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Meet the Preacher Behind "Moral Mondays" in NC

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 17:23

It was Moral Mondays that inspired us to start organizing, an African-American teacher from North Carolina told me recently at a national labor conference. Bunking three to a room and skimping on hotel-priced breakfast that morning, she and her colleagues had trekked to Chicago in search of more inspiration and, strategy. I thought of her after reading this week's Mother Jones profile of Rev. William Barber II, the man behind Moral Mondays. What he began last year as a small protest against voting rights infringement blossomed this February into a rally of tens of thousands.

Barber, who suffers a painful arthritic condition and is also pastor of Greenleaf Church in Goldsboro,

...has channeled the pent-up frustration of North Carolinians who were shocked by how quickly their state had been transformed into a laboratory for conservative policies. [And] what may be most notable about Barber's new brand of civil rights activism is how he's taken a partisan fight and presented it as an issue that transcends party or race--creating a more sustained pushback against Republican overreach than anywhere else in the country.

Read more at Mother Jones.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

South Korean Ferry Sinks, Nas Documentary, NCAA Athletes Get Food

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:58
South Korean Ferry Sinks, Nas Documentary, NCAA Athletes Get Food

Here's what I'm reading about this morning:

  • A man is in custody after a bomb scare at the Boston Marathon yesterday. 
  • Obama will announce a $600 million jobs training and apprenticeship program. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Vijay Seshadri Becomes First South Asian to Win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 06:11
Vijay Seshadri Becomes First South Asian to Win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

This week, poet Vijay Seshadri became the first South Asian to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, winning the distinction with his collection "3 Sections." Born in Bangalore* in 1954, Seshadri said in an interview in 2004 that he began writing poetry at 16:

I was in college. I had become interested in poetry and that first January I heard Galway Kinnell read from The Book of Nightmares, which as yet was unpublished. I loved that reading. I remember it clearly; it made me want to go home and start writing. I was never one of those writers who knew from the age of six that they were writers, who lisped in numbers. In my early twenties I wrote, or tried to write, a novel that was much too ambitious for me. I'd been influenced by the French new novel, and by Pynchon, and John Hawkes. They were radical novelists and I felt I had to write a novel like theirs. I probably had a novel in me, but it was much more a conventional novel that a person in their early twenties would write, a coming-of-age story; but I had modernist and postmodernist models. Around the time I was also reading Beckett's trilogy and thought that's what novels had to be. An impossible model, really. In my mid-twenties I went back to poetry.

"3 Sections" is his third collection of poetry, all published by Graywolf Press, which congratulated Seshadri on its website and posted three of his poems, including this one:

Three Persons

 

That slow person you left behind when, finally,

you mastered the world, and scaled the heights you now command,

where is he while you

walk around the shaved lawn in your plus fours,

organizing with an electric clipboard

your big push to tomorrow?

Oh, I've come across him, yes I have, more than once,

coaxing his battered grocery cart down the freeway meridian.

Others see in you sundry mythic types distinguished

not just in themselves but by the stories

we put them in, with beginnings, ends, surprises:

the baby Oedipus on the hillside with his broken feet

or the dog whose barking saves the grandmother

flailing in the millpond beyond the weir,

dragged down by her woolen skirt.

He doesn't see you as a story, though.

He feels you as his atmosphere. When your sun shines,

he chortles. When your barometric pressure drops

and the thunderheads gather,

he huddles under the overpass and writes me long letters with

the stubby little pencils he steals from the public library.

He asks me to look out for you.

(h/t The Aerogram)

* Post has been updated.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Pharrell Is So Happy That You're Happy, He Cried Tears of Joy!

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 00:51

Pharrell (and his hat) sat down for an interview with Oprah to talk about the surprising success of his smash his, "Happy." The host then showed a video of people around the world singing the song, which brought Pharrell to tears.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

NYPD Disbands Muslim-Spying Unit

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 00:37
NYPD Disbands Muslim-Spying Unit

The NYPD announced today that it has disbanded a post-9/11 plainclothes unit used to spy on Muslims in their communities. The Demographics Unit, according to a pay-walled New York Times article, mapped entire neighborhoods and built detailed profiles of where people ate, shopped and prayed. The move is being interpreted as one indication that the NYPD is backing away from controversial post-9/11 surveillance tactics, which are the subject of at least two suits brought by area Muslims and civil rights groups.

For more on these cases and their impact, see today's frontpage article by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh on Colorlines.

(h/t The New York Times)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Gun Violence Spikes in Chicago, Again

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:52
Gun Violence Spikes in Chicago, Again

Chicago's gun violence is back in the news again with yesterday's headline: 4 dead among at least 36 shot in 36 hours. "Chiraq's" gun violence and murder rate have been well covered by media over the last few years. A brief recap follows, in addition to the latest on solutions.

Most homicides occur on the city's predominantly black and Latino south and west sides. Much of the violence concentrates among youth. Almost half of Chicago's 2,389 homicide victims between 2008-2012 were killed before their 25th birthdays, according to a new Chicago-focused human rights report from Amnesty International. And that says nothing of the youth who survive shootings (more than 2,300 in 2013) or witness them. Again, from Amnesty: "Studies have shown that youth exposed to high levels of violence often become the victims and perpetrators of the violence, exhibiting the same psychological trauma as children growing up in urban war zones."

A fair question then: how is Chicago--from communities to schools to city hall to hospitals--intervening in the lives of all those young people with unaddressed psychological trauma?

New FBI director, James Comey in a visit yesterday to the city reportedly said: "You can't arrest your way to a healthy neighborhood"--even though cops and more cops appears to be the public's main demand. So if according to America's top cop, the punitive arm of the criminal justice system is only one part of the city's solution to gun violence and extreme rates of victimization among youth, what are others?

The new Amnesty report begins by recognizing that scattering public housing residents and recent school closings contribute, respectively, to fracturing previously hierarchal gangs and endangering Chicago's youth. It makes a few tangible recommendations as well. The first: properly investigating allegations of torture levied against Chicago police from the 1970s through the 1990s. One new investigation from watchdog group, BetterGov.org tracks increasing police misconduct claims over the past decade as well as skyrocketing costs ($84.6m in 2013, alone). Real reform won't come however, it says, until CPD addresses its own "no-snitch" culture and tolerance for abuse.

Other recommendations, including adequately funding anti-gang youth initiatives and beefing up protections for immigrants and LGBTQI individuals, make the Amnesty report a worthwhile read. Note too, how one Calif. group aims to help its crime victims of color living in high crime neighborhoods by first making them visible.

(h/t Chicago Tribune)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

NBA Players Get a Portlandia-Style Pep Talk

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:49

The Portland Trailblazers are finally back in the NBA playoffs. And since the team's now got some time on their hands, they accepted a visit from the stars of Portlandia. It wasn't their usual pep talk. 

(h/t Yahoo! Sports)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'RuPaul's Drag Race' Drops Transphobic Segment

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:48
'RuPaul's Drag Race' Drops Transphobic Segment

Logo's hit series "RuPaul's Drag Race" recently found itself in hot water for its repeated use of transphobic slurs.

From the Huffington Post:

During a mini-challenge on the show titled "Female or She-male," contestants were asked to identify whether a photo showed a cisgender (non trans) woman or a former "Drag Race" contestant after viewing a cropped portion of the photo. Some transgender people claimed that the segment was transphobic, as "she-male" is considered by many to be a violent word used against trans bodies and lives.

The show released a statement on the matter:

We wanted to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term 'she-mail' on Drag Race. 

Logo has pulled the episode from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again. 

Furthermore, we are removing the 'You've got she-mail' intro from new episodes of the series.

We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize.

Trans model and former Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera issued a statement on her Facebook page taking the show to task for misusing its potential. "Drag Race should be a little smarter about the terms they use and comprehend the fight for respect trans people are facing every minute of today. They should use their platform to educate their viewers truthfully on all facets of drag performance art." Another former contestant and trans woman told HuffPo that the show's use of the slurs was "not cute at all."

GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis reiterated the importance of the show's decision. "Logo has sent a powerful and affirming message to transgender women during a pivotal moment of visibility for the entire transgender community," she told The Advocate. "GLAAD is committed to continuing to shape the narrative about the lives of transgender people with fair and accurate media images."

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Chávez,' Brought to You by Budweiser

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 21:17

The César Chávez film has had its share of thoughtful criticism. Dolores Huerta kinda answered the controversy around Chávez's stance on undocumented immigrants (although it's unclear if anyone has asked her about her own). And, speaking of Huerta, where were the women in the film? And where were the Pinoy workers who influenced Chávez's work with the United Farm Workers (UFW)? But now, a Budweiser video connected with the film, which stars Diego Luna, is raising eyebrows. 

The self-proclaimed King of Beers has long sponsored the UFW, and has now released a video of a special screening for held for farmworkers in Delano, California. It concludes with a clip of Chávez's son explaining, in Spanish (which is a bit bizarre, considering the video is in English, and Paul Chávez speaks English), that his father enjoyed drinking his Bud. 

(h/t Latino Rebels)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Outkast's Reunion Features Janelle Monáe, But Gets Mixed Reviews

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 20:16
Outkast's Reunion Features Janelle Monáe, But Gets Mixed Reviews

The annual Coachella music festival kicked off this past weekend in Southern California with one of hip-hop's most highly anticipated performances: Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast. After about a decade apart, the duo kicked off their reunion tour and were joined by rapper Future and songstress Janelle Monáe.

"What we are witnessing tonight is history," Monáe gushed after the show, though Billboard noted that after so much time apart, the duo's performance was understandably imperfect. Nonetheless, the reunion was Coachella's most Tweeted moment, proof that fans are eager to see the group back together. 

If you've got some time today, check out this full recording of Outkast's comeback:

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Now Streaming on Demand: Black Authors and Public Intellectuals

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 20:13
 Black Authors and Public Intellectuals

On an afternoon last November bell hooks sat on stage in an auditorium at the New School in New York City with Melissa Harris-Perry to talk about the finer points of black feminism. The two had a lively discussion that touched on everything from the trope of the angry black woman to the myth that black people are comfortable living in poverty. But the most seminal moment of the day came during the Q&A portion, when Tanya Fields, a single black mother of four who lives in the Bronx, put words to the painful stigma surrounding single black motherhood.

"The push-back that I am often feeling is not from white folks in the community," said Fields. It is from the other sisters who tear me down, tell me that the reason I am low-income is because I didn't have the insight to choose good men, that I should've kept my hand out and mouth closed and legs closed."

As she took a breath and gathered her emotions, Fields finished with an admission. "I consider myself a black feminist," she said, "but some days, it's just so hard to get out of bed and face other black people."

Harris-Perry then got up, walked off stage toward Fields, and embraced her in a long, tearful hug.

It was the night's most powerful moment. For all of the bile thrown at single black mothers, this had turned into a moment to truly celebrate them. But it wasn't just the audience of roughly 900 people inside of the New School auditorium that witnessed it. Hundreds more were tuned into a livestream of the talk.

Technology is changing the shape of education. Aspiring students can earn online degrees at schools such as the University of Phoenix or sign up with Coursera to take free online classes from Harvard, Stanford and MIT. Even elementary school classrooms are equipped with iPads. And while education's drift toward tech is fraught with questions of legitimacy, depth and professors' job security, what has emerged over the past six months is an opening for public intellectuals of color to work with universities and libraries to bring their work to broader audiences.

Stephanie Browner, a dean and professor of Literary Studies at the New School, says that the talk's popularity was the result of a perfect storm. "What good, race-thinking feminist doesn't read bell hooks?" Browner asks. "But we don't have a lot of opportunities to see bell hooks. She's a great thinker who walks between the academy and connecting [concepts] with regular peoples' lives. You add Melissa Harris-Perry and the platform she has on MSNBC, put them up on stage and record it, and there's an incredible appetite for that."

The trend didn't start or stop with bell hooks and Melissa Harris Perry at the New School. The concept of live-streaming is an old one in Internet years, and the New School's YouTube page is filled with hundreds of recorded lectures, panels, and conversations, part of the school's institutional commitment bridging the gap between academia and the broader world. But the hooks and Perry talk marked the beginning of a boomlet.  

In December, Junot Diaz interviewed Toni Morrison in a discussion that was live-streamed by the New York Public Library. Ken Weine, the New York Public Library's vice president for communications and marketing, says the livestreaming is just one part of their approach to engaging the public.

"The New York Public Library is always looking for new and better ways to make our resources accessible to as many people as possible, and that's certainly true with live events," says Weine. "We're very interested in finding ways to make our public programs available to people who aren't able to join us in person, which is why we first started experimenting with live-streaming and we're definitely seeing a demand for recordings that people can share and revisit in the days, weeks, and even years after an event, and we're responding to that as well."

In just the first four months of 2014, online viewers have watched bestselling authors Zadie Smith with Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie at Harlem's Schomberg for Research in Black Culture, and professor Robin D.G. Kelley at Emerson College's Center for Theater Commons.

"[Video] allows a peer review process of the masses," says Browner, referring to the academic process by which work is judged by one's colleagues.

The form is a draw to viewers who, because of time, distance or access, may not be able to witness them in person. To date, the bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry talk has been viewed more than 255,000 times on Livestream's website since it first streamed five months ago, and that's not counting the additional hundreds of thousands of views on MSNBC's website and YouTube.

Zadie Smith and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie's has been viewed more than 84,000 times in leas than a month. These are big names that would draw audiences wherever they spoke, but the shelf life and reach of those speeches is now much larger than before, according to those who have planned the events.

For hooks, who's the author of more than two dozen books on race and feminism, the talk proved that the public is hungry for meaningful, prolonged opportunities to engage with one another. "I believe that conversation is the most powerful tool of learning and communicating in our culture right now," hooks said in a statement provided to Colorlines. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

RZA: Gentrification Is 'Just the Natural Process in America'

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 19:39
 Gentrification Is 'Just the Natural Process in America'

So, what's RZA up to these days? Mostly, film. The Wu-Tang member sat down for an interview with Jai Tiggett over at Shadow and Act to talk about his new film, "Brick Mansions." (For a fuller picture of what RZA and other members of Wu-Tang Clan are up to, be sure to read Amos Barshad's great piece at Grantland).

During his interview with Shadow and Act, RZA, a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn, shared some pretty interesting thoughts on gentrification: 

JT: Part of the movie's plot is about the struggle between poor people trying to hold onto land and wealthy people coming in to try to develop it. The gentrification debate is pretty similar to what's being talked about now in the news.

RZA: It's happening right here in Echo Park. [Gentrification] is a two-way street. I grew up in Brownsville, but before the blacks were in Brownsville it was a Jewish community. So that's just the natural process of America. Sometimes it's negative, sometimes it's positive. In the case of the Jewish people it was positive because they got to move out of the projects and buy homes. I can look at my own family and see that a lot of us have left the projects and are in brownstones renting. Very few of us can buy. So this is a process that just continues.

JT: So it's unavoidable, in your view?

RZA: It's part of the system. And we should actually embrace it and learn how to utilize it. The only way to do that, to me, is to get back into community. With this generation, you don't even know your neighbors.

Obviously, this is a much different perspective than the one that Spike Lee's been getting a lot of attention for lately, but I've decided to share it here because it's something that I've heard pretty often, particularly when I lived in a rapidly changing section of West Oakland. Gentrification is by nature an economic force, and different displaced communities are sorting out how to deal with it.

But what RZA's pointing to is pretty reactive, and doesn't change the underlying structural inequalities that have uprooted black communities for generations. Nikole Hannah-Jones at ProPublica did a nice deep-dive into this last year, which detailed the decades-long fair housing crisis in America

Categories: Diversity Headlines

In Memory of Musician and Activist Fred Ho, Here's 'West Afrika! Boogaloo'

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:30
In Memory of Musician and Activist Fred Ho, Here's 'West Afrika! Boogaloo'

Composer, musician and activist Fred Ho lost his battle with cancer on Sunday and passed away at his home in Brooklyn. He was 56 years young.

Ho's life's work was centered on the interplay between Afro-Asian culture. Here's more from his obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Ho, who was of Chinese descent, considered himself a "popular avant-gardist." He was inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and by the ambitious, powerful music of African-American bandleaders including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and especially Charles Mingus. But he rejected the word jazz, which he considered a pejorative term imposed by Europeans.

Self-reliance was a priority for Mr. Ho. He rarely played in anyone else's band (among the exceptions were stints with the arranger Gil Evans and the saxophonists Archie Shepp and Julius Hemphill). Describing himself as a "revolutionary matriarchal socialist and aspiring Luddite," he never owned a car and made many of his own clothes from kimono fabric.

Three years ago, Ho performed "West Afrika! Boogaloo" at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. It's a stirring example of the content of his work, and the legacy that he leaves behind.

A couple of months before he died, Ho sat down for an interview with NPR to talk about how, through his music, he "became a fighter." It's a good summation of Ho's career and his personality. Read more

(h/t Angry Asian Man)

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Tax Day Freebies, Pharrell Cries on Oprah and Google Drones

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:05
Tax Day Freebies, Pharrell Cries on Oprah and Google Drones

Here's what I'm catching up on this rainy morning: 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

How the Outcome of the Muslim Spying Case Impacts Everyone

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 01:06
How the Outcome of the Muslim Spying Case Impacts Everyone

In late February, U.S. District Judge William J. Martini found that the New York Police Department hadn't violated the rights of the New Jersey-based plaintiffs in Hassan v. City of New York, a class action suit filed in response to the NYPD's [massive spying](http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/first_came_the_shock_then.html) on Muslim mosques, businessness and student associations in the name of finding terrorists.

"The policy could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself," Judge Martini wrote in a his decision dismissing the case. "The motive for the program was not to soley discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims."

Attorneys in the suit, which was originaly filed on June 6, 2012 by Muslim Advocates and now has the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as co-counsel, are appealing. Colorlines caught up with Omar Farah, a staff attorney at the CCR who is actively involved the case, to discuss the status of the appeal and the precedent it will set for Americans of all backgrounds. Below is an edited and condensed version of the converstation.

Where are you with Hassan v. New York City?

The District Court of New Jersey dismissed our petition and we've filed a notice of appeals. ... We will be submitting the opening brief of the appeal on May 20, and now we're really gearing up. What's really great is that the plaintiffs are absolutely steadfast in their support and determined to continue fighting the case. They are continuing to show their resolve. It's a very difficult thing to stand up against the most powerful police department in the country and say, "What you're doing to me is wrong." It's even harder to do that against such a harsh decision by the district court to dismiss, sending a message that you endured nothing wrong. The plaintiffs have been really inspiring.

Where have you been seeing a positive response to the case?

There has been a lot of support among the Muslim community at large. There's been a real outpouring of support, especially from the Rutgers [University] student body, which directly experienced this surveillance. The Muslim community is standing up and saying, "Enough is enough. We don't want to be presumed to be a threat. We will not be policed and monitored in this way." It's important for us to continue to reach out and make more ties, and give the community the support it needs.

Will the outcome of the case only affect Muslim Americans?

This is the problem with these kinds of decisions: As much as this particular opinion from the district court was written about Muslims and carves out an exception to basic protections against Muslims, it can easily be applied to any other group that finds itself in a disfavorable position. All Americans--regardless of affiliation--need to be very, very concerned with this opinion. It chips away at bedrock principles that Americans need to be worried about. While it's a reflection of the current political climate, the outcry hasn't been quite as pitched as we'd like. This is something that impacts all Americans.

Why do you think there hasn't been much of a response from other communities?

To the extent there has been a lack of response from other communities and some within the Muslim community, that is a likely a reflection of the difficult political climate that exists now that disfavors Muslims. It is a very natural response from outspoken members of the Muslim community to attempt to reinforce the truth that Muslims Americans are no different from any other Americans. That is what the arguments in our case are about.

What will be the lasting impact of this case?

You can't underestimate how damaging [Judge Martini's dismissal] is. The implication is clear. It tells us that certain groups in certain cases are an exception to constitutional norms. It says that there is no way of monitoring terrorism without monitoring the Muslim community--that it is the source of the threat. These messages are antithetical to basic constitutional norms. It's an important case to watch. It's also important to keep an eye on the Raza v. City of New York case, which addresses the same issue, but within New York and not New Jersey. These cases are the first challenges to the NYPD surveillance program. It will be very interesting to see what comes of this.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

This 'A-Z' of Dance Video Showcases Your Favorite Moves

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 23:22

And yes, that's fan favorite b-girl Terra dancing to music by Le1f!

Directed by Jacob Sutton for Diesel's jogg jeans campaign.

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Infographic: Yes, Hollywood Is Still an Unequal Place for Black Filmmakers

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 22:04
 Yes, Hollywood Is Still an Unequal Place for Black Filmmakers

Whether or not you think that 2013 was indeed the "year of black film," the role of filmmakers of African descent in Hollywood is worthy of exploration. Not just because of the centrality of race in America, but also because enormous talent that, depending on the whims of the industry, gets ignored of validated in any given year.

The New York Film Academy has a new infographic that details that inequality faced by black filmmakers and actors. "In an attempt to place this current renaissance in Black Hollywood in a greater historical context, the New York Film Academy has put together a comprehensive infographic to detail 100 years of Black cinema while looking at more recent data to see how Black filmmakers and performers have been represented and employed over the past six years." Check it out after the jump. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

This San Francisco High School Has an Amazing Rooftop Garden

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 21:56

San Francisco's Mission District is often in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. Usually, it's something having to do with gentrification and Google buses and, certainly, the community has faced massive displacement over the past several decades. But here's a feel-good story: Mission High School's rooftop gardening project, which Justin Richmond captured over at Mission Local recently. 

Categories: Diversity Headlines

Here's the Crushing Poverty That Surrounds Coachella

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 20:40

We hear a lot about the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This year's festival boasted Outkast's highly anticipated reunion, and it's been known to be a place where artists can rise from the dead. But the surrounding poverty of the Coachella Valley rarely makes headlines.

The valley is one of the highest grossing agricultural regions in the country, but it's also one of the poorest, as demonstrated in the above video from Fusion

Categories: Diversity Headlines

'Saturday Night Live' Criticized for Bobby Jindal Skit

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 20:34

SNL is once again in the hot seat for its impersonation of an Indian-American celebrity. Last year, the show had Iranian-American actress Nasim Pedrad show up in brownface to impersonate Aziz Ansari. Now Pedrad is impersonating Bobby Jindal, a move that's led some viewers to voice frustrating at the show's repeated misses on brown characters.

@redsteeze The comedian who played Jindal is Nasim Pedrad, is of Iranian ancestry, so I guess that's close enough to India for #SNL smh

-- Allen Lasko (@arlasko) April 13, 2014

Oh the weirdness of Bobby Jindal being portrayed on SNL by Nasim Pedrad...

-- Xavier (@Xhaedon) April 13, 2014

Check out more over at The Aerogram

Categories: Diversity Headlines