West Texas A&M University awarded grant by the National Science Foundation

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) – A team of professors at WTAMU won a $200,000 grant in response to being a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) to continue to evolve STEM programs.WTAMU is a nationally recognized HSI program, with 31% of the student population being Hispanic.The grant will go towards evolving science programs, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of bridge courses from non-major science classes to more advanced programs for its underrepresented students.“We are looking for a diverse student population in the sciences. They bring in a different perspective, and a different cultural outlook,” said Dr Nick Flynn, professor of biochemistry.WT will introduce faculty workshops and student support modules to enhance undergraduate research in the science and math departments.Copyright 2024 KFDA. All rights reserved.

Jason Rapert demands removal of books he dislikes from Arkansas libraries

Jason Rapert, an evangelical preacher and former state senator who now serves on the State Library Board, can add aspiring book banner to his resume.
In a post on social media Monday, Rapert discussed results of a survey of public library systems over books he finds offensive. The Conway Republican inaccurately proclaimed, “My request for a survey of #Arkansas public libraries to report to us on having any books with obscene, pornographic or objectionable materials accessible to minor children has been received. As a member of the Arkansas State Library Board, I thank those who have reported honestly and for answering the request.”

Cancun hoteliers say the conflict between Mexico and Ecuador will impact tourism

The closure of the Mexican embassy could leave Ecuadorian tourists who want to travel to Quintana Roo destinations without visas.Cancun hoteliers fear that the diplomatic conflict between Mexico and Ecuador will damage the flow of tourists to the Mexican Caribbean, with the South American country being one of the destination’s five main markets in that region.Within the framework of the Tianguis Turístico 2024 in Acapulco, Jesús Almaguer Salazar, president of the Hotel Association of Cancún, Puerto Morelos, and Isla Mujeres, reported on the preoccupation of Ecuadorian wholesale travel agencies, who expressed their concern about the closure of the Mexican representation in Ecuador due to the diplomatic conflict.Almaguer urged the Mexican government to resolve the situation to avoid any harm to the tourism sector, pointing out the importance of having an embassy or consulate to facilitate the process of obtaining visas for Ecuadorians who wish to visit Mexico.The hotel leader expressed his confidence in a prompt resolution of the conflict, emphasizing that all those involved, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would benefit from it.Almaguer also highlighted the importance of the migratory flow from Ecuador to Mexico before the pandemic, as well as the negative impact that the reinstatement of the visa requirement for Ecuadorian citizens had on Mexican tourism.Almaguer referred to the upcoming implementation of visas for Peruvian citizens who wish to visit Mexico, urging that the process be agile and efficient, similar to what has been requested for electronic visas for the Brazilian market.He also assured that hoteliers will provide facilities to Peruvians whose visa processing is complicated, allowing them to keep their lodging reservations despite possible delays in their trips due to immigration procedures.TYT Newsroom

Is Punta Cana ‘stealing’ Colombian tourism from Cancun?

Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is taking away tourists from Colombia.With rates up to 20% lower and fewer procedures for entering the country, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is attracting Colombian tourists, who are interested in entering Mexico, but prefer not to risk their vacations.Blanca Mateus Díaz, from one of the main tour operators in Colombia, explained that Colombians are already choosing to visit the Caribbean destination, because to enter Mexico, either through Cancun or Mexico City, they must bring a lot of documentation that proves their stay. as a tourist, something that is already exhausting and they prefer to opt for the safe thing.Currently, Colombians must attach round-trip air tickets, passports, lodging and activity reservation tickets, but it is also necessary to bring them physically, since this is required in immigration and even as travel agencies invoices are delivered. to verify the transaction.According to data from the Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic, tourism in Colombia grew 19% last year with 306 thousand visitors received, reaching the third place. In the case of Quintana Roo, Colombia’s tourism represents the fifth issuing market and only 1.7% of total arrivals.For the sector, the Colombian tourist is already afraid of being questioned by Mexican authorities, and since the Dominican Republic is cheaper, they are choosing that destination.The situation of non-admissions led to the formation of working groups between the state and federal governments and businessmen to facilitate the arrival of Colombian tourists by agreeing on training and even a direct line between immigration authorities and hoteliers to verify their reservations.TYT Newsroom

Climate protestors who occupied London’s Science Museum vow to continue disruptions

Climate protestors who occupied the Science Museum during the weekend have promised further action over its sponsorship links with the Adani Group, the world’s biggest private coal producer.On Friday more than 30 scientists and youth activists camped out in the museum’s new climate-change-focused gallery which is sponsored by renewable energy company Adani Green Energy, a part of the Adani Group which has ties to coal mining and arms manufacturing. The protestors set up camp inside the museum throughout the weekend leading to the Energy Revolution gallery being closed to the public.The campaigners say that the sponsorship is allowing the Adani brand to ‘greenwash’ its business which derives 60% of its revenues from coal, one of the most polluting fossil fuels. They were joined by BBC naturalist Chris Packham, who spoke to the group on Friday evening. He described the sponsorship deal as “grotesque”: “For me science is the art of understanding truth and beauty and a lot of that beauty lies in the natural world,” he said: “Science tells us that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for the accelerating destruction of our natural world. The Science Museum is a place to spark imagination, to provide answers but also to encourage us to ask questions. The question I’m asking today is a big one, why on earth are we allowing a destructive industry to sponsor an educational exhibition whilst simultaneously setting fire to young people’s futures? This is beyond greenwash—it’s grotesque.”More than 30 scientists and youth activists camped out in the museum’s new climate-change-focused gallery which is sponsored by renewable energy company Adani Green Energy Credit: Andrea DomeniconiWhen the sponsorship deal was first announced in 2021 it led to trustees TV mathematician Hannah Fry and Jo Foster, the director of the Institute for Research in Schools, to quit the board.One of the scientists that occupied the museum, Dr Aaron Thierry, has studied the impact of climate change in the Arctic. He criticised museum bosses and said protests would continue: “What’s particularly telling is the way that the museum has reacted to any challenges about this even when their own trustees resigned from the board in protest, it’s as though there’s no response to that. They just carry on regardless. We really need to start asking questions about what is going on at the management level of this institution. Why are they continuing with a partnership like this when they’re ruining the reputation of the institution? we’re going to keep protesting until they stop. We’re not going to give up.”The BBC naturalist Chris Packham described the sponsorship deal as “grotesque” Credit: Andrea DomeniconiThis was echoed by Ian McDermott, a chemistry teacher who has been involved in other protests but wasn’t present at the weekend. He said he will no longer organise school trips to the museum: “For decades I ran a couple of trips to the museum a year, but I just don’t think it’s in the students’ interests to engage with the greenwashing of the companies destroying their futures.”A Science Museum spokesperson said: “Climate change is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. In just three weeks since opening we’re pleased to have welcomed fifty thousand visitors to our new gallery on the urgent energy transition the world needs to see, made possible by generous sponsorship from Adani Green Energy, a major renewable energy business. Last weekend there was a peaceful protest by a small group of activists which colleagues responded to with great professionalism. Globally, massive growth in renewable energy is required and we need the energy sector as a whole, alongside governments, to step up to this challenge.”

Books about sexual assault aren’t pornographic. Schools are banning them as ‘obscene’ anyway.


2024-04-16 14:46
April 16, 2024

A new trend is emerging in book banning: School officials are pulling works about sexual violence from library shelves, often by labeling them “obscene.” That’s the finding of a report released Tuesday by freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America. 

Nineteen percent of banned books during the 2021-2023 school years included passages about sexual assault, the report found. What’s more, school officials are banning books at a faster pace. PEN recorded 4,349 book bans in 23 states and 52 public school districts during the first half of the current school year. That figure tops the 3,362 books banned during the entire previous school year. 

Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read program, said that after noticing a pattern of policymakers generalizing broadly to label books “sexually explicit,” the organization decided to investigate.  

“When we dug a little bit deeper, what stood out to us was, ‘Oh, wow, these are stories about violence against women,’” she said. “These are stories told from female survivors.” 

Banning books because they describe sexual violence raises concerns that survivors will be deprived of the chance to read literature that reflects their experiences, ultimately increasing their feelings of alienation instead of aiding with their recovery. About 27 percent of 17-year-old girls and 5 percent of 17-year-old boys say they have experienced sexual abuse — figures that range from 23 to 62 percent for LGBTQ+ youth. 

Roughly half of individuals who contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) for help are minors, said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the nonprofit that works to combat sexual violence and to support survivors. 

“This is something that’s already very much a part of their lives,” Berkowitz said. “Pretending that sexual violence is just an adult topic might make some people feel better, but kids know the truth.” 

He added that banning books about sexual assault plays into the common misconception that such acts are about sex when they’re really about violence.

In states all over the country — from Idaho to Pennsylvania — books with sexual violence have been banned on the grounds that they’re “pornographic,” “disgusting” or “obscene,” according to the report. Literature targeted for their passages on sexual assault include Amy Reed’s “The Nowhere Girls,” kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, “A Stolen Life,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Rupi Kaur’s poetry collections. Even works on consent haven’t been spared, with one Kentucky school district briefly banning the book “Defining Sexual Consent,” a decision that faced pushback from parents.

“We want to be teaching kids about consent so that they can interact in social situations and know warning signs and things to look for and help protect their friends,” Berkowitz said. “The last thing we want to be doing is hiding this information from kids. Keeping information from kids is… going to actually make things harder for them. It’s going to make them more ashamed to talk about something that happened to them and less aware that there are lots of other people that it also happens to.”

Many survivors blame themselves, but when they realize how common sexual violence is, they piece together that the abuse they suffered had nothing to do with them and everything to do with the perpetrator who decided to harm them, he said. 

Censoring books because they reference sexual assault also disproportionately impacts women and nonbinary writers, groups more likely to engage with this subject matter. In Idaho’s West Ada School District, women authored nine out of the 11 books school officials banned in the fall, and more than half of the works discussed sexual and other forms of violence against women, PEN found. One of those books, “The Nowhere Girls,” Meehan said, “is about teenage girls who are resisting sexist culture in their school and resisting sexual abuse of women.”

Niki Scheppers, the communications chief for the West Ada School District, told The 19th in a statement that the books West Ada removed aren’t children’s literature but “represent works of a more explicit nature.” She also said, “In the careful curation of knowledge, the decision to remove certain books from our library shelves is not made lightly. It is a deliberate choice aimed at fostering an environment that encourages diverse perspectives while ensuring the protection of our students.”

Since First Amendment protections do not cover obscenity, categorizing reading materials as such makes it easier to remove them from school libraries. There’s just one problem: The works targeted don’t meet the legal threshold for obscenity, according to PEN. The group referenced the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Miller v. California which characterized obscene materials as being totally devoid of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

To skirt this definition, states and school districts have “increasingly introduced new terms” or “manipulat[ed] other existing statutes,” according to PEN. Sometimes, terms such as “sexually explicit,” “sexually relevant” or “sexual conduct” are used to justify removing books, but these phrases don’t have a standard legal meaning, causing confusion among school personnel about which books should be permitted or prohibited. Florida’s HB 1069 singles out any book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct.”  Enacted last year, it has led to the ouster of books such as Melissa Marr’s “Ink Exchange” from school libraries. Marr’s book, however, does not detail the rape that figures heavily in the storyline. 

Florida leads the nation in book banning cases, with 3,135 bans across 11 school districts from July 2021 to December 2023, the PEN America report found. Escambia County Public Schools, the district with the most censorship in the country, enacted more than 1,600 of those bans. Wisconsin came in second, imposing 481 bans in three districts. There, the Elkhorn Area School District alone barred 444 books based on the complaints of one parent, according to PEN. With 142 bans in three districts, Iowa came in third, followed by Texas (141 bans), Kentucky (106 bans) and Virginia (100 bans).

PEN America points to the website Book Looks as a driving force of book bans. Started in 2022 by a former member of Moms for Liberty, a national group focused on parents’ rights in schools, the website ranks books based on their content about gender identity, sexual orientation, race relations, profane language and violence. Supporters of censorship have used the site to challenge books in school districts nationwide. A Maryland Moms for Liberty chapter used the site to suggest the removal of more than 50 books in Carroll County schools, PEN found. Of these books, 96 percent contained sexual references and 36 percent mentioned rape. 

“We are well aware that allowing students to read and learn about sexual violence doesn’t cause more violence,” Meehan said. “In fact, research has shown us that the opposite is true, that students who learn about rape and rape culture can actively work to help prevent it.”

In Brevard County, Florida, school officials in June imposed an eight-year ban on three works by the poet Kaur that reference sexual violence: “Milk and Honey,” “The Sun and Her Flowers” and “Home Body.” She responded to the development by stating on X, “Banning books about sexual assault is not going to stop sexual assault from happening. Lawmakers are taking away tools that help students feel seen and that’s what breaks my heart.”

Meehan said that giving young people access to books about a wide range of topics, including sexual violence, helps to improve their sexual health, just as providing them with comprehensive sexuality education does. Like Kaur, she also acknowledged a grim truth: “Rape and harm against young people and young girls is not being censored away in the real world. So why would we censor it from our libraries?”

Minnesota tourism returns to form

Opinion editor’s note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Minnesota tourism is bouncing back from pandemic-era lows — good news for the leisure and hospitality industry, the state’s fourth-largest.

In 2022, the state recorded about 77 million visitors — a level last seen in 2019, according to Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency. And while 2023 figures have not been fully calculated, they are projected to be even better.

When those numbers are up, the state and its citizens are beneficiaries. The 2022 visitors (counting both those from outside the state and those traveling for leisure and entertainment within it) generated more than $13 billion in economic impact.

Minnesota’s leisure and hospitality sectors have had about 250,000 employees working in resorts, hotels, restaurants, stadiums and culture and arts venues. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced those numbers by 23,000 workers compared with 2019.

But the welcome signs of recovery have come in increased average monthly hotel occupancy rates, and in the number of passengers traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Air travelers dropped to less than 15 million in 2020 but increased to 31 million in 2022, according to officials. That’s still below the nearly 40 million who came through the airport in 2019.

An Explore Minnesota survey last summer found that most tourism and hospitality businesses reported being financially stable or growing, leading the agency to project a 2% increase in the number of 2023 trips over the previous year. The agency’s estimates show a modest increase in visitors to and through central and southern Minnesota during the year and a slight decrease in those visiting the seven-county metro area and the northwestern reaches of the state.

But the overall encouraging news must be tempered by the losses experienced by tourism businesses that depend on winter weather. During our 2023-24 “winter that wasn’t,” northeastern Minnesota, which includes the North Shore and surrounding areas, saw a drop in traffic of about 6.4%.

A March 2024 Explore Minnesota survey of 323 businesses or organizations from across the state found that 91% of those groups reported negative impacts from the warmer, nearly snowless winter.

To assist those businesses, state officials from Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin asked the U.S. Small Business Administration to expand economic injury disaster loans for droughts to businesses that rely on winters with ice and snow. The loan program allows businesses to borrow up to $2 million to cover their losses, with no interest the first year and a lower rate after that.

And the Minnesota Legislature wisely invested $25 million for state tourism efforts, including the new “Star of the North” campaign that will help some of the regions that saw a downturn in travel.

Still, the upward trend in overall statewide tourism numbers is a welcome sign for the state’s economy. As Explore Minnesota spokesperson Chris Morgan told the Star Tribune, “When we have more visitors, the local businesses benefit, the bigger businesses benefit [and] the citizens of Minnesota benefit.”

Children’s book author sparks Bethel Park students’ creativity

When she was young, Jean Reidy wrote stories and stapled the pages together to make books.
She continues to do so, minus the stapler.
The native of suburban Chicago recently visited two Bethel Park elementary schools to talk in part about her experience as an award-winning children’s author. Her main purpose, though, was to inspire creativity.
“Put your hand on your head if you are a daydreamer,” she told students during an April 12 assembly at George Washington Elementary. “We need daydreamers.”
And later:
“Raise your hand if you’re an artist. We need more artists in the world.”
Following her introduction by Washington librarian Becky Minella, Reidy immediately developed a strong rapport with the youngsters.
“I don’t know if it has as much to do with giving assemblies or presentations. I think it has more to do with my background,” she said after the program. “I’m an aunt to, like, 47 nieces and nephews. I’m a grandma to seven now. I have four kids of my own. And I was the one who always preferred to sit at the kids’ table at the family dinners.”
Apparently, that means plenty of time with the smaller kids.
“A lot of my friends will say, ‘I’m a 13-year-old, and the write middle-grade novels.’ And my heart probably lies around age 6,” Reidy said. “Those are essentially the books I write, as well. So when those kindergartners, first graders, even those third and fourth graders, come in, I feel like they’re my people, that I can really relate to them.”
She discussed how writers, especially of fiction, tap their imaginations and suggested the students carry notebooks to capture their otherwise fleeting thoughts. And she acknowledged that not everything is going to click.
“Some of my ideas are awesome, but others, not so much,” she said. “That’s part of the creative process.”
Whatever the case, she strives to excel at her craft, “because you, my readers, deserve the best writing.”
Speaking of which, Reidy’s work has received numerous accolades, from the 2011 Colorado Book Award for Children’s Literature for “Light Up the Night” to the selection of “A Book About You and All the World Too” for Illinois Reads 2024.
Helping arrange for her visit was Milana Popovic, librarian at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, which hosted Reidy the day before her turn at Washington.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to meet a real author and gain inspiration for their own writing journeys,” Popovic said.
Reidy’s own journey shows no signs of slowing.
“There are days when other things take over in life, when I think, oh, maybe it’s time to retire. But then I can’t turn off the stories,” she said. “It is one of my favorite things to do. So I feel very, very fortunate that way.”
For more information, visit jeanreidy.com.

Harry Funk is a TribLive news editor, specifically serving as editor of the Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine Creek and Bethel Park journals. A professional journalist since 1985, he joined TribLive in 2022. You can contact Harry at [email protected].

Two teens shot after fight at Warner Robins business ends in gunfire, police say; one dies from injuries

They say it happened just before 5 p.m. in the 800 block of South Davis Drive.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A fight at a Warner Robins business Tuesday evening ended with gunshots ringing out, leaving one teen dead and another injured, according to a press release from the Warner Robins Police Department. 

They say the Warner Robins Police were called to the 800 block of S. Davis Drive just before 5 p.m. after receiving reports of gunfire at a local business. That store is at the intersection of Davis Drive and Driftwood Terrace. 

It appears that two groups of teens got into a fight inside the business and then, after exiting the business, gunfire erupted, the press release said. According to an update, they say surveillance footage shows both victims were shooting at each other. 

When authorities arrived, they first found a 15-year-old male with “multiple gunshot wounds” on the north side of the business. They say he was shot in his upper leg, his side and his chest. He was then taken to Houston Healthcare’s Watson Campus.

In an update, they said that the 15-year-old would die from his injuries. 

Police would also find another shooting victim just around the corner in the 100 block of Oak Grove Road, the press release said. 

They say this teen, who they believe to be an 18-year-old male, was shot in his leg. He was taken to Atrium Health Navicent. Right now, it is unclear what status he is in.

Warner Robins Police say they believe another group of teens were present, and they were then seen fleeing down Driftwood Terrace. In the updated press release, they say they are looking for two to three teens who were involved either as participants or as bystanders in the conflict. 

Right now, they are still working to find out what happened.

“It is a[n] active investigation that has rapidly evolved since the call came out,” Lt. Eric Gossman with the police department said in a text message. “The investigators are looking for others that were involved in the incident outside.” 

If you have any information, you are asked to reach out to Detective Brankley or Detective Garcia at 478-302-5380 or the Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 1-877-68CRIME.

It comes just under a month after a 28-year-old man was shot in that area back on March 18. 

According to the Warner Robins Police Department, a 28-year-old man was walking in the 100 block of Oak Grove Road when he saw a group of three teens with what he believed to be pellet guns. He would soon find out they were the real thing.

He soon “felt a pain in his left leg” and realized he had been shot. Warner Robins then says he ran away and then found a bystander. 

This is a developing story. We’ll provide more information when it becomes available.

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