Diedra Rodriguez

I am a current junior at the University of South Florida, majoring in Journalism-News Editorial. I have interned with The News Chief and The Ledger and will be interning full-time with the Tampa Bay Times this summer. I have been with The Oracle, USF's student newspaper for three years and have been a correspondent and news editor for the publication. In my spare time, I love going to the movies, running and using social media. I live, breathe and write news.
Diedra Rodriguez has written 9 posts for The Digital Bullpen

Are you smarter than Diaz?

While the Student Government presidential candidates campaign  this week, The Digital Bullpen rounded up each one to participate in its own spin-off of ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?’ and see who knows their current events better than Matt Diaz, the current student body president.

Each were asked five questions on the news surrounding USF. Diaz set the bar high by answering four out of five questions correctly. Which candidate(s) beat Diaz?

The six candidates could not use their cell phones during the Q&A time and had one minute to answer each of the following:

1) When did USF President Judy Genshaft meet with Sen. J.D. Alexander to discuss the proposed budget cuts?
Answer: Last Monday

2) Which Board of Trustees member was also part of that meeting?
Answer: Brian Lamb

3) Who proposed the Polytechnic conforming bill earlier this year and what would it mean for the campus if passed?
Answer: Sen. Evelyn Lynn and it would mean the immediate implementation of a 12th state university by dissolving the campus and bypassing the benchmarks set by the Board of Governors.

4) On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the state budget. Originally, USF was facing a $78 million cut from the state. But under the new bill, how much would be cut if it is signed by Gov. Rick Scott?
Answer: $45 million

5) When the Board of Governors approved of Poly independence, how many benchmarks did they require the campus to meet?
Answer: Nine.

Here are the results!

Omar Rodriguez:
points. All correct! Congratulations!

Brian Goff:
4 1/2 points. While Goff could not provide the name of the trustee for number two, he provided accurate background information and details of Brian Lamb. Congratulations!

Christopher Cano:
4 points. Cano could not recall the name of the trustee in question two.

Sarah Pollei:
3 1/2 points
. Pollei also could not recall the name of the trustee in question two and incorrectly referred to the BOG decision made in November for question three. I gave her half a point for question four. She said the Senate bill offers about a 30 percent decrease. The reported percentage is 26 percent.

Alan Ethington:
2 1/2 points. Ethington could not recall the name of the trustee in question two or the name of the state senator in question three, but received half a point for the third question.  He also did not answer question five correctly.

Christina Hughes:
2 1/2 points. Hughes could not recall the answers for questions two and five. She explained the conforming bill correctly for Question three, but could not recall the senator who proposed it.

Judy Genshaft on USF budget cuts: ‘There’s still time to make a difference’

Minutes before the BOT meeting adjourned, Chairman John Ramil gave encouraging words to the audience within the Patel Center Auditorium. Before he even finished audience members gave a standing ovation. "This university has been under assault over the past several months … you have to play the game for a while but when the game starts to move you away from what’s right for students … you put your foot down and you say 'no.' We say 'no.'" - Ramil (Photo Credit: Diedra Rodriguez)

After the Florida Senate’s proposed budget became publicized, the University of South Florida Board of Trustees called an emergency meeting Monday evening. The Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions‘ auditorium filled with USF faculty, alumni, students and concerned business owners to hear what direction USF will take with a possible slash to next year’s budget.

The budget proposed would decrease 58 percent of the University’s existing budget; whereas most other Florida public universities would see no more than 30 percent decrease. The 2011-12 appropriation was $178.3 million, while the 2012-13 proposal budget would allocate $74.5 million in state funds.

USF officials and community business leaders attended the meeting to lay out the implications of a large cut and create a plan of action to mobilize against it. Everything from faculty recruitment, economic development in Tampa and accreditation could be in jeopardy.

Yet, USF student body president and trustee, Matt Diaz, was the first to ask how it would affect students – and he did not receive a positive prediction.

Student tuition may rise to make up for the budget cut, as well as reduced access and increased demand for courses. The number of sections offered would have to change, resulting in a long-term decrease in graduation rates and higher post-graduation debt.

Other difficult circumstances would arise, such as the economic impact USF has in the Tampa region,  which would lead students to look elsewhere for jobs. Recruiting and attracting high quality faculty and staff would decrease the quality of education students receive, and USF would have to work harder to find money to maintain accreditation. This means that a student would graduate with a degree from a non-accredited university.

Student body president of USF Polytechnic in Lakeland, Damon Dennis, attended the meeting and said he will rally students from his regional campus to oppose the budget proposal.

“We’re looking into taking a bus to Tallahassee on Wednesday,” he said. “I’m glad they brought to light a lot of information on what the effect of students is going to be. A lot of it was just breaking the bad news to everyone. It’s going to affect the entire state of Florida. It’s already a bad economy, so why kick it when it’s down?”

Before, during and after the meeting, attendees discussed why USF is seeing the highest budget cut. All said it is political.

Here is audio of Board Chairman, John Ramil, on the situation: 

The proposal also allocated $32.7 million to USF Polytechnic University – which has yet to be officially created. In July 2011, behind-closed-doors conversations of USF Polytechnic separating from the Tampa campus became publicized. The media consistently kept the story alive before, and after, the Board of Governors approved a separation if certain conditions were met.

Polytechnic students have voiced opposition to the separation since July. Senator J.D. Alexander, Chairman of the Higher Education Budget Committee of the Florida Senate, has been the main cheerleader, whereas USF President Judy Genshaft is not. Both have reportedly clashed over the separation and Alexander continues to say Genshaft is doing what she can to ensure it does not happen.

Since the meeting, students have shared via Facebook and Twitter an online petition against the budget cuts. At 9:15 p.m., the petition had 256 signatures. At 9:30 p.m., there were 291 signatures.

During the meeting, Genshaft said there is still time to make a change in the legislation.

“I truly believe everyone in this room can make a difference,” she said. “I can tell you that I have also spoken to several other university presidents and what they are saying is to them this is very serious. They are willing to work together to work with us to activate their legislative region to work on behalf on the entire university system on having a better budget, but we have to make sure that every legislator in our region hears from you … Ask them to stand up for USF and our students.”

Here is audio of some of her speech: 

Diaz said he is ready to rally the troops.

“I’m encouraged to see how our community has really come together. It’s significant. It’s powerful,” he said. “We have to really see what we’re going to do. We have to play strategically. If we’re going to send students up there it’s not going to be just for show.”

Here is audio of USF Student Body President, Matt Diaz:

Senate President Khalid Hassouneh said the SG Marketing Department will have a campaign set within the next 24 hours.

(Audio by Digital Bullpen reporter Atecia Robinson)

Diaz ‘optimistic’ about Board of Governors student representative

A bill still under consideration in the Florida Legislature would allow Rick Scott to appoint the sole student representative on the Board of Governors – but it has also divided the students of Florida.

If the bill proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, passes the full Senate and House of Representatives, the governor will appoint the board’s student representative rather than the Florida Student Association, which is composed of all student body presidents except Florida State University.

The University of South Florida’s student body president has the chance to be the chairman and also to serve as the board representative, who voices the interests of students.

USF Student President Matt Diaz attended a Florida Senate Committee on Higher Education meeting earlier this month to oppose the legislation in Tallahassee. He said students choosing their representative is a democratic process of which he approves.

On one end of the meeting room sat Diaz with representatives who oppose the change – including USF, Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International University, New College of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of North Florida and the University of West Florida.

On the opposing end were student delegates of the University of Florida and Florida State University, who support the bill because they do not approve of having to pay to vote for a representative. The schools must pay dues to be a member of the Florida Student Association.

The atmosphere was tense within the Capitol, and Diaz said the opposing sides made the meeting a mess.

“With (UF) and (FSU) throwing out one message and then us throwing out our message, the committee was kind of conflicted with both messages,” he said.

However, Diaz said there was a glimmer of hope.

Diaz said he hopes UF and FSU students can find a middle ground with the rest of the state’s students to determine what will be the best option for the entire system.

Last year, in May 2011, the same bill died. Gaetz co-introduced the bill and later, during a Board of Governors public meeting, Michael Long, the current board student representative and sophomore student body president at New College, said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, told him he would quit working for higher education if a bill he proposed in the past wasn’t approved.

Long also said he didn’t feel “well-represented” by Alexander during the same meeting. Yet, Diaz said he doesn’t believe this is a political attack on Long.

Diaz said discussions with all universities on the current bill should be developing soon.

Student body address lacks student body

Student body president Matt Diaz gave his State of the Student Body Address speech Tuesday evening in the Senate Chambers. Photo credit: Diedra Rodriguez

Much like the past few years, Tuesday night’s State of the Student Body Address was filled with elected students and USF administrators, but few Average Joe students were present.

Matt Diaz gave his second address during his presidency prior to Tuesday night’s Student Government (SG) Senate meeting. Within the packed Senate Chambers were university administrators, SG members, and The Oracle correspondents and photographers. But, the lack of regular students listening to his message was no surprise.

For the past three administrations, I have seen the three presidents give their addresses and they are all virtually the same. They offer their achievements so far and their plans for the rest of their terms, and Diaz’s was no different. He mentioned everything from the NBC GOP Presidential Debate and rallying in Tallahassee to persuade state legislators to not allow the governor to decide which student should represent in the Board of Governors. He also emphasized his plans to update the Book of Bull, a detailed script of USF traditions, which is set to be completed by Fall 2012.

In the past four years, each administration has held its address within the Senate Chambers – except for one.

The 2009-10 student body President Juan Soltero held his spring 2010 address in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom – where everyone was in formal entire, there was a teleprompter and the catering was upscale with all sorts of free goodies.

“Soltero had room reserved in the ballroom. He had a teleprompter. Some people said that from a speaking perspective when you have it, it makes you a better speaker, but from a cost perspective it’s like should we have spent that money?” said Gary Manka, an SG adviser. “Juan liked to mimic what President Genshaft did (with her speeches).”

However, the disconnect between Student Government and the student body was still obvious. I witnessed about 20 more students at Soltero’s than at Diaz’s more recent address, but as soon as they were satiated, many left before Soltero’s address began.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. I don’t think we market as effectively as we could. I think (with) today’s students you have to go to where they live … to the student organizations … and that takes a lot of time,” Manka said. “If it’s a big event with a lot of people like the debate … you’ll fill the chairs. Our students like to see the big name and since we’re in a big city we can go to all of these other venues so it’s harder to attract that. I don’t think the student body cares that much.”

Associate Director of Communications Vincent DeFrancesco said he implemented social media to promote the address.

“I tweeted some of the things he said,” DeFrancesco said. “I did that in the effort for some of the students who didn’t want to attend so they can follow along on Twitter.”

Part of the reasoning behind a State of the Student Body Address is to communicate to the legislative branch the updates and plans of the executive branch, Diaz said.

However, he does agree that it is to let the students be more aware of any upcoming or current initiatives within SG.

“Look at the inaugurations, we pushed them even harder than we push these, and the only people that we get to come out there are the usual administrators, the president, and then pretty much the campaign staff and maybe the senators,” Diaz said. “To be honest, I wish I knew how and I think that has always been the question, ‘how do you engage students more, how do you get them out to events?’ and I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Facebook: communication outlet for college parents

When Michael Wheatley received a Facebook friend request from his parents three years ago, he said he was skeptical about accepting it.

“Sometimes I post things on Facebook they might not appreciate as other people my age,” Wheatley, a senior majoring in criminology, said.

University of South Florida students like Wheatley, are reflected in the results of a January 2011 study by test preparation service Kaplan. The study surveyed 2,313 students across the nation, aged 16 to 18. It found that 38 percent of those polled ignore the friend request.

About two-thirds of those surveyed are comfortable including their parents on the social networking website — a decision Wheatley eventually learned to appreciate.

“Adding them has definitely helped maintain our relationship, even though they live 20 minutes away. It’s hard getting together with a full load of classes and full time job,” he said. “(It) hasn’t hindered my independence at all. I still get to do what I please. I just don’t brag about it on Facebook anymore.”

Mark Pezzo, an associate professor of psychology at USF St. Petersburg, said the outcome of the parent-to-student relationship on Facebook depends on how the relationship is maintained outside of it.

“The students have a right to privacy,” he said. “This is really more about the parent and the child than it is about Facebook. Facebook makes it easier for parents to see things. I think the real thing is parents should find a way to know what is going on with their kids, but give them some freedom. If a parent is demanding to be friends then you begin to wonder if the parent is really understanding of the privacy and space that their kid needs.”

Demi Gonzaface, a sophomore majoring in pre-med and sociology, said her parents know their limits.

“I don’t really mind. It’s kind of awkward sometimes because I don’t want them to think I”m depressed when I post a status. It’s kind of nice to show them pictures of me (at USF),” she said. “My mom would like my status. My dad would randomly say something. My parents don’t bother me. They don’t embarass me (on Facebook).”

Her mother, Lillian Rivera, said she prefers to talk to her daughter via phone.

“Facebook is good to communicate with her old time friends … but to communicate to my kids and my family I prefer to pick up the phone,” she said. “Facebook has no emotions.”

Fernando Gonzaface, Demi’s father, said he signed up for Facebook about a year ago to communicate with old and new friends, not to primarily communicate with Demi.

“(I) keep an eye on the kids to see what they’re up to,” he said. “I just browse. We communicate (mainly) via cell phone.”

Regardless of whether their parents are Facebook “friends,” Pezzo said students shouldn’t post anything that they wouldn’t want their parents to see in the first place because future employers often look at applicants’ profiles.

“If somebody is worried about their parents seeing a picture of them drinking, they need to be careful anyway because when they apply for a job, the first thing they do is go on Facebook and see if they can find the job applicant so they can see the stupid stuff they are doing,” he said. “Just like there is no end for parents to embarrass their children, there is no end to opportunities for people to embarrass themselves.”

Kelli Burns, assistant professor of public relations at the School of Mass Communications, said there are an increasing number of adult users on Facebook.

“Facebook started out as something for college students and it opened it up to everybody,” she said. “Parent age people are the fastest growing group of Facebook users.”

According to a Pew Research Center analysis in 2009, 30 percent of online adults from ages 35 to 44 have a social network profile.

Yet, Keri Riegler, director of New Student Connections, said on occasion the digital relationship can become a hindrance to students attempting to make their own decisions regarding their schooling and future.

“If (students) were constantly relying on their family member to communicate with a faculty member or not making decisions for themselves, then they’re truly not embracing what college is all about,” she said. “So that’s when I would say Facebook becomes a barrier for that student’s growth and success and that’s when I think it’s probably not as healthy of a relationship with their family.”

Riegler said students should not exploit their Facebook relationship with their parents by using them as a “crutch” or allowing them to “lead their lives.”

“Whatever the students feel is in their best interest to be successful, they should do it,” she said. “If having their family on Facebook means they are more comfortable and more knowledgeable about what’s going on on-campus because they have an open relationship with their family member … we would encourage that for them. For other students, not having their parents as their friends may (help them) be more independent.”

For the in-depth interview with Burns on the Facebook epidemic listen to the following clip:

Photo Credit: Copyright of Facebook

USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance breaks free on Day of Silence (video)

Almost every insult in the English language was written on a large, black Styrofoam board in front of Cooper Hall early Wednesday.

That was where the University of South Florida (USF) P.R.I.D.E. Alliance began its annual Day of Silence with a silent protest with what it called a “hate wall.”

According to the Day of Silence website, it is a day where ” students nationwide take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.”

At about 3:30 p.m., a group of members took the “Hate Wall” and, without exchanging a single word, walked to the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater, while another group trailed behind them with a rainbow-colored flag.

About an hour later, members gathered in front of Kindell Workman, president of USF P.R.I.D.E., and, in unison, screamed at the top of their lungs to break their silence.

Soon after, each person had their turn to demolish the “Hate Wall,” as seen in the following video:

Continue reading »

USF students, staff discuss their connection to the transgendered community

Whether someone is a member of the USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance or not, Jessica Pettitt made it clear that everyone has the same problems and is connected.

Pettitt,  a social justice and diversity consultant who travels across the nation, arrived at the University of South Florida campus on Wednesday to train employees in the university’s Division of Student Affairs on how to handle being approached with a trans-issue.

“When I was doing Trans 101 (in college) … participants couldn’t find themselves within the trans-conversation – so it was something external to them,” she said during the training. “But the truth is sex, gender, and sexual identity is something that we all have.”

She said everyone has to deal with sexism, which monitors sex and gender, and that everyone is trained to believe men are more powerful in the U.S.

Continue reading »

USF PRIDE discuss safe sex in LGBT community

One in five Americans carry a sexually transmitted disease (STD) according to LIVESTRONG, a foundation geared toward healthy living.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in its most recent reports, about 56,300 people in 2006 were affected by the HIV virus, and about 53 percent of that number occurred among gay and bisexual men alone.

The graphic below illustrates the types of contact that led to incidences of HIV in 2006.

On Thursday, the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance came together and held a meeting to inform members of the safe way to have sex, and the consequences should someone not adhere to the safety ideals discussed.

Responsible Education & Action for Campus Health (R.E.A.C.H.) president Lauren Gatto and vice president Angel Pickett presented their serious lessons at the meeting in a humorous style on an array of topics such as how to properly use a condom and the different kinds of STD’s.

When Gatto was asked where babies come from, a P.R.I.D.E. Alliance member replied, “Where babies come from — most of the time.”

She was also asked if sex was between just a man and a woman, which was followed by a room filled with laughter and shouts of “No.”

As I was sitting in room 3709 of the Marshall Student Center, I was learning a lot; especially about sex in the LGBT community, such as it is possible for a female to transfer an STD to another female.

When it came time for those present at the meeting to learn how to  properly use a condom, members were able to participate by holding a card that represented each step. One step was finding out a partner was on birth control.

“Birth control does not equal STI (sexually transmitted infection) protection. Just because a female is on birth control, you would still want to use a condom,” Pickett said during the lesson. “You can have a STI and not even know. Lauren can’t be like, ‘Angel, today you look like you have chlamydia.’ It doesn’t go like that.”

Then I realized the only time I received sex education was in high school when it was mandatory. But at that time, I only learned safe practices for heterosexual sex.

P.R.I.D.E. President Kindell Workman said the organization has been holding annual sex meetings for many years.

“We have our annual sex meeting because like it or not, homosexual sex … is quite different,” she said. “Whatever sex you choose to have can have ramifications. So sex education is really big.”

Workman said she thinks there isn’t enough education on homosexual sex.

“There’s so many LGBT groups that are pro sex education,” she said. “My high school class had nothing about that. Even oral sex. They said nothing about oral sex. Yes, there’s the whole teaching abstinence and protecting your emotions and protecting your righteousness but abstinence really isn’t the only answer these days.”

In high school, she said, the teachings were based on sex that leads to having a child, but doesn’t believe that one community needs more education than the other because everyone is having sex.

USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance in all its glory

There were provocative performances, partial nudity and pink and purple strobe lights in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Ballroom Wednesday night.

Then there was me. It was my first time attending a drag show and the only way I can describe the experience is that it was a culture shock.

When I first heard of the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance Annual Drag Show it was my freshman year (just one year ago) but I never took the opportunity to attend it until this year.

Samantha Bustamante, a senior majoring in international affairs, was the first amateur performer of the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance Annual Drag Show on Wednesday night. She said this was her second performance and hopes to do more.

One thing that stood out from their Facebook promotions page was the partial nudity aspect which led to me a conversation with the MSC Director Joe Synovec. To his understanding partial nudity is a common attribute to events on campus.

“We do plays over in the theater that do nudity sometimes. It’s only if there is a sexual misconduct – which is a state law – then that would be something the University would get involved in,” he said. “But nudity itself – if it’s done as a part of the program – it’s acceptable under the code of conduct.”

The event began at 7 p.m. and as soon as I walked into the MSC I noticed the long lines waiting at the ballroom doors. I didn’t realize this was an anticipated event but apparently it was. Even I was excited for the event to start – mainly because I was anxious to see what the hype was all about.

They began with the ‘amateur’ performers who were all students or alumni at the University of South Florida. Then the professional performers, like Teddy D. who I captured a video of, performed afterwards.

There may have been amateur and professional performers but what they had in common was having the crowd roaring. Multiple people came up to the performers to dance with them and gave them $1 bills. I’m not sure how much money each one made that night, but you can sense that everyone in the room was having a great time.

I think the photos and film will speak for itself.

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