A community affair: Norman City Council responds to illegal Airbnb rentals, plans to mandate licensing ordinance in early 2020

By Abigail Hall

It’s 11 a.m. on a Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma. A sea of crimson marches from parked cars and tailgate parties on Boyd Street, men with beers overflowing in their hands banter about the game ahead of them in the Palace on the Prairie while children run around laughing in their Sooners sweatshirts. 

A weekly tradition from September to December, Boyd Street itself is closed to vehicles as thousands of OU football fans gather as a community to eat and drink before heading to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to cheer on the beloved Sooners football team. 

The stadium seats over 86,000 people, some of which call Norman home, but many drive from across the state, and beyond, to attend the game and stay in town for the weekend events. 

The influx of tourists in Norman, a suburb of 123,000 as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for OU game days used to mean an influx in hotel use — but over the last few years, this has changed. 

Many OU fans now avoid traditional lodging options, instead opting to stay in short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, an app that allows people to share their homes with traveling guests, who pay a fee per night to stay in a room or rent the entire house. 

Airbnb has been a controversial topic of conversation since their rise to popularity in 2008. What started as a way for a few roommates to make a little extra money by renting out rooms in their apartment to conference-goers in San Francisco, is now a thriving enterprise with seven million listings worldwide in 100,000 cities, according to its website.

While hosts and travelers across the globe have responded in kind to the business model, the cities they reside in are struggling to come to terms with the alternative lodging option.

Several popular tourist destinations such as Barcelona and Paris have outlawed the use of the app in order to prevent residential neighborhoods into temporary lodging districts. Other destinations such as Santa Monica, California have come to agreements with the company to operate within the city based on Airbnb maintaining the terms of the city’s ordinance and removing listings that don’t abide by those rules. 

“Nationally no city was prepared for this,” said Jeanne Snider, Norman assistant city attorney. “The share economy has changed things and all cities have been looking for ways to pass an ordinance that best fits their city.”

The traditional model of temporary lodging such as hotels are defined as a rental of less than 30 days and are taxed by the city, Snider said. Short-term rentals operate similarly to hotels, and often are more appealing to tourists because the cost is cheaper than the alternative and offer more unique and personal experiences, according to Harvard Real Estate Review

The issue, Snider said, is short-term rentals do not collect the hotel-motel tax for the city like hotels do.

“We want the licensing fee and we want the hotel-motel tax,” Snider said. “If you’re going to rent it out like a hotel, we want (the) tax hotels collect.”

Additionally, in Norman the current zoning laws prohibit businesses to be located in residential neighborhoods, making short-term rentals illegal within city limits, said Kate Bierman, 1st Ward council member. 

“Cities tend to be somewhat reactive to disruptive technologies — it’s simply the gears of government grinding slower than the gears of innovation,” Bierman said. 

While Airbnb has been operational for more than a decade, Norman’s city councilors didn’t begin to discuss the issue until February 2018 when the company contacted the city with a proposal to collect the hotel-motel tax on behalf of hosts operating in Norman, Bierman said. 

“We realized that we could not take them up on that offer to collect the hotel-motel tax because we did not have an ordinance that allowed them to legally operate within city limits,” Bierman said.

Since 2018, the council has met in a conference meeting once a month with Snider to research and draft a city ordinance to regulate short-term rentals operating within the city. After almost two years of this process, Snider said she hopes the finalized draft ordinance will be proposed and voted upon by the council by late January 2020. 

Today there are 200 short-term rentals operating in Norman illegally, 79 percent of which are single-family homes where the owner does not live in the residence, Snider said. Yet, despite the lack of an established ordinance, there has only been one reported complaint.

“We’re finally close,” Snider said.  “I don’t anticipate any trouble…it’s just getting it done because citizens have had legitimate concerns, but I’ve always understood (their concerns), so I’m just ready to get it goin.’”

Bierman said the biggest issues the council discussed were how many short-term rental licenses would be allowed per person or entity, the potential disruption of neighborhood character and aesthetic, as well as collecting the hotel-motel tax from all short-term rentals.

For some members of the council, the increased use of Airbnb over hotels, particularly for game day weekends, is an issue. 

“We’re losing money,” said Bill Scanlon, 6th Ward council member.

For Scanlon, the issue with short-term rentals is that it puts the city at a financial loss due to the decrease of visitors staying in hotels, preferring to stay in a short-term rental, which affects the city’s hotel tax revenue.

Council members Lee Hall, 4th Ward, and Stephen Holman, 7th Ward, agreed the tax-revenue issue should be a priority in the ordinance. Additionally, Holman said he didn’t understand why the public would prefer to stay in a short-term rental over a hotel.

“I’ve never used one,” Holman said. “Seems weird. Plus, hotel showers are nice.”

Bierman said some council members were concerned about allowing an individual or entity to purchase entire areas in a residential neighborhood to rent solely as short-term rentals, and thus short-term rentals should have higher regulations than other businesses. 

However, Bierman felt strongly that short-term rentals should be considered businesses and should be regulated as much as any other business.

“We don’t put that limit on any other type of business. You can own as many liquor stores as you like, you can own as many rental properties as you like, you can own as many hotels as you like — so why would we limit the number of Airbnb’s that you can hold licenses for?” Bierman said. “Really, the crux of the issue is, is an Airbnb more comparable to a rental property or more comparable to a business? And that’s really the grey area that we were trying to navigate.”

Bierman said at a conference meeting on Nov. 26 the council agreed that an individual or entity will be allowed to apply for four short-term rental licenses, with an individual property application fee of $150 and a $50 inspection fee. If an individual or entity wants more than four short-term rental properties, they will be required to apply for a special use permit, which the council will review and approve or deny.

Bierman said the council reserves the right to deny any applicant based on failure to provide the proper documentation, a failed inspection, complaints from the applicant’s neighborhood and more.

Snider said at the Nov. 26 meeting she was authorized to draft the finalized ordinance, which the council will vote upon in the new year. 

Once the ordinance has been approved, Bierman said the City Clerk’s office will notify short-term rental business owners of the new licensing process outlined in the ordinance, and they will be required to submit their property for an inspection. 

Some of the licensing requirements agreed upon by the council that a short-term rental host must hold appropriate property insurance and documentation about city ordinances such as noise levels, parking and trash and recycling days; notify neighbors that the residence is an Airbnb and provide a local contact to respond to any issues at the property within one hour, “which means they must live in the OKC metro area,” Bierman said. 

“This is not a unique situation that Norman finds itself in,” Bierman said. “But my hope is that we are not being overly restrictive on an industry that has clearly found a niche and there’s clearly a market for.”

Colin Krapff, a Norman resident and independent contractor for the oil and gas industry, and his wife Nina, have hosted an Airbnb in a small studio apartment near Crawford and Dawes Streets in Downtown Norman since September 2018. 

At the time, Krapff and his family lived in the main home on the property with the studio apartment in the backyard, which they rented out as a full-time rental property. In 2018, when Krapff was forced to evict the tenant and update the space with all new appliances, he said he decided to market it as a weekend get-away for OU football fans and other tourists.

“(I thought), ‘Hey, let’s try this short-term rental thing since we’re just on the cusp of football season.’ And that was going to be my test period, basically the last four months of the year, to see how it did and then re-evaluate if I should turn it back to a long-term rental or continue with Airbnb,” Krapff said. “And it did exceptionally well.”

Krapff said his studio is booked 17 to 20 nights a month, with increased bookings for football game days, graduations and other university events. Additionally, Krapff said game day weekends are booked months in advance.

Krapff said he recommends local eats and shopping spots to his out-of-town guests, who often walk the three blocks from the Airbnb to Main Street, exploring and patronizing local shops that they otherwise wouldn’t if they stayed in a hotel.

“I think the best part for me is it gives me a chance to show people what the City of Norman’s all about,” Krapff said. “Because of that location it really pushes people to try out those local places as opposed to hotel chains like Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn — they’re over there by all the chain restaurants — which, is still putting money in the community, but compared to supporting local business, I mean — you really can’t beat our neighborhood.”

Krapff said he would be supportive of a city-wide ordinance and would have no issues paying an annual license fee.

“I think it makes sense if we’re helping bring people into the community and keeping more money local, and even helping the city out in that regard to let us do that,” Krapff said. “I think it’s a win-win on both sides.”

Krapff said his property’s neighborhood is a “pro-Airbnb” area, with three to four fellow Airbnb listings on the same street, which he thinks is due to the layout of the properties, many of which have secondary studios and garage apartments that “allow for a good Airbnb culture.” 

“I know there are some that pop up in what I would consider more traditional neighborhoods,” Krapff said. “And I think it can rub neighbors the wrong way just for having more traffic in the neighborhoods, and maybe seeing people that don’t recognize every day in their community.”

While Krapff understands the negative perception of Airbnb rentals, he sees it as a positive for his family and community. As a host, he encourages community members with concerns about the issue to find a host and start a conversation.

“Sure, some (hotel) money will go locally to taxes, but most of that money is going to go to (a) private equity group or large corporations running these hotel chains, and is not going to stay circulating in Norman,” Krapff said. “In reality, it’s actually benefiting your community — it provides a good, steady income stream for my family and that money is being spent with people who live in your community, which in turn is going to be continued to be spent within that community.”

The ins and outs of collegiate esports

By Katelin Hudson

The charcoal black and crimson red t-shirt fitted jerseys, complete with the University of Oklahoma logo, hang off the shoulders of 6 individuals. While the team might not be as widely known as the OU football team, the league their team competes in is known in smaller circles for its extensive prize lists for winning teams.

This team is lead by Joseph Savala, a 23-year-old OU graduate. Although he is unable to play sports at OU due to the fact he has already graduated, Savala still finds a way to interact with collegiate athletics, which he does through coaching the OU Esports Club and Sooner Esports Team.

Spending roughly 12 to 18 hours a week coaching League of Legends players for free, Savala must balance his time with a 40 hour a week paid job as a childrens specialist for the Department of Human Services. 

But Savala doesn’t mind putting in the time; in fact, he enjoys it.

“I’ve stayed as a coach for so long because I love doing it,” Savala said. “It’s really great to see all of these people with similar interests come out of their shells and grow – not only as people, but also as a team. It’s pretty great.”

League of Legends, or LoL for short, is a multiplayer online battle arena video game that is highly competitive. LoL is one of the five games that the Sooner Esports Team allows; the other four include: Overwatch, Counter Strike Global Offensive, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

These games are recognized as official esports games due to several different factors. 

ESPORTS AS AN INDUSTRY

Top esports games must be simple enough for new players to understand, while also being challenging enough to master so that longtime players can continuously grow. Additionally, high player numbers also have a lot to do with esports games. Freemium style games, such as LoL, can help to boost player numbers because players do not have to buy these games to play them. Equal playing fields and games with definitive winners also key because it means that players can’t have special advantages even if they are a higher level. Lastly, spectator appeal is an equally important factor. A game that is fun to watch increases a game’s chances of breaking into the top esports games. 

Esports as an industry has seen rapid growth over the past three years. In 2017, the global esports market was valued at $655 million. In just one year this value grew to $865 million in 2018. With this quick growth expected to continue, the number is estimated to grow to roughly $1.79 billion by the year 2022. 

One factor that aids in esports’ extensive following is the addition of streaming. Streaming schedules allow players to put themselves and their gaming skills out there for potentially massive audiences. 

Streaming has allowed gaming to transform from a niche, household hobby to an entire industry with a growing fan base.

In fact, OU Esports Club has its own Stream Team; which according to Matthew Miller, Streaming Entertainment Director, OU is one of the few college esports clubs with a dedicated team.

“The Stream Team is important because we fundraise money for the club as a whole,” Miller said. “Our little team helps by providing an additional revenue stream, while also (acting) as an advertising platform for our internal events and activities.”

But, the Stream Team is also important for community building.

“Stream Teams are so important for esports leagues because they also show a side of esports that isn’t just about competition,” Miller said.

ESPORTS AS A COMMUNITY

For many within college esports teams, it’s less about the potential revenue and more about the sense of community players feel from being a part of esports. 

According to Alexander Westphal, known as “Xander of Astora” within the gaming community,  the OU Esports Club helped him break out of his shell and find the friends he was searching for.

“When I first came to OU, I was considering joining a fraternity for the camaraderie, but that sort of environment didn’t really suit me, but I found what I was looking for in the esports club and with my team,” Westphal said.

The esports community at OU is large. With roughly 500 members and counting, the OU Esports Club is home to many on OU’s campus who share an affinity for playing video games. While many of these friendships are supported through online servers, many friendships are maintained even outside of set meeting times.

“Being part of the community, specifically the competitive side, has affected me positively, as I’m currently sharing an apartment with one of my teammates who has since become one of my best friends,” Westphal said. 

ESPORTS AS A REGIMEN 

A specific room for the University of Oklahoma Esports Club and Sooner Esports has yet to be assigned or constructed, but that doesn’t deter members from meeting. Members either meet at other members houses or, more commonly, online. 

With one click on the bluish purple hue of the Discord app icon, players are able to connect with others through voice chats, game invites and instant messaging without leaving the house.

Members must be on Discord roughly 12 hours a week. They meet after their classes, after work and after meals. And missing is not an option – not logging in counts as an absence, which members are only allowed three of.

While the name “esports” might come from a lack of a better word, esports certainly reflects many of the same ideologies that major sports emphasize.

Those who engage in esports competitively must put in a lot of time and effort to improve or even stay at the same level.

“In order to be on the competitive side of things, our teams must practice – there’s no way around it,” Savala said. “Coaches also have to stay on top of things too. They must know the ins and outs of a game, see where (players) are messing up and find ways to mediate that.”

THE FUTURE OF ESPORTS

The OU Esports Club and Sooner Esports team became officially licensed by OU at the beginning of 2019; which means they are able to use the OU logo on their website, at events and on their most recently designed esport jerseys.

As the esports industry continues to grow, more and more colleges are taking competitive online gaming more seriously, licensing teams and changing the way the esports conversation is handled.

As of Fall 2019, ten colleges across the country offer an esports major and minor program. Additionally, 54 colleges currently provide esports scholarships to top players.

Russel Hanks, a League of Legends CStar known as “Schiecenzoria,” believes esports growth will continue for years to come.

“It seems like more and more corporations are realizing that gaming is an unexploited land of potential profit,” Hanks said. “New streaming platforms bring gaming into the entertainment industries: which is one of the largest (industries) America has to offer. Because of (these two factors), I think this momentum will continue as the years go on.”

Oklahoma politics: Will the pendulum swing back?

By Brooklyn Wayland

The pendulum swings back and forth.

Until 2005, the Oklahoma Legislature was controlled by the Democrats. In 2009, the Senate joined in on Republican rule. The Republican lead continued to grow and in 2011, the entire Oklahoma Legislature, from the governor’s office to the House and Senate, was Republican-held. While it was a blue state primarily until the 2000s, as pendulum politics would suggest, it swings both ways. Since then and to this day, the Oklahoma Legislature is primarily Republican. 

Will the pendulum be swinging back any time soon? Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center and professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, doesn’t believe so. He doesn’t believe that will be seen for some time. Oklahoma is a red state and it will continue to be for a long time. However, we have seen more urban counties starting to be a little purple. 

“We are beginning to look like every other state,” said Patrick Hall, former leader of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “For so long, the Oklahoma Democratic Party was a rural-based party, and now it is primarily urban-based.” 

It was this switch that Hall would call, “the resurrection of the Democratic Party.” 

When term limits nearly wiped out the party in Oklahoma, Democrats worried they would not recover. However, reaction to the election of Donald Trump as president helped to rebuild the party, bringing it into the urban areas and counties; specifically, Oklahoma, Tulsa, Comanche and Cleveland county have led the charge, which are home to the eight largest cities in the state of Oklahoma. 

In 2008, Keith Gaddie, professor at OU who specializes in Southern politics, recalls the small Democratic victory in Oklahoma City when Obama was elected president in 2008. Although a small victory of only the city, he says it’s an example of the Democratic party shifting to be a urban-based party. 

Still the minority party in Oklahoma, even with a little purple sneaking into urban areas like Oklahoma County, running as a Democrat in an intensely red state is still a difficult task. Hall said that Democrats have to inherently work harder: The Oklahoma leadership backs Republicans without fail. 

Still there have been a few Democrats who have pushed through and won a seat in Oklahoma. One example is Jacob Rosecrants, a middle school teacher, who started his campaign in a primarily Republican district with $300 and no campaign experience. It didn’t matter though. Rosecrants had a message, and he was ready to share it.

“It was just me having a message that people agreed with,” Rosecrants said. 

Rosecrants started his grassroots campaign for the house seat in Oklahoma House District 46. This district usually voted 60 percent Republican, and as a Democrat, Rosecrants knew he had his work cut out for him. 

Name recognition was key. He spent hours knocking on doors and listening to voters. It also helped that many Oklahomans were ready for change. They wanted an outsider like Rosecrants, who took an interest in issues they were passionate about. 

“The people in my district wanted an outsider, and they wanted someone who cared about the issues they cared about,” Rosecrants said. 

It just so happened in 2016 in Oklahoma everyone cared about public education. 

This helped Rosecrants as well considering he was a public school educator. 

“The Republicans here (in Oklahoma) are fiscally conservative,” Rosecrants said. “But, I would say, they are socially liberal.” 

It is because of this that he says he doesn’t need to go into any situation clinging to his party identification. Rather, he just goes in as the representative who wants to hear from his constituency. This resonated with voters and in a special election in 2017, won him the seat as representative for Oklahoma House District 46.

“The more liberal-leaning the U.S. gets, the more red these Southern states, especially in these rural areas,” Rosecrants said. “I think it had to do a lot with Trump; they really like his message of “I’m an outsider.” 

Gaddie agrees. Rural areas have always been conservative although they weren’t always Republican. 

“The more liberal and the stronger the national Democrats get, the more intensely the rural whites have doubled down, grasping conservative values,” Gaddie said. “That is the foundation of American culture.” 

Still, a good Democratic candidate with an exceptional campaign can beat an unexpecting incumbent. Kendra Horn proved that by winning House District 5 in Oklahoma in 2018. Sticking to those bread and butter issues like lowering prescription drug costs and military spending, Horn was able to win over the constituency in House District 5 against Steve Russell. 

Gaddie said anyone who tells you they saw that coming is lying. It wasn’t until late in the game anyone thought she could do it. She went against a Republican incumbent who didn’t believe he needed to think twice about her. This led to her election despite being in a still primarily red (but more purple than most) district. The Oklahoma State Election Board recorded only 37.91% Democrat in District 5. 

“Voter identification doesn’t determine vote choice,” Gaddie said. There was a certain crossover appeal when it came to Horn’s campaign. Horn simply caught her opponent flat-footed and appealed to voters.”

This, and some shift toward a more moderate Legislature, may be the only shift of the pendulum seen in Oklahoma in a while. 

Rosecrants sees the Republicans in office as much more moderate than in the past which is a great reflection of the average Oklahoma voter. One could infer this is the slight shift of the pendulum. 

Emily Virgin, representative for Oklahoma House District 44 and minority party leader in the House of Representatives, believes this is exactly what Oklahoma voters are looking for now. 

“I think voters are tired of this extreme partisanship, and I think that has been a good thing for the state,” Virgin said.

People across the state are beginning to see when it comes to these big ticket policy items, such as affordable and accessible health care and proper educational funding, they all are on the same page. 

Virgin mentioned in the past six years or so Oklahomans have proven to be somewhat progressive or at least moderate when it comes to some state questions such as Oklahoma State Question 788, the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. 

She believes we will see this again in the next election cycle, pushing toward an even more moderate Legislature. This makes sense keeping the idea of the pendulum eventually swinging back toward and more moderate and maybe even a blue state over a long period of time, as Virgin believes is only natural. 

Both Virgin and Rosecrants agree when running for office in Oklahoma, the central questions are not party identification; rather, they are more about the issues Oklahomans care about most. 

“It is all about meeting people where they’re at,” Virgin said.  

That is exactly what successful Republican and Democrat politicians in Oklahoma are doing.

Throughout Oklahoma history, it has been a primarily red state, and while we may not see a drastic change to a blue state any time soon as Gaddie, Hall and Crespin all believe, we have seen evolution, but we haven’t seen enough to enact real change or believe running as a Democrat in a primarily red state is any easy task. 

The future is still unknown when it comes to Oklahoma politics, but any pendulum swings back and forth; it’s just a matter of pace. 

The Year of the Woman: Oklahoma Edition

By Devin Hiett

A record number of women ran for office in the last midterm election cycle, and as more women than ever won elections, 2018 became dubbed the “Year of the Woman.” 

Historic victories took place across the nation, including in Oklahoma, which is now ranked 43 out of 50 for the percentage of women in the state Legislature —  the highest ranking Oklahoma has held in the past three decades. 

Before the 2018 elections, Oklahoma was ranked 48th, with 12.8 percent of total seats in its Legislature held by women. Now the percentage has increased to 21.5 percent, and women hold 32 of the 149 total seats in the Legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. 

One of the women who helped Oklahoma get there was Rep. Merleyn Bell, a Democrat who represents District 45 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

Bell’s desire to run for office was fueled in part by her son, who started kindergarten this year. 

A native Oklahoman, Bell worried that her son would not receive the same quality of public education that she did while growing up in Norman. By serving in the Legislature, Bell hoped she could improve public education in Oklahoma, which is ranked 43rd in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. 

Bell considered the idea of running for office before her son was born, but was never confident she was qualified for the job. After graduating from OU in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in geography, Bell started her own design company and worked as the art director at World Literature Today, an international literary magazine based on OU’s campus. 

Bell did not consider this to be a typical path for someone who wanted to run for office, so she questioned her ability to launch a campaign and serve as an elected official.

“I’m not an attorney. I’m not a policy wonk. I haven’t studied government the way that I think other people must have, so I’m not the right person,” Bell said she told herself. “I sat in that place for a really long time.”

However, Bell’s perspective changed after Congresswoman Kendra Horn encouraged her to run. 

Horn made history in 2018 when she defeated two-term incumbent Republican Steve Russell for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District seat. Horn won the tightly contested race with 50.7 percent of the vote, making her Oklahoma’s first Democratic congresswoman. 

Before running for Congress, Horn served as the executive director of Sally’s List, a nonprofit based in Oklahoma City that recruits and trains women to run for public office. During that time, she met Bell and encouraged her to run for the state Legislature. 

“She really helped open that door for me,” Bell said. “I think I would have still been wishing I had run had it not been for other women saying ‘I can see you doing this, and I can show you a path forward.’” 

Research has found that bridging the gender gap in American politics is largely dependent upon women having people in their lives who encourage them to run for office. 

A study from American University found that women’s underrepresentation in politics can be traced to seven major factors. One of these is that “women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.” The study also found that women are much less likely than men to perceive themselves as qualified to run for office.

While campaigning, Bell said she had to put self-doubt aside and believe in herself more than ever. 

“You know that running tape that we have in our minds, the things we tell ourselves?” Bell said. 

“I really made the best tape ever for myself when I was running and said you are the most qualified person you could think of to do this, and I’ve got to start hammering that into myself.”  

Bell, like many women working in traditionally male-dominated spaces, dealt with imposter syndrome while campaigning and after winning her election. 

Harvard Business Review defines Imposter Syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” A 2011 article from The Journal of Behavioral Science estimated that about 70 percent of people have experienced impostor syndrome at some point. 

Bell said having female role models who have been through the same situation helped her overcome feelings of doubt and inadequacy. 

“You still need those people there even after you succeed in getting elected,” Bell said. “It’s great to have women on your side saying ‘I get it, and you’re going to make it.’” 

Lauren Schueler, director of NEW Leadership and civic engagement at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, runs a program that provides undergraduate women with a robust network of female mentors and allies working in public service positions. 

NEW Leadership is an intensive five-day program that takes place on OU’s campus each year. Its goal is to educate and empower undergraduate women to be active participants in politics and public service. 

Participants in the program have the opportunity to engage with more than 50 local women leaders from public life to help give them the understanding and tools to become professionals in areas like politics, law and public service. 

Schueler, who has been director of the program for three years, believes that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” That is why it is crucial to expose young female leaders to other women in leadership positions, Schueler said. 

“A big picture goal of the program is to fill that pipeline of women that have the potential, the expertise and the knowledge to run for office and to step into those leadership roles,” Schueler said.

Since NEW Leadership was brought to Oklahoma nearly two decades ago, about 600 women from over 40 higher education institutions have graduated from the program. Ten alumni have run for office and four are currently serving as elected officials, Schueler said.  

Emilie Tindle, a 2019 NEW Leadership graduate, recently began her 2020 campaign for Oklahoma’s 11th state house district. 

Tindle, a 24-year-old history student at Oklahoma State, was drawn to political life after participating in the Oklahoma House of Representatives High School Page Program as a teenager. Back then, Tindle imagined herself running for office later in life after pursuing other careers and raising a family.

However, her timeline changed.

Tindle lives in Collinsville, which is a part of the Tulsa metro area. Her state house district has not had a general election since 2006. 

In 2018, no Democratic candidates ran in the primary for District 11 and the general election was cancelled once again. By then, Tindle was tired of watching candidates in her district run unopposed for over a decade. 

“I felt like it was the right time for somebody to show up and nobody had,” Tindle said. “And I see the value in having a nontraditional student run for office, and I see the value of having a young woman run.” 

Growing up, Tindle was homeschooled and raised in a community where most women stayed at home. The expectation was for Tindle to get married by 20, become a mother, and raise and homeschool her children. 

Women who worked outside of the home were expected to enter service professions such as teaching or nursing — nothing executive, administrative or creative, Tindle said. 

Although Tindle did not grow up surrounded by women in politics or similar professions, she loved to read and found inspiration from the heroic female characters in her favorite novels. The women Tindle read about could do anything, and they helped her realize that she could, too.

Running for office while pursuing a bachelor’s degree was never part of Tindle’s plan, but she knows that no time will ever be perfect. 

“If you want it, build it into your life and don’t let other people’s expectations or rules keep you from doing what you feel called to do because that desire is true, it’s strong and it will guide you in that direction,” Tindle said. “It’s there for a reason. Not everybody feels it, but if you do, it’s really important to lean into it and go with it.” 

One thing Schueler has noticed in her recent years running the NEW Leadership program is the shifting expectations around when women can and should run for office. When Schueler first became involved with the program in 2010 as a graduate assistant, many women felt compelled to get married and raise children before considering a career in politics.

Schueler believes that expectation is dying out. 

“I think women are starting to push those barriers and saying why do I have to wait? Men don’t have to wait. I can do these things,” Schueler said.

In 2018, a record number of millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — were elected to Congress. There are now 26 millennials serving in the House, up from only five who were serving at the beginning of the current Congress in 2017, according to Pew Research Center

The country saw another historic first in 2018 when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected to Congress at 29, making her the youngest Congresswoman in United States history. The median age for House members today is 58. 

Tindle aspires to join the ranks of Ocasio-Cortez and other young women around the nation who are breaking political barriers. She hopes her unique candidacy will show constituents in District 11 that she would bring a fresh perspective to the job. 

“I think people are excited somebody young is showing up because there’s this expectation that youth won’t show up and do the work, which is funny because we’re not old enough to have done the work yet anyway,” Tindle said. “But I think there’s a lot of excitement surrounding young candidates.”

Although Tindle is hopeful she will win the 2020 election, she recognizes that it’s a longshot. 

Tindle is a young Democratic woman from a nontraditional background without a college degree. She is running against an older Republican male incumbent with multiple degrees in a seat that has not been held by a woman or a Democrat during Tindle’s lifetime. 

But for Tindle, winning is not the only point of running.

“I think what might help women run more is the idea that you don’t have to win ― and you might not ― but it’s about the process of doing it, the process of being visible, of making space for the person who comes after you,” Tindle said. “It’s less about are you immediately going to create change and more about what’s the long-term change in the community that comes from a female presence in office.” 

In many ways, Tindle’s candidacy resembles that of another young woman who ran for the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2014. 

Cyndi Munson, who was in her late 20s at the time, ran as a Democrat in District 85 against an older, Republican male incumbent in a traditionally Republican district in Oklahoma City. 

Munson was a first-generation college student. She was an Asian-American woman running in a district that was more than 80 percent white and only 3.9 percent Asian. She knew her chances of winning against incumbent David Dank in the 2014 election were slim. 

“Many times we are so afraid of failure we’ll keep ourselves from even trying, and I’ve certainly done that in my life,” Munson said. “But this time I felt like it was worth it.”

In the end, Munson lost the 2014 election by more than ten percent. Though she was disappointed, Munson immediately knew she wanted to run again.

After the seat she ran for in 2014 unexpectedly became vacant in 2015, Munson took the opportunity to run again only a year after her first attempt. 

Running one campaign had given Munson the tools, confidence and experience to run another one, but she remembers feeling nervous about the prospect of losing again. She thought that losing once was acceptable, but losing twice? That made you a loser. 

Ultimately, Munson decided to take the gamble. 

She won the 2015 election and became the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Oklahoma Legislature. She was reelected in 2016 and 2018. 

“In the end, I told myself, what do you really have to lose? You can try again and yeah, you could lose and learn more about yourself ― or you could win. And I won.”

Munson hopes her story will help the next generation of women realize that if you want something enough, you shouldn’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying. And trying again. 

“You just might surprise yourself,” Munson said. 

Multi-Level Social Media

By Gwyneth Easley

Four years ago, Taylor McCoy was sitting in her dorm room scrolling through Instagram. McCoy, like many other college freshmen, had fallen victim to “the freshman 15.”  As she scrolled, she saw a friend of a friend promoting a product that caught her attention: The Arbonne 30 Days to Healthy Living. McCoy, intrigued with the product, navigated out of instagram and began texting her father.

“Dad, I found something that I want to try but I don’t have any money right now. Will you buy it for me?”

“What is it?”

“It’s the Arbonne 30 Days to Healthy Living. It’s a little bit expensive though.”

“I’ll make a deal with you. I will buy this for you, and then you can sell the products until you make enough money to pay me back.”

“Deal.”

So McCoy contacted the friend of the friend and ordered the products. Then she signed up to be an Arbonne Consultant.

McCoy began using the products: drinking the protein shakes, brewing the detox teas and taking the digestion pills everyday. After a few weeks McCoy realized the products were working for her. She felt sharper, more energized and she was losing the weight. 

After posting about her success on Instagram, McCoy experienced an influx in her sales. Her friends who had originally poked fun at her new business, were now ordering the products.  In a month, she had made enough money to pay back her father.

“I realized that this was a way I could make money in college,” said McCoy. “It was flexible, I liked the products and I had already made a lot of money doing it.”  McCoy stayed on as a consultant and used the money she had made to fund her life in college. 

Multi-level marketing through social media is a new way that many people, especially college students have found that they can make extra income every month. 

Before social media, multi-level marketing consisted of someone signing up to sell a product then inviting all their friends to a party where they advertised their products. Now with social media, consultants don’t have to wait for parties to market products to their friends and acquaintances. They can do it with just a few taps over their phones. 

According to McCoy the secret to selling products via Instagram is to limit how many times a day you are actually promoting the products. 

“No one wants to feel like they are being sold to” she said. “They want to see you as a person, and then see you using and achieving success with the products.”

One in every four of McCoy’s Instagram posts is related to Arbonne. Then McCoy’s friends and her fellow Arbonne consultants will “like” her content which makes her look more appealing to potential new customers who come across her profile on social media.

McCoy is not the only student who has figured out this selling model. University of Oklahoma junior Taylor Thibodeau sells Monat hair products to pay her rent and college tuition.

“I began selling Monat when a friend of a friend reached out to me on Instagram” Thibodeau said. “I tried to products, realized I liked them and then I signed up to sell it.” 

Where public perception of these companies begins to turn negative is recruitment. According toThibodeau many people have reached out to her via social media and have accused her of being in a pyramid scheme.

“I’m not nor have I ever been in a pyramid scheme” Thibodeau said while laughing. “First of all pyramid schemes are illegal so my company would have been shut down if that were the case. Second of all, I don’t make money by recruiting new people I get paid for training them.” 

On New York Attorney General Letitia James’s website, she explains the difference between the two. A pyramid scheme “involves the sale of products or distributorships in an attempt to show legitimacy.” The profits in a pyramid scheme are dependent on the recruitment of new people to invest in the company rather than the sale of the product. 

  Multi-level marketing, on the other hand, are when products are sold through a network of distributors and salesmen who earn commission on the sales they make. Recruitment is a factor in multi-level marketing, but in order to stay legitimate the majority money and the emphasis of the company cannot be in recruitment. 

Pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing both share a pyramid like structure so they can appear similar, and it some cases a multi-level marketing business can be a pyramid scheme in disguise.

One famous case of a multi-level marketing business that is currently being sued by the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is LuLaRoe. A lawsuit that is bringing a bad name to multi-level marketing.

“I think that the investigation of LuLaRoe is definitely a big part of the negative perception of multi-level marketing” Thibodeau said “In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was one of the factors that is causing social media platforms like Instagram to crack down on people who make their money through social media.”

The crack downs Thibodeau is referring to are Instagram proposing to take away the feature that allows users to view how many likes a picture receives and the feature that allows users to see who is viewing their stories.

The initial lawsuit against LuLaRoe was filed in January 2019 and Instagram began testing out removing likes and views in April 2019. 

For social media influencers and sellers this proposed change is extremely worrying, because seeing who is engaging in the content they are promoting allows sellers to know who is interested in their products and who they should reach out to. 

“It feels like a shot at people who influence and sell products over social media,” McCoy said. “It takes away the primary tool for showing that people like and use our products and our tool for measuring interest in our products.”

According to McCoy, around 90 percent of her sales come from Instagram. From that 90 percent, about 40 percent of those sales comes from her reaching out to her follows because she has seen that they have interacted with her content.

“If I can’t see who is interested and engaging in my content, I won’t know who to reach out to and I won’t make that sale” said McCoy“This is the income I have lived off of in college, and if a large portion of it goes away next semester I don’t know what I would do.”

The Rise of Sneaker Culture

By Helaina Hefner

The days of simple footwear are over, but this probably isn’t news to you. 

Now more than ever people are jumping at the chance to find the newest and coolest shoes, but not just any shoes. Specifically sneakers. 

Not the old New Balances your dad pulls from the back of his closet. But designer sneakers, sneakers that cost more than some people’s rent. 

The days of throwing on an old pair of sneakers are over. Once invented for athletics, sneakers have now become the status symbol of street style. 

This revamp in style has prompted younger generations to spend an excessive amount of time online and in stores hunting for the rarest and trendiest sneakers on the market in an attempt to stock their closest and of course, show off.

With any big craze, there is the select elite, also known as sneakerheads, who go above and beyond, scouting for the best of the best sneakers. As is the case for 22-year-old Paxton Lewis. Foregoing college, Lewis has worked hard to prove that success isn’t determined by a college degree.

A passion that started in 2017 has now grown into a sneaker collection surpassing 200 pairs and a dream job of selling and trading shoes. 

While this didn’t happen overnight, Lewis prides himself on where his collection is today. 

Attending conventions all across the South, Lewis earns a living selling sneakers from his humble inventory of 400 sneakers. 

“It sounds ridiculous,” said Lewis. “I know 400 seems like a lot but you would be surprised how quickly they sell.”  

The inventory Lewis boasts sits tucked away neatly organized by size and style in a storage unit he rents. 

With the help of online retailers and fellow sneakerheads, Lewis is able to easily find and purchase certain sneakers that he then flips for a profit.

While it can sometimes be tricky to get your hands on the latest sneakers, a new store in OKC is making the hunt easier. 

Kicklahoma, a sneaker and apparel boutique, recently opened a store in Penn Square Mall where various sneakers are readily accessible. 

The brand also holds an annual convention in Tulsa where sellers are able to set up booths for the thousands of buyers that attend. 

The convention was successful in its second year gathering over 1,500 people eager to buy, sell and trade the newest sneakers on the market. 

But the hunt for sneakers is not limited to major cities. Locally, in Norman, fanatics can visit Vault 405 to find on-trend sneakers and clothes. A hidden gem that all locals should take advantage of. 

But how and when did the whole sneaker craze even start you might be asking, well all with a little help from hip hop culture. 

Twenty-one-year-old finance major Brent Houser, class of 2021, appreciates the rise of sneaker culture and attributes its success to a few things. 

“With the influx of rap influence growing and current fashion trends leaning toward comfort and high fashion it makes sense that sneakers are becoming so popular,” said Houser. 

It’s no wonder that some of the hardest sneakers to snag are currently rapper Travis Scott’s collab with the infamous sneaker brand Nike. The shoes resale for a staggering price of up to $1,500, some might say a small price to pay to obtain the coveted shoes. 

      photo courtesy of complex.com

Other notable rappers with sneaker collabs include Jay-Z, Drake and Kanye West.

West’s clothing brand Yeezy arguably spearheaded the rise of sneaker culture with his unique take on sneakers. 

The YeezyBoost 750 hit the market in 2015 launching the sneaker frenzy. Nearly 5 years later the brand has taken on a life of its own, having amassed a cult-like following. 

For Guinness Record holder Jordy Geller, shoes are a way of life, an outlet a religion.

Geller at one point compiled a collection of 2,504 sneakers, all Nike. 

And while the classic athletic sneaker brands have been in the shoe game for years, as sneaker culture continues to grow designer brands have followed suit.

Well known names such as Gucci, Givenchy and Chanel have recently broken into the sneaker market replicating those of Nike, Adidas and more. 

    Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Such high fashion brands have taken sneakers to another level opening the door for a wider consumer market. Now sneakers are not only seen by the average college student and sneakerhead but also on the runway in New York, Paris and Milan. 

While such high fashion brands are known for their expensive clothing, in many cases the more athletic brands like Nike and Adidas produce more expensive sneakers. The high cost of such sneakers is accredited to the fact that for many of the sneaker releases there is a limited amount available, compared to designer brands that restock their sneakers regularly. 

Regardless of price, more often than not these highly regarded sneakers are worn in everyday life. 

With the rise of street style sneakers have become a symbol of creative expression. Although expensive, sometimes rare and hard to find sneakers are now more than ever worn by a diverse group of people.

At one point sneakers were confined to athletes and primarily men, but in the few years that sneakers have become popular the market has widened significantly. 

It’s also important to note that this rise in sneaker culture is not confined to America. The phenomenon is seen globally and even influences how American consumers style their sneakers.  

Every style trend has it’s ups and downs, but sneakers don’t seem to be going out of style anytime soon. The versatile shoe has taken over the recent fashion scene and has taken center stage in major fashion shows. 

It’s hard to say what will come next in the sneaker world. For now, it seems that both athletic and high fashion brands will continue to design new sneakers for the masses.

If you’re looking to get your hands on your own fashionable sneakers, you can visit the following websites:

https://stockx.com/

https://www.stadiumgoods.com/

https://www.ssense.com/en-us

Social Media is More Than Entertainment

Trend: Abby Huckelbury  

It’s 4 p.m. as Caroline Molloy walks through her garage, flings her Vera Bradley backpack into her room and plops down on the couch. She lays there, endlessly cycling through her social media feeds. Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat repeat. She does this for hours just trying to entertain herself and relax after a long day at high school. But for some, social media is not just a way to keep the mind busy. These apps have now become a source of income, a way to pay for rent and groceries. For Adam Stanley, social media helps him make some extra spending money. But as for Evelyn Wall, these apps help her to afford college.

Social media is one of the most controlling factors in today’s world. Apps such as TikTok and Instagram have made it onto millions of phones. People spend hours shuffling between apps, going through their different feeds. However, social media has now become something other than a source of entertainment. These platforms have created a way for people to make money.

Although social media has been primarily used only for entertainment, users can now earn money through these apps by promoting companies on their personal accounts. Creating these advertisements has created a quick way for busy people, such as students, to make money.

TikTok is an app where users can film videos of themselves lip-syncing or acting out comedy sketches, up to 15 seconds long, and choose from a database of songs, effects or sound bites to post onto their account for others to see. Users also have the ability to leave a caption under their own video, or comment on others. After founding the app, Zhang Yiming has become the ninth richest person in China, according to Forbes.

The app has quickly become popular since its launch in 2016, especially among younger generations including ages 11 to 18. With approximately 500 million users strong, according to The New York Times, TikTok is among the fastest growing apps.

Caroline Molloy is a sophomore at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies, a high school located in Oklahoma City, and has used the app almost every day since she downloaded it in 2018. Still living with her parents, as well as off of their paychecks, Molloy was looking for a source of entertainment. Something that would make her laugh and keep her updated on the latest social trends. Once the app became popular among her friends, she had to download it.

“I pretty much go on TikTok every day,” 16-year-old Molloy said. “Most of my friends have it downloaded and we’re always sending each other funny ones.”

Although Molloy does not create her own videos, she still uses the app to watch videos made by other users.

While TikTok remains a platform for expression and entertainment, it has also become a source of employment that allows users to post advertisement videos.

Although he no longer lives under the same room as his parents, public relations senior Adam Stanley continues to be funded by his parents while he attends the College of the Ozarks. Stanley had no intention of making any money from his content on TikTok. He only wanted to use the app for his own entertainment. However, it only took one video for his mind to be exposed into the world of advertisement and after that he was hooked.

“I downloaded it originally just to watch videos,” Stanley said. “I ended up posting this one video that just took off, so I kept posting more. Plus, I just really enjoy posting stuff.”

After creating more and more of these short 15 second videos, Stanley’s audience quickly began to grow. He currently has 560 thousand followers. As his account gained more followers, Stanley began gaining more recognition from companies looking to sponsor people.

“The companies I have done sponsors for have all reached me through an Instagram DM (direct message),” Stanley said. “Once I tell them I want to do it or not, they typically send a contract through my email.”

Stanley has promoted the companies TC Social Club, PinkHippo and KickBack Phone Stand and Grip. After agreeing to do a promotion, companies mail Stanley a few items of their merchandise and ask for it to be used in an advertisement video. He is often told that he can keep what is sent to him.

“I received free merchandise from every company that paid me,” Stanley said. “They send me their products, then I make a TikTok promoting it.”

After creating an ad, companies require Stanley to send them the video for review before posting it on his TikTok account. Some companies also include a caption to be included with the video as well.

“They like to view it first, that way they make sure you won’t bash their products,” Stanley said. “I usually ask what they want me to caption the video because most already have a caption in mind.”

When he first downloaded the TikTok, Stanley was unaware that he could get paid for videos he posted. He has now received a total payment of $400 for the six ads he has done.

“I started off getting $50 per post, but now I charge at least $100 per company since I have a larger fan base,” Stanley said. “I wouldn’t mind working with more companies in the future as long as I agree with their products and their services. I don’t want to represent something I wouldn’t morally stand behind.”

Just like Molloy and Stanley, University of Oklahoma sophomore Evelyn Wall is also funded by her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Wall pay for Evelyn’s food, her car, her phone, her education and even her sorority bills. Realizing all that her parents do for her, Wall felt guilty. She wished that she could take on a job to help pay for some of her expenses, but unfortunately as a nursing major she was far too busy. That’s when she received a message on Instagram. Just like Stanley, she was about to have her mind blown. Wall discovered that being sponsored on social media would fufill her hope of heklping her parents and she would be able to play a part in funding her own education.

According to Forbes, “the annual costs of textbooks are about $1,300 per year.” Just like many other students at OU, nursing major Evelyn Wall was going to need some aid in purchasing her textbooks.

“Textbooks are literally just so expensive for absolutely no reason,” Wall said. “I just feel bad because my parents are paying for my school and so I always want to help when I can so I’m the one who pays for all my books every year.”

After being noticed on Instagram, Wall was asked to promote some items on her account for the company Packed Party.

Instagram, yet another app created for primarily entertainment purposes, has included more advertisements over the years. Because both TikTok and Instagram cost nothing to download, both companies have flooded their content with ads. According to The New York Times, after opening their feed to all advertisers, Instagram began “cranking up its money machine,” meaning “a lot more ads in your photo feed.”

For some, such as 16-year-old Molloy, having a lot of advertisements pop up while you are on an app can be irritating as they disrupt you scrolling through your feed.

“The ads can kind of get annoying,” Molloy said. “I mean I understand why there are so many, but I do wish there were less of them.”

However, for students such as Wall these ads helped her find the money to purchase her textbooks for a semester.

“Packed Party sent me a direct message on Instagram asking if I wanted to work with them,” Wall said. “They just wanted me to take a picture with this confetti pencil pouch and they sent me a caption to go with it.”

With the money Wall received posting the Packed Party ad on her Instagram, she was able to purchase two of her required textbooks for fall of 2018.

“I was really happy when they asked me to do it,” Wall said. “I decided to put the money towards textbooks for school because education is something that is really important to me. Doing the ad also kind of gave me the opportunity to help my parents in a way because I was able to pay for my books on my own.”