UPbeat Winter 2020

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W INTER 2020 •

LEAVING CHURCH Questioning oppressive practices leads to life changes Page 8

inside: Special Collections Slow Food Athletes and COVID-19 Campus Profiles


CONTENTS © University Press 2020


EDITOR Olivia Malick MANAGING EDITOR Tim Cohrs STAFF Carson Racich Tiana Johnson Abby Gemza Allya Robertson Gabby Gaspard Tommy Byers Christina Segura PHOTO STORY Brandi Hamilton STUDENT PUBLICATION ADVISORS Andy Coughlan Stephan Malick



Faces around campus



Trials of breaking from religious oppression



Special Collections houses eclectic history



Exploring the world of night time



Boone promotes community through food



What athletes do when pandemic stops play Photo from David Lewis’ collection of mushroom research in Gray Library’s Special Collections department

A publication of the

UNIVERSITY PRESS The student newspaper of Lamar University


PEOPLE The Bike Girl While not being able to go back to Nairobi in East Africa, Lamar University student Christine Kitaru found many new ways to entertain herself and keep her creativity in Coffeyville, Kansas, during the pandemic. During her summer in Coffeyville, she found herself surrounded by international students without cars while needing a quick way to transport to places. “When there is a will there is a way,” Christine says. “We needed a way to get food, and as we all know the bike is the easiest way to move around while also exercising.” Instead of buying a new bike Christine and her soccer teammates decided to get creative and make one for themselves out of parts. “The bikes had been outside for years, the tires torn, and some parts rusted,” she says. “In Kenya we learn how to fix things, so we put our skills to the test. We bought new tires, found grease, and dismantled the whole bike and put it back together again with the new parts we found.” After assembling three bikes, Christine and her friends used them to get to places nearby. “We would ride to Walmart, which was a pretty far ride, but instead of having to depend on other people, we decided to have the power in our hands,” she says.

Story by Abby Gemza Photo by Tim Cohrs

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The Survivor Through faith and competitive drive, Anderson Kopp has been able to overcome injuries and setbacks leading him to his second year as a shooting guard for the Lamar men’s basketball team. A no-contact injury left the Houston sophomore sidelined during his junior year of high school. The injury caused bone fragments to spur in his ankle, with surgery being a must. It left him sidelined for eight months. “While sidelined, I grew stronger in my faith and ability to come back as a stronger athlete,” Anderson says. “Before being injured, I had a Division 1 scholarship offer from Texas A&M University.” Through a large family support system, Anderson knew he could not give up on his dream of playing college basketball. “I was playing pickup basketball one afternoon when our coaches from Lamar showed up and offered me a scholarship to pursue my dream,” he says. “I committed right away and have not looked back since.” While Anderson says he is grateful to be able to play basketball for Lamar, one of his favorite parts about attending the university, is being able to stay close to his family in Houston. Kopp is the second oldest of four all-state Division 1 athletes. His oldest brother is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. The third brother was on the Houston Christian High School State Championship team and currently plays for Northwestern University, and his final brother will attend the University of Houston next fall. Anderson says this season is different because of COVID-19. “We have to wear masks while we work out and play and we are also tested three times a week for COVID-19,” he says. But when the games resume, Anderson wil be ready to pull on the No. 11 jersey and hit the court. Story by Tommy Byers

PEOPLE The Influencer Tumise Onalaja, known by her friends as Tumi, has been practicing her makeup skills to keep busy during COVID-19. The sophomore communications major first started doing makeup after she joined the dance team her freshman year of high school and had to do her makeup every week for football games and dance competitions. “My parents were strict and I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I joined the dance team, so when my mom saw how good I was she let me wear it to church,” Tumi says. “Eventually, I started posting my makeup looks on Instagram and a lot of people liked how I did my makeup.” Tumi realized she had a talent in makeup after people she went to church with complimented her on her looks. “I want to become a beauty influencer,” the Houston native says. “I feel like if I can do it and also make an income off of it, and teach others how to do makeup, I would love to do that.” Tumi’s advice for others wanting to get into makeup or improve their makeup skills is to go on YouTube, find a makeup look they like, and then try to recreate it. “Practice a lot, practice all the time,” she says. “If you’re just starting out do not waste your money on high end products, I feel like you should start off with drug store products.” Tumi can be found on Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitter @tumise_onalaja. Tumi can also be found on her YouTube channel – Tumi Onalaja.

Story and photo by Aliya Robertson


WINTER 2020 • PAGE 5

The Swiftie Scott Sayre is a “Swiftie.” The San Antonio senior is an upbeat, obsessive fan who knows everything about Taylor Swift and always shakes the haters off. “Love of my life — she’s everything. She makes me so, so happy,” he says. A fan since 2009, Scott says Swift’s music has been a source of comfort growing up. “She sings a lot about pain and heartbreak that she’s gone through, and, personally, I’ve never experienced the kind of heartbreak she sings about, but she always finds a way in her songs to relate it to any circumstance I can be in,” the corporate communication major says. “That, through the years, has really helped me to cope with pain and hardships.” As Swift and her musical content has matured, it has influenced Scott to have a broader perspective on love. “I was raised in a Christian background,” he says. “I was raised like, ‘Love is a man and a woman, marriage, thing. That was something I believed all the way up until a few years ago, when she started opening up more about it. She actually shifted my perspective on love and acceptance.” Scott, who will graduate this semester, wants his diploma to include his Swiftie status. “Who do I talk to about that?” he says. “I want them to say, ‘Graduating with their degree, Scott Sayre, Swiftie.” Story and photo by Christina Segura

PEOPLE The Journaler During the unique period the world is going through with the coronavirus pandemic, Dulce Rodriguez says her stress has not only doubled, but quadrupled since the semester started. The 21-year-old human resources major had had bouts of anxiety where she worried about the future, particularly her future in school. Dulce says she eases her stress by journaling and planning. The Beaumont native is even able to get creative while doing it. “I decided to color code by classes, adding stickers, and instead of checking off what I had done I decided to highlight it,” she says. The more important things are written on sticky notes and stuck to her mirror. Journaling became a hobby as well and she journals every day. The topics she writes about vary. “Instead of just writing down my feelings, I would also write down any thoughts, ideas, or even dreams and nightmares that I would have,” she says. Dulce has even splurged and bought herself a new “fashionable” notebook to replace her basic school notebook. The new notebook is colorful and has feathers on it.

Story and photo by Gabby Gaspard

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Women share tales of religious oppression, breaking free For centuries, people have looked to religion for salvation and understanding, seeking a sense of community in their congregations and a sense of purpose. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 78 percent of Americans identify with a religion, with 70 percent of that group identifying with some form of Christianity, or religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. While religion can be a positive force in a person’s life, it has also been used to justify wars throughout history. Religion can also serve as a conduit for physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. This is the story of two women who left their oppressive religions. “Religion disarms people — their guards go down,” Stuart Wright, chair of the LU sociology, social work and criminal justice department, said. “Religion makes claims to speaking for god and having this kind of cosmic order, so people are less likely to put up defenses and use their analytical skills.” BEGINNINGS As a child, Eleanor Skelton was taught to believe that she was responsible for the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Every year her family would go see The Passion Play, a dramatic portrayal of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and ending in a violent recreation of his death. “I remember going for the first time when I was two and a half,” Skelton, now 31, said. “I remember it being kind of scary, but it wasn’t very graphic yet. He was hung on the cross, but it wasn’t very bloody.” Skelton said the play became increasingly brutal as she got older. She wasn’t able to even approach the man who portrayed Jesus afterwards because she was afraid that he would think she was responsible for his death. By the time she was nine, the actor PAGE 8 • WINTER 2020

who played Jesus was being kicked and spit on, and screamed while he was forcibly nailed to the cross, fake blood cementing the scene in the audience’s minds. “I was told the message that the man on the cross should’ve been me,” she said. “I was told that when I was bad, I was hurting Jesus.” Skelton was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household where the interpretation of the Bible was strict and literal. “A fundamentalist religion is one which tries to reclaim the pure original beliefs of that faith, but I would suggest that those are claims, and not often factual,” Wright said. “(These are) claims that cannot actually be authenticated. “People’s ideas of originality, sometimes are pieced together in certain ways that take

on cultural and political overtones that don’t really have anything to do with the original teachings of the sacred texts, whatever they may be.” Claire Robertson, Beaumont senior, remembers her mother being religious when she was growing up, but everything changed when her mother remarried to her current husband, when Robertson was 11 years old. He was a member of the United Pentecostal Church and Robertson said it wasn’t a big jump for her mother to convert to his religion. “I was a preteen and change is really hard at that age,” Robertson, now 24, said. “Between getting a new stepdad, moving houses and changing churches, I threw a bit of a fit. For a couple of years, they had to really strong arm me into attending church at all.


But eventually, I was fully a part of the church. “I attained salvation in the way the UPC views attaining salvation, which is being baptized in the name of Jesus. I was filled with the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues, which is an unknown language to you that comes to you while you pray. “I repented my sins, of course, and I began living what they call a ‘holiness lifestyle.’ That involved changing the way I dressed, I stopped cutting my hair, I monitored my media intake and started attending youth groups regularly. I really got into it pretty deep and pretty fast. I think because I was young and impressionable, and so much change had happened in my life, I kind of latched on to that as a coping mechanism,

“I really got into it pretty deep and pretty fast. I think because I was young and impressionable….” — Claire Robertson

but I genuinely did believe it — I had always had a belief in the Christian God growing up, so it wasn’t a huge leap for me to become part of this church.” SUBSET OF SOCIETY Skelton, who was born in Beaumont and spent part of her childhood in Port Neches and Nederland, said her family participated in, but was very much separated from, society. She said that she attended fairly “normal” churches in Texas. Her family moved to western Colorado in 1999, where they attended a small multi-denominational Christian church that was “average.” In 2003, the family moved to Dallas and attended Rockwall Bible Church, which Skelton said was the first “cult” church they attended. In 2006, the family moved to Colorado Springs, which Skelton said is the evangelical Mecca. “People want to know, were you a part of ‘X’ group?” she said. “Like the fundamentalist Mormons, they’re part of that group their whole lives. They have multiple wives and they live in the desert. People see that and they think cult. The crazy thing is, while we didn’t exactly look like that, a lot of our teachings were very similar. “It seemed like we were part of normal life — we didn’t go live in the desert with a prophet. We had all of these justifications, ‘We’re different, but it’s OK.’ It took me a really long time to realize we were in a cult.” Robertson, who left the UPC in January 2020, said that after leaving the church and reading Steve Hassan’s BITE Model of Authoritarian Control, she came to the conclusion that the UPC is a cult. BITE stands for Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional control. Wright, who has studied different religious movements and cults, said that there is no one legitimate or valid scholarly definition of a cult. “There’s probably 50, 60 or 70 scholars around the world who study new or firstgeneration religions, or religions that are on the margins or fringes of societies,” he said.


“There are two domains of definitions. If one is speaking theologically from a Christian perspective, I suppose they could use the term to mean a heresy or departure from orthodox tenets of the faith, which is very subjective, of course. “Sociologically, they run into problems since the definitions turn on a different social science set of assumptions, and there is considerable academic disdain for the word and it lacks coherent and consistent criteria. “There’s a lot of disdain for the term ‘cult’ because it’s been hijacked by people with other interests. It was hijacked in the 1970s by what we call ‘anti-cult’ groups — some of them might be harmful and some of them, I’d say most of them, are completely benign, so you have to take them on a case-by-case basis.” Robertson said she didn’t realize how much influence the UPC wielded over her until after she left. “When I first left, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I just left a cult,’” she said. “I hadn’t really grasped that idea yet. It wasn’t until I got some distance when I realized how much the church and their ideas had been controlling every single aspect of my life. Not only what I wore and where I went, but the kind of thoughts I allowed myself to entertain, or the people I allowed myself to talk to or the emotions I allowed myself to have — there were things I would stop myself from feeling because I felt like it was sinful. That level of control at every level of my life was so exhausting.” Neither Skelton’s nor Robertson’s parents grew up in the strict religions they came to know. Wright said there are different pushand-pull factors that lead people to these faiths. “A pull factor might be they sense a very strong sense of community,” he said. “Sometimes, that community turns into a controlling environment. It doesn’t necessarily have to be but there's a fine line between a tightknit sense of belonging and brotherhood and fellowship, and policing and surveillance — mutual spying on people to report any deviation from the norms. “I think communities have always struggled with that, the tension between freedom and control.”

take me,” she said. “We weren’t required to register with the school district or anything, so it was like nobody knew I existed. That happens to a lot of homeschool kids — we’re under the radar, so there’s no one to really check on you.” Skelton said she was kept in the room for eight to 10 hours a day, barred from interacting or seeing other children, including those who were her father’s patients. Skelton followed curriculum published by Abeka (then known as A Beka Book) one of the main publishers of American Christian-based education materials. She watched classes via VHS tapes, and later DVDs. The history textbooks Skelton studied portrayed figures like Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a hero and reframed other his-

torical events she said. “My mom had the answer keys, so she would check my quizzes and collect my tests and then send them back to Abeka,” Skelton said. “They would grade you on handwriting

Abuse — page 10

Eleanor Skelton, far left,looks through directories from churches she attended as a child. Skelton and Claire Robertson, cutout, shared their stories of leaving oppressive church groups.

TEACHINGS Skelton was homeschooled in Christianbased education from the age of five until she graduated high school, often hidden away in a room she describes as a closet inside her father’s dentist office. “Homeschooling wasn’t really popular yet and my parents were convinced that if people found out I was being homeschooled, Child Protective Services was going to come and WINTER 2020 • PAGE 9

Abuse — from page 9 because it was considered to be almost a spiritual thing. We were taught that if you didn’t get As and Bs, you were displeasing God.” Robertson said she was indoctrinated into the idea of purity culture, which she believes is used to maintain control over people in the church. “I would define purity culture as the idea that my body has never belonged to me, or my body belongs to God and in the future, it will belong to my husband,” she said. “This idea comes from when Christ died for our sins — he paid the price. So, purity culture is living in a way that exemplifies these ideas of abstinence, modesty and purity in your lifestyle — like staying away from drugs and alcohol because your body is a temple. “Purity culture has been pretty toxic because naturally, as you grow up, and go through puberty, and get into relationships and fall in love, you want to express yourself, and express yourself romantically. Then you're shackled with this guilt that you've sinned against God, by acting on your own very natural, very human desires. What I think is unhealthy and unnatural is pretending like we are not sexual beings until we get married. And then all of a sudden, you're supposed to have compatible, healthy, open communication and rewarding sex with your partner for life. “I think that's a breeding ground for potential abuse or for needs not being met by either partner. I think it makes you feel shame for your normal desires.” Skelton’s parents read books by evangelical Christian author James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, whose vision is to, “Redeem families, communities and societies worldwide through Christ.” Skelton said that Dobson’s book, “The Strong-Willed Child,” which recommends corporal punishment to parents so that their children will follow the teachings of God, led her parents to believe that hitting her and her siblings was a way to ensure they were obedient to God. “Dobson apparently teaches that when your child has a tantrum, you hit them until they stop resisting, so they submit to your will to become a good kid,” Skelton said. “My parents got the impression that you had to beat your child until they stop crying because crying is like rebellion. “Some of these books have been known for really harsh disciplinary methods. The book, ‘To Train Up a Child,’ by Michael and Debi Pearl, was implicated in the deaths of three children — and they say, ‘Oh, we don’t mean for kids to get hurt or killed.’ Well, you write something like that, and that’s kind of PAGE 10 • WINTER 2020

Eleanor Skelton’s family portrait from fall 2002, featuring her father, mother, and two younger siblings whose faces have been covered to respect their privacy. what you’re encouraging. Maybe you don’t outright say it or want it, but some people are going to take it that way.” Skelton said she can remember her parents taking turns hitting her from a young age, to the point she could not catch her breath. “When I was eight or nine, my parents started spanking me with a ping pong paddle and then my parents started to break it,” she said. “The paddle would split and then I would have to buy a new one with my allowance money because my parents said, ‘You made us so mad that we hit you so hard that it broke the paddle.’ “I’m thinking now, as an adult, if you hit your kid hard enough to break a ping pong paddle on them, that’s too hard.” When the paddle wasn’t hard enough, Skelton said her parents used a belt. “Sometimes (my dad) would just snap at us if we were misbehaving,” Skelton said. “But other times he would really react. One time I was chasing my sister around the house and he got so mad. He dragged me to the garage and sat me down on a bench. He yelled at me about how I was too old (12) to act that way and then he hit the bench with a belt. “It hit my arm and left this big U shape. I remember seeing stars it hurt so bad, and not even being able to hear what he was saying anymore because I was so focused on not crying because crying was bad. He told me he meant to hit the bench — I don’t know if I be-

lieve him.” Skelton’s mother made her wear long sleeves to avoid the chance of anyone discovering what had happened. She said anything that could be perceived as disobedience was punished. She recalled the day her two-year old brother was hit by their father for hours just because he cried for their mother. “I was upstairs doing my home school and I could hear my brother screaming and he wasn’t stopping,” she said. “I tried to go knock on the door because I thought something was medically wrong. My dad opens the door and says, ‘I'm dealing with something. Close the door.’ “I went upstairs, and my mother was crying in the master bedroom. I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ I could hear my dad beating my brother with the ping pong paddle and I asked my mom to make him stop, but she wouldn’t. I wanted to call the police. That was when I started to think that something was really wrong with my family.” Skelton’s mother wouldn’t call the police and her brother eventually stopped crying after passing out from exhaustion. Skelton said her father’s abuse of her mother was more emotional and mental than physical. CRACKS BEGIN TO FORM Skelton said she felt suicidal for the first time at 14, after her father made her drop out of the church recital she had been practicing the violin for. He made her drop out on three

separate occasions. “I don’t know why my dad couldn’t just let me go,” she said. “I would attend all the rehearsals, and then at the last minute he would say I couldn’t go to the recital, and then I look like the asshole for dropping out. Nobody knew what was really happening in my house.” Skelton called the Focus on the Family hotline, but they didn’t offer much help. She said she felt like she was always going to be alone and she was never going to be good enough for her parents to not punish her. At 19, Skelton started college at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She wanted to major in English, but her father wanted her to become a dentist so she could run his practice with him. They got into an argument and after she threatened to leave, her father allowed her to pursue a major in English, although he still tried to convince her to become a dentist. By 2011, Skelton started feeling like she wanted to leave again. At 22, she had never spent the night away from her parents. “I spent a night away from home only four weeks before I moved out,” she said. “I was getting more and more unhappy, and my dad was cracking down on me again, trying to make me be a dentist.” Skelton read the “Harry Potter” series for the first time and took a humanities class that discussed art, politics and war — different ideas she had never been allowed to explore before. “My parents flipped,” she said. “They found that I was watching Harry Potter DVDs in the house. My sister turned me in, and then they raided my room and they took all the fantasy literature out of it because they decided I had a problem. “They were talking about not letting me go back to school in the spring. That was the real breaking point. I started making a plan to leave. My dad made me cut all my hair off, because he said that women with longer hair get raped, because they can hold you down — he read some book. Then he enrolled us in Taekwondo — it was one of his weird anxiety things.” Robertson said cracks in the UPC’s teachings started to show when she met people unlike herself, people who had different gender and sexual identities. “I realized what the church has been telling me about other people was completely wrong,” she said. “I never would’ve called myself homophobic, I never saw myself as homophobic, but I was so deeply homophobic. “The rhetoric of the church is about how anyone who differs from cis(gender), or straight, is an abomination to God, and the way I viewed God was that he created all of


the universe, all of nature, everything, he makes us perfect, and anything we do to change that is an abomination, which is a really hard mental hurdle to overcome. “Even though I think I was an accepting friend, I would have never outwardly supported the LGBT community, because I was so scared of the backlash that I would receive in church if I ever came out with those kinds of ideas.” Robertson said it was a Lamar study abroad trip to Brighton, England in 2019 that changed her life and the perception of the things she had been taught for the past decade. “We went to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and they had an exhibit called The Museum of Transology,” she said. “We just happened to be traveling with a trans guy at the time, and he and I just happened to go through this exhibit at the same time. I think it was destiny, because the combination of that exhibit with someone who was trans and them telling me their experiences absolutely changed my life. “Up until that point, I had said horrifically homophobic things out loud that are so embarrassing like, ‘I think trans people are just confused. I think it must be part of a mental illness. If they received therapy they would come to their senses.’ Stuff like that actually came out of my mouth and I thought it was OK. “It wasn’t until I started meeting people and learning about other people’s experiences that I thought, ‘No, they’re just people with a different life experience than me.’ I literally did not recognize them as the same kind of person as me until I had that experience in England. I’m so embarrassed of the ideas that I used to entertain.” LEAVING Robertson said she felt like she was living a double life at times. In 2018, she volunteered at the Jefferson County Democratic Party during the mid-term elections, but she didn’t tell anyone, only her mother, for fear of retribution. “When I was deciding that I was going to leave the church and kind of working my way up to that, I thought to make things easier for myself and for my mom, because I didn't want her to worry about me, that I would just quietly move away and stop attending church and nobody would know,” she said. “I thought, when I visit home, I can just wear the skirt and put my hair in a bun and nobody will be the wiser. “My friend referred to this as functionally closeted, which I think is a great term. I was all set to live a double life like that. I just kind of accepted that because I was so scared to come out as someone who didn't want to be


involved in the church anymore.” However, after going through some personal events, Robertson said she felt her life was out of control and she wanted to reclaim it. “I called my mom and I told her I needed to talk to her about something important,” she said. “I went to her house and I just opened the conversation with, ‘I am deciding to not attend church anymore for these reasons, specifically — I want to support the LGBT community and I don't think I can do that and be apostolic. “My mom cried and cried, which is the one thing I didn't want to see, of course. She was crying and said, ‘Does this mean that you're gay?’ At the time I said no, but now I feel that I don't know, because I never had the freedom to explore any of those ideas. “But even if I'm not gay, I don't want to be a part of a system that actively hurts gay people. As I spent more time away from the church, I realized I actually escaped from a brainwashing cult. I believe my mom is still brainwashed, unfortunately. We don't have contact anymore because of different reasons, but I think that as long as she's married, and as long as she's attending the church, she'll never really know the extent

Claire Robertson speaking on her church’s platform in 2016.

“(My pastor) told me the Bible wants you to submit to your parents, and I’m an unmarried woman, and I’m supposed to submit to my dad until I have a husband. ” — Eleanor Skelton

that it hurt me. “I'll never know who I could have been if I didn't have all those years trying to conform to this standard of UPC. I don't know what ideas I could have had because all of my ideas were selected for me.” Robertson began giving away all of her church-related responsibilities as she prepared to leave the congregation, but she didn’t tell anyone why she was doing it. “I know my mom started telling people, probably by saying, ‘Claire really needs prayer, she doesn't think she wants to be part of the church anymore, will you please try to say something to her?’” she said. “In the beginning (after she left), I got a couple of really nice text messages, a couple of really nice Facebook messages saying things like, ‘No matter what, we'll always love you, we're here for you, if you ever want to talk.’ “I remember, I got one message in particular that was like, ‘I don't understand, and I don't support why you’d leave, but we're always here for you,’ or something like that, which looking back is kind of condescending, but I think they were coming at it in the most genuine way that they could. I can't blame them because where they're coming from, they really believe that they have the secret to life, the secret to happiness and salvation. So, of course, when you believe that, and you see someone actively leave on purpose, it's kind of crazy and hard to understand.” Skelton said she realized she needed to make a change when she started seeing a counselor. “My parents got more and more concerned about me,” she said. “Even though most the time I was staying at school late to do calculus homework, my dad taped the number for campus police on the microwave and he would text me and call me all the time.” Skelton’s parents also tracked her cell phone and knew when she moved from one building to another. “So, I started making a plan to leave. I didn't know what to do yet, or where to go. Then my hand was forced because we went on a family vacation and my dad didn't let me have my laptop or cell phone. My parents had a plan to send me to Bob Jones Univer-

sity (a private evangelical school in South Carolina). I was three years into a degree program, I didn’t want to lose credits and I didn’t want to leave my friends.” Skelton was ready to leave her family and her church when she found out her parents had withdrawn all of the money out of her savings account. “Some of that was money I'd earned on campus, it wasn't all from them — they'd emptied out $10,000 out of my savings account,” she said. “I was like, ‘What do I do now?’ I talked to a bunch of friends, they're like, ‘Well, it can be hard, but you can do it.’ “I told my professors about it, and they were like, ‘This is really wrong.’ I told one of my English professors who told the other professors, so all the chemistry professors knew I was having a problem, all the English professors knew, so both my majors were like, ‘This is not happening to this child.’ “And they gave me money for the apartment deposit. I still didn’t have a car, but another friend on campus gave me a bike. And seven people in five cars, some of them even from my church, got together to help me move out. “I had two meetings with the pastor, right before I moved out. In one of them he asked me what was going on? He asked, ‘Is there any sexual or physical abuse in your home that I don't know about?’ He did at least ask that. I said no, because I didn't know I was being physically abused. “He told me that the Bible wants you to submit to your parents, and I’m an unmarried woman, and I’m supposed to submit to my dad until I have a husband. I gave in for a little bit, but I eventually told my parents I was going to leave.” Skelton said her pastor walked out of his last conversation with her, telling her she was being deceived by Satan. “I just sat in the sanctuary, and it still makes me cry to think about it, because I never had a pastor just, like, walk out on me like that,” she said. “I felt like I always tried to be the good kid and please the spiritual leader within reason.

Abuse — page 20 WINTER 2020 • PAGE 11


Stories and photos by Tim Cohrs

Preserving history’s back pages Gray Library’s Special Collections houses Lamar, SETX archives When most people exit the elevator on Gray Library’s seventh floor, they often turn left to the study floor without thinking. But if one turns right, one enters a world of more than 20,000 books, artifacts and memorabilia. Lamar University’s special collections department is a repository for more than a million manuscripts, photos, books and other historical documents, not only regarding PAGE 12 • WINTER 2020

Lamar history, but also Southeast Texas and world history. The department was founded during former LU president John Gray’s second tenure as president, and the effort was headed by two librarians, Maxine Johnston and Lois Parker. Special collections was inspired by the Browning Collection at Baylor University in Waco, which Gray visited and admired, Penny Clark, special collections librarian, said. He asked then library director Maxine Johnston if Lamar could build a similar collection to give the library visibility and attract scholars. However, the library did not have the funding, personnel and resources to develop such a collection. But there was a ready-made source of interest already in place. “(Johnston) and Lois Parker had been


working on collecting things on the Big Thicket,” Clark said. “They had both been very active in the preservation of the Big Thicket. This was something they really had a passion for.” The Big Thicket archive was the starting point around which the special collections department was built. “The Big Thicket is one of our big calling cards,” Clark said. “It is one of the things that makes us distinctive. One of the things that (Johnston) did, was she would lobby very hard for the creation of a Big Thicket National Park. It did not become a National Park, it became a National Reserve, which is somewhat different. It was the first National Reserve in the United States.” One of the department’s largest collections was donated in 1970. The Larry Jene Fisher Collection contains negatives and scrapbooks documenting the destruction and raising awareness of the Big Thicket. It furthered the movement to make Big Thicket a National Preserve. “(Fisher) was an outsider — they call him the Renaissance man of East Texas,” Clark said. “There are scrapbooks, but it’s primarily a collection of negatives. We used some grant money (and) we have digitized the collection.” The department recently acquired the Wanda A. Landrey collection, which contains stories Landrey heard from residents of the Southeast Texas community regarding the Big Thicket. “Wanda grew up in Beaumont, but her people were from the Big Thicket,” Clark said. “When she was a little tiny girl — you know how most parents might tell their kids fairy tales at night? — her dad told her stories of outlaws of the Big Thicket. So anyway, she fell on pretty much the traditional route. She went to college, she had children. She taught school for a while, but then she came back and she got her master’s in history at Lamar. Wanda has written five or six local history books. She had cassette tapes, which we had professionally digitized, and she also had transcripts made of these oral histories. “She would spend several days a week for years going out and interviewing old people in the community, and they’re really fascinating. They give us the social history. They talk about what it was like — one woman talked about how she was born in an oilfield town and how dangerous it was that a lot of the gases coming off the oil wells were dangerous. Some people died, and it was a cost of doing business. Some people got sick. “One woman talks about how her father — her mother died, and he just leaves her


Gray Library’s Special Collections department, left, houses more than one million items, including books, pictures and manuscripts. Charlotte Holliman, library associate, bottom left, looks through a book from the Herb and Kate Dishman cookbook collection. The collection, above, contains 1,600 cookbooks from as early as 1501.

there in the oil field town and he assumes some woman will take care of her. You have really good or some terrible things that come up. There’s stories of lynchings, so there’s really everything of life. We’re really blessed to have the Landrey collection.” Another recent addition to the department is the David P. Lewis Collection. Lewis is a Lamar alumnus, receiving both a bachelor’s and masters degree from the university. “We recently received a grant to have digitized and uploaded on the portal of Texas history, 750 images from David Lewis’ collection,” Clark said. “David is something I’d never heard of till I came to Lamar — he is a mycologist. In other words, he is a person who studies mushrooms. He has co-authored a book published by the University of Texas press, and has also co-authored 22 scientific publications. He is very, very much a scientist. He’s very meticulous. He has documented a lot of the Big Thicket Association — some of their field trips, some of their Big Thicket days.” Lewis’ collection also documents the advocates and authors that helped motivate conservation efforts.

“The Big Thicket is one of our big calling cards. It is one of the things that makes us distinctive.” — Penny Clark

“It documents some of the interesting people who dedicated years of their life fighting for the Big Thicket, and a woman named Geraldine Watson,” Clark said. “She claimed that she got death threats for her work in the Big Thicket, that if she would go to the grocery store, people would spit on her because of her support of the Big Thicket National Preserve. It was a very controversial thing to do.” The idea of a preserve was not universally accepted. People feared losing their homes, hunting lands and jobs within the logging industry as a result. The topic of taxes was also part of the fight against

making the land nationally protected. “Some people felt like they were going to lose their homes, that was one of the concerns that made people really touchy,” Clark said. “Well, some people say, ‘You know, our family’s been living here 150 years and you’re not taking our land. Also, there was the concept of the free range — allowing cattle to roam free, allowing hunting. People were afraid — this was East Texas — that they could no longer hunt in this area. They felt like that they would lose a lot of their hunting rights.” The Big Thicket is home to four of the five carnivorous plants found in North America, plants that eat insects, which Lewis spotlights in his collection. “When I was a child growing up, I heard they were carnivorous, and I thought, ‘Hmm, would I be walking along and one of the plants make a snack out of me?’” Clark said. “But they just eat insects, luckily.” Clark also said the reason Lewis studies the mushrooms is because the growth of mushrooms is correlated with a healthy ecology.

Collections — page 22 WINTER 2020 • PAGE 13


Photo essay by Brandi Hamilton

LONE NIGHT GOOD “The night is good; because, my love, They never say good-night.” - Percy Bysshe Shelley PAGE 14 • WINTER 2020

I learned while stationed in Germany and hungry for travel, if I waited for friends to join me, I may never go— so, I went solo. In the solitude, rather than tourist-filled days and dinner reservations with companions, my attention meandered the spaces explored. I found much to appreciate at night, when streets were vacated, noise minimized. At night, long exposures are necessary to make images. I click the shutter and wait: one Mississippi, two Mississippi. Each shot becomes a 30-second meditation which compels contemplation of the quiet scene. Visual information is dulled in the dark, so my other senses

compensate. I hear gentle conversation through an open window or the buzz of electricity flowing through power lines and out through incandescent street lights. Nocturnal pedestrians are calmer, they stroll rather than clip. Other things become apparent in the camera — things our senses cannot perceive. Thirty seconds of low light in-camera make known details different from the same scene during daytime. Distant city lights glow on the horizon, satellites pass overhead. Even the darkest rural road reveals a pastoral, rarelywitnessed, especially when distracted by company. At night, alone, another world is unveiled.






Cleveland, Texas

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LONE NIGHT GOOD Brandi Hamilton is a Lamar University BFA student and retired air force major.

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WINTER 2020 • PAGE 17


Story by Tiana Johnson

Fast Mind, Slow Food Rebecca Boone, Wooster professor of history, woman of many talents To say Rebecca Boone is a polymath is a bit of an understatement. Lamar University’s Dr. Ralph and Edna Wooster Endowed Professor of history is the author of three books, a certified fitness instructor and mother, as well as the founder of Slow Food Beaumont, a non-profit organization which focuses on local cuisine and building up civic engagement through food. “I thought we had a great culinary heritage in Beau-

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mont,” she said. “We have traditions from Louisiana and Mexico. We have the bounty of the sea and Texas barbeque. I thought this would be something that could boost morale and improve our quality of life in Beaumont. It is something we can be proud of.” Boone founded Slow Food Beaumont in 2013. “It required me to write 23 pages of essays about the geography and culinary history of the town,” she said. “It is the chapter of a non-profit organization that has 300 chapters all over the world including places like New York, Austin, Tokyo and London. It was a big honor to get approval.” Slow Food Beaumont also started a discount farmers market. “It provides produce in food deserts, which are areas that do not have grocery stores,” Boone said. “We take sur-

plus from the farmers market and we sell it very cheaply. We want to help the farmers out while also getting fresh fruits and vegetables to those who do not have access to them.” Slow Food Beaumont celebrates people coming together to enjoy meals, but since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the organization has had to find other ways to encourage civic engagement. “We did support a culinary art student at Lamar with a small scholarship,” Boone said. “That is something we do every year. We are also trying to figure out how we can help local restaurants who are suffering because of COVID-19.” The most rewarding part of starting Slow Food Beaumont is building pride in her city, Boone said. “I do not know how much we have contributed,” she said. “However, I can say after I started Slow Food Beaumont, we have much better restaurants. We have local culinary talent that is starting to put Beaumont on the map. It is becoming a food destination.” Boone’s academic specialty is Renaissance history and that led to the food movement. “Slow Food started in Northern Italy,” she said. “I did research in Turin for my dissertation.” Boone has also taken study abroad trips to Germany and Greece. “I took my kids and about 16 students to Germany,” she said. “Greece involved an eight-day cruise and, we studied sacred architecture. Also, in one summer, there were four study abroad trips to Florence, Italy, where I taught renaissance and reformation.” On these trips, students learn about human nature and condition not from the study of the topic but from being with each other for so long, Boone said. “They are with 15 other students and thrown into this world that is different,” she said. “They are all in the same boat of feeling culture shock and trying to get by. It builds character.” The study abroad trips and other travels provided inspiration for some of her books, Boone said. “I would say they inspired the ‘Real Lives in the Sixteenth Century: A Global Perspective,’” she said. “On the trip to Greece, we went to Istanbul, and there is a story of a slave from the Ottoman Empire. In that story, which is set in the 16th century, she becomes the Sultana.” Boone’s wrote other books are “War, Domination, and the Monarchy of France” and “Mercurino di Gattinara and the Creation of the Spanish Empire.” “Real Lives in the Sixteenth Century: A Global Perspective,” was her favorite to write, Boone said. “It was my favorite because it was for a general audience


and not just for professors,” she said. “Also, because of the parallel biographies. You get to see people in similar situations, but they are in different societies. It is a good way to get students interested in learning about these different societies through the life stories of the people. The other books are more about political theory and political thought in the 16th century in France, Spain and Italy.” Boone’s first book, “War, Domination, and the Monarchy of France,” took 15 years to write. “I began writing it as a dissertation at Rutgers University, and then it became a book at Lamar University,” Boone said. “It took a while because I had a lot of things to learn including Latin, French, Italian, German and, eventually, Spanish. It is about a man from Northern Italy, who worked for France and wrote in Latin. German people had written about him, so I had to read those books.” Boone wrote an essay about her research in teaching and service that helped her become Lamar’s first Wooster Professor in September. “Ralph Wooster was a professor in the history department for decades,” Boone said. “His son, who is also professor of history, gave our department money to have an endowed professorship. Every professor will have two years with this honor. The money is for research projects.” Boone said her research will be on human sacrifice, historiography and apocalypticism. “I am interested in the way people look at history from an apocalyptic perspective,” she said. “I’m looking at the ways it is related to ideas of death and destruction as cleansing and purifying from a historical standpoint.” Boone said she believes students can do anything with the right attitude. “I believe there are three reasons why people do not do things,” she said. “One is they are afraid, two is they feel like they are not good enough, and three is that they feel like they do not deserve it. The fact is all of those are ridiculous reasons not to do something. Even though it may sound selfish, Boone said students have to tell themselves the exact opposite of this. “With all the travels and study abroad trips I have done, I have spent a ton of money on myself,” she said. “Do I feel guilty about it? No. Did I use this money to further my education, so I could educate others? Yes. You have to keep asking yourself what the benefit is, and sometimes benefitting yourself benefits other people. “Its only extravagant if you never turn it into something beneficial.” Rebecca Boone, center left, and LU art professor Xenia Fedorchenko poses with students during a study abroad program in Italy. Boone, right, is the founder of Slow Food Beaumont, a chapter of a world-wide movement that promotes civic engagement through food. Her specialty is her home-made bread.


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The collection of photographs, above, show Skelton’s life from a young girl trapped in a toxic religious environment, to a young woman discovering her beliefs on her own terms. Skelton reads through her collection of prayer journals, far right, where she would write letters to Jesus. The journal featured is from 2005 when Skelton was a teenager.

Abuse — from page 11 “I told my mom, ‘You realize I can't come back to church here?’ I knew how these churches worked. He didn't outright say you can't come back, but I would never be allowed to do things in the community. I would be under church discipline. So, what was the point?” AFTERMATH When Robertson left the church, she was no longer tied to the UPC’s ideas of what she could do with her body. “I honestly didn't know what to do with myself — I still think I dress pretty modestly because the idea of showing my shoulders in public is so scary to me,” she said. “There’s like a weird mind trick where it's like, ‘Oh, this is wrong, and you shouldn't be dressed like this.’ “A big part of Pentecostal identity for women is their hair. They teach that women PAGE 20 • WINTER 2020

do not cut their hair, because it’s a gender role that women have uncut hair as a sign of submission to their husband, and men cut their hair short as a sign of submission to God. There's a hierarchy of God, the man and the woman. It’s also believed that uncut hair helps with your spiritual life and your communion with angels. “When I left the church, I almost immediately cut my hair at home — I just like lopped off six inches with my paper scissors, symbolically, as a way to break myself away from what I had been for so long — I wanted to be in public and not be recognized as Pentecostal, and cutting my hair was a really important part of that. “I did that kind of without thinking about it, it was just a reaction.” A couple months later, Robertson made her first appointment at a hair salon since she was in seventh grade. “I got my hair cut and colored — it was a really emotional experience for me,” she said. “I didn't cry at the salon, but I did cry a

little bit afterwards, because for 10 years I had been told that my body was not my own, that my appearance was not up to me to change. “I couldn't cut my hair. I couldn't wear makeup. I had to wear long dresses and skirts, and now it's like, ‘Oh, I did something just because I wanted to and I'm so happy with the way that I look.’ All the choices are mine to make and I can make any choice I like. I could have shaved my head if I wanted to. I'm the only person that gets to decide whether or not I do that. I don't have to answer to my pastor, I don't have to answer to my future husband or my (church) panelists. “It was just kind of like a big middle finger to everyone who told me that I would never be able to do that because that wasn't doctrine, because women are made to live into submission to men, and if not my husband, then to my pastor or to my father — always in submission to man. “I had a woman cut my hair, I chose the cut, I chose the color, and it was all my idea.”

Robertson also pierced her nose and ears in defiance of teachings that said that all jewelry other than a wedding ring is immodest. “Honestly, I don't even know if I like it,” she said. “I might even let them close up. But it was my decision to make. I can get 10 more, or I can take them all out, let them close up — and it's my choice. For the first time, I get to do whatever I want. “I've always enjoyed clothes and fashion, but now I'm not within these strict guidelines of what I'm allowed to select. I can still wear a dress, but every time I wear a dress now, it's my choice to put the dress on. It's not the church telling me how I need to dress.” Robertson started a Tik Tok account (@venticlaire) where she shares her experiences in the UPC. It has amassed more than 60,000 followers and 840,000 likes. “Online, I have gotten some really hateful messages from people who say that they're apostolic,” she said. “They go out of their way to tell me that I'm blaspheming and that it’s an unforgivable sin. But I've also gotten so


many messages from young girls who say that they have left, or they want to leave, and they're scared. They're scared to leave because they're scared their families are going to kick them out. Or they're scared that they won't be able to see their siblings anymore, or they just don't know what their life would look like if they left the church, but they're unhappy. “It’s been rewarding, but also a really heavy burden.” Robertson said she is not an active believer in anything at the moment, but she wouldn’t call herself an atheist. She also said that people in the UPC aren’t necessarily bad people, but their ideas are harmful. “I know some genuinely good people who believe in God, and love God, and want to live in a way that’s pleasing to him,” she said. “Because of that desire, they will do almost anything — live any lifestyle that they believe is the correct way.” Skelton’s parents still live in Colorado Springs and her younger siblings have both left the house and the church. She remains in contact with her mother and father, but she’s installed boundaries. Skelton finished the remaining portion of her English degree at Lamar and transferred the credits back to UCCS, graduating in 2017. She is currently working on a chemistry degree. “I have finally gotten to the point where I can sit with Bible verses or Christian catchphrases without immediately having a negative visceral reaction and feeling obligated,” she said. “The biggest thing I think I did to help myself heal, when I decided to go to a healthy church after not being a part of a church for three years, was that I won’t do anything that gives me that obligated guilty feeling.”

LESSONS Anyone thinking of leaving the UPC or groups like that need to be prepared. “If you want to leave the church, you need to save as much money as you can, because you never know how your family will react,” Robertson said. “If you're lucky, your family will accept you and love you no matter what. If you're unlucky, your family will cut you off because they don't want to be party to your sin.” Skelton said to keep track of essentials like identifying documents, cash and bank information, medications and enough clothes to last a week if you are planning on leaving your family. Skelton’s blog (eleanorwritesthings.com) offers different resources that people may need when they decide to leave or after they have left. “Sometimes we leave something behind we value,” she said. “Freedom is worth losing those things. The important thing is keeping yourself safe and learning how to heal.” While leaving their churches may have been a relief, Skelton and Robertson both agree that the recovery process has been difficult and will be for a long time. “It's probably going to be the hardest choice that you ever make,” Robertson said. “I still have a lot of guilt and doubt and fear from leaving — I don't know how I'm ever going to reconcile that in my brain. When you leave the church, the people in the church will talk about you and think you’re just taking the easy way out. It’s been really hard, losing everybody that I knew and loved and having to learn a new way to live. “Make sure you’re ready to lose those connections, because it’ll never be the same again.”

Claire Robertson spent a year at Indiana Bible College to pursue ministry. However, the UPC would not allow her to be in a leadership position in the church because she is a woman.


WINTER 2020 • PAGE 21

Collections — from page 12 “He’s a very meticulous mycologist — he documents exactly where he took each specimen, he photographs it, he documents the place the time,” Clark said. “And mushrooms really tell you a lot. If you have a healthy ecology, mushrooms will grow. If you stop having an abundance and a diversity of mushrooms, it shows

there’s something wrong with the environment. “It’s kind of like back in the old days,

they would send a canary into a coal mine. And if conditions were unsafe, the canary would die. That would show you maybe

you shouldn’t be sending men down there if the canary dies. The mushrooms are equivalent to that, they show if we have a biologically good environment. “David’s really doing important work. He sends mushrooms. We don’t, thankfully, get the actual specimens. We have thousands of images of mushrooms, but he sends the specimens to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. He sends some to the Tracy Herbarium in Texas A&M,

Yearbook collection records LU history The Lamar University special collections department, located on the seventh floor of Gray Library, is the repository for campus history. The department has a collection of yearbooks from Lamar’s founding as South Park Junior College in 1923 until 1976, when Lamar stopped printing yearbooks. “It was something that virtually every school did at that time,” Penny Clark, special collections librarian, said. “They would list everything that you were involved in underneath your name. And for some of us, it was like a rivalry to see who could have a longer list in the yearbook. “You know, it was a big social thing to have everybody in school sign your yearbook and so a lot of people cherished it. A lot of people keep it until their death, because there is so much sentimental value — so many kids signed the yearbook, and there were photos of activities. It was really something that was very special to a lot of people. There’s just page after page of empty pages for autographs. “I remember when I got my yearbook, you had everybody in class sign it, and, you know, you’re looking to see what people wrote and so there’s a lot of sentimental value.” Clark used to work at the Tyrrell Historical Library in downtown Beaumont, and said yearbooks are used for genealogy and heritage research purposes. “When I worked at the Tyrrell, I probably had three people a year that were doing genealogy and they didn’t know anything about their biological parents,” she said. “Sometimes they would know their dad went to Lamar, and so they would try to go through the Lamar yearbooks and figure out who you know their natural father might be. Back in the old days, they go through and say, ‘Is there somebody that’s got a family resemblance? This could be my natural father.’ That was one of the things that people used to use them for. Maybe they don’t have a picture of their grandfather. Sometimes you have families that know mother’s side going back to the

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Mayflower, but they don’t know anything about their dad’s side. For a lot of people, these are ways to get family photographs.” Yearbooks also document how Southeast Texas has changed over the years as one can find small historical details, such as old businesses or buildings, in a photo documenting something completely unrelated. “The one thing that we used to utilize the yearbook photos for a lot is looking for photos of buildings downtown,” Clark said. “Sometimes they’re showing a homecoming float. That was what they were showing, but they they’ve also taken a picture

of the San Jacinto Building or the Jefferson Theatre. A lot of times, you can document things that weren’t intending to be documented.” The collection’s yearbooks also shows societal changes and differences between the past and now. “We had the advertisement for the KKK in one of our yearbooks,” Clark said. “You can see social changes. You can see changes in the role of women. You can see back in the old days when the students first come here, they’re throwing them in the duck pond.” The yearbook collection is digitally accessible at lamar.edu/library/services.

Penny Clark, special collections librarian, looks through a yearbook from Gray Library collection.


and he sent some to Paris. “One of the things that makes the Big Thicket distinctive is the biodiversity. You know, they have such a diverse plant and animal life.” A special collections highlight is the Dishman/Justice Cookbook Collection, which contains 1,600 cookbooks from a range of countries and languages. “The cookbook collection was donated by Herb and Kate Dishman early on, and they decided to donate to Lamar because they figured it was better being in this academic setting where people could use it instead of it lying at home,” Charlotte Holliman, library associate, said. “They donated it, and then their family donated two other parts of the collection over time. It has a lot of English cookery, English cookbooks. “We have a volume from 1501 that’s written by a man named Apicius. It’s about Roman cookery. It’s interesting, because you can know what types of food were available at that time, and just know the difference in food from then and now. Like, flamingo was one of the meats that they use, which is kind of different for me.” Phillip Justice compiled the actual cookbook collection and gave it to the Dishmans, Holliman said. Justice was an executive with Sun Oil Company in Beaumont. “He was a hunter — he got interested in how to cook the game and make different recipes and all that,” Holliman said. “He decided he wanted to collect cookbooks. He had a bookseller in New York that would find these cookbooks that he thought Mr. Justice would be interested in. So, they sent these rare cookbooks through the regular mail, and they would send them back and forth. He was looking for cookbooks that were rare.” Clark said the thing she noticed the most when reading the cookbooks is the division between social classes across the globe, and also the nationalism between countries. There are many other collections housed in the department. There’s even a display that represents long-time Southeast Texas congressman Jack Brooks, who served for 48 years. So next time you are headed to the study floor, think about turning right. There’s a whole world of history through the glass doors. To check out the Lamar University Special Collection, visit lamar.edu/library/services/university-archive, or visit 701 Gray Library.


Clark and Holliman stand in the Jack Brooks replica office located on the seventh floor of Gray Library.

From rags to Washington Congressman Jack Brooks’ legacy preserved in office replica A hidden gem within Lamar University’s Special Collections department is the Jack Brooks office replica. Brooks spent more than four decades as a U.S. representative and left a lasting legacy in the area. Brooks came from a hard beginning to become a powerful congressman, serving a chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “He did not come from a wealthy family, so he was working full time at the Enterprise newspaper downtown,” Penny Clark, special collections librarian, said. “He was going to school. He gets a scholarship — and this is the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). They talk about some of the students that get the scholarships, and

he’s a little iffy in their eyes because he got one ‘C’ — and you remember this is a guy who’s working full time and going to school — he got one ‘C’ in public speaking, which is kind of ironic because he was in the house for 42 years. The DAR — they did not want to reward mediocrity.” While in office, Brooks worked hard to improve Lamar. “We owe Jack Brooks a huge debt of gratitude,” Clark said. “He worked hard when he was in the Texas legislature in Austin to make Lamar a fouryear institution. Jack Brooks always looked after the interest of both Beaumont and Lamar when he was in Congress. For example, when they were building (Gray Library). Every time you have a construction project, it’s always going to cost more than you initially anticipate, and Jack Brooks helped Lamar get millions of dollars for the construction of the library. He continued to help Lamar and Beaumont throughout his career.” Brooks was also an advocate for civil rights not only in Beaumont, but

in the United States. “He helped write the Voting Rights Act of 1964,” Clark said. “And then he continued on with a lot of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ legislation, things like Medicare. In the Jim Crow era, Southern states sometimes would enact legislation to keep African Americans from voting. Jack Brooks had written legislation to get rid of these unfair practices.” The replica of Brooks’ office which opened in Gray Library on Aug. 12, 1983 located in Gray Library is a 2/3 replica of his actual office with many of the original items Brooks had in his office.

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Story package by Carson Racich

Athletes face COVID challenges Canceled leagues, tourneys force LU student athletes to examine career options With the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States in March, the NCAA made a decision, March 14, to cancel all remaining competition and practices. This included all spring conferences and post season championships. This decision by the NCAA to cancel all athletic activity caught athletes off guard, whether they were in season or not. “The news about the season being canceled was told to us in a sudden team meeting on March 11,” Jorge Gutierrez, a redshirt pitcher on the Lamar baseball team, said. “It came by surprise, but this was much bigger than sports.” Whether the student-athletes were at school, at practice or in the middle of competition, everything came to an abrupt halt. Junior golfer PAGE 24 • WINTER 2020

Alessia Trebbi-Tindall was playing around at the Beaumont Country Club when the news broke. “We were playing in our qualifying round for the HBU tournament — we had no idea that that previous swing was going to be our last for the season,” she said. Following the NCAA’s call, one by one, individual universities quickly sent student athletes home. Gutierrez said the athletes were unaware of how their future was going to be impacted, but understood the decision. “Yeah, this sucks,” he said. “Sports will come at a later time — it’s all about safety.” Lamar University, officially moved classes online on March 23. After six long months, the fall semester and season finally rolled around. It was time for athletes to

Jorge Gutierrez report back to Lamar and get to the fields, courts and courses, although some, like senior baseball pitcher Brennen Smith, were concerned that they would return just to get sent back home. “I was in high hopes to come back


Brennen Smith to play,” he said. “Most of our team have all been playing ball over the summer so it made it seem like playing in the fall was to be expected. It never really seemed like canceling the fall would happen until we returned to campus and heard about all the cases.” Although some athletes had opportunities to at least practice over the summer, others did not and were skeptical about the possibilities for fall. “Even though golf is such a social distanced sport, most of us were not allowed to play or practice due to state and country regulations,” Tindall said. “I had not picked up a club since our last practice, and I was nervous with how we would all bounce back from a lack of practice. In all honesty though, playing this fall looked skeptical until we had our schedules in our hands.” Although many of Lamar’s athletes returned, there were a handful who did not. In response to athletes and family concerns with COVID-19, the NCAA passed an “optout” form which allowed athletes to sit out for the year without losing scholarship. It also meant that schools did not lose academic progress rate points, which affects eligibility and retention. Mya Taylor, a junior from England, who was scheduled to run cross country this fall, was one of the student athletes who opted out. “I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity at Lamar to run, although I did not return,” she said. “To me, it made no sense to travel somewhere I had to pay a lot of money for healthcare, when back in England we have


Mya Taylor runs cross country for the Lamar Cardinal team. She is currently at her home in England until the pandemic ends. She is among a group of athletes uncertain about their sports future once the COVID-19 restrictions end.

Alessia Trebbi-Tindall it for free. I have a lot of underlying issues so it made more sense to stay home and where I would be with family, especially if something were to happen.” Those who did return to Lamar face ongoing challenges with COVID-19 guidelines from Lamar, the NCAA and their respective sport. Senior golfer Juho Kurikka said

he has had to adapt to a new routine. “Going to school amongst a pandemic is very mundane,” he said. “I’ve had to change a lot for things I do. The new normal is now wearing a mask, entering and exiting through certain doors, and limiting face-to-face interactions. Weights, class and practice have all changed immensely.” Every sport has designated lifting times in order to keep a flow and reduce congestion in the weight room. However, due to the pandemic, the style of lifts has changed. “Wearing a mask is a must and that has been a big, yet minor adjustment,” Smith said. “(The mask) is worn the whole lift, except for running. There’s been added sanitizing protocols when switching between partners inside the weight room, and the biggest adjustment is a reduced time frame.” The types of lifts vary among the sports to target different muscles and movements. Thanks to COVID-19, athletes have had to change what they can do. “There’s been a huge change from this year’s lifts to last year’s,” Tindall said. “We

To me, it made no sense to travel somewhere that I had to pay a lot of money for healthcare, when back in England we have it for free. I have a lot of underlying issues, so it made more sense to stay home and where I would be with family….” —Mya Taylor

Athletes — page 26 WINTER 2020 • PAGE 25

Athletes — from page 25

Juho Kurikka

Luke Wallis

PAGE 26 • WINTER 2020

are so used to back-squatting and using dumbbells, but we are not allowed to use half of the equipment to reduce common touch points. It stinks, but the trainers have gotten very creative and done a good job adapting for us and with us.” There have been multiple coronavirus cases across the athletic department, and when one person on a team is down, it affects everyone else. “I had teammates who caught COVID and they were my roommates,” Smith said. “I’m sure a lot of athletes can relate to this. I had to go into a mandatory 14day quarantine. It was very boring. I enjoy being outside, so being stuck inside gave me cabin fever. It was really difficult.” Athletes are students as well, and COVID-19 has impacted education, with many athletes being switched to online or hybrid classes “Learning from my computer is the new normal,” Smith said. “I prefer my classes to be in person so I can ask more questions. It is also a better learning environment. Having a spot at home where it is quiet is easy to find, but I lean more for my bed, which opens a door for numerous distractions.” Athletes spend a lot of time practicing, competing and attending to their daily schedules. In their rare time off, COVID19 has put a wrench into their social lives. “I have had to limit my social gatherings,” Kurikka said. “I can’t just freely go out with whoever I want, because I have to be cautious to refrain from catching COVID.” Private relationships have been challenged by the pandemic as well. Taylor said she has missed being with her boyfriend who is on the Cardinal football team. “My boyfriend lives in the States and I’m in England,” she said. “He supports me and my choice to stay here, but I do not get to see him like I wish. We can’t just travel, so we have to try and do lunch and dinner dates via zoom.” On March 26, the NCAA officially granted all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, followed by another announcement in August which added fall athletes. Tindall said she would love to play another year.

“I have had to limit my social gatherings,” Kurikka said. “I can’t just freely go out with whoever I want, because I have to be cautious to refrain from catching COVID.” — Juho Kurikka

“This is an amazing opportunity and I’m still young so why not?” she said. “Five years instead of four to keep playing the game I love at the highest level — sign me up.” While Tindall is looking forward to an extra year of eligibility, athletes like Wallis are ready to move on. “I’m not considering it,” he said. “I’ve had my time and when my senior year wraps up, I’m going to want to start my life, job, family, etc.” The NCAA will leave it up to each school to decide whether to grant financial aid to returning players, as well as the choice to expand roster sizes to account for incoming recruits and returners. Torn between wrapping up collegiate careers or making one last run, athletes have to weigh the options of playing. “I do not know if I plan to get my graduate degree,” Kurikka said. “If I do, there is a good chance I will try to take my COVID year. There’s no downside to playing.” Taylor said she has the opportunity to run with the England Athletics Junior Talent Program, as she cannot compete for Lamar at the moment. “But if the opportunity came again, I would not be opposed to the idea,” she said. “I’ll go wherever life takes me.” Despite all the negatives COVID-19 presents, finding the little positives can make a bad situation good, Taylor said. “Being positive helps make the time go by quicker and get me through all this craziness,” she said. “Sometimes, you just have to look harder to find them, but they are there.” Wherever the athletes find themselves during the pandemic, they all share one goal — to return to competition.

LU runner Mya Taylor is in England since the fall crosscountry season is canceled. Her boyfriend is still in the United States and they carry on their relationship over Zoom.



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