President Robert Vela and administrators address concerns about gun safety, protesters on campus and college tuition.
By Tress-Marie Landa
Students asked this college’s administration about campus security, the health of the community, energy conservation and veterans’ success during “Pizza with the President” Nov. 12 in the Fiesta Room of Loftin Student Center.
The Student Government Association hosted the event, and about 120 students attended. Free pizza and soft drinks were available as well.
Kinesiology freshman Doug Wood asked if students exercising their Second Amendment right would legally be able to stop a school shooter. He referred to the state’s new campus carry law.
“Given all the recent school shootings, what is your game plan for ensuring that it doesn’t happen here?” Wood said.
The state of Texas passed a law that will allow concealed-handgun owners to carry on campus — a law that will have to be abided, said President Robert Vela.
“We are going to have to be proactive to bring awareness about what the responsibility is, and we do offer active shooter training,” he said.
Vela said students might not know there are plain-clothes officers on campus to ensure safety.
“My No. 1 goal is to provide a safe learning environment for you, students, staff and administration. But we also have to abide by the state laws,” he said. “My heart goes out to those community colleges that have suffered these disasters.”
Harley Williams, psychology sophomore and SGA president, encouraged students to ask questions that could benefit themselves and other students.
Social work sophomore Ariana Torres asked how students could access resources to visit universities around Texas.
Richard Farias, interim dean of student success, said this college’s new transfer and career center, or TRAC, is trying to receive funding from four-year institutions to allow students to visit their campuses.
Students representing campus organizations also attended Pizza with the President.
Megan Kendrick, environmental science sophomore and member of Students for Environmental Awareness, said the club recently did a waste analysis on campus, which revealed half of the items that could be recycled are thrown in the trash.
“We’d like more recycle bins on campus,” Kendrick said. “Our group has been working towards finding organizations like the solid waste management department to bring more bins to campus.”
Administration ensured students that this college does recycle and is working to improve the system of reusing materials.
“We are working on actually putting the individual bins on campus and having them filled properly and picked up,” said David Mrizek, vice president of college services. “We do have a worker whose job is to sort out and pick up the waste left in these designated containers.”
Vela said if the SEA continues to meet administration halfway, they will solve this together.
“I’d like to commend your club’s efforts in leadership and awareness. We will continue to get better and do more,” he said.
General science freshman Rudy Martinez asked about using solar energy panels at this college.
Vela replied, “We actually do have some on top of EcoCentro and Scobee Planetarium — we are utilizing them and getting a small financial return. We’ve been given awards from the city and state for the amount of impact we’re having.”
The William R. Sinkin EcoCentro is a community outreach center for environmental sustainability operated by this college. It was built around the idea of solar energy, and administration is aware of its benefits, Vela said.
“We’ve had some panels donated to us and even if students can’t always see them, you can go to the top of the garage and see for yourself,” he said.
Torres said anti-abortion activists came to campus to protest earlier this semester, and the images they presented were disturbing to some.
“I was wondering if this kind of behavior is allowed and how it is regulated,” she said.
Vela said such groups are protected under the First Amendment, and as a public institution, this college has to allow them space to protest.
“But that doesn’t mean it is a free-for-all,” he said. “If we notice that they are not abiding by our own practices and protocols we have the right to step in there. I have asked Mr. Farias to be sure that our free speech policies have been updated to be sure that they are abiding our policies.”
The protest caused a loud argument between a student and protestor, and Farias said administrators have contacted attorneys at the district office to find out how they can handle future protests.
“Next time we will have more signage that indicated what they are about to see,” Farias said. “That way students have the option of choosing to engage or not engage in the topic. Some of those images, although protected, should not make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Vela also discussed this college’s veteran’s center, which is expanding to a new location on Main Avenue and is expected to open in 18 months. The center will offer advising and an academic support system to help veterans transition into college and the workforce.
“We are also exploring the idea of incorporating some housing and seeing if there is a need for veterans to live and learn here,” Vela said.
Roel Gonzalez, kinesiology sophomore and veteran, asked if this college will conduct sleep-pattern research for veterans who suffer from PTSD.
Vela said, “We have not yet thought that far, but our partners at the UT Health Science Center are working around this kind of research. This is definitely an option. We need our over 3,000 veterans to let us know what they’d like to see on campus. We need this kind of feedback.”
Farias described how student feedback about the new cafeteria vendor, Lancer, has led this college to reevaluate higher food prices.
Students say they enjoy the quality of the food, but not the extra cost, he said.
“We’d like full meals for under $6, and other lower priced options that students were used to before,” he said.
Martinez brought up the topic of presidential candidates promoting tuition-free college, and the administration supported the idea.
“If free college promotes higher enrollment, that’s great,” Vela said. “I am proud to say that Alamo Colleges is on a pathway that whatever comes, we are ready. If it’s two years that you don’t have to worry about tuition, that’s even better.”