Chi Omega “Trap Queen” Photo Sparks Controversy Over Race

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: October 1, 2015 at 8:40 am
Chi Omega House at University of Florida

Chi Omega House at University of Florida. Ariella Phillips / WUFT News

A photo featuring members of the Chi Omega sorority at University of Florida that was supposed to be about sisterhood has raised concerns about perpetuating harmful stereotypes instead.

The photo shows four white women with their arms crossed wearing long black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Trap Queen.” 

The words are a reference to the title of a song by New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this summer, according to the magazine.

“Trap” refers to a “trap house,” which is where drugs are made and sold, often in impoverished neighborhoods, said Veleashia Smith, the director of UF’s Institute of Black Culture.

“A trap queen is not something you want to be excited about,” she said.

The women in the photo, the president, vice president, and adviser of the Chi Omega chapter at UF did not respond to requests for comment. The national Chi Omega organization and the UF Panhellenic Council also declined to comment.

However, UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said in a statement that the university is aware of the photo, and that Student Activities and Involvement along with the Bias Education and Response Team have reached out to the sorority.

“While we have learned there was no intention to offend anyone, we are using this opportunity as a teaching moment. It’s important to foster a campus environment welcoming for all,” Sikes said.

Smith, who said there are plans to bring the Black Student Union and the sorority together to talk, said that a woman who runs a drug house shouldn’t be glorified because of the offensive connotations to black culture.

Bria Wood, a 21-year-old journalism major and member of the Black Student Union, said she had conflicting feelings about the photo. At first glance, she thought something was not quite right.

Initially, she noticed the shirts, then the pose. She said she wondered what point the women were trying to make.

Wood is a member of UF’s Delta Sigma Theta, a nationally recognized African-American sorority. She first learned about the photo in a group text message with her friends.

Reactions were mixed, she said.

While the photo isn’t blatantly racist, their outfits and poses aren’t something that should be representative of a student organization, she said.

“In a normal setting, those girls wouldn’t go around their parents dressed like a trap queen,” Wood said.

College is a place to broaden horizons and learn about being mindful of different things that may or may not offend, she said.

This is not the first time a Chi Omega chapter has been in trouble for questionably racist material. In August 2014, two members from the University of Alabama chapter were removed from the organization following a Snapchat photo with a racial slur.

Michael Leslie, a professor of intercultural communication at UF, said he hopes the social disapproval of the photo could lead to a learning opportunity in today’s multicultural society.

He said he’s glad people are paying attention and speaking up when they see something that raises questions.

But Leslie also said the photo, while trivial, could have the negative effect of reinforcing black stereotypes.

“You can’t control people’s behavior,” he said.


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Microbeads In Everyday Products Damages Ecosystems

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Microbeads are added to many personal-hygiene products, but their primary purpose is adding color. Photo by Emily Braun.

Tiny parts of personal-hygiene products are turning out to be a big problem for the environment.

Microbeads, which are plastic fragments made from synthetic polymers, are commonly found in face washes, toothpastes and soaps. The pollution starts when they are rinsed down the drain.

“The challenge we have is a lot of these products are going on the market,”Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird said. “But the review to look at what the impact is on the environment and whether water treatment plants can remove these things is lagging…not just on the federal level but the state level.”

A recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology found that 8 trillion of these microbeads enter U.S. aquatic habitats every day.

However, this is only where approximately 1 percent of the daily microbeads go. The other estimated 99 percent, or 800 trillion microbeads, enter wastewater treatment facilities.

The microbeads aren’t regulated yet, but as far as drinking water is concerned, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) does not specifically test for microbeads.

“They do test for a variety of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, which we have not detected in our drinking supply,” said Patrick Donges, GRU marketing and communications specialist.

“We are aware of microbeads as a potential concern, and we will address it if it becomes an issue,” Donges said.

As far as human consumption, there is no threat yet. But there is evidence that microbeads could be causing problems for marine life.

Chelsea Rochman, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, and the lead author of the study, said these microbeads were found in the stomachs of the animals they studied, among many types of microplastics.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is examining the effects that might occur when humans consume the animals that consumed these microbeads. It is also looking at the impact on marine life itself.

This is especially true in Florida.

​​”We’re very close to sea level here [in Florida],” said Allison Vitt, the University of Florida Office of Sustainability outreach and communications coordinator. “So we have that added potential to really impact our water system.”

“I think that it’s even more important for Floridians to be aware that this is an issue, and to really educate themselves on what they can do to help be a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she said.

The pollution can be prevented, or at least slowed, if people choose products that have the same desired cleanliness effect minus the microbeads.

Micaela Gibbs, an associate professor in the UF College of Dentistry, said as far as toothpaste is concerned, “There are many toothpastes that don’t contain these beads that are still very effective.”

“The beads are primarily for added color,” Gibbs said. “Really, the most critical part of the equation is using a toothpaste that includes fluoride and actually brushing, flossing and having good oral hygiene.”

Both Gibbs and Vitt said with research and added attention to product labels, people can choose similar products that are more environmentally friendly and still get the job done. Cutting down on use of these products could prevent pollution from escalating in the future.


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Florida Researchers Aim To Breed Better Blueberries

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Pictured above is the Sweetcrisp blueberry. The goal for the researchers was to identify components in 19 different variations that not only people liked, but those that would make for stable production across different environments. Photo courtesy of James Olmstead.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are trying to hone in on qualities that will create tastier and sturdier blueberries.

The findings of the three-year study were posted on PLOS One, a journal that publishes scientific and medical research. As a result of the study, researchers have targeted specific breeding traits to improve blueberries.

The researchers tested 19 different variations of blueberries in 30 panels, in which 217 people ranked them blindly based on overall liking, texture, sweetness, sourness and flavor intensity.

James Olmstead, an associate professor with UF’s Horticultural Sciences Department that led the experiment, explained how breeding for flavor is challenging because everyone has different tastes.

“The ideal for me as a plant breeder is to be able to release a variety to growers and say ‘it’s going to perform the same no matter where you plant it and what environment you plant it in,’” he said.

Olmstead said another issue is that the same variety of berry can taste different based on its environment.

To solve these issues, the researchers wanted to find compounds within each variation of blueberry that people not only liked, but produced consistent results when grown in different environments, he said.

Olmstead explained that two different data sets were developed — one resulting from the tastings and the other from an analysis of the genetic composition of each type of blueberry.

Although the Scintilla variety earned the highest overall score by the panel members, Olmstead stressed that they weren’t just trying to determine what blueberry people liked, but the genetic components that would provide for consistency.

This sought-out consistency can be an issue, as Florida poses several challenges to blueberry production.

Though short winters may be seen as an advantage to many industries in Florida, Olmstead explained that cold temperatures are important for blueberry production.

“Blueberries need that cold temperature during the winter to produce a full crop the following spring,” he said.

Despite weather-related challenges, Olmstead said that the Southern Highbush, Florida’s main variety of blueberry, was developed to tolerate the very short winter periods.

John Ibasfalean, owner of John’s Blueberries in Lake Butler, said that sporadic Florida weather can wreak havoc because blueberries need several hours of cold between each season. Without a good freeze, the output won’t be as plentiful.

“They’re very temperamental,” Ibasfalean said.

Jeff Williamson, who is on the board of directors for the Florida Blueberry Growers Asssociation, said that rain can also have a negative impact because it can cause berries to burst.

Florida’s sunny weather during blueberry season, which generally lasts from March to May, makes for good harvesting. As a result, producers can take advantage, Williamson said.

“Our prices can be significantly higher than other North American production areas,” he said.

“There’s been an increased awareness of the nutritional value of blueberries,” Williamson explained. As a result, that has increased demand and consumption of blueberries.

Olmstead said Florida features a competitive advantage because the state is able to produce blueberries at a time when many areas cannot. This leads to an early market window in which Florida can almost exclusively dominate the blueberry market.

Florida is one of 10 states that account for 98 percent of U.S. blueberry production.

Olmstead said his long-term goal is to help Florida stay competitive.

“When there are different places in the world producing blueberries at the same time, I would like for our growers to be able to say ‘We’re producing the best tasting blueberries that you can get at this time,’” he said.

He said he plans to keep selecting for favorable traits and breeding repeatedly to make the blueberries even better.

“It’s a continual process, and this was just new information that was feeding in to helping me better select what we want to keep and test in larger areas,” he said.











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Lake Butler Resident Publishes Three Books In A Month

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: October 1, 2015 at 10:37 am

Steven Spitzer has a literary taste for the twisted, but some of his unconventional plot lines originate from his own life experiences.

The 29-year-old Lake Butler resident published his first three books in September.

“I just let it go dark and twisted and see just how weird I can get,” Spitzer said. “I’m not trying to be gruesome, even with all the ones I am gruesome on.” 

Amazon released his most recent book, “The Snake Before Christmas,” on Sept. 23. Spitzer’s time working at The Gourmet Rodent in Newberry, where he performed ultrasounds on ball pythons, influenced his retelling of the classic story “The Night Before Christmas.”

“Everyone hates snakes, really,” he said. “So I’ve always wanted to do something to make people like them a little more and make it the hero of something.”

Spitzer said he wasn’t always interested in writing. As a shy, withdrawn middle school student, he loved reading science fiction novels, a hobby that he said influenced his own writing.

He enjoyed writing in high school, but it wasn’t until his last year of college, while pursuing a bachelor of fine arts with a concentration in ceramics at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, that he considered writing as a hobby. One of his final ceramics projects required him to write a description of his work, so Spitzer decided to get creative.

“I didn’t want to do something boring,” he said. “So, I just made it a narrative walking you through the whole thing, and I really enjoyed writing that.”

Spitzer began writing short stories as a creative outlet, many of which ended up in his second published book, “A Giggle in the Darkness: Twenty-Four Dark Comedy Shorts.”

He wrote his first book as a favor to a friend, a baker, who didn’t know what to tell her customers when they asked about the scar on her cheek. Amazon published the book, “A Month in the Life of Laura the Baker,” on Sept. 15.

While working on the book, Spitzer decided to give his friend plenty of options. His paragraph-long tale turned into a 232-page book.

“With Laura, she was such a strong character – and she is such a strong person – she took on a life of her own,” he said. “I ended up just throwing situations at her with no idea how she was going to get out of it, and she would work her own way out.”

He attributes a certain alligator episode in the book to his experience working at the alligator farm at Cypress Creek Farms in Starke, but most of the other content is purely fictional.

Spitzer researched publication options, and he eventually opted for CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing service that leaves the power in the writer’s hands. Once he saw the book in print, he realized he wanted to make the book available for anyone to purchase.

“I remember holding the book and saying, ‘Oh wow, this is so cool,’” he said. “Not the most sophisticated reaction, but it’s amazing to see your name in print – see something that you designed, words that came out of your head – actually printed.”

Amazon published his collection of short stories, “A Giggle in the Darkness,” the day after it published “Laura the Baker.” One of the stories, “The Lake,” is set at Butler Lake, and it expands on an old, little-known local legend.

Spitzer said that despite some of their shocked reactions, his friends and family fully support his work.

“I’m impressed with the way he comes up with an idea,” Spitzer’s friend David Stegall said. “It just seems neat how he can flow through with taking the story in his imagination and putting it into words on a page and have it all make sense.”

Spitzer said his next project, a story told from the perspective of his dog, Lincoln, portrays life with Spitzer.

Lake Butler resident Stephen Spitzer is the author of three fictional books recently published through Amazon's CreateSpace. His books draw subtle influences from his life and combine dark, twisted plots with humor.

Lake Butler resident Stephen Spitzer is the author of three fictional books recently published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. His books draw subtle influences from his life and combine dark, twisted plots with humor. Photo courtesy of Steven Spitzer.

“It’s easier now than ever before to get a book published,” Spitzer said. “You might as well go for it.”

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Gainesville Landfill Transforms Into Floodplain

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 5:27 pm
A construction truck piles up sandy soil on the perimeter of the project site. About eight inches of this is placed on the site first folowed by two feet of clean soil and sodding mats. Photo by Conor Soper.

A construction truck piles sandy soil on the perimeter of the project site. About 8 inches of soil are placed on the site followed by 2 feet of clean soil and sodding mats. Photo by Conor Soper.

A decades-old Gainesville landfill will soon be transformed into a project that aims to prevent erosion and keep waste out of the floodplains and Little Hatchet Creek, which feeds into Newnan’s Lake.

The Gainesville Public Works Department and EnviroTek Environmental and Construction Services have been remediating the landfill, which is near the Gainesville Regional Airport. It has caused erosion and affected the quality of the local water for humans and wildlife.

“This day and age, we are very cognizant of wetlands and their environmental performance as far as taking contaminates and absorbing them prior to them getting into a watershed area such as Little Hatchet Creek,” said Chip Skinner, spokesman for RTS and Public Works.

“So this is really improving that water quality not only for the citizens as the creek continues to flow through Gainesville, but also for the wildlife that count on that for their drinking water,” he said.

The $1.88-million project has been in progress since April, but the landfill has a history dating back more than half a century.

In the 1940s, the area was used as a landfill for garbage and sludge by an Air Force base that was located in Gainesville,  Skinner said. Then, in the 1960s through the early 1970s, the site was reportedly used by the city for the same garbage- and sludge-dumping purposes.

“There was some contamination from the materials that were in the landfill such as the sludge and everything because, of course, back in the ‘40s all the way through the ‘70s we didn’t have the same environmental protections that we have now,” he said.

Today, the project consists of creating diversion berms (essentially hills) and “V” ditch-down chutes that help channel water into the wetlands and nearby Little Hatchet Creek without causing further erosion, he said. The slopes also needed to be regraded so they wouldn’t be as steep and would help reduce the chance of erosion.

A completed portion of the remediation project consists of green berms sloping downhill towards the wetlands. The brown sections are coconut sodding mats with seeding that will grow from them. Photo by Conor Soper.

A completed portion of the remediation project consists of green berms sloping downhill toward the wetlands. The brown sections are coconut sodding mats with seeding that will grow from them. Photo by Conor Soper.

Before this, the workers needed to clear out trees, some of which were invasive species, project manager Betsy Waite said. The trees were then turned into mulch that was mixed into a 2-foot layer of clean topsoil and covered with a coconut sodding mat. The sodding mats help growth and keep seeding in place. This process has to be done over the area of the project.

The project should be completed this month, within two to three weeks given good weather conditions, Waite said.

“It’s not going to require a lot of long-term maintenance, which is what we expected,” she said.

The upkeep is mostly going to involve mowing.

“I’ll be long retired from the city before we have to do anything, and I’m only 45,” Skinner said. “We are not anticipating to have to do anything there for quite a few years.”

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In the News: Gainesville Woman Arrested for Child Abuse, UF Celebrates 50 years of Gatorade, Syrian Crisis Hurting Women and Children, Disney Springs Name Change

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 5:26 pm
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Limited Parking For Grove Residents Prompts Towing

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: October 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm
Parking is a huge problem at The Grove apartment complex, and many complaints center around the practice of towing companies roaming to find illegally parked cars.

Parking is a huge problem at The Grove apartment complex, and many complaints center around the practice of towing companies roaming to find illegally parked cars. Kaley Thomas/WUFT News

Updated: Oct. 6, 5:03 pm.

After seeing twelve scooters towed at once, Sydney Hughes is on constant alert of being towed herself.

Hughes lives at The Grove, an apartment complex located at Southwest 37th Street, constructed last year.

Due to a lack of parking spaces, residents often park illegally.

“There are over 600 residents and only around 300 parking spots,” said Ben Tobias, spokesperson for Gainesville Police Department.

Since the beginning of this school year, over 100 vehicles have been ticketed, and 31 vehicles have been towed, Tobias said.

Tobias said the illegal parking is a result of The Grove advising residents to park in areas that aren’t part of its property, but rather city maintenance spots or bike trails.

Said Hughes: “A lot of people are angry and frustrated, and end up parking in front of no parking signs. I don’t blame them. If I couldn’t find a spot, I would do the same.”

GPD became involved when a resident’s mother emailed Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Carter about the towing problem. While signs posted at The Grove warn of the possibility of roam towing by Ultimate Towing of Gainesville Inc.,  Stephen O’Grady, president and owner of the company, denies that is the case.

“My company has used great restraint and not towed ANY cars that we were not expressly and directly asked by the Police, Fire Department or management to tow.,” O’Grady said in an e-mail to WUFT. “We have not engaged in ANY roam towing since the parking problem became evident at the beginning of the semester.”

The mother, Jennifer Link, explained in her email that because the students cannot park in the advised spots, her son and other residents are illegally parking.

Others have echoed Link’s concerns.

“A couple weeks ago, me and my brother tried to park here at night and there weren’t any parking spaces available,” said Ryan Wagner, a UF economics student and The Grove resident. “So, we just parked in any space we could find on the fourth floor of the parking garage, and the next day he got towed and we had to pay a $144 towing ticket,”

Residents say the complex has offered incentives to residents to park in a lot that is farther away, but for many, that’s too inconvenient.

“They sent an email offering the perk of a month off of rent the next year,” Wagner said. “I’m not interested because I live on the very far side of the building, but it might be better for someone who lives in a building closer [to the parking lot].”

While towing is an issue, residents also have complaints about the illegal parking.

“There will be cars piled up, and sometimes it’s hard to maneuver around the parking lot because there’s just so many cars that are illegally parked,” Hughes said.

“I’ve been in the office before and there’s so many people yelling at the front desk about how there’s no parking and my issue is side-stepped.”

The Grove management could not be reached for comment.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that only 31 vehicles have been towed since the beginning of the semester. The previous version incorrectly stated that over 100 vehicles have been towed since the beginning of the semester.

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Sept. 30, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Maggie Lorenz produced this update.

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UF Student Travels To Morocco For Language Aspect

By on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 11:52 am
University of Florida International Studies senior Gillian Shaw stands in front of a Moroccan King's Mausoleum, Muhammad V, in Rabat, Morocco. Shaw, 20, said she went to Morocco this summer for the language aspect. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French and Arabic. Photo courtesy of Ashley Inman

University of Florida International Studies senior Gillian Shaw stands in front of a Moroccan King’s Mausoleum, Muhammad V, in Rabat, Morocco. Shaw, 20, said she went to Morocco this summer for the language aspect. She is fluent in English, Spanish, French and Arabic. Photo courtesy of Ashley Inman

A University of Florida student said she followed her grandpa’s footsteps as she studied abroad in Fez, Morocco, over the summer.

Gillian Shaw, a UF international studies senior, said her summer trip to North Africa – and then later to Europe – was coincidentally in similar locations as her grandfather’s stations when he was a part of the U.S. Army in the 1950s.

“We’re like twins,” Shaw said.

Shaw was one of 12 students from UF and the University of North Carolina to study the Arabic language in Fez, Morocco, for nine weeks with the Arabic Language Institute in Fez – a UF-sponsored program that gives students the opportunity to experience the language firsthand.

Shaw said she wanted to go to Morocco because of the number of languages spoken throughout the country, a few being French, Spanish and Arabic – all languages she can speak fluently.

“I like to consider myself a linguist,” the 20-year-old said.

Despite Shaw’s linguist expertise and the comfort of following her grandfather’s footsteps, she said she wouldn’t have survived the challenges of Morocco’s diverse culture if it weren’t for Iman Alramadan, her previous Arabic languages professor who encouraged her to travel to Morocco.

Shaw said the three semesters she had Alramadan as an instructor for beginning and intermediate level Arabic courses prepared her for Morocco’s diverse culture.

She said Alramadan didn’t just teach her the Arabic language, but how to use it effectively within the culture.

“If I hadn’t learned that much, I wouldn’t have survived there,” she said.

Shaw was also one of three UF students to be awarded the Mohammed bin Rashid Arabic Language Award in May right before her trip, an honor that she credits Alramadan with as well.

The award, which is named for the United Arab Emirates Vice President and Prime Minister of Dubai, seeks to encourage contributions to knowledge of the Arabic language.

She said UF language professors suggest candidates for this annual award, and she had no doubt that Alramadan recommended her before she left for her new job at Indiana University last Spring.

“I owe all my successes in the language to her,” Shaw said.

Alramadan said from the beginning, it was apparent that Shaw wanted to learn the challenging language.

She said the Arabic Language Award signifies that selected students are ready to communicate in Arabic without any problems, including skills in reading, writing, understanding and speaking the language.

She said Shaw achieved a very advanced level in the language and deserved the highest grades out of her peers, which is a reason she earned the award.

“Gillian is a brilliant and devoted student who has actively shown in class a very high and positive quality as a language learner,” she wrote in an email. “I am very proud of her.”

Shaw said one of the best parts of the trip was the people she met along the way. She said they all still talk every day in a group chat.

Jalyn McNeal, a UNC global studies junior, is one of Shaw’s now-closest friends.

McNeal said his relationship with Shaw became stronger when they sang “Wicked” songs one afternoon while studying in Café Clock, a restaurant in Fez they used to study in almost every day.

McNeal said he made a special connection with each student who traveled to Morocco this summer, including Shaw. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” the 20-year-old said.

Shaw said she has been back in the U.S. for a little more than a month because after her time in Morocco, she traveled through Europe alone until she met up with family in Birmingham, England.

She said the European cultures she witnessed in Paris, London and Germany made it easier for her to transition back into American culture because of the similarities between the cultures.

However, she said the environment in Morocco was different.

She said sometimes she still feels on high alert with her surroundings because sexual harassment was a big part of Moroccan culture. Every time she passed a man, sexual comments were made.

“It was eye-opening,” she said. “I don’t think you can ever get used to that.”

She said her experiences overseas this summer made her appreciate the American environment more – everything except McDonald’s.

Shaw said she had to eat McDonald’s almost every day during Rhamadahn, a Muslim monthlong holiday of fasting, because it was the only thing open. She said she “kind of participated” but only because nothing was open and it was against the law to eat or drink anything in public.

“Yeah, I no longer eat McDonald’s,” she said.

Shaw said one goal she had for herself while in Morocco was to ride a camel because she has a picture of her grandfather riding one while he was stationed there in the ‘50s.

“My goal was to get a similar (picture),” she said. “It was awesome.”

Shaw is graduating this December and has thoughts of pursuing a master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

However, she indicated her traveling days are far from over. The Palm Harbor native said she hopes to travel to Jordan next summer to either teach English or volunteer in refugee camps.

“I don’t know if I’ll get there…(but) we all have an obligation to help these people,” Shaw said.

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Sept. 30, 2015: Morning News In 90

By and on September 30th, 2015 | Last updated: September 30, 2015 at 11:10 am

Kisa Mugwanya produced this update.

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