Giving the team a family feel

By PAXSON HAWS

When Lindsey Gray-Walton, University of Oklahoma volleyball head coach, and her husband arrived in Norman this year, they knew exactly what the program was missing – something the team needed if it were going to succeed.

Under the previous coach, the volleyball team finished the 2017 season with a 7-22 record. Currently, the team has a 13-10 record with five games remaining. Gray-Walton said the team members was very “cutting” in their communication with one another when she and her husband first arrived.

“I think that’s one big thing that was struggling here at Oklahoma is the kids just wanted to be loved and that was one of the biggest things we pushed when we got here,” Kyle Walton, volunteer assistant coach, said.

Gray-Walton was announced as OU’s volleyball head coach on Dec. 24. Gray-Walton announced her coaching staff on Jan. 22, which included two assistant coaches and a volunteer coach. Among this staff is Gray-Walton’s husband, Kyle, who served as the head coach at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky from 2014-17.  

This season is not the first time Gray-Walton and her husband have coached together. The couple coached together at the University of Kentucky from 2012-14 where Lindsey served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator while Walton was a volunteer coach. But this will be the first season where the couple is in a coaching position that gives them the power to make decisions.

Though Walton served as a head coach before moving to Oklahoma with his wife, he wanted to be with his wife as she created her own program for the first time.

“Lindsey and I wanted to coach together,” Walton said. “We wanted to do it together and see what we were capable of.”

While hiring a family member may seem questionable, Alyssa Enneking, senior outside hitter says it helps keep an “open relationship” and gives the team a personal connection to the coaching staff.

The university has a policy in place to prevent two family members related through blood or marriage working in the same department. The policy is in place to ensure one family member is not in a position to make suggestions about the others employment, salary, etc. OU’s Board of Regents knows there could be value in having two members of the same family in one department, so there is a way around this policy.

The appropriate vice president can recommend a waiver be signed. This waiver would include designating an objective individual to make employment and salary recommendations for the family member on the waiver. Once the Board of Regents approves the waiver, the family member can be hired.

This waiver has been used several times throughout campus, especially with the current coaching staffs in the athletic department. Patty Gasso and her son JT coach the softball team. Lon Kruger, men’s basketball coach, has his son Kevin on staff as does Sherri Coale, the women’s basketball coach, who also hired her son Colton. Women’s gymnastics has K.J. Kindler and her husband, Lou Ball.

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Taking over a program is a large undertaking. Gray-Walton had to create a relationship with each student-athlete, create a work dynamic with a new coaching staff and coach the team on her  “philosophies.” Walton’s previous experience in doing this played a part in her decision to bring him on.

“Those first 15 months are a grind and you need someone who’s lived that life before,” Gray-Walton said. “It just so happened that he had.”

With a 5-year-old girl, Berkley, and one on the way, Gray-Walton says the mixture of their family life and professional life makes life easier overall.

“Before it was like I’m here on this day and you’re here on that day and what are we going to do with her,” Gray-Walton said. “Now, it’s like we’re both in the same place. Either we can have a family member come in if we need someone to watch our daughter. We all know where we’re going to be.”

Before taking the job at Oklahoma, Gray-Walton and her husband spent the past three season coaching at different schools. Walton said he has different “philosophies on certain skills and how things should be taught” but he has learned a lot from his wife, especially in terms of communicating with the players.

“I think the time away helped up both establish what we believe in and what we need to do at the highest level,” Gray-Walton said. “Now we’re kind of combining those powers.”

One reason Gray-Walton and her husband work so well together is the constant discussions they have. Walton said he and his wife do not always agree on everything when coaching which helps create discussion. Gray-Walton says they balance each other out because she can become serious quickly and he is able to keep her laughing.

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With both Gray-Walton and her husband having very similar schedules now, it’s not uncommon to see their daughter watching and helping out at practices. Berkley can be found passing volleyballs to her father during drills and watching the team practice from the sidelines.

“Having Berkley around helps us understand that it’s bigger than just us,” Enneking said. “We do it for more than just us. We’ll look over and see Berkley just looking at us with stars in her eyes. She really admires us. It really puts into perspective what we do here and it’s not just volleyball.”

The couple believes the team has a better connection than previous years. They also agree that there is a family feeling within the team and with Sooner Nation.

“The inclusion of family, for sure, is felt my everyone in our program,” Gray-Walton said. “Ultimately, you got to be able to laugh at yourself. Families are weird. They’re kind of funky at times so we just try to have a really good time.”

Walton says to create these relationships, he has to be able to relate to the girls so he calls himself a “players coach.” This means he watches some of the TV shows and listens to some of the same music as members of the team to help create conversations.

“They’re kind of like our fun aunt and uncle off the court,” Enneking said. “They are some of the coolest people ever. We love being a part of their family.”

Enneking and her team had been bonding with Gray-Walton and her family for several months when they learned their volleyball family would be growing by one.

In October, Gray-Walton purchased a pair of baby-sized Nike shoes with blue and pink laces and presented them to Keyton Kinley, a sophomore on the team who has small feet and struggles to find the correct shoe size.

The team laughed at the joke before realizing the shoes weren’t for Kinley. Gray-Walton was letting the team know she was expecting another child.

Enneking said she liked being included in the announce. It made the team truly feel like they were a part of Gray-Walton’s family.

Human Interest: Firefighters taking on a threat within their own departments

By OLAN FIELD

When local firefighters and paramedics respond to a 9-1-1 call, they normally meet an individual having one of the worst days of their life.

For Mike Nettles, a Guthrie firefighter, this reality would hit close to home on a cold winter’s day, when he found himself responding to a rollover accident where a small girl, the same age as his daughter, would die.

“I would say kids are the worst part of this job,” Nettles said. “They can’t protect themselves. They rely on adults to keep them safe. When that’s not done, you just know that there is a life that has been wasted because of somebody else. If an adult decides not to wear a seatbelt and drive 130 mph on an icy highway and gets in a wreck. That is a decision the driver made. The child can’t make those decisions for themselves.”

The small girl was unbuckled playing in the rear cargo hold in an SUV. During the rollover, this rear portion took the brunt of the roll. Everyone else in the vehicle would survive.

The sights first responders see and the voices they hear can remain with them long after an accident. The men and woman who put on the uniform are human just like the rest of us – a bunch of type-A personalities who volunteer for this line of work to serve to help those in need and protect those most vulnerable. Society labels these people as heroes. Young kids look up to them and often say, “I want to be a firefighter when I grow up.” But what happens when a hero is the one in need?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness that has typically been associated with military members returning from war. Firefighters and paramedics are not the first people who come to mind, but increasingly, departments around the nation are seeing signs of the mental illness among their coworkers and are acting to curb the problem.

The threat of PTSD is not believed to be a new problem, according to the Association of Fire Fighters, rather the problem is beginning to gain attention and be taken seriously.

“I do feel like the if there is a stigma that exists within not just firefighters, but in all three (police, paramedics and firefighters) overall that exist,” said Greg Machtolff, a firefighter and police officer in Guthrie, when asked about a stigma that prevents first responders from seeking help.

According to a study from the International Association of Fire Fighters in 2016, almost 20 percent of firefighters experience signs of PTSD, such as disturbed sleep, increased irritability, self-destructive or reckless behavior.

“I don’t know what it would take (to change the stigma). Probably just more talking about it. We usually hash all our problems out at this table you’re sitting at right now,” said Nettles, sitting at a solid oak table in the kitchen of the Guthrie Fire Department.

The table and kitchen are just inside the building from the garage. It is the first room Guthrie firefighters enter after responding to a call.

The most common signs of PTSD in firefighters are replaying the event in their mind, difficulty sleeping, or upsetting thoughts and feelings, according to the Association of Fire Fighters.

Guthrie’s firefighters have resources for help if requested. Machtolff explained resources in Oklahoma City’s and Edmond’s fire departments are accessible.

“It would have to take city and state government actions,” said Machtolff, in response to taking greater action in addressing PTSD. “Without their support that is not going to happen.”

The cultural stigma to suppress any form of emotion in a predominantly male-dominated field, is a real problem. In 2017, more firefighters died from suicide than out during a call. At least 103 firefighter suicides in comparison to 93 firefighters in the line of duty.

In 2017, Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery opened to better address the needs that come with mental health, substance abuse and alcoholism of firefighters and paramedics.

“I mean there’s always the ‘tough guys’ stigma with any kind of emergency services,” said Machtolff.

“(First responders) are definitely A-type personalities and probably a lot of those people, you know, bottle stuff, so that they can maintain the appearance of that A-type personality. It is totally not necessary,” Nettles said.

The cultural stigma that surrounds seeking help for PTSD results in first responders being afraid of being perceived as weak. Along with not having a clear course for recovery, others fear the results of missing work for extended periods.

“Getting back to the job or, you know, losing out on some of their retirement. There is not a set program. I think that we need to have a program to where we know that if you have this problem, you can do something,” Machtolff said. “Verbalize the process of when you tell somebody that I can’t, you know? I’m having a problem. I can’t sleep. I’m stressed out. You know, that incident really bothering me. There’s nothing that says OK, from step A through Z, then we try to get you back to your work.”

With the 2016 study from the International Association of Fire Fighters, some departments have acted, to ensure that firefighters have the access to help that they may need.

“I think we definitely have taken steps in the right direction for mental health,” said Parker Melendez, a first-year firefighter and paramedic in Guthrie. “This department, there are still some changes that could be made, and some stigmas lifted to maybe make that a little bit better.”

The future is not clear on how city and state governments will act in the struggle of understanding and caring for firefighters with PTSD. Until then, first responders will continue to work like heroes.

First responders with continue to conduct one of the hardest jobs society can ask of an individual and at times these people will need to take a break, just as Nettles needed when he arrived at that rollover accident.

“The young lady was the age of my daughter,” Nettles said as he reflected on the memory. “She wore the same white Hanes socks, with the purple toned purple heal as my daughter, Susan.”

Human interest: OU employee shares struggle with breast cancer as number of young women diagnosed increases

By Sierra Rains-Moad

Chelsee Lewis Wilson was in a meeting with her coworkers at the OU K20 Research Center when her phone rang — she was expecting a call, but it was a full day early.

Wilson left the meeting with a sense of urgency and called back. Her doctor picked up.

“‘We got your results back and you have breast cancer,’” Wilson remembers her doctor saying.

Wilson was in shock and envisioned the diagnosis as a death sentence.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to die at 29’,” Wilson said.

Wilson is one of around 250,000 women who have been unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. Every October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities reminds individuals of the disease that affects 1 in 8 U.S. women.

Yet, many young women remain unaware they can be at risk for developing breast cancer as early as their 20s, OU Breast Health Network radiologist Elizabeth Jett said.

Most women do not get screened for breast cancer until they are in their 40s, Jett said, and in most cases young women have been advised to wait. However, the number of women contracting breast cancer in their late 20s and early 30s is increasing for unknown reasons, she said.

Physicians generally consider genetic risk factors and family history when looking for the cause of the disease, but an increasing amount of young women who are developing the condition in the U.S. have no family history of breast cancer, Jett said.

Jett said breast cancer can be particularly harmful to younger women because it not only derails many of their professional and life plans, but it is often more aggressive.

If breast cancer is not caught quickly in younger women it can be deadly because the cancer spreads throughout the individual’s lungs, brain and organs, Jett said.

“We go through our 20s and we kind of think we’re invincible and we’re going to live forever,” Jett said. “When all of the sudden you’re faced with the reality that that’s not necessarily true.”

Before she was diagnosed, Wilson said she didn’t even go to the doctor for a cold. Wilson was living a “pretty normal life,” working with schools across the state to help build interactive learning communities and, in October 2017, celebrating her first anniversary with her husband.

It was a coincidence that Wilson’s annual appointment with her physician was coming up in March 2018 when she first felt a lump in her breast while in the shower.

“I thought ‘OK, well I’ll just address it, it’s probably just a cyst,’” Wilson said.

Wilson said her doctor initially thought the lump was a cyst as well, but after conducting a mammogram and an ultrasound, her radiologist said she was concerned.

“The big problem we see so often in young women is they didn’t think they could have cancer — their health care provider says ‘Oh this is just a lump, a bump in your breast tissue,’” Jett said. “They tend to get blown off a little bit because people don’t think about breast cancer in women in their 20s.”

A biopsy was done and Wilson was sent home expecting to receive a phone call with the results in 48 hours.

Kristen Sublett, Wilson’s coworker at the K2O Research Center, was in a meeting with Wilson when the call came. Sublett and Wilson’s other coworkers had been witnesses to Wilson’s medical appointments for weeks.

No one would have ever expected Wilson would be diagnosed with breast cancer, Sublett said, but when Wilson left the meeting to take the call, her coworkers knew right away.

“She’s very, very young and healthy,” Sublett said. “It was just complete shock.”

After her coworkers learned of her diagnosis, Wilson’s husband was the next to know. Calling her husband and telling him “you need to leave work” is a part of that day Wilson said will forever be ingrained in her mind.

For many young women, the diagnosis of breast cancer can spell the end of a relationship, Jett said.

“For some people it derails their plans professionally, for other people it destroys relationships,” Jett said. “There’s a lot of women whose husbands have divorced them after they were diagnosed with cancer.”

It wasn’t easy, but Wilson said her husband was always there for support. “‘This is a crappy first year of marriage, so let’s just get through it,’” Wilson recalls her husband saying.

Wilson’s particular form of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, is one of the most common, but like many other young women, she is triple positive, meaning her breast cancer grows very aggressively and feeds off hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Because her cancer was so advanced, Wilson said she had no option but to go right into chemo. This meant many long hours at her physician’s office every three weeks throughout summer 2018.

First would come the saline, then the anti-nausea meds, then the heartburn meds and then the Benadryl.

Wilson broke down in the waiting room before getting her first MRI. Only her coworkers and her husband knew of her diagnosis at this point because Wilson was holding off telling her family and friends.

“Telling someone that you have cancer really sucks,” Wilson said.

However, her doctor was able to calm her down and remind her that breast cancer is highly treatable. Wilson then gradually became more comfortable with sharing her story and began to notice how there were a lot of other 20-year-old women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Out of her newfound courage grew a strong support system of family, friends and colleagues.

“No one has given me a chance to feel sorry for myself and I think that’s part of what’s helped,” Wilson said. “No one goes ‘Oh, you have cancer’ and gives me sad eyes. They just treat me like normal.”

Sublett said she was impressed by the way Wilson carried herself at work following her diagnosis.

“She hasn’t let it keep her down,” Sublett said. “She’s done everything that she’s been able to do and she’s had a great attitude about it.”  

In the seven months Wilson has been enduring treatment, she has managed to keep traveling across the state to help schools with professional development. Even when she can’t make it into the office, she works from home, Sublett said.

Wilson was the first person Sublett has known to be diagnosed with breast cancer and as a young woman in her 30s, Sublett said she has become more conscious of her own health as a result.

“It did make me stop and think about ‘Is this something I’m paying attention to, is this something that I’m asking my doctor?’” Sublett said.

Wilson went through six rounds of chemo from May to October before her doctors found that the cancer appeared to be gone. But they wouldn’t know for sure unless the affected breast was removed.

Wilson had the option of keeping one of her breasts, but opted for a double mastectomy because the chances of the cancer returning were at 20 percent, which was not worth the risk to Wilson.

“I would take 20 percent odds if I was playing the lottery — a one in five chance is great,” Wilson said. “But a one in five chance for the breast cancer to come back and that I would have to fight this battle again is way too high for me.”

The idea of having both of her breasts removed and returning home the same day was a hard thought to grapple with, Wilson said, but on Oct. 18, Wilson had the procedure done.

It took more than half a year to get to this point and put a heavy strain on her personal life, but Wilson said she is excited for her battle to finally be over and has obtained a different outlook on life as a result of her experience.

“It sucks, but I would rather fight it now and get it over with than 30 years down the road,” Wilson said. “This is a low point so life just gets better from here and it kind of makes life more enjoyable, which is a very strange thing. I’m just a lot more grateful and it takes a lot to come to that realization, but we get there.”

Amid political change, the Gender and Equality Center is trying to keep things the same

By LAUREN OWEN

The small office of the Gender and Equality Center is almost hidden within the lunch-time chaos of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. The GEC, which was without a director until November, has faculty, interns, and students that work to bring inclusion to the University of Oklahoma.

On Oct. 21, The New York Times revealed the Trump administration is considering defining gender as being based on the biology of a person. While there have been no changes so far, many members of the LGBTQ community are protesting to try and keep this change from happening.

At the beginning of November, Erin Simpson was named the new director and OU advocate coordinator of the GEC. According to the GEC Instagram, Simson has served the GEC as an OU advocate for the past 12 years. In those 12 years, she has also gained experience in residence life at OU.

The mission of the GEC, according to the OU website, is “To foster social justice by advocating for the rights of women and LGBTQ students, empowering those without a voice, and challenging inequality.”

Although the GEC is staying out of the political side of the situation, much is being done by the faculty and interns to make sure students know the office doors are always open. Students can have people to talk to, to voice concerns to and have resources to help ease their fears.

Crissy Young, the office manager and assistant to the director in the GEC, said there are many LGBTQ support groups on and off campus that are there to listen to any concerns students may have. Young said it is important that students have someone to talk to.

“They aren’t alone in their struggles and there are people that understand,” Young said.

Eli Sullivan, who is the case manager and in charge of OU Advocates at the GEC, said they try to make students feel safe and included. She said when the news of the possibility of a change in the definition of gender came out, she had a concern for her students. She said she wanted to make sure that they know that they matter.

Within the last year, the GEC office has been affected because it works with minorities and victims of trauma. Sullivan said she first and foremost wants students to know that they are heard, supported and believed.

Sullivan said the administration knows the GEC is necessary for students. She said the GEC wants to help students feel valued and be able to succeed on campus and in the future.

The mission statement of the GEC says that it challenges the injustices of society. Sullivan said that they are there for those who feel like they do not have a voice.

Tayana Ghosh, a master’s candidate in architecture and the residential mentor for the fifth floor of Headington Residential College, is a LGBTQ ally through the GEC. Last summer, Ghosh went through LGBTQ Ally training.

During the training, Ghosh said she learned about LGBTQ experiences through role-playing situations and hearing guest speakers from both people from OU and off campus. She said the training was similar to the mandatory online training students do, except that it LGBT Ally training is in person.

Ghosh said that she also was taught the definitions of terms used within the LGBTQ community. She said she thinks it is important that the GEC teaches people these terms because, as someone not in the LGBTQ community, she does not have the same life experiences.

Before Ghosh became an ally, she said she had friends who were LGBTQ. She said she always imagined their life was the same as hers, but now knows that is not the case.

Ghosh said that students have come out to her throughout her time as an residential mentor. She said that she thinks that if she had not had the training, she would have responded to them differently.

“It was really life-changing,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh said that the GEC has expanded and become more inclusive since her freshman year. She said she thinks it is important to have this training to be an residential mentor because residential mentors interact with students with different backgrounds.

Ghosh said that she tries to push students out into the community to interact with people similar to them. She said she gives out any resources students need.

Young said that the GEC relies on input from students for things like campaigns, pink and black ball planning, and other events. They also rely on input on how to address issues within OU.

Young said amid recent changes that the GEC is trying to keep everything consistent on campus by staying out in the public and staying approachable to students.

“We wanted to make sure that people knew that even though we were searching for a director, that the GEC was still there for them.”

Between this past June and November, the GEC did not have a director. Both Young and Sullivan said the leadership role was being filled by all the faculty of the GEC, as well as the interns and other students.

Kristen Partridge, the interim for Student Affairs and associate dean of students, has taken over the role while the GEC was without a director. Partridge, who took over for Clarke Stroud, has many jobs at OU.

Sullivan said the GEC made a search committee for a new director. She said they want to make sure more voices are heard and that everyone had had different experiences with the director.

There were three rounds of interviews to make sure they could find the best candidate. The third round of interviews included faculty and students.

Sullivan said the challenges the GEC faced before November when it was without a director are that they did not have a direct supervisor. She said that Partridge is often busy, making the GEC rely on other workers.

The interns of the GEC help support the full-time staff through events, said Sullivan. They help organize and put on events for the GEC. The LGBTQ Advisory Board, peer educators, and student volunteers also help put on events.

Beth Nondorf, who is a fifth-year math and computer science senior, is a member of the LGBTQ Program Advisory Board. She has also gone through ally training.

As a member of the LGBTQ Program Advisory Board, Nondorf holds office hours every week and lets people come to her for concerns about the LGBTQ lounge in the Oklahoma Memorial Union. In the past, Nondorf said there were issues in with inclusivity and intersectionality.

Nondorf said that they are trying to organize social events, but have gotten busy and not all of the events have worked out. She said she has gotten help from Jordan Weaver, the program coordinator and advisor, who is also in charge of the LGBTQ programs. She said he took over the initiative for Fahl.

“It’s been nice to have to know there’s a place I can go if I needed that help.” Nondorf said.

Nondorf said that being apart of the GEC has helped her get more involved in the LGBTQ community.

Sullivan said that the GEC, before Simpson was hired, was missing the core person to fill the mentor role that a director has. She said that the last director, Kathy Fahl, was a mentor who helped supervise, guide and develop staff and students.

Sullivan said that Fahl knew the positions and knew what was needed to be done. Fahl had been the director for 11 years before her departure. Fahl is now the assistant dean of students at Ohio University. She said that, without a director and new staff members, the office has had more time to bond.

“We’ve really bonded as an office.” Sullivan said.

 

Human Interest: #CUZWERESENIORS

By CHANDLER WILSON

While on the elliptical at the gym last spring, Anthony Rayburn found himself reflecting on his three years of college and looking ahead to all that senior year would hold.

With memories involving President’s Community Scholars, life in the dorms and Wednesday afternoons in the Unity Garden on the South Oval, Rayburn longed for the joy and friendships his freshman year gave him.

Despite living in his fraternity, participating in Sooner Scandals and being constantly surrounded by dozens of friends, sophomore and junior year were not easy for Rayburn.

But through the lows of college, he experienced growth. 

“I took a complete u-turn in my life around the time I decided to make this album,” Rayburn said. “Now my friends and I are doing things we should have been doing all of college.”

From those memories of freshman year to the solitude of junior year and every place and emotion in between, the accounting senior was hopeful his last year of college would be different.

With this realization, Rayburn felt there was no better or more funny way to hold onto his highs and lows from college than to create a rap album with the people he had experienced the last three years.

“How else do you capture college and senior year without doing a time capsule or something like that?” Rayburn said. “When I’m 50 years down the road, I’ll look back and be able to say, ‘I remember PCS and Beta Theta Pi and the Crater. I remember Sriracha. I remember chillin’ at Beta. I remember Sammy D and Lane. I remember all my friends and what my years in college were like.”

Still on the elliptical, Rayburn texted his best friend, creative media production senior Rhett Derryberry.

“I need you to executive produce my album,” it read.

“Let’s do it,” Derryberry replied.

That spring afternoon in the gym, #CUZWERESENIORS was born.

***

Following the end of the 2018 spring semester, Rayburn began reaching out to those he wanted featured. None of them are rappers, but he eventually pieced together 20 friends who had played an important role in his time at OU.

While this album was under his name, it was for all of them.

“We just wanted everyone to be on (the album),” said senior economics major Joey Hayhurst. Hayhurst is featured on the track three times under the name Sriracha, a name he gave himself after he poured Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce on his lunch while talking about the album with friends. “Even if our friends were like, ‘No, I can’t rap,’ we wanted them to be on it. Anyone is a rapper. Anyone can do anything.”

After three months of recording with Apple headphones in Rayburn’s house and using GarageBand to produce, the 25-track album #CUZWERESENIORS dropped on Soundcloud on the morning of Aug. 30, 2018.

Immediately, Instagram blew up. Friends and friends of friends, among others, posted the album to their stories, and before long, Rayburn was getting hundreds of texts and direct messages.

As Rayburn walked into class that morning, welcomed by friends and classmates, sporting a #CUZWERESENIORS t-shirt, he felt confident senior year would be a good year.

***

Freshman year is a time of uncertainty. For many, it is their first time away from home and first taste of independence. It can be lonely and scary yet exciting.

Often, freshman year is when people start making life-long friendships. For Rayburn, it was through President’s Community Scholars, or PCS, that these friendships began to form.

PCS is a service-oriented group and scholarship for freshmen on campus that involves speakers, mentorship and community service, providing 100 students each year the opportunity to be in community with one another, according to its site.

Can’t believe it’s all over now (wow)/ Met a team now we live/ and the goal is to serve and always be there, never swerve (never swerve, swerve, swerve)/ Freshman year, Thursday night, Caf/ Eatin’ good, can’t miss, but I never would/ PCS family on the beat (yup). “PCS (feat. Swaggy J, T-Pain, HQ, and A-Swizzle)”

Three years later, Rayburn felt his friends from PCS needed to be a part of #CUZWERESENIORS, including sports management senior Jack Stagg, who is featured on the track under the name Swaggy J.

“First, Anthony was just telling us about this album he was making about his college experience, and he wanted to get some people from PCS on a track,” Stagg said. “PCS is when we all became good friends, so I was stoked. It sounded fun and even kind of heartfelt. I’ll look back on college and for sure laugh at this because it’s definitely a joke, but we also talk about real and cool stuff, like PCS.”

While PCS is a somewhat small part of a big university, seemingly every OU student has walked the South Oval.

Within the South Oval is the Unity Garden, also called the Passion Pit, but to Rayburn and his friends, it is called the Crater. In the Crater in 2015-2016, Rayburn and his friends held Crater Robotic Wednesdays.

Wednesday afternoon, yeah, we get it on/ Big crater, big head, Jimmy Newtron…The whole world is my big crater, and y’all have no choice but to live in it. “Crater Robotic Wednesday”

Every Wednesday, Rayburn and three friends from class claimed the Crater as theirs, showing up in a different theme every week and inviting those on the South Oval to participate in games and hang out, even holding a big/little ceremony and Crater Olympics.

“It was definitely a club, but it was inclusive of anyone,” Rayburn said. “We did anything and just didn’t care back then. Those Wednesdays are some of my best memories of all of college.”

While Rayburn and friends no longer have Crater Robotic Wednesday, their names can still be found etched into one of the rocks inside the Crater. The freshmen hoped to leave their mark on campus and have fun along the way, as many strive to do.

***

Coming off the high of freshman year, Rayburn hoped his sophomore year would be the same for he and his friends.

For many college students, sophomore and junior year are the most difficult years of college. Classes get harder, adulthood is right around the corner and people begin understanding that the freedom college brings comes with consequences.

“I think a lot of people struggle sophomore and junior year,” Rayburn said. “Like a lot of people, I became really closed off and about myself, which isn’t really like me at all. Sophomore year started off the lows of college for sure.”

Everyone experiences difficulty at some point in life. For Rayburn, this came in the form of losing his grandparents, his sister becoming sick and being turned down by the only girl he’s ever truly cared for.

These circumstances, mixed with finals week and the lack of sleep, seemingly endless hours of studying and taking multiple tests that comes with it, Rayburn found himself reflecting on simpler times. Just two years earlier, he was class president of Norman North’s graduating class of 2015. Amid final exams and ongoing struggles, that seemed a lifetime ago.

Good evening/ My name is Anthony Rayburn, and I am honored to be speaking on behalf of the class of 2015 as this year’s class president/ Graduates, friends, family, faculty and administration, we made it/ Finals. “Finals Mix 2017”

***

As junior year unfolded, Rayburn found himself through the help of friends, bringing him out of solitude.

“I think Anthony just needs an outlet,” Derryberry said. “He’s always doing something creative, and this big project encompasses our entire college career. It was all for fun. I wouldn’t say that serious is a word to describe much of the stuff we do, but I spent time doing it because he worked hard on it.”

In spring 2018, Sooner Scandals, the engagement of a friend and the realization that there was only one year left of college brought Rayburn back to where he wanted to be.

Sooner Scandals takes part each spring and consists of seven Broadway-style acts created, directed and performed entirely by OU students through their respective organizations, according to its site.

Rayburn, alongside others featured on #CUZWERESENIORS, participate in Sooner Scandals every year. While some shine in the front row or have incredible vocals, others are left in the back, despite their best efforts. Through three years of Sooner Scandals, Rayburn remained on the back row.

Scandals, man/ Yeah, it’s really over (wow)/ No more hair gel/ No more makeover (thank God)/ Back to my normal life/ I gotta start over (momma)/ Had a lot of fun/ and got inspired (splash)/ but I did my time/ and now I’m retired (gone). “Scandalous”

After more than a year of experiencing the lows from his sophomore year, Rayburn’s Scandals cast of Beta Theta Pi and Delta Delta Delta gave him more than fond memories. Being a part of Scandals reminded Rayburn how much his friends mattered to him, helping to build the foundation for #CUZWERESENIORS.

“’Scandalous’ got the whole album going,” Rayburn said. “I was always rapping at Scandals practice and joking about an album dropping ever before #CUZWERESENIORS was a thing. So many memories and friendships came with three years of Scandals, which I think a lot of people would say the same thing.”

Not long after the end of Scandals 2018, Rayburn’s friend Aaron Sapp proposed to his girlfriend, making Sapp the first of Rayburn’s friends to get engaged.

Though Rayburn claims Sapp is a terrible rapper, it was important for him to be on the album because it was something they were all doing together. Under the name A$APP, Sapp, along with Hayhurst and Rayburn, created the song “Sappy Ending” to commemorate Sapp’s engagement and celebrate a new chapter of life.

A$APP, not Rocky/ Got a girl, feelin’ cocky/ Ice on my wrist, hockey/ Cheddar in my pocket, Milwaukie.

In just a few short years, Rayburn and his friends had experienced a lot of life and growth together. While some were falling in love or getting engaged, like Sapp, others, like Rayburn, were just realizing who they were becoming and wanted to be.

***

After texting Derryberry, Rayburn set a goal of having the album completed and ready to drop in August.

While putting the album together, he knew he needed a track that directly talked about what college taught him, but he was struggling to find the right words to tell his story.

“It’s a story,” Hayhurst said. “The album shows growth and how much Anthony and all of us learned through college… It’s the best album that has ever been created at the University of Oklahoma.”

One summer day while on the stationary bike at the gym, Rayburn was looking through Facebook Memories at his previous posts from that date over the years. Immediately, he began writing his hardest and deepest song.

As the 20th track on the 25-track album, “Clout Chasers” symbolizes the growth people experience from high school throughout college.

I don’t even recognize myself from six years ago/ I don’t even know where all of my happiness went/ 2015 Norman North class president/ What I didn’t see coming was my own descent/ Senior year was a blast, so please don’t get me wrong/ 3-time swim state champion, I was still feelin’ strong/ 3-time piano state champion, I can still play them songs/ so of course I didn’t feel like anything could go wrong.

The transition from high school to college is difficult for many, but the transition throughout college oftens prove even harder. Even still, college is frequently referred to as the best years of life and a time many want to remember forever, no matter how difficult it may have been.

According to Hayhurst, there was no better way to remember the best years of their lives than to do something that nobody at OU had ever done before.

“We’re kind of in the rap age with our generation, so we thought we had an opportunity to ball out and make killer rap beats,” Hayhurst said. “Our lives aren’t going to get any better than this. College is the peak, and the only people who would top this would be us again.”

For Rayburn, he likes to try new things. At the end of his life, he hopes to have written a book and made a movie, among other things, so there won’t be anything left he didn’t at least attempt, he said.

Currently, he feels like being Drake. Soon, he may feel like being Ryan Gosling, then he could be Lebron James.

Just as he remembers his graduation speech from nearly four years ago or where he wrote his name on a rock in the Crater three years ago, Rayburn hopes to make an impact and leave a piece of himself in every chapter of his life.

When asked why, he quickly responded, “Why not? You only live once, and I want to do it all.”

 

New campus statue, artist’s controversial past prompts discussion within OU community

By Amanda Johnson

Near the intersection of Boyd Street and Elm Avenue, two glowing red dots pierce the night.

These red dots make up the eyes of the “Mesteño,” an 8-foot-tall mustang sculpture glaring through the glass windows of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

“It wasn’t what people expected when you think of a sculpture of a horse,” said Hadley Jerman, Eugene B. Adkins curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. “I think people thought the red eyes were kind of frightening.”

Jerman was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma when the statue was unveiled on the corner of Boyd Street and Elm Avenue in 1998 before it was moved to its current home in the museum. She remembers the controversial response it garnered from students on campus.

“I remember for almost an entire year it was receiving commentary in the paper,” Jerman said.” I also remember thinking it was really kind of exciting, though, because there was this discussion about art on campus for a long time.”

OU’s newest public artwork, “Covered Wagon,” has evoked discussions similar to the ones that took place 20 years ago, but it also has raised new questions, too.

Created by artist Tom Otterness, the statue depicts a covered wagon being pulled by an ox, with a pioneer woman driving and her two children fighting in the back. The nontraditional style and its placement on campus, along with the artist’s history, has stirred debate among the OU community.

***

Buddy Wiedemann, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication director of information technology, said he finds the statue not only hideous but also offensive.

“You take something from a very controversial artist that looks like a cartoon of the land run, which was very offensive to a lot of Native Americans in this part of the country,” Wiedemann said. “Why would you ever put something that has that kind of stuff attached to it in a public space?”

Public discourse has extended beyond the artwork itself and has found its way to the “Covered Wagon” artist’s past.

In 1977, Otterness adopted a dog from an animal shelter, tied it to a fence and shot it. He recorded a video of the shooting, titled “Shot Dog Film,” and played it on a continuous loop during a gallery show.

Otterness’ controversial past led to repercussions in 2011, when the San Francisco Arts Commission, after a community uproar, voted to terminate a $750,000 contract with Otterness that would have had the artist decorate a subway station with sculptures, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“It’s very clear to me that it’s a completely indefensible act to take a life in the service of any idea or work,” Otterness said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. “I think the work that I’ve done in 30 years since that really is a counterbalance to that one action. I deeply regret it.”

But Wiedemann said it’s not about forgiveness — he doesn’t even want to think about Otterness’ artwork.

“I don’t care how old he was or how many times he apologizes,” Wiedemann said. “(His actions against the dog) are all I think about when I see it, and I don’t ever want to see any of his work.”

Actions have been taken in response to Otterness’ past, which includes a petition started by an OU student calling for the statue’s removal, and the placement of a T-shirt on the statue with the words “I shoot dogs.”

OU officials have not commented on the petition, which had more than 3,400 signatures as of 3 p.m. Nov. 6., and the T-shirt was removed by morning after it was spotted on the evening of Oct. 30.

“I’m so glad that petition went up,” Wiedemann said. “I’ll do anything I can to get (‘Covered Wagon’) out of here — I think it’s horrible.”

***

Located outside the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and across from the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the statue’s presence is unavoidable to many students passing by on their way to class.

“I don’t really like the statue at all if we are being honest,” said Skyla Parker, public relations junior and Gaylord College Ambassador. “I understand art is objective — some people like it, some don’t — but I think it should go with the decor or the whole structure of Gaylord. It fits nowhere where it is right now.”

Mark White, director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, said Otterness’ style is drawn from 1920s animation, and the piece is a way to make light of ideas and concepts commonly found in culture.

“‘Covered Wagon’ is kind of a satire of the whole pioneer mythos — but also, and more particularly, the pioneer monuments of the early 20th century,” White said. “Those monuments were a celebration of the pioneer monuments and westward expansion, but all of those ideas have come under a lot of scrutiny, especially in the last 20 to 30 years.”

Donor and 1957 OU graduate William Obering, who had previously given Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” to campus, wanted to enhance OU’s art collection and the public spaces on campus, according to the Oct. 24 OU Board of Regents agenda.

“(Obering) wasn’t interested in giving something to campus that necessarily everybody would love,” White said. “He understands, as do many, that public sculptures are not just about beautifying space, but it’s also about encouraging public discourse.”

Since the arrival of “Covered Wagon,” discourse has run rampant.

Daren Kendall, OU’s School of Visual Arts assistant professor of sculpture, said this discussion is positive, and art should challenge ideas, bring awareness and give different points of view.

“When there’s a very common or conventional view, artists are there to kind of say, ‘Let’s take a look at what we are really thinking and really believe — let’s have a conversation about it,’” Kendall said. “I’m not so sure there’s much conversation happening around bronze football players and even some of the sculptures that might be considered romantic.”

***

The installation of “Covered Wagon” on campus has created questions about the process of how OU chooses its public art and who is making decisions.

White said donors approach the museum with pieces of artwork they want to see on campus, and each piece must meet a list of criteria, such as the significance of the artist and their track record of sales, to determine if it would be fit for campus.

“Ultimately, we kind of weigh it against all the criteria, and if it is something that the museum feels very strongly about, then that’s when we would advance it to the upper administration,” White said.

The previous administration, headed by former OU President David Boren, who focused heavily on the beautification of campus, approved the donation and selected the location of “Covered Wagon,” White said.

The current selection process for OU’s public artwork has left faculty and students wondering if there is a better way.

Kendall said when a donor wants to place artwork on campus, the conversations and people surrounding it are very important.

“There has to be a critical discourse, there has to be a dialogue, there has to be not just one person deciding,” Kendall said. “We like to be comfortable, and we like to feel good, but if that’s all that art does, then I think we are kind of missing the point.”

Wiedemann said there should be a committee, made up of various people from different branches of the university, that decides what goes where on campus.

“I’m not saying the whole university should get to vote on it, but there should be some oversight,” Wiedemann said. “There was obviously no oversight on (‘Covered Wagon’), or it never would have gone up — there was none.”

Parker said students should also be involved in the decision-making process.

“I definitely think there should be student representatives deciding about the art,” Parker said. “However, I appreciate that OU has places for art to be shown around campus — that’s something really unique.”

OU President James Gallogly now has the opportunity to leave his own legacy of public artwork on campus, but amid budget cuts, it remains unclear how he will approach overseeing OU’s public artwork, which was abundant under his predecessor.

Despite uncertainties, Jerman encourages the OU community to keep an open mind.

“I encourage people anytime you see art that your initial response is, ‘I don’t like that,’ or, ‘I don’t understand that,’ to just try to find out more about it,” Jerman said.

Jerman now smiles standing next to “Mesteño,” looking up at the glowing red eyes that once frightened so many.

“I think this is now one of the most beloved pieces in the museum,” Jerman said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird scooters used for class commute

By HALEY HARVEY

The beep of an electric scooter being activated can be heard as a student at the University of Oklahoma gets ready to make her morning commute to class. Feet grounded, hands gripping, she pushes off and scoots toward campus.

Amanda Gould, psychology senior, began the transition to riding Bird scooters with their arrival this school year. While many use the e-scooters for recreational purposes, Gould started to use them to get to class instead of walking from her Norman home.

Before “birding” around, Gould occasionally used the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit, or CART, a Norman service that provides bus transportation to residents and OU students. With recent cuts in funding, CART will stop running on Saturdays and also reduce route frequency to Alameda and Main streets starting Jan. 1. This can be a concern to those who have used the service to and from work or class for people like Gould.

“When I took the CART, it was nice, but it can be a pain having to wait at the stops for the bus to come, and sometimes it can be pretty crowded,” Gould said. “With the canceling of some of the routes next year, I think more people will transition to riding these scooters whenever they can.”

With this threat soon approaching, the arrival of the e-scooters in Norman have come at the perfect time.

“I first started riding them for fun, and one day, I decided to ride one to class because I had a long walk to the Physical Sciences Center,” Gould said. “It’s by far the fastest and easiest way to get to class in my experience.”

Concerning price, Bird costs $0.15 per minute to ride in Norman. In contrast, students who use CART are charged a $2.50 per credit hour “transit fee” to their bursar, according to Taylor Johnson, planner and grant specialist for CART. The scooters may not be as wallet-friendly in the long run, but can provide a quicker alternative without the bus stop wait.

This new form of transportation, which has recently flown into Norman, has added a new way to travel on OU’s campus. Norman residents and OU students are using e-scooters that have landed in the city not only for recreation but also transportation since their arrival in mid-August.

Originating in Santa Monica, California, in 2017, Birds began appearing in different urban cities and college campuses around the nation this year. Norman is one of many college campuses where Bird has placed their scooters. Among others are UCLA, Ohio State and Texas.

“I ride the scooters for fun on days when it’s nice outside, and I’ve also used them to get to class when I’m running late but don’t want to drive or can’t get a ride,” said Hannah Phillips, supply chain junior. “I don’t have a parking permit because I live fairly close to campus so I usually walk, but I’ll ‘Bird’ on days when I’m in a rush because it’s so much faster.”

The scooters can get up to speeds near 20 mph and are to be ridden in bike lanes whenever possible.

Functioning by way of the Bird app, users can ride after logging their driver’s license information as well as credit card number. Riders are supposed to avoid sidewalks and not block other public pathways.

Use of the scooters instead of cars for short distances also helps the environment by lowering pollution emissions. Rachel Bankston, corporate communications member for Bird, said the company celebrated their first anniversary with over $10 million environmentally friendly rides since the company’s launch in September 2017.

But it hasn’t always been all fun and games when it comes to the scooters.

Norman city officials released a statement shortly after the arrival of the scooters that the company had until Wednesday, Sept. 12 to remove them from city limits or else would be subject to impoundment when it was discovered the company was operating without the correct permit and appropriate documentation. Despite the threat, the scooters remain.

Terry Floyd, development coordinator for the city of Norman, said Bird and other scooter companies, such as Lime, are in the process of finalizing a right-of-way agreement.

“It lays out some different parameters to accomplish what would probably ultimately be final as far as licensing, and allows them to operate in the meantime,” Floyd said.

Signatures from the company are being finalized, and once they are received in the next few weeks they will be signed by members of the Norman City Council for final approval.

Gould says the only problem she has encountered regarding the scooters is the lack of  nearby scooters at times.

“Sometimes it can be hard to find one that’s parked near me,” Gould said, who lives southeast of Headington Hall. “They’re easy to find once you’re on the South Oval and near other classroom buildings, but they’re more scarce around my neighborhood.”

The scooters have also caused some concerns from other members of the community.

Sara Kaplan, retail marketing coordinator for the city, said she has heard mixed reviews   about the scooters from residents.

“Some people absolutely love them, and some want them off their property,” Kaplan said.

Floyd also said some Norman residents are concerned about their right-of-way and riders leaving the scooters in areas that block walkways.

“A lot of it has to do with blocking our sidewalks for a lot of our disability community and scooters that are in the way of ramps or clearances for those who may be wheelchair-bound or sight impaired,” Floyd said. “It’s very crucial how those distances are maintained.”

With the riders having the choice to park anywhere, there is potential of property owners disliking their presence outside their business or home. Floyd said the company has been efficient in fixing problems and tending to complaints.

“My understanding is that in the event that a private property owner doesn’t like them there, the companies will try and respond within a couple of hours if they’re called to pick them up,” Floyd said. “If that doesn’t happen, private property owners can have them impounded, and I believe some have.”

Anyone can contact Bird officials through their website for any questions or issues they may have.

“But in my understanding the company tries to be pretty responsive if someone does not want them there,” Floyd said.

Despite concerns, some property owners like the presence of the scooters.

“Some businesses actually like them being near their business because it draws foot traffic,” Floyd said. “But to say there aren’t some who have complained or private property owners who have had them picked up, I’m sure there have been.”

One Norman store manager is an example of this.

“I don’t mind the scooters as a whole, but there have been problems with them blocking the sidewalks,” said Andrew Koszarek, manager of Al’s Bicycles on Main Street. “If I can’t park my bike on the sidewalk, I don’t think the scooters should be there either.”

 

Although a fun form of transportation and recreation right now, the future of the e-scooters is unknown.

Floyd said the city is trying to set this up as if it would be a long-term business and transportation model in the community. Whether it will continue into the future or is just a fad, he is unsure.

“We’re working right now with our councils of committees to develop what would be an annual license for them that will lay out additional parameters,” Floyd said. “I know these companies are doing very well now, so, we’re just preparing ourselves to have licensing if they will be here for a long time.”  

As for Gould, she hopes the scooters will be around for a long time for students and others to use around the city.

“Bird has helped me out a lot with a better way to get to class,” Gould said. “So I’m sure they’ve been helpful in some way to other people to get them wherever they need to be in a cheap, fast manner that’s better for the environment.”