the program. “I understand that it is reality, and we can’t not all work. Students have scaled back their hours to ensure they have more time for the program,” she said. 

So, you might be wondering what other options are available. Knighton brings up the option of saving between semesters to have extra income during semesters. “This program is a full-time job,” she said.

With the disclaimers addressed, it would be best to meet with an advisor if a student is still interested in starting the program. It can be something other than Health Sciences, too. 

Christina Knighton spoke about her personal experience with her advisor, “I started by speaking to my advisor, who gave me information about the prerequisites for the ADN program. She helped me stay on track and made sure I met the deadlines for application.” 

The application process can be confusing for students navigating through the steps for the first time. It is much more information than other programs of study because it is specialized and more selective. 

However, that does not mean there aren’t people to help you along the way. Because of having high standards going into the program, the resources continue beyond the application process. 

“Once in the program, there are retention services available that can help with financial aid, study tips, and time management,” Knighton said. 

Regarding the prerequisites, one might ask if they are beneficial to the courses they are required to take. For the professional nursing program, ADN, the associate degree plan requires four prerequisites. If taken subsequently, the classes can be completed in approximately three semesters. 

“Pharmacology and Anatomy & Physiology give you the foundation for going into nursing school,” Knighton said. “When you have a deeper understanding of how the body works, it is easier to understand the disease processes you learn about once in the program.”

Secondly, the other requirement for applying for admission into the program is the HESI exam. The exam is a test that covers the material learned in the prerequisites where students are “tested on knowledge and how you would apply that knowledge in a clinical setting,” Knighton said. 

The HESI Admission Assessment fee is currently at $62.00. The minimum passing score is 75 percent, and the test covers anatomy, physiology, math, reading, grammar, and critical thinking. 

The HEXI exam varies in complexity. “Exposure to NCLEX style questions helps a lot when preparing for the HESI or nursing school exams in general,” Knighton said. 

The NCLEX is the exam taken after completion of the program. “You can find them online, and there are many apps you can download for free,” Christina Berger said. 

To conclude, it is best to speak directly with an advisor if one is considering the Nursing program or any other Health Sciences program. They can give you more personable advice while understanding your circumstances. 

The nursing program here at ACC has an outstanding reputation within Texas and across the country. Austin American-Statesman presented the program with the 2020 Best of the Best Award on Jan. 11 of last year – an endowment worthy of what it offers. 

Get Ahead On Your Degree Plan By Taking ACC’s Summer Classes

Registration for the 2022 summer semester began on April 4 for all current or returning Austin Community College students. As of April 18, new students can register as well.

Written by Morris Haywood

Edited by Pete Ramirez

ACC will be providing over 2,400 open sections across eleven campuses this summer so students can continue their education and pursue their academic goals. 

Summer semester classes will begin on May 31 and end on August 8.  Depending on the student’s major and schedule, ACC offers 10- week, 9-week, or 5-week courses with varying start times. 

In-person classes will be offered on campuses across the Central Texas area and virtually as well. While class times are still available, students should consider what days fit into their schedule. The time length of each class is necessary to review also. 

“Timing can be a bit longer,” ACC’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Engagement and Academic Success, Guillermo Martinez said. Martinez, who has been working in education for eleven years and with his current department for 6 years, said class times vary but there is a need for students to continue their education. 

“Depending on the days chosen, classes can be only an hour but be every single day, which is different from the normal 16-week session. So there are different options for students,” said Martinez. “Evening and weekend classes are popular, but you have people that come in from work and the day may be a little bit longer for them”.

Due to the pandemic, there are many more virtual options this summer compared to years past. 

Online classes for students range from regular online instruction, synchronous virtual class meetings, hybrid distance, hybrid classroom, and hyflex – a face-to-face (F2F) synchronous course section that allows students to attend virtually on any given class day. 

With all these options students can continue to learn without much interruption to their summer plans.

“More and more we are trying to do the regional approach,” Martinez said. He explained that ACC is trying to institute ‘destination campuses’ based on the size of the class and specific courses. For example, the destination campus for the North is Round Rock, the central destination is Highland, and the South Campus destination is Riverside.  

“But we try our hardest to spread out and that is also the positive with the growing distance learning courses and that is more opportunity to take classes from anywhere,” Martinez said.

As always, support for students is available during the summer as well. 

From financial aid, student support service, and free tutoring the usual opportunities will still be present for students looking to continue their academic goals during the summertime. 

This also includes students attending or enrolled at a university.  

“How can we provide the support that is needed?” Martinez said. “Let’s figure it out and talk that through.”

Martinez emphasized the many ways students can find support without added stress, by noting that counselors and staff are still present during the summer months. 

Martinez believes that students’ time and mental health need to be prioritized and education should not be another stressor in their lives. 

Students enrolling for summer classes can get ahead on their degree plan and even graduate earlier than expected. 

“With summer registration it’s a great opportunity to keep going. It takes time to grow a habit,” Martinez said. “Students tend to get in the flow in the fall and spring and then if you take two months off, you can forget things.” 

Martinez mentioned that many students disappear after the spring sessions, but by just taking at least one class the academic momentum can build.  

“If you enroll in one course in the summer, it can go a long way to keeping the habit going,” Martinez said. “I think it’s helpful going to school so the student can finish.” 

“[Summer courses are] slightly different, but don’t forget to ask for help,” Martinez said. 

Students can still register for classes until May 16.

Schedules for the summer semester as well as financial aid, admission help, and contact information can be found at https://start.austincc.edu.

UT Students Seek Help From ACC With Community Outreach Initiative

The student-led Texas Civic Impact Council needs help from Austin Community College and other Austin area colleges to shine a light on socio-economic opportunities for the community ahead of a major transit infrastructure project.

Written by Ky Duffey

Edited by Pete Ramirez

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist and author.

Mead’s exemplary words are not lost on Vaishnav Kuruvanka and Ruth Mewhinney, two University of Texas-Austin students and co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council (TCIC). TCIC is a student-led organization that strives to bring the community together by engaging college students to work as a team to solve social issues.

Sponsored by Promoting Education Across the Country (PEAC), a platform that supports youth entrepreneurs at the community level, TCIC aims to be a bridge for student progress on city-wide issues. 

While TCIC has made strides so far in launching social campaigns, its newest campaign is focused on Project Connect, an upcoming transit infrastructure project for the city of Austin. Find out more about TCIC and how to apply here.

The following is my recent conversation with Kuruvanka and Mewhinney about TCIC and Project Connect.

Ruth Mewhinney and Vaishnav Kuruvanka are co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council and students at the University of Texas at Austin. Their organization is looking to get ACC students involved in their work helping to shape Austin’s massive transit project known as Project Connect.

Ky Duffey (KD): Tell me about Project Connect. 

Vaishnav Kuruvanka (VR): Project Connect is a $7.1 billion investment in public transportation in Austin. There are three components to it: a light rail connecting North and South Austin, an expanded all-electric bus fleet and an underground transit tunnel that will go through downtown. The purpose is to make it easier to get around Austin through public transport. 

We at TCIC are interested in it because we see it as more than just an infrastructure investment. We see it as a way to connect Austin geographically and socially. We see it as a way to develop jobs and affordable housing. To initiate this equitable and innovative future for our city. It’s a generational opportunity. When will we see this kind of investment again?

Ruth Mewhinney (RM): If Project Connect is done well, we’ll be creating communities of opportunity in the four corridors of the city the project will engage. To make projects like this work, we need community engagement to make sure community priorities relate to public policy. We recognize this as an amazing opportunity, and our job is to amplify community voices. We want to serve as an accountability check for Project Connect and what it can do for the citizens of Austin. 

So basically, how can the infrastructure in Austin, the fastest growing city in America, bring opportunity for us to connect statewide and nationally.

KD: How did TCIC come about?

VR: TCIC is a chapter of a non-profit called PEAC. PEAC has one main goal: getting young people involved in solving social issues. 

When I moved to Austin, I noticed there were so many great students here yet they weren’t all working together on issues they commonly deal with. So I decided to get a bunch of diverse students together to see how we can tackle common issues. 

I met Ruth in 2019 and we worked to build TCIC from the ground up. TCIC’s goal is to connect students to the city of Austin and take an interdisciplinary approach to solving social issues. We represent 9 colleges on campus and two representatives on the council from each college.

KD: Your goal is to get college students across Austin involved as well through fellowships. Tell me about those.

RM: To be a council member in TCIC, you have to be a student at UT, but we wanted to make sure TCIC is not just representative of UT students, but any young person in Austin. 

So TCIC is leading a student-led, grassroots community engagement along key Project Connect corridors. There are three ways for students across Austin to get involved. 

We have community engagement fellows who are leading that boots on the ground engagement. 

We have data fellows who are cataloging and analyzing that data. 

And we have design fellows who are taking all these data and stories and turning them into the written content we’ll present to the City of Austin and Project Connect leadership.

VK: The main goals of our fellowships are to strengthen the connection between Austin residents and city leaders, getting people across Austin to work together from City Council, company leaders, and community members. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is called Project Connect, I think there is an opportunity to connect Austin here in a deep and meaningful way, and students are a very important part of that opportunity. 

This isn’t a UT Austin issue, this is an Austin issue, so we welcome students from across the city to join us.

Texas Civic Impact Council members pose for a picture in downtown Austin. Photo provided by TCIC’s Instagram account @peac.tcic.

KD: How can students in Austin apply?

VK: We have a simple application at www.bit.ly/tcicfellowship

You don’t have to have a lot of skills to get involved in this project, you just need an interest and passion for serving your community. No matter whether you’re an undergrad or grad student, all are welcome.

RM: TCIC is student-led and student-built so come on board! We need numbers to do community engagement.

VK: The community engagement fellows are the lifeblood of our project. If we don’t have a lot of students out there connecting with the community, we can’t get the data to present to community leaders. 

So we need a lot of people who can be boots on the ground.

RM: We’re the only program that is entirely student-run. You may see other programs similar to us, but they aren’t doing it like us. Student-led!


Find more information about Project Connect here.

Engaging with your community, especially at the college level, not only provides an opportunity for you to be a voice for those who are usually ignored within our neighborhoods. It’s also an opportunity to show desired transfer universities and future employers your efforts to make the world a little better. 

Young people across the country normally feel that their voices are not taken seriously. This initiative is a chance to highlight voices that have been drowned out in the past. 

Do your city and yourself proud. Join TCIC to connect with others around Austin fighting to make this city’s future equitable and enjoyable for all.

Getting Festive with Texas Tribune CEO, Evan Smith

By Pete Ramirez

The Texas Tribune, a digital, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, is hosting its eleventh annual Texas Tribune Festival beginning on Monday, September 20, 2021, and ending Friday evening, September 25, 2021. 

This festival brings together leading politicians and policymakers within local, state and national government to participate in a mix of one-on-one interviews, panels and networking sessions hosted by some of the premier journalists in the nation.

Students are eligible to purchase discounted student tickets to the virtual festival for $49 by following this link: https://festival.texastribune.org/. General admission tickets are $199.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the festival will be held entirely online in a virtual setting. “It’s the second and hopefully the last festival that will be virtual,” said Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune. 

Smith said that although his organization originally wanted to host a portion of the event in-person, completely pivoting to virtual allows the event to be more accessible to not only the politicians and policymakers, but to casual fans of the Tribune who can now participate from the comfort of their homes.

“We provide all kinds of opportunities for people to spend time with some of the biggest thought leaders and influencers around Texas and around the county,” Smith said. 

A few of the biggest names that will be attending the event are U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones and former U.S. Representative, Beto O’Rourke.

For a list of all the speakers who will be attending the festival, follow this link.

“If you care about politics, if you care about policy, if you care about Texas, if you care about the world, there are going to be incredible opportunities that you would not otherwise have, to be part of conversations about those things,” Smith said.

Students who attend can benefit from the festival’s networking opportunities and grow their knowledge on nearly any subject they may be interested in.

“As a student, especially, this is a great moment to expand your thinking,” Smith said. The Tribune’s event provides a safe place for attendees to listen to views that challenge their preconceived notions on certain issues. 

“The goal is that there is something for everybody. And if you allow yourself to stray from the things that you are coming to see, there are going to be other things over here that you are not aware of but are going to be interesting also,” said Smith.

The Texas Tribune and their festival want attendees to walk away from their event better informed and more engaged citizens.

Smith also shared that there will be a session that is exclusively for students attending the festival.

Before our interview came to a close, Smith provided some words of wisdom for journalism students looking to enter the industry.

“The best advice I can give anybody wanting to break into the journalism business is you want to be a swiss army knife and not a meat cleaver,” Smith said. “We need people like that. We need multi-tool players more than we’ve ever needed them.”

Graduating Virtually

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Story and Video By Pete Ramirez

In order to protect ourselves from COVID-19, much of our lives and work have been pushed into virtual settings. Austin Community College’s spring 2021 commencement was no different and was also forced to be held virtually. 

ACCENT wanted to check-in with students graduating during this unusual time, so we reached out to a pair of recent ACC graduates, Emily Pesina and Ashley Silva. ACCENT editor-in-chief, Pete Ramirez, spoke to both graduates to understand what their graduation experience was like and what they had planned for the near future.

A picture of a smiling young woman named Ashley Silva. And a small screen with a picture of a smiling young man named Pete Ramirez.
Ashley Silva, a recent Austin Community College graduate and recipient of the spring 2021 Chancellor’s Student Achievement Award, speaks to ACCENT editor-in-chief, Pete Ramirez, about the her graduation experience.

What Students Need To Know About the ACCelerators Reopening

ACCENT met with the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Shasta Buchanan to get more insight on this transition for ACC. on reopening the ACCelerators for student use.

Written by Marissa Greene

Austin Community College reopened three locations for students to utilize the ACCelerator. As of Oct. 26, students can schedule an appointment to have a quiet place to study, technology, and internet access. All things necessary for student success during virtual learning.

Q: How have the operating hours changed at the ACCelerator? 

A:  The operating hours for the ACCelerator are now Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm. We’re on three campuses [the ACCelerator} so the Highland, Round Rock, and the Hays campus library. We want to be mindful of the best use of our facilities as well as being safe. 

Q: Are services such as private study rooms open for student use? 

A: Not at this time. But that doesn’t mean we won’t start to transition and open those different opportunities. We wanted to start small. We heard from our students in our campaigns in May and one of the things that really was at the top lists for students was a quiet place to study, access to technology, and the internet. 

So they have a whole pod to themselves. Now there is a specific space that they have to sit in just to maintain social distancing. But there are no other people in the pods with them. We are also only in a certain zone of the ACCelerator. Again, we know students want this access but we also know that they still want to be safe in that space. So we wanted to be mindful of that before we slowly start to open up other spaces. 

Q: What does it look like to walk into the ACCelerator now? 

A:  Good question! One, it’s a little different because they can’t just walk into the ACCelerator they have the schedule an appointment for a pod space or a space in the Hays library. We also ask all of our students and employees to watch a video. It really walks them through what it is like and what it feels like to walk on campus. Every employee and student has to fill out the ACC health screener app. This allows us to make sure that they are not experiencing any symptoms and we constantly remind our students and staff that there is just a personal responsibility about this and I am just so proud of everyone.  And then to wear a face mask, wash your hands, we take your temperature at the door, and then everyone gets something that certifies them that they can be in that space. The student will have two hours of time allotted in their appointment. 

Q: How many times can a student use this facility? 

A: They can schedule as much as they want but again it is by appointment only. That allows us to maintain the percentage of people that should be in the building between students and employees. And again, it allows us to practice social distancing and follow those protocols that allow students the things we know they need to be successful. 

Q: Are tutoring, academic coaching, and other services open at the ACCelerator at this time?

A: The ACCelerator, as we transition to opening it is really what students told us what they needed most. That was a quiet place to study, access to technology, and the internet. So that is all that we are providing at the Highland, Round Rock, and Hays library right now. We will work across the college partners as we’re monitoring the virus and know what’s happening. We want to keep everyone safe, we want to be mindful in terms of what is happening with the virus before we say “okay what is the next thing we can bring into that space?” 

I hope that our students understand that we respect them. We want them to be safe. And so, while it may seem slow, slow means that we are being cautious. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t planning for the future; it just means that it is very important for us to be cautious. 

Q: How do students make sure their opinions are heard about ACC’s transition? 

A: We send surveys out, we cal students, and what I’ve learned is that our students become way more responsive and they’re looking at emails, newsletters, and whatever the different means we’ve been communicating with them. They are very responsive and paying attention because they are wanting to be in the know. So through all of those levels of learning, I hope our students know that we are not just asking questions to ask questions sake. We’re hearing them. And then our plan of action is to plan and prepare. And how do we meet the needs of our students 

Q: Any final comments or takeaways? 

A: The biggest thing is that if students see emails or other means of communication or they see that we’re calling them, please pick up or call us back. We understand that they are in the class too so sometimes when we call them it might now match when they’re in class. But please to return our call, please respond to our emails because their voice is what we are trying to gather and to know what do you need. And if there is any takeaway, it is that we are trying our best to meet their needs in the virtual and what would come back but we need to hear from them.   

COVID Safety

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, eat, play, and overall live. Reporter, Marissa Greene captures some images that you may have found to be familiar during these times.

Marissa Greene

mask on the ground

As more people utilize face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, the more we might see them in places other than the trash. Social media has started to urge that people dispose of their used face masks properly by cutting the ear rings before disposal.

caution tape on a pole in front of a playground

A park in Pflugerville, TX has wrapped caution tape around swings, jungle gym, and more to prevent children spreading the virus from these commonly touched items.

gloved hands with a pumpkin on the floor

Although we may feel that wearing gloves while grocery shopping, using the ATM, and touching other public-accessible items may be another preventative, the CDC on the other hand suggests that gloves are primarily necessary when cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.

hands sanitizing

When washing hands is not an accessible option, using hand sanitizer can be a temporary alternative when needing to disinfect hands in the moment.

white, red, grey, and green masks lined up

Face masks and covering have evolved since March with improved ear loop functionality, patterns of fabric, and has even become an addition to ways people represent themselves.

hands washing with soap

Hand washing is necessary to keep yourself and others safe. The World Health Organization and the Center of Disease Control recommend washing your hands in warm water for at least 20 seconds. 

person at computer on desk

Since March, Austin Community College students, professors and other staff have transformed the classroom and social community to an entirely virtual platform. Many students graduating Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 will be earning their degrees and certificates via their computer screens.

Local Coffee Shop Bennu Opens Third Location

By Alexa Smith

An Austin Staple, Bennu Coffee, has recently opened their third location on Jacob Fontaine Lane right next to Austin Community College’s Highland campus.

Bennu’s first location opened on East Martin Luther King Blvd. in 2009. The coffee houses’ second location was opened in 2017 after Bennu owners Stephanie and Steve Williams bought the location formerly home to Domincan Joe’s.

Bennu has long been a staple for college students around Austin, as they used to offer 24 hour service. This was a hit for students to stay up late studying for exams and getting homework done. While their hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, students still flock to all three locations to get a dose of caffeine and productivity. 

The new location on Jacob Fontaine Lane is part of the overall development of the area around Highland. If you haven’t made it to campus in a few months, you’d be surprised to see there are apartments and a small shopping center quickly growing. This will offer ACC students more food and drink options within walking distance of The Highland Campus, something that was missing before these developments.

 While Kick Butt coffee and 89 Degrees are nearby, they can take a while to walk to and aren’t the best option for grabbing a bite in between classes without driving. 

The new Bennu location and other restaurants nearby, such as The Pho and iBubbleTea offer easily walkable options right next to the Highland campus. 

The hours of operation for this new location are from 6 am to 7 pm. Bennu coffee also offers take out as well as socially distanced seating inside and outside. Although there is limited seating outside the indoor area is spacious and makes for a great study spot while keeping your distance.

If you’re not sure what to order, I recommend the cold brew and an almond croissant. Steve has been perfecting the cold brew for years and it’s brewed for over 16 hours with organic South American beans.  

Bennu’s other locations are also open from 6 am to 7pm. To connect with the business virtually, visit their instagram page @bennucoffee.