The Journey of a Lifetime

• by Stephen Falick •

Editor’s note:  Stephen Falick wrote this essay for Susan Spring’s composition class.  In it, he details traveling across the globe to discover a rare animal, and, in the process, discovering something about himself he now brings to Sul Ross—perseverance.

For as long as I can remember, I have been utterly enamored with wildlife. When I was a little kid, dinosaurs were my thing.  I knew the scientific names of dozens of species and was constantly learning as much as I could about them.  It wasn’t until I was around five years old that I came to grips with the fact that I would never be able to actually see a living dinosaur, so at that point I turned to the next two best things: reptiles and birds.  Birds were easy—I could just walk outside at any given moment and see them—but reptiles presented more of a challenge.  Reptiles for the most part, unlike birds, were secretive.  Birds would fly through the sky or perch in the open to sing their songs and scream their calls, but reptiles didn’t do any of those things.  The challenge of having to go out and actively search for reptiles drew me in, and they became my main focus in life, with birds taking a very distant back seat for the next several years.

I still remember my sixth birthday like it was yesterday.  All of my friends were excited to be getting new video game consoles or shoes for their birthdays, but not me.  My big gift that year was a book on the reptiles of the world, and I read through it from cover to cover countless times.  I would flip through the various groups of reptiles and learn as much as I could about the vast diversity in snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodilians.  These are the four groups of reptiles most people are familiar with, and species from all of them could be seen near my Houston area home with relative ease.  There was, however, a fifth group of reptiles that I hadn’t known about before getting my birthday book, and I was the most interested in them—the tuataras of New Zealand.

Most people have never heard of a tuatara, and, when they see a picture of one, they’ll typically say something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s just a weird looking lizard.”  At first glance, they do resemble lizards.  Actually, you could stare at one for hours and still be convinced they’re lizards, but they’re something else entirely.  Tuataras are endemic to New Zealand, meaning they’re found nowhere else in the world, and have evolved completely different adaptations from all other groups of reptiles.  They originally branched off from the order squamates (lizards and snakes) around two hundred million years ago and have remained unchanged since then.  All other groups of reptiles have gone through subtle changes since then, generally getting smaller and evolving various adaptations to survive changing environments, but not tuataras.  When I learned this, I realized that finding a tuatara in the wild was as close to finding a real live dinosaur as I would get, and I knew in that moment that I absolutely had to see one in my lifetime.

Like most young naturalists, I went through my years of middle and high school chasing after species I was interested in.  Occasionally, I would get distracted by other topics, but I always came back to reptiles, and the thought of finding a tuatara constantly sat at the back of my mind.  After graduating from high school, I had plans of attending college, getting a wildlife management degree, and then spending the rest of my life working with reptiles.  I soon realized that things don’t always go as planned and learned the valuable lesson that if I continuously skipped class to go out in search of reptiles I would fail all my classes.  Well, that’s exactly what happened.  My whole life, I had dreams of professionally working with wildlife, and I had a plan to get there.  Yet here I was at eighteen years old, a college failure with no idea what my next step in life was.  So, I got a job working at a comedy club as a bouncer, where the only wildlife I could observe were the pigeons that roosted on top of the building.  I had worked there for almost eight months, hating every second of it, when I got a phone call from a family member who said there was a television show being filmed that needed a set photographer and that they felt I was good enough for the job from what they had seen from my wildlife photography.  The best part was that the show was being filmed in New Zealand.  I couldn’t have said “Yes!” faster if I had tried.  New Zealand had seemed like an unreachable dream my whole life, yet there I was, boarding a plane in Houston two weeks before my twentieth birthday, and I knew that in 18 short hours that dream would become a reality.

I would be there for nearly four months, and I felt that was ample time to see everything I wanted to.  The problem, though, as I would soon learn, was that almost every species I wanted to see was all but extinct on the mainland and could only be found in a few select wildlife preserves, most of which were islands off the coast.  The main cause of this extinction was the introduction of various invasive species, namely dogs, cats, weasels, and rats.  Having evolved in a place with no natural predators, the native wildlife had no defense against these invasive species, and the native wildlife numbers dwindled to a dangerously low number, some species being lost forever.  I spent my weeks chasing after the species I could after work, but I knew I’d never forgive myself if I left without seeing a tuatara.  Some research led me to an island wildlife sanctuary off the coast of Auckland that had a population of tuataras that you could visit and even stay at overnight for a pretty cheap price.  It was decided.  I got my ticket and reserved a spot on the island of Tiritiri Matangi.

I can recount down to the minute everything that happened during that trip.  Tiritiri was heaven on earth for someone like me, being home to dozens of New Zealand endemic species that could no longer be found on the mainland but were flourishing there.  On the hour-long boat ride, I saw large rafts of little blue penguins foraging in the deep channels.  Gannets, a relatively large sea bird, would occasionally fly up behind our boat and dive straight into our wake to catch fish. When I actually stepped foot onto the island, I immediately heard birdcalls I had never heard before, everything from the echoing, ghostly calls of the north island kokako, to the subtle, quiet calls of the New Zealand robin.  I hiked every trail on the island that day and saw twenty-three species of birds I had never seen before and wouldn’t see again for the remainder of my trip.

But I was on this island for one reason and knew that that night would be my one and only opportunity.  That evening, I sat on a large rock on a beach, watching the sunset over the ocean.  I listened as the birds all sang their dusk songs, and then, right before dark, the island went silent.  All I could hear were the waves crashing on the rocky beach and the thoughts in my mind.  It was peaceful at first, but sitting alone, waiting for darkness, to try and fulfill a lifelong dream soon turned into an immense amount of pressure.  This would be the only chance I had for this trip, and I had no idea when or if I would return to New Zealand to be able to try again.  To put it simply, I was terrified I would never see a tuatara after coming all that way.

The darkness of night finally fell, and, when I say darkness, I mean utter and complete dark.  The only lights on the island were at the bunkhouse I was staying in on the opposite end of the island, and, as I walked along the trails, the only thing I could see was the small spot illuminated by my flashlight. Tiritiri Matangi had a pretty loud nightlife.  The hilarious calls of the morepork, New Zealand’s only owl species named for its call, could be heard from all over, yet another new species for me that I wouldn’t see again.  Tuatara, however, like most reptiles, make no sounds, and, an hour into hiking along the rocky coastline, I still hadn’t found my prize.  By this point, I had lost all hope, and, looking back, that’s ridiculous, considering I had only been trying for an hour.  But, at the time, I convinced myself it would never happen.  I continued along, anyway, hiking for nearly an hour and a half that felt like an eternity.  I had just come around a bend in the trail when a strange-looking rock to the left of the path caught my eye, only it wasn’t a rock at all, it was a tuatara, and I had finally seen one in the wild.

I slowly crouched down, shined my light on it, and managed to snap six photos before it turned around and disappeared into the dense coastal vegetation.  The conditions of that encounter are stuck in my mind to this day.  August 18, 2017, at 7:13 p.m. New Zealand time.  It was 56 degrees outside, and it had been raining on and off for the past hour.  I sat on the muddy trail, cold and drenched from the rain, but I had never been happier in my life. I was hit by a wave of emotions as I recounted what had just happened and everything that led up to it, laughing uncontrollably and crying tears of pure joy.  I thought back to the time I first learned about tuataras in that book 14 years ago and how far I had come since then to make that dream a reality.  I had finally seen my real-life dinosaur, and I knew that my six-year-old self would have been just as over the moon as I was in that moment.

Porvenir: The Quiet Massacre

• by Matthew D. Berkshier •

In the early morning hours of January 28, 1918, a tragic event occurred in the tiny village of Porvenir, Texas.  For an entire century, the event went largely unacknowledged.  Under the cover of darkness, a group of Texas Rangers, aided by eight U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers and four ranchers, descended upon the village and entered each of the homes, selecting fifteen men and boys from the lot and marching them to a nearby bluff where they were summarily executed in cold blood.  The grief-stricken villagers abandoned the town, many of them crossing the border into Pilares where they buried the dead.  Porvenir, which means “Future,” became a ghost town almost overnight.

In the waning days of the Wild West, anti-Mexican bias and state-sanctioned violence against Latino men and women was nothing new.  The Mexican Revolution was raging in its eighth straight year, and Texas lawmen of all stripes were desperate to retain order as Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s Villistas and other would-be marauders routinely crossed the Rio Grande to pillage the small towns that peppered the Texas Borderlands.  One such event, the Brite Ranch Raid, occurred on December 25, 1917, leaving an Anglo postman and his two Mexican passengers dead.  This heinous crime raised the ire of citizens of the Big Bend region, with some going as far as to form a committee to neutralize and keep watch over Mexicans living in the area.

Captain James Monroe Fox, then the head of Texas Rangers Company B, decided to take things even further.  A little over a month after the Brite Ranch Raid, Fox led Company B, along with eight U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers and four local ranchers, into Porvenir, seeking to make an example of the town.  According to Dr. Monica Muñoz Martinez, a historian at Brown University, the massacre that ensued was nearly lost to history; not only did Fox falsify reports of the incident, even going as far as to claim that his troop had been “ambushed” by the villagers, but the Federal Government also deemed the details pertaining to the event as classified information.

The day after the Porvenir incident, a local school teacher, Henry Warren, visited the site of the massacre.  He was joined by Juan Flores, a son of one of the slain men.  The bodies had been left where they had fallen.  Struck by what he saw, Warren penned a biting account, writing about how the Rangers “took the men and boys from their warm beds” and that the victims were “making no resistance whatsoever.”  He added that the bodies were found “lying together, side by side,” and noted that the village’s only white resident had been spared.

An investigation was led by Texas Rangers Captain William M. Hanson.  He utilized affidavits from several widows of the slain men; the widows had retained Henry Warren as their attorney.  The officers of Texas Rangers Company B were tried in court, but no criminal charges were leveled against them.  Five of the Rangers were dismissed by Governor William Hobby; the rest were reassigned, effectively dissolving Company B.  Captain James M. Fox, the aforementioned ringleader, voluntarily retired from the Rangers but re-enlisted a few years later.  Meanwhile, Senator Jose Canales, then the only Latino Texas state legislator, conducted an inquiry into misconduct perpetrated by the Rangers throughout Texas.  Despite receiving multiple threats, he pressed on with the probe, which initially found that Texas Rangers were responsible for many atrocities and extrajudicial killings of ethnic Mexicans.  Some Texas Rangers were charged with crimes and the department was heavily downsized.  In the wake of this reconstructive period, Canales required administrative changes within the division which ultimately resulted in a large decrease of violence against Latinos; it also ushered in a new level of professionalism within the Texas Rangers.

According to E.R. Bills’ book Texas Obscurities, Warren’s report directly challenged the Rangers’ account of the events, nevertheless the claims made by the Rangers went largely unchallenged and the bloodbath remained a mystery for nearly 80 years.  The few remaining family members who were present in Porvenir that day avoided speaking about the incident, fearing retaliation.  However, this silence would eventually end.

Arlinda Valencia, a resident of El Paso, was attending her father’s funeral in 1996.  Members of her gathered family were swapping stories of Valencia’s father’s life and her family’s history when her great-uncle recounted a tale of living in a peaceful village on the Texas border many years ago—until the Texas Rangers invaded their homes and killed his father.  That great-uncle was none other than Juan Flores, who, as a boy, had accompanied Henry Warren to the site of the massacre the day after it happened.

Valencia recounted, “We basically laughed, because he said the Texas Rangers had killed them. […] We told him there was no way that would have happened, because the Rangers are a good organization.”

But Valencia began to dig into her genealogy, and there she found records indicating that her family had ties to a tiny village named Porvenir.  After subsequently discovering an article about the massacre on the website for the Texas State Historical Association, she realized Flores was telling the truth.

“It hit us like a ton of bricks, and we had, we did have to cope with it.  I was sitting there going ‘I can’t believe this actually happened,’” she said.

Paula Flores Smith, the granddaughter of Juan Flores, explained that he never forgot the incident and suffered for years with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Juan had nearly been killed alongside his father but was spared, as he was deemed too young.  In 2002, Flores identified the site where the massacre occurred; then, in 2015, archaeological research conducted at the site recovered spent shell casings belonging to government-issued firearms.  Regarding the findings, Center for Big Bend Studies archaeologist David Keller stated, “I can say with a fair degree of confidence that the artifactual (sic) distribution, the types of artifacts, all strongly conform to the hypothesis that this was the site of the Porvenir Massacre of 1918.  The findings also strongly implicate the U.S. Cavalry.”

Valencia, now the editor of the Porvenir Massacre website, began working closely with Dr. Monica Muñoz Martinez, and in 2014, an application was submitted through the Undertold Marker program for a historical marker to be placed close to the site.  The marker was approved in 2018.

To commemorate the event, Valencia assisted in organizing a special memorial service in Austin, Texas.  During the service, Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, whose district includes the land where Porvenir once stood, announced the marker would be placed near the site honoring those who were killed.  In addition, he cited the assistance of Henry Warren and Senator Jose Canales, whose contributions helped keep the incident from fading into history and brought about much-needed change within the Texas Rangers.  The event ended in a candlelight vigil featuring an original song by Brandi Tobar.

“It’s not a secret anymore,” Valencia said. “We’re out there to tell this story.”

Now that details of the Porvenir Massacre have once again entered the public conscious after all these years, introducing a whole new generation to a grisly but important chapter in Texas history, filmmaker Andrew Shapter has begun work on a documentary film dramatizing the massacre.  The film will feature new and archival footage of interviews and archaeological digs.  Titled Porvenir, Texas, it is slated to air on PBS in the fall of 2019.  Soon after, Shapter will begin work on a feature-length narrative adaptation, called Porvenir.

Having a Baby and Having the “Baby Blues”

• by Jessica Dixon •

Editor’s note:  The following piece, written for Susan Spring’s English 1301 course, reflects on the struggle to identify, accept, and treat postpartum depression.

They say that having a baby is the happiest time of your life, that there will be no better feeling in the world than when you have your new little bundle of joy.  For many women, that isn’t exactly the case.  Sure, they’re absolutely infatuated by their new baby, but sometimes there’s an unknown sadness that just . . . happens.  One in seven women will experience postpartum depression after the birth of their baby.  I, unfortunately, was one.

September 10, 2016 was the day my beautiful son was born.  I completely adored him from the moment I first saw him.  I had never in my life felt that kind of happiness and love for anyone or anything.  As my new family was getting ready to be discharged from the hospital, the nurse provided aftercare instructions for me and my son.  I quickly shuffled through the papers and signed everything I needed to because I was so ready to get out of there.  I briefly remember her mentioning that the “baby blues” would arrive sometime soon, saying it would go away after a couple of weeks.  In my mind I thought, “Yeah, sure, whatever.  I’ll be fine.”  Boy, was I wrong.

A week passed and, sure enough, here came the “baby blues.”  I would randomly get sad, cry over the smallest of things, and be extremely irritable.  My husband would try to help me care for our son, but I would snap at him for no reason and not accept his offered support.  At the time, I didn’t realize I was being so moody.  I think I was just trying to keep some sort of control because everything in my life was now being run by an infant.  One month passed by, and I was still feeling the exact same way, but now with some new symptoms.  I couldn’t sleep at night.  I became extremely anxious.  I just was not happy.  Never had I been the type of person to be overly emotional or angry, but now I was.  I felt like I couldn’t control anything anymore.  I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was depressed.

I honestly don’t remember much of my son’s first two months of life.  It’s just a big blur.  My husband noticed I had stopped eating, so he would try to cook me food, but I constantly refused to eat.  He also told me I would zone out, staring at the wall and not responding to him when he would call out to get my attention.  My husband didn’t know what was going on with me.  He had no idea that depression after having a baby was even a thing that happened.  After attempting many times to help me, and failing to do so, he left me alone.  He thought that he was just a bother to me, and I didn’t blame him for feeling that way.

Things went downhill quickly.

I was about two weeks away from my postpartum doctor visit, and my husband offered to stay home with our son so I could get us some takeout.  I went to McDonald’s, got our food, and was on my way back home when, for some reason, I had this strong urge to crash the car.  I floored it and swerved towards the concrete barrier.  I thought to myself, “What the f— are you doing?” and properly corrected myself on the road.

At this point, the only thing I had to look forward to was my appointment with the doctor.

That day finally came, and I soon felt tremendous anxiety.  Within the stacks of papers I had to fill out, there was a page listing questions to check “yes” or “no” in order to determine if I had developed postpartum depression.  Have you felt hopeless?  Have you been crying more than usual?  Are you feeling unusually sad?  Have you thought about hurting yourself?  Have you thought about harming your child?  I tried to hold back my tears as I filled out the paper.  The doctor eventually came in, and she performed the usual exam.  We then went through the paperwork, and she got to the postpartum depression page.  She counted up the yes’s and no’s and told me that I had scored high, which meant I had postpartum depression.  I told her about the driving incident, and she immediately asked if my child was in the car.  I told her of course not!  I could never put my child in harm’s way.  I hadn’t gotten that crazy.  The doctor asked me if I wanted to be prescribed antidepressants.  I told her no, not really, because I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to take medicine for anything.  She told me that to avoid any liability on her part, she would have to prescribe medicine anyway.  Doing so would mean that, if I were to actually kill myself, the doctor would not be at fault; my medical record would prove she had tried to help me.

I got my prescription, but went back home feeling like no improvement had been made.  I knew I had to find an alternative.

After a few days, I decided to give the medicine a try.  Half a pill per day for the first week, then a whole pill per day after that.  According to the drug manufacturer, it would take six weeks for the antidepressant to significantly alter my brain chemistry.  I asked myself, “I should be good until then, right?”  That first week was absolute hell.  I couldn’t sleep at night, which does not help a new mother.  During the day, I just wanted to stay in bed and go to sleep, but my infant son made that impossible.  I completely lost my appetite and had the worst headaches imaginable.  I took the pills for only twelve days.  I simply couldn’t wait four and a half more weeks for the medicine to balance my exhausted, zombie brain.  I was absolutely miserable.  How was I supposed to properly take care of my son?

I was desperate for help.  I sought ideas from my husband, and he mentioned therapy.  “Therapy?” I asked myself.  Therapy sounded extreme—something only survivors of a traumatic experience would need.  But my husband persisted, and I began looking up counselors.  I felt lucky to find a counseling center located half a mile from my house.  I called the office, and they were able to schedule me for the following week.  Once again, I had a medical appointment to look forward to.  My thoughts bounced from hope to skepticism and back again.  Mostly, I wanted to not feel depressed anymore.

The day arrived for my first appointment.  I walked into the counseling center, and they had my paperwork ready for me at the front desk.  I filled it out and waited anxiously to be called back.  About fifteen minutes later, a female therapist walked out and motioned for me to enter her office.  She asked me basic questions to get to know me and my reasons for seeking help.  After I explained my postpartum experiences, she told me such struggles were completely normal, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that I should open up more to my friends and family.  The one-hour appointment went by quickly but left me with a degree of hope much larger than I had felt in a long time.  We scheduled another appointment in three weeks, and she gave me her number in case I needed to contact her before then.  I departed believing that therapy was going to work for me.  I continued to go, and we made improvements at every session.  My therapist helped me learn how to cope with my postpartum situation.  She showed me how to effectively express my thoughts to my husband, and how to calm myself when life became overwhelming.  After four months of going to therapy sessions, I was ready to stop because I felt so much better.

Postpartum depression is strange.  It’s a frightening illness which occurs after one of the happiest, most amazing events in a woman’s life.  Those “little moments” with your newborn finally start happening, and you try to enjoy them, but you can’t.  The sadness just takes over, and it’s so hard to understand why.  But becoming informed can help.  Pregnant women and new mothers should speak with their doctors about the symptoms of postpartum depression, and what to do if those symptoms appear.

For me, therapy was the answer.  Prior to becoming a mother, I never thought of myself as someone who would need therapy.  But it seriously changed my life.  It not only helped me cope with postpartum depression, but it helped me understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a show of strength.

Senior Perspective: Ernest Flores

• by Ernest Flores •

Editor’s note: In the following feature, Ernest discusses his undergraduate experiences, academic and professional aspirations, and his mentor’s own graduate educational experiences.

I am a senior English major at Sul Ross State University’s Middle Rio Grande campuses with plans to further my education in the law after receiving my bachelor’s degree.  Throughout my experiences at Sul Ross, I have improved my writing, grammar, and critical-thinking skills while learning how to be an adult.  I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that have opened up to me while attending school here, and I am grateful for the faculty who work every day to assist students in reaching their goals.  Sul Ross has been instrumental in helping me pursue my dreams, including my goal of being accepted into law school at either Saint Mary’s or the University of Houston Law School.

During the course of my collegiate journey, I have faced numerous obstacles, such as having to travel each class day to the Uvalde, Del Rio, and/or Eagle Pass campuses from my small hometown of Carrizo Springs.  With each campus almost an hour away, it has not always been easy to attend classes.  Some semesters were harder than others, but these logistical difficulties were not enough to stop me from pursuing my education.  Looking back at my experiences, I realize that they only strengthened my ambition and will to better myself by obtaining a college degree.

After I receive my bachelor’s degree in English, my application for law school will be complete, and I will be ready to pursue my Juris Doctor degree.  Attending law school is something that has always been a part of my career development plan—entering a law practice being a natural environment for my argumentative and competitive personality.

It amazes me now to see how far I have been able to come thanks to Sul Ross.  Attending this University has afforded me the blessings of working with incredible classmates and faculty who have aided my academic endeavors.  I am confident that once I complete my undergraduate work here at Sul Ross I will be mentally ready to attack law school and the challenges it will present me.  I am grateful for this University and everyone who has helped throughout this process.

Preparing for the field of law

My ambition for success in any endeavor, including the pursuit of both Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees, fuels my motivation to accomplish goals and, most importantly, to become a role model in my small community.  I have a strong passion for preparation and competition, so a profession in the law will suit me perfectly.  I am confident in my ability to adapt to the challenges of law school by developing the necessary skills.

One such skill is critical thinking, which can be developed in a variety of different circumstances, whether it be in the classroom, in athletics, or during legal preparatory work and proceedings.  In Sul Ross classrooms, especially those of my English courses, I have often used critical-thinking skills to analyze questions and contribute productively to discussions.  In athletics, I have jumped into pressure-filled situations requiring quick decisions designed for winning results.  I plan to continue practicing and improving such critical thinking skills, so I can one day use them in the field of law.

Other important skills used by attorneys can be developed in many areas of employment.  To help fund my education, I have worked different jobs which required understanding rules and workplace variables.  For example, as an assistant secretary for the City of Carrizo Springs I gained an understanding of how to construct a productive work environment; I learned tasks and procedures such as organizing and creating employee portfolios.  Another job I have held while in school was as a lifeguard—an experience which taught me how to recognize and react to life-threatening events.  Lifeguards must be able to quickly determine if a swimmer experienced or inexperienced, or exhausted and dehydrated.  Ascertaining these attributes is crucial to preventing accidents.  The skills of organization and analysis required at these jobs will prove useful once I am working as an attorney.

Profile of my mentor: Professor of English Dr. Sally Roche

Dr. Sally Roche works out of SRSU’s Uvalde campus and has been a wonderfully helpful mentor to myself and many other Sul Ross students.

Dr. Roche began her studies at Middle Tennessee State University where she also befriended an influential mentor who encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree.  Throughout her collegiate experience, she was faced with plenty of challenges to her finances, personal relationships, and self-confidence.

Obtaining the funds to pay for her graduate school tuition was a challenge because pursuing her studies postponed her entry into the salaried workforce.

Lacking confidence in her academic efforts was also a significant issue for Dr. Roche—one she overcame while presenting her scholarly paper on Milton’s Paradise Lost at a conference.  While speaking, she found her public voice and seized the attention of a room full of strangers and college professors.  After her presentation, Dr. Roche discovered a new-found confidence and more motivation to pursue her long-term goal of receiving a doctoral degree.

However, not everyone was as confident as she.  While in the process of obtaining her master’s degree, Dr. Roche got married, and many people close to her questioned why she continued taking graduate courses.  Nevertheless, she persisted, completing her master’s coursework shortly before becoming a mother.  After earning her M.A. from Middle Tennessee State, Dr. Roche went on to earn a Ph.D. in English from Texas A&M University in 1998.  She has been teaching at Sul Ross since 1999.

Dr. Roche is an influential, determined, and inspirational individual who overcame more than I ever imagined before conducting this interview.  I asked her for advice to students interested in following an academic path similar to hers, and she replied, “Think about how pursuing a graduate degree would help you achieve your five-year and ten-year personal goals.  Reflect on your own strengths and aptitudes, and think about how you can use them to contribute to your world.”

Dr. Roche then offered two questions that students planning to further their education should ask themselves: “How can you leave the world a better place?  And how can you most powerfully change people’s lives while at the same time remaining self-sufficient and financially responsible?”

With Dr. Roche’s encouragement, I asked myself these very questions and realized that, if I achieve my goal of graduating from law school to pursue a career practicing law, then I can impact people’s lives in a positive way.  In addition, I can become a role model for younger kids in my rural community.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Roche, and I am incredibly appreciative of her guidance in my journey towards receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Sul Ross.


• by Noelle Karleen •

Editor’s note:  In the following reflection, SRSU-Alpine freshman, Noelle Karleen, recalls an encounter with undocumented immigrants in Brewster County and the resulting introspection.

Most people think of extraterrestrials when they hear the word “alien,” but that word has been used to describe foreign nationals in the United States for over two centuries.  Francie Diep highlights the lengthy history of the word, and the briefer history of the phrase “illegal alien,” in her 2015 Pacific Standard article, “Why Did We Ever Call Undocumented Immigrants ‘Aliens’?”  She wrote the article around the time Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation removing “alien” from California’s labor code.  Diep herself shows caution in her essay concerning the words she uses to describe immigrants.  In her title, for example, she refrains from even using the adjective “illegal.”  Instead, she chooses “undocumented” to describe persons who are not supposed to be in the United States.

Alien is not a word you would call someone if you had the intention of being kind.  And Diep is correct when she says that although alien was once simply the legal term for a foreign national, it has now “taken on implications of being a criminal, potentially even less than human.”

My family recently lived at Paisano Baptist Encampment, just west of Alpine, for nine months.  Every so often, the camp superintendent would drop in and tell us, “Just so you know, there are illegals in the camp.”

“Don’t worry,” Mama would say to us, “but stay inside for today.  Just in case.”

One day, in the middle of homeschool, we heard a soft knock.  My younger brother, Abraham, looked up from learning about Lewis and Clark and froze.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

My brother, Matheo, looked up, too, and said the word we were all thinking.


I expected, somehow, to see grown men, tough men, but when I walked onto our porch with my mother, I quickly stepped backwards in surprise, almost tripping on someone’s toy truck.  There were two illegals.  They were boys, not men, maybe two years older than me, and they had wandered in the desert for so long that they were giving up on whatever plans they’d had in order to knock at our door and ask for food.  They knew they were caught.  I heard them trying to talk to my mother in a language she did not know, and she answered in a language they did not understand.  The younger one had tears in his eyes.  I made my way to the kitchen as fast as I could.  I had been prepared for people who would scare me, not who would make me want to cry for their sadness.  It’s about time for a grocery shopping trip, I thought as I filled two tall glasses with water and set ice cubes to bob on top.  What do we have for them to eat?  I can’t even make them a sandwich.  Oh, what can I do?  They need compassion.  I can give them that.

Mama was in the kitchen again.

“How do you say, ‘Where are you from,’ in Spanish?” she asked.

I had no idea. She looked it up on the phone and went outside, mumbling the phrase to herself.

De donde eres . . . de donde eres . . . de donde eres.”

I pulled two apples from the fridge and chopped them as quickly as I could.  I set them on a plate and piled peanut butter beside them.  I sliced cheese feverishly, as if by giving these two boys food I could set right everything that had gone wrong in their world.  I brought the cheese and apples out to the porch, and they began to eat mechanically, without even looking to see what they were eating.  Tears ran down their faces.  What hopes had they held that the desert had crushed? I wondered, and then the superintendent was there, and he gave them a Bible in Spanish.  Please read it, I thought.  Hope for the world is in that book.  Please read it — and I would have thought their names if I had known them, but all I had to call them was the word “illegals.”  Please read it, illegals.  No. I couldn’t call them that, not even in thought, while they were there, sitting on our porch, crying.  The sheriff’s car pulled up.  I left.  I went inside while he put handcuffs on them and took them away.

A few minutes later, I stood on the porch, holding the sticky plate half-covered in apples and cheese.  The Guatemalan boys had not had time to finish eating.  I could not forget the lost look in their eyes when Mama spoke to them in English.  I determined that I would learn Spanish as soon as I could for some future time when it would be so desperately needed.

What can we do with illegal immigrants?  We cannot keep them in the United States.  All that I can do is learn their language and give them all the compassion I can.  The boys who came to our porch were sent back to Guatemala.  I will never see them again.  But next time, maybe I will be able to help more.  Diep points out that banning “alien” as a word for immigrants “is a reflection of shifting public perception.”  Immigrants may not be able to understand what we have called them, but surely the removal of the word “alien” signals a change for the better in our attitudes towards them.

Does it matter what we call immigrants, documented or otherwise?  Many of them speak no English.  They may not know what they are being called.  However, the words we use to speak of them influence our actions towards them.  No matter what we do with illegal immigrants, we need to speak to them, and of them, as human beings.

Senior Perspective: Michelle Ramos

• by Michelle Ramos •

Editor’s note: In the following feature, Michelle discusses her undergraduate experiences, academic and professional aspirations, and her mentor’s own graduate educational experiences.

I am a senior English major at Sul Ross State University’s Alpine campus.  Throughout my four years of college, I have enjoyed various learning experiences that have helped me grow as a student in my field and ignited the fire of my future aspirations.  Thanks to the professors who have offered opportunities to develop as a reader, writer, literary critic, and researcher, I have discovered my desire to continue in this field and earn a PhD in English.

As I embarked on my college journey, I had originally sought to earn a teaching certification for high school English; however, as I mentioned, I was fortunate enough to have professors who assigned challenging work, encouraged critical thinking regarding course material, offered mentorship in an undergraduate research opportunity, allowed me to assist in their own research endeavors, provided answers and guidance when I was uncertain, and took a chance by letting me learn on the job as editor of the University’s Sage literary magazine.  Through these invaluable learning experiences, I consider myself a beginning researcher, a hopeful literary critic, adolescent aesthete, and atavistic wanderer of literature.

Upon graduating, I will continue to attend Sul Ross State University as I work toward earning a master’s degree in English.  Being the first in my family to pursue a master’s degree, I am both anxious and excited for the journey ahead.  Meanwhile, I am fortifying my graduate school applications and studying for soaring scores on the GRE.  I am hopeful I will be accepted into a doctoral program that will allow me to continue my academic pursuits and enable me to put my “foot in the door” as a teaching assistant.  Of course, I am aware of the challenges that will come along with this path, as well as my naivete in much of this territory, but I am confident in the tools I have received and have learned to properly wield along my undergraduate voyage.

Although I did not necessarily plan to pursue a master’s degree at Sul Ross, I am convinced I was meant to continue learning from the very professors who inspired my aspirations for a profession beyond the high school classroom.  I owe a significant amount of my academic growth to them and consider myself lucky to have another year alongside them.  That being said, I am looking forward to the end of this semester as I stride my final stretch of undergraduate work, embrace the promise of completion, and discover the abundant challenges of my uncharted post-graduate life.  With confidence, I can conclude that my undergraduate degree has been a vital determinant in who I am and who I aspire to be.  I am forever indebted to Sul Ross and the faculty who have offered the resources to bridge the undergraduate and graduate treks and encourage me as I leap from one to the other.

Why study English?

Many people, including the average inquirer of my aspirations, assumes my career trajectory’s destination resides in the secondary English classroom; however, through this myriad of experiences deemed as my undergraduate journey, my interest in exploring literature and the accompanying criticisms has opened doors for challenging opportunities that not only inspired personal growth as a student but elevated my aspirations as well.  My goal is to work in higher education as a professor of English using the literary criticism skills I gained as an English major, the research skills I have developed in my own undergraduate research and the multiple tasks entrusted to me as a research assistant for my mentor professor, and the writing skills essential to thrive in such literary and research settings.  In my future career, I hope to explore epistemological questions fostered by cultural literature and investigate the ways in which various expressions and articulations from diverse backgrounds grapple with these same queries.  Thus, I seek to further my education in English with a PhD in English focusing on comparative literature.

Coursework such as Cultural Society and Protest, Marxist Literature and Theory, English and American literatures, contemporary literature, and environmental literature will provide me with the skills of approach and understandings attending to differing representations of gender, race, socioeconomic class, political background, and sexuality inflected by literary narratives and accounts.  Specifically, coursework in Cultural Society and Protest has inspired my interest in the correspondence of culture and protest and the role that such correspondence has played in the development, expressions, and portrayals of the zeitgeist of an era.  In addition, my exposure to theory in regard to Marxist literature has become vital in my approaches of evaluating and analyzing literary pieces and understanding the multiple applications of a work.  Along with other literary and cultural courses which I had the pleasure of taking, these classes have inspired profound critical thinking and change of perspective, consideration of how such writings and notions of critique and judgement offer ethical reflection on topics that extend beyond an inquiry into the status of the literature, and ultimately helped me determine my passion for literature across cultures.

Although my aspirations of a PhD in English provoke worry, and oftentimes doubt, I have become solely interested in my own reaction to the idea of such pursuit.  I am aware of the formidable challenges that characterize this uncharted territory for me, but I am eager to go forth with my student, researcher, and professorial aspirations.

Profile of my mentor: Associate Professor of English Dr. Ian Peddie

Dr. Peddie is my mentor and major professor.  He is the very person who has inspired me to consider my own graduate school pursuits.

For his graduate school, Dr. Peddie attended Illinois State University and the University of Rochester, where he earned his PhD.  In his dissertation, Dr. Peddie explored the presence of a strong tradition of left-wing writing throughout the twentieth century.  Along with researching Nelson Algren and Thomas McGrath, Dr. Peddie’s study investigates and raises important questions about the intersection between class identity and the development of American Literature in 1937.  While in graduate school, Dr. Peddie worked hard, not only to achieve his goals but to acquire the means for doing so.  His biggest challenge throughout school, he said, was money.  As a matter of fact, money strains prevented him from attending his own graduation ceremony.  However, he did not allow this challenge to halt his pursuit in the slightest.  He worked his whole way through school and finished debt-free.

In ways more than one, Dr. Peddie’s journey through graduate school is inspirational as he was relentless in the pursuit of his goals.  In fact, he attributes much of his success to his disciplined routine while attending school—a routine which still plays a big role in his day-to-day life.  He learned quickly, while others struggled to learn, that “if you can impose discipline upon yourself” the end goal is much more attainable.  His familiar routine includes rising early, reading the news in the morning, exercising, and working conscientiously at the tasks before him.

I also asked Dr. Peddie if he had advice for those desiring to attend graduate school and for those in the midst of it.  The first advice he gave was to work hard.  He stated that the willingness to work hard is what creates and distinguishes a successful student.  For those interested in English literary studies, he suggested finding your voice—a discovery which will come as academic confidence builds over time.  In addition, Dr. Peddie emphasized becoming comfortable with asking for help, having an informed opinion, and finding one’s own way.

“Be aware of dishonesty,” he advised.  “Many people will say your work is sub-par when it is not.  It’s also important to hold onto your values, and to never drop your standards.”

Alluding to the Latin phrase illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let others grind you down), Dr. Peddie concluded with a smile and offered further encouragement.

“You must be responsible and willing to do a lot of work.  Don’t fall for laziness.  You can do it.”

After having the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Peddie and learning about his own experiences, I often find myself contemplating my productivity and utilization of time.  I have even began imposing a more disciplined routine on myself.  His journey is equally inspirational and enlightening.  I hope that, like Dr. Peddie, I can one day have my own success story to tell.

Time Never Goes Backward

• by Xueqing Mi (Sunny) •

Editor’s note:  Xueqing Mi is a Sul Ross international student who hails from China.  The following is a reflection on the contrasts between her Chinese university and Sul Ross.

At my Chinese university, I walked on campus holding a heavy folder in my arms.  The wind in February gave me the warm feeling of a spring breeze on a sunny day.  Swim class had been released.  I was walking with my roommate and wiping my damp hair at the same time.  We were headed to the cafeteria when my stomach began talking . . . .

“What’s for lunch?” I asked my roommate.

“Spicy hot pot,” she said.

“I’ll have seafood noodles, EMM, and a tea egg,” I replied, looking forward to the tastes.

“Me, too!” she exclaimed.

“You want everything,” I quipped.

As we approached the cafeteria door, I heard an unexpected yet familiar language—English.  

“Hey, Sunny!”

I came back to reality from my musing memories, imperceptibly.

“Oh, hi. How are you?”

I walked into the Sul Ross classroom and looked at the familiar yet unknown faces.  August, September, November . . . I silently counted in my head to the sixth month.  I have been here for six months.  I left my familiar Chinese campus seven months ago.  My new surroundings—friends, teachers, and, of course, classmates, are all different.  How have I changed?  I somehow feel I have changed a lot and yet not at all . . . .

Many Sul Ross friends ask me what my university in China was like.  Mostly, all I can think to say is “very different.”  I have a lot to say, but what I reply is basically that my Chinese university had a lot more students.  However, that is just a fact and not the essence of my life there or here as an international student.

In September 2015, my parents sent me to a Chinese university with a car full of luggage.  For the first time, I left home to live alone.  My parents wanted me to take countless things.  They wanted to make sure that I was prepared for life on my own.  So, they packed the suitcases with everything from bedding to a screwdriver.  I entered the school gates and looked at the vast square and magnificent buildings.  Everything was fresh in my eyes at that time.  I was excited to find my department, to check in, and to get the key to my dorm.

One, two, three, four, five, six beds—five beds with stuff on them.  A couple of the girls and their parents were unpacking.  I said hello to them with a smile for they would be my roommates with whom I must get along in the future.  We six girls from five different cities spent our first day at college together with care and curiosity.  Then, before formal classes began, we took part in military training.  This training under the hot summer sun was very tiring, but it also made us quickly get familiar with each other and become friends.

The male and female student dormitories at my university were not in the same building, and in fact, not in the same area at all.  The boys’ dormitories were located at the west end of the school, and the girls dormitories were on the east end.  Each of these buildings had dormitory administrators whom we called “aunt” or “uncle.”  They were in charge of the dormitories in all things, big and small.  Girls’ dormitories were locked at ten p.m. and boys’ dormitories at eleven p.m.  After the dormitory door was locked, students had to ring the doorbell to get out and then possibly face punishment from the aunt or uncle.  One of the fun things about sleeping in a room with six people was that, when the lights were turned off, we always had something to talk about.  We called it bedtime talk.  We used to lie in bed staring at the ceiling in the moonlight and tell funny stories about our childhoods, ghost stories, and discuss the boys and girls in our class.  It was an important way to get to know each other.  It was as if, in the dark, it was easier to say what was on our mind.

Every semester in China, there would be some activities hosted in the dormitory, such as the dormitory culture competition.  We made a lot of effort to get a good ranking.  Chinese universities had the same courses for the same major, and the curriculum was arranged by the school, which is very different from American schools.  Students here have more freedom to choose their own schedules.  At my university in China, each department had its own uniform, and everyone wore his or her uniform whenever the school held big activities.  The six students in our dormitory were all in the same major, so we took all the same classes together.

During freshman year, we had to get up at six in the morning to gather together and run, all of us in a hurry to brush our teeth and wash our faces.  Each class had its own slogan; we had to shout the slogans when we were running.  After that, while yawning, everyone dragged their tired bodies to the canteen to eat breakfast.  After breakfast, at 7:20, all freshmen had to go to the classroom for morning independent study.  Then around ten o ‘clock in the morning there was a break for exercises.  For this, we were arranged into our different classes, and everybody exercised to music, still wearing the same uniform.  Schools had a special department that was responsible for checking whether students exercised seriously.  At seven o’clock, after supper, all the freshmen had an individual evening study class.  When I became a sophomore, I stood in the window of the teaching building and looked out with a great deal of nostalgia while watching the new freshmen.  The life of a freshman-year student at Chinese universities is very busy; although not significantly different from high school, except with less homework and fewer exams.

The school library’s study room in China was always crowded.  In order to get a seat, students waited in line outside the library before it opened its the doors at six a.m.  This happened frequently before important exams, like the qualification certificate and the graduate entrance examinations.  The hallways of the school library were filled with students reciting textbooks, and I was once one of them.  I had even seen students lock the desks and chairs together with a chain when they went for lunch in order to save their seats; however, this was later banned by the school.  You may wonder why everyone had to cram into the library to study.  First, many students were not locals and could only live at the school.  Second, it was difficult to find empty classrooms; many classrooms had students attending classes.  Third, it was hard to concentrate on studies in the dormitory because so many others shared common space and the dorms offered no self-study rooms. The manner of instruction at my university classes in China was not very different from my classes here—again, there were just more students.

Of course, learning was not the only task at Chinese universities.  We also had various activities, clubs, sports meetings, and parties.  I liked to take a walk with my friends on the campus in the summer evenings.  The playground was full of young people, some running and some playing football.  The dance club of the school would organize dancing parties every weekend, which is also one of the fragments of my Chinese life I miss most.  Almost every university has a snack street around it, full of restaurants and food shops at which students could never get tired of eating.  When I wanted to relax after a day’s class, I went shopping with three or two of my friends.  In the summers, there were also night markets.  (Interesting fact: night markets originated in the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago.)  While eating snacks at the market, my friends and I would choose our favorite clothes and small items to purchase.   By the end of the night, we were satisfied to be back in the dormitory for rest.

I miss many things about home: the green paths full of birds, the three distinctive school canteens, the campus store, the cup of sweet watermelon juice after the sports tests, and the memory of the afternoon we chanted for our classmates during the School Olympic Games.

Sul Ross State University is quite different than my Chinese university.  For example, Sul Ross’ small campus makes me feel as if all of the students at the school know each other.

Another difference is in the living arrangements.  When I first checked into Lobo Village 1, I was surprised because I saw some boys walking in the hallway.  I was even more surprised when I entered my dorm room, because there were not only two separate rooms, but also a bathroom and a living room.  Here, I have had no bedtime talk with my roommates, nor is there the lively atmosphere of six people living together; however, I now sleep better in my own room.  It’s also nice to invite friends to watch TV in the living room when we are bored.

The contrast in student schedules between Sul Ross and my Chinese university is as stark as is the amount of space.  Sul Ross students have more freedom to arrange their own time for studies and to go to the gym for exercise according to their own schedule; I like the gym here because I find opportunities to play all kinds of sports.

Additionally, Sul Ross has much more space provided for studying.  And what I especially like is the Tutoring and Learning Center.  That resource has helped me a lot.

Being away from home can be shocking, but the separation allows me to realize the cultural differences between China and the U.S.  And it helps me appreciate home through the lens of an international student, through time and space.

SRSU Program a Bargain for Midland College Students

• by Laura Granado •

Students in Midland should consider themselves lucky when it comes to trying to find cheaper routes in which to get their degree.  Many students choose to use the Legacy Scholarship, which allows two free years of college if a person completes 40 hours of community service.  This scholarship is so readily used because of the amount of money it saves students in the long run; however, when a student finishes their first two years, they may have a difficult time locating a university that is still affordable.

The Sul Ross State University Program at Midland College is one of the most affordable routes for any student looking to further their education after two years.  The SRSU Program offered at Midland College allows students to spend less money than if they were to attend Sul Ross via its main campus in Alpine.  Yet this program is not being widely utilized.  By transferring to Sul Ross through the SRSU Program, rather than through the traditional route, Midland College students not only get their transfer fee waived, they also get more of their Midland College hours accepted towards a Sul Ross degree.

“That can be up to 90 credit hours,” says Sul Ross advisor Melissa Shenkman.  “And being at Midland College tuition rates, that’s where you see the major savings.”

For example, tuition and fees for a three-credit-hour class at Sul Ross in Alpine are approximately $963.07; at Midland College the same class could cost only $534.00.  Not only is the course cost significantly cheaper, by remaining in Midland to attend college students can potentially save by not having to pay university room and board costs.

The SRSU Program also allows Midland students to feel as though they are in a small class setting.  While Sul Ross in Alpine already has pretty small classes, Midland students can, in some cases, have an entire classroom to themselves, viewing their Sul Ross professors over a screen while seated comfortably at Midland College.  In other cases, their may be a small number of students in the Midland College classroom.

Being the only student, or one of only a few, means professors can give each student a lot more attention.

“One of my professors always made sure to directly ask me if I understood what was going on, what the assignment was, and just made sure everything was getting through clearly,” stated Megan Lyon, a student going through the SRSU Program.

Courses also become more lecture-based with this distance learning set up.  Rather than working on assignments with a group from class, SRSU Program students take notes during a lecture and then perform the coursework on their own.

While Sul Ross professors frequently check to make sure Midland College students understand what is being said, and that the distance learning technology is working properly, there are occasional issues with the sound or video feeds.  However, both Sul Ross and Midland College have tech support personnel standing by to assist with these issues.

Distance learning isn’t for everyone.  Some students aren’t fond of lecture via video, feeling disconnected from the class.

“Some professors don’t realize that just because people in their physical class understand what’s going on, that doesn’t mean [the students in the Program] do,” said Lyon.

But ultimately, even though watching professors over a screen does come with limitations, the SRSU Program’s financial and logistical benefits remain significant for Midland College students.  Paying 40-percent less for college courses is certainly a bargain worth studying.

Fishing a Hidden Gem of the Trans-Pecos

• by Ace Sanchez •

The cool breeze trickled across the reeds, rippling the water as it blew.  I sat back and enjoyed the peacefulness of the surroundings and the abundance of wildlife that inhabited this small pond.

It happened fast.  As I tossed some grain to the nearby ducks, my three-foot Barbie pole plunged into the water.  I set the hook as if my life depended on it, and the fight was on.  The small drag squealed and screeched—my unknown catch pulling with all its might.  The four-pound test line was indeed tested to its limit as it pulled me toward the water’s edge.  After five excruciating minutes, my catch emerged from the water.

I gazed in disbelief . . . at a goldfish.  

I have been asked numerous times what I do for fun out in the desert, or what anyone can do for fun out in the desert.  My answer is that I go light-tackle fishing.  Where exactly do you find water out here?  Well, a hidden gem known as Fort Peña Colorado Park awaits just five miles southwest from the small town of Marathon.  The Park is only about five acres in size, but its pond holds a diversity of fish species.  I have caught largemouth bass, speckled channel catfish, common carp, sunfish, and of course one very surprising goldfish.  

Like most recreational fishers, I enjoy going to big lakes and even out into the ocean to wet a line.  Yet I am content with the fishing opportunities available right out here.  It has definitely made me a strong believer in the saying, “It’s the little things in life that make the world turn round.”  Fort Peña’s small pond is a sanctuary for anyone with a valid fishing license seeking a good time in a peaceful area; it’s a place where the stresses of college life are nowhere to be found.  Open to the public year round, it’s also a place where young children can be introduced to the joys of fishing.

Tiffany Janke: Equine and Livestock Manager

• by Julie Schmidt •

Tiffany Janke, from Leon Valley, Texas, is Sul Ross State University’s Livestock and Equine Manager.

Growing up on a 20-acre property, Tiffany grew to love animals and had her first pony by the age of three.  She attended Sul Ross as an undergraduate, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both equine science and agricultural business; however, once the equine program disbanded she enrolled at Texas State University in San Marcos to complete her undergraduate studies.

When Tiffany married Thomas Janke, a research associate at SRSU’s Borderlands Research Institute, she returned to Alpine to work on her Master of Agriculture degree.  

Post wedding and honey moon, and back in Alpine, she began working as a ranch worker on the University’s ranch lands where she was responsible for grounds upkeep and looking after the livestock.  After only one year in that position, Tiffany was promoted to Livestock and Equine Manager this past September.  She now spends her days coordinating the use of animals in classes and labs, and overseeing the budgeting and finance of everything related to the University’s horses and livestock.

This spring, Janke will begin teaching her first of what she hopes will be many courses: Horse Production and Management.  She is also the adviser for multiple student organizations, including the Ranch Horse Team, Equine Science Club, and the Haunted House Club.  

While continuing to enjoy her lifelong love of working with animals, Janke says she appreciates having a job which is never the same two days in a row.  And she thanks her four hardworking and dedicated student workers who make life easier for her.