The Supreme Court Justice Selection Process

Image courtesy of the New York Times

This week, Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch was featured on many news channels while he underwent rigorous questioning.  The somewhat controversial candidate spent this past week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as he attempted to complete the nomination process.  While it may seem confusing and complicated, the process for selecting a Supreme Court Justice is carefully designed to ensure that those given the position would be capable of upholding the Constitution.

The Supreme Court, or Judicial Branch of the federal government, serves a unique role in our country.  It is distinct from the other two branches primarily because of the concept of judicial review. While the legislative branch focuses on creating laws and the executive branch focuses on enforcing laws, the judicial branch focuses on determining whether or not those laws are constitutional.  Thus, Justices set out to create, not enforce, the laws of the country.  As such, Justices are intended to not be affiliated with any party to allow for the most unbiased interpretation possible.  However, Justices tend to have different philosophies on how the Constitution should be interpreted.

Therefore, the process for selecting a Supreme Court Justice involves both the Executive and Legislative Branches and not voters.  As stated in Article II of the Constitution, the President has the sole power to nominate an individual for the position.  He consults with White House staff to choose someone he thinks is qualified for the position.  The nominee then partakes in a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In the hearing, the nominee gives testimony and answers questions posed by the members of the committee.  The committee then votes to put the nominee before the Senate floor, a vote that must be unanimous in order to move forward.   If the vote is reached, the nominee is placed before the entire Senate.  The Senate then votes whether or not to confirm the nominee, a vote which must be a majority.  If a majority is achieved, the nominee can be sworn into office.

Although it might seem like the process for picking the next Supreme Court Justice is chaotic or skewed to one party, it was carefully crafted to guarantee the contrary. It allows for input from both parties and selects individuals in a manner that promotes a balanced interpretation of the Constitution.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


My City, London

It has been only recently that I have come to really, truly love London—really love it.  Honestly, I am not quite sure why it took me so long—London is so easy to fall in love with.  The skyline, the river, even the indeterminable weather seem to be imbued with a mixture of English charm and busy, metropolitan life that you could never find anywhere else in the world, and I love it.  I love London.

I know the exact moment that I realized how much affection I had for this city because it was only a few days ago.  I had taken a friend’s advice and visited London’s National Portrait Gallery, the preeminent collection zone for all the paintings of old people you see in high school history books.  I was browsing through the Elizabethan section of the Gallery and stopped in front of a 1500’s portrait of Shakespeare—not your typical Shakespeare either, with the high, frilly collar and the vacant expression.  This Shakespeare was younger, rocking an earring and a drawstring shirt, looking for everything like a pirate who could bust a sick rhyme in iambic pentameter at any given moment.

I laughed out loud in the middle of the hallway, getting some weird stares from a couple of older gentlemen sketching in the corner—look at that girl, snorting at five-hundred-year-old works of art.  I did not care, though, because I had just been hit with the most bittersweet thought in the world: I am really going to miss it here.  Shakespeare would not be a five-hundred-year-old rebel with an earring back in Texas—just an old writer from someplace far, far away.

The day after I realized my love for London, a man drove a truck into the crowds on Westminster Bridge and killed four people.

I was getting ready to go out and meet a friend when I heard the news—armed assailant, possible terrorist connections.  My stomach dropped.  My heart broke a little.  Who could ever bring themselves to do something so horrible in any place, much less in a city so full of history and diversity and life?

But the Brits are masters of “carrying on”—they have been doing it for about a millennium—and the next day, London pulled itself back together, stronger than the hatred that had tried to tear it apart.  A couple days after the attack, the city held a candlelight vigil for the people who had been killed, and I was so proud of London for coming together, closer than it had been before, even after this tragedy.  The resiliency of the people of London has only made me love it here even more.

I cannot believe that my time here is already over halfway gone.  Although I am excited to get back to the States and see all my friends and family again, I know that I will hate to leave this amazing city.  I may not have been born in London, but I feel the city in my bones anyway, and I am glad that I will always have a home here on the other side of the Atlantic.

Chelsea Teague is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.

Battling Homelessness in Waco

Image courtesy of KWBU

At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, Waco ISD reported that 1,600 students (out of the 15,000 total student population) struggled with homelessness. This number increased by 500 from the previous year. Though economic factors and families moving to Waco from out of town certainly caused a spike in the numbers, Waco ISD has recently begun training teachers on how to determine if a student needs help. Students are technically homeless if they are staying in a hotel or crashing with a friend.

Students can become homeless for many different reasons, though there is a link between homelessness and abusive home situations or parents addicted to alcohol or drugs. Each situation is different, but one thing that remains the same is the toll homelessness has on the student’s education and general well-being. Homeless youth are extremely vulnerable to depression, suicide, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation. These things often occur due to a lack of stability and previous exposure to abuse.

Nationally, less than 25% of homeless students will graduate from high school. When students do not have a consistent place to live, they often end up switching schools multiple times throughout the school year. Others fail out of school due to lack of resources and the added stress of their home life. Whatever the reason, when students do not graduate from high school, they decrease the likelihood that they will find future employment. A lack of education perpetuates the cycle of homelessness for these individuals.

To help combat this issue, Waco ISD began an initiative called Sanctuary House in collaboration with Waco Housing Authority & Affiliates, The City of Waco, Junior League of Waco, and The Salvation Army Waco. Sanctuary House is designed to provide short-term emergency housing to vulnerable Waco families. Families who stay in the Sanctuary House are there for thirty days during which the organization helps them find permanent housing.

However, there are other ways to help Waco’s homeless youth. Programs such as Baylor Buddies, which pair up college students with a Waco ISD student, provide an important mentor relationship to struggling high school and middle school students. This form of stability and accountability proves very helpful to those struggling with homelessness and other forms of material poverty. As Baylor students, we do not have the resources to house homeless families. However, we can sacrifice our time to foster relationships with struggling students.

Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.




Flat Tax: The Fix We Need

Image courtesy of The Washington Post

It is that time of year where you give up a Saturday to sit down, sift through your finances, and figure out how much money you owe the government.  You tell yourself that it is worth giving up your weekend and the money you could spend on that vacation you have always wanted to take because the collection of taxes is a necessary evil that enables our country to run smoothly.

Taxes are important for certain areas of the economy, but the current tax system is unnecessarily burdensome and costly.  Implementing a flat tax rate would solve many of the current problems surrounding the collection of taxes.

A flat tax would streamline the process of collecting taxes.  Currently, the tax code is so complex that the average person cannot understand it.  Besides being complicated and difficult for most Americans to understand, it is expensive.  It is estimated that Americans spend $200 billion each year in taxes either by paying someone to do their taxes or from loss in productivity.

If a flat tax rate were implemented, taxes could be simplified so they could be completed efficiently and without outside help.  It would eliminate the need for the IRS, a bureau that is known for subjectively targeting specific organizations and is not cheap to operate.  Its abolishment would save the government much manpower and money.

Furthermore, the current tax code makes it easy for corporations to game the system.  Some companies use their vast resources to find loopholes in the tax code and pay less than they are actually required.  While large companies have the means to find ways to exploit the code, small businesses do not and, as a result, they are unfairly penalized by the code.

A flat tax rate would ensure that all businesses pay the same percentage.  Similarly, all Americans would pay a set percentage regardless of their income, ensuring that everyone paid a fair amount.  Families and individuals that made below a certain amount would be exempt from taxes altogether so that those in poverty would not become financially over-burdened.

Taxes might fulfill certain functions, but they do not need to be a hassle or a large expensive.  A flat tax rate would be significantly more cost effective and simple to complete.  It would cut back on crony capitalism and guarantee that all citizens paid a fair amount they can afford.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


Travel Tips for Bears on a Budget

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It goes without saying that studying abroad is an experience and a half by its very nature.  Immersing yourself in the culture, language, and food (which is my favorite part) of a foreign country is a fantastic way to spend the semester, no doubt about it.  However, what some potential study abroad-ers may not know is that spending five or six months living outside the US, particularly in Europe, presents a ton of opportunity for travel to even more foreign countries—even while taking classes, and even while on a budget.  To help you on your way, here are some helpful tips for becoming a jet-setting world traveler as a student in Europe:

  1. Understand your academic time commitment.

From my own experience in England, and from what I have heard from study abroad students living in other European countries, college across the Atlantic is a lot more hands-off than college in the States.  For example, students generally take fewer classes abroad than we do at Baylor (think three or four instead of five or six), and classes meet only one day a week.  Also, instead of dividing a student’s overall grade among several different assignments, class participation, and exams as is more common in America, final grades in most schools in Europe are determined primarily by one or two major assignments completed over the course of the semester.  Fewer class periods and less homework mean more time to plan trips to Italy!

  1. Use Skyscanner, or a similar flight comparison app.

(But really, just use Skyscanner.)

Skyscanner is a mobile app that compares the prices of airline tickets to popular destinations for whichever times you plan on travelling.  Its intuitive design makes it easy to use (even for technology failures like me), and I am convinced that you cannot beat the prices.  Using Skyscanner, I was able to fly to Ireland for around twenty dollars round-trip, and to Luxembourg for twenty-five!

  1. Stay in hostels while travelling.

I have to admit, I did not have a very high opinion of hostels before I started travelling around Europe, but really, most of them are absolutely terrific accommodation options for students on a budget.  Hostels are completely safe, often serve free breakfast, and typically cost around fifteen dollars a night per person for a dormitory-style room.  Or, if you would like a little bit more privacy, travel with a group of three or four and book a private room for just a bit more money.  Hostels are a fantastic resource for Bears abroad!

Using these tips, I have been able to see much more of Europe than I ever thought I would.  For anyone thinking of doing some travelling while they study, I hope this advice helps you to make the most of your semester abroad!

Chelsea Teague is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric. 

Campus Carry: A Constitutional Right

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In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a law that permits CHL holders to concealed carry on university campuses in the state of Texas.  However, the law allows private schools to opt out, and Baylor is among several private schools that decided not to allow concealed carry on campus.  Although it may sound irresponsible to let barley-functioning adults run around with guns, that is not the case.  Baylor opting into campus carry would improve the safety for students on campus.

First, it is important to realize that in order to carry on campus you must be a CHL holder. That means that you are at least 21, completed a handgun training class and passed a shooting exam.  Not only does it mean that only trained individuals will be carrying on campus, but only a small percentage of Baylor’s student body are CHL holders, and therefore, only a small percentage will be carrying on campus. It is also important to realize that law only allows concealed carry, meaning it will not be a distraction to the learning environment. Perhaps open carry could be a distraction, but a gun you cannot see cannot be a distraction. Additionally, the school is permitted to ban guns from certain areas of campus. Baylor would be able to ban firearms from specific buildings they feel appropriate. It would not be this crazy environment of students running wild with guns, but rather a handful of individuals who understand the responsibility of carrying a gun.

Currently, firearms are not permitted on Baylor’s campus. If a shooter were to come on campus students would have no way of defending themselves. This past fall semester an active shooter entered the edge of campus, causing the school to be placed on lockdown. Students on campus took cover in classrooms where they sat, defenseless. If the shooter had entered a classroom students would have become easy targets. There is a misconception that a student confronting an active shooter with a gun would make the situation more dangerous. In reality, it would take time for law enforcement to arrive on the scene, during which a student who holds a CHL would be able to calmly and accurately shoot the perpetrator.

Furthermore, concealed carry provides a way for women to defend themselves. Carrying a gun, especially a night, allows women to defend themselves if they are put in a threatening situation.  Recently, there was a string of robberies in which a male entered into females’ apartments and attempted to get into their bedrooms. Although this occurred in off-campus housing, it is possible for it to occur in university-owned housing, or for a student to be approached by a harmful individual in a parking garage on campus late at night.

The idea that campus carry would make campuses unsafe because reckless students would be carrying guns is a myth. Instead, campus would be safer because students would be able to defend themselves. A person who intends to harm others will find a way to do so, regardless of whether or not they are permitted to carry gun on campus. Banning guns from campus does not deter crime, but leaves innocent students defenseless. Carrying a gun is a constitutional right, one that should not be suspended just because you step onto campus.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


How Baylor’s Culture Contributed to Sexual Assault Scandal

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It was only a little over a year ago that the rape conviction of former football player Sam Ukwuachu sparked what is now a nationally known rape scandal at Baylor University.

On August 21st, Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in county jail and ten years’ probation for raping a fellow Baylor student-athlete. While some articles state that former football Coach Art Briles was not made aware of Ukwuachu’s troubling and violent past, other articles report that a former Boise State coach explained that Briles had been made clear about his past. Yet, even if we do not take into account that Briles may have been notified about Ukwuachu’s past, it seems that Baylor faculty and administration members may have been aware of the possible indictment, as they had taken him off the field on 2014, the year the rape took place.

Questions about whether or not Baylor has knowingly harbored rapists, intimidated their victims, and failed to provide the necessary Title IX protections brought about a significant number of investigations and cases against the Baylor Title IX office, athletics department, faculty, student policies, and Christian beliefs.

Among those questions posed, the ones that have received little attention are how the student policies and Christian beliefs espoused by Baylor have fed the crisis that has taken place. While the media has focused more on the laws broken, the Title IX office, and the backlash against victims by faculty, other students have been discussing how the student policies, culture, and Christian climate at Baylor have led to the high number of sexual assaults on campus.

It seems most students are aware that as part of its student policies, Baylor expects all students to wait until marriage for “physical sexual intimacy.” Those who do not know this is part of the student policies have most likely heard about it, but thought it was the campus joke told to freshmen. In addition to that policy, Baylor’s strict alcohol policies have created a culture of silence when it comes to issues related to a sexual relationship or alcohol abuse. This culture of silence has contributed to an environment safe for the rapists and hostile to survivors of sexual assault.

Women who have been assaulted after a night of heavy drinking are afraid to report their case for fear of judgment, lack of compassion and helpful services, and fear of possible punishment. Freshmen are less likely to report a case of sexual assault after a night of drinking because they are underage and live on campus, which means that any trace of alcohol on their person and/or in their system is punishable by fine up to expulsion. Baylor’s strict alcohol policies also result in this scenario: a freshman student gets drunk at a party, and, out of fear of being punished, decides to spend the night at another person’s house. This, while any crime committed against her would not be her fault, puts the student at greater risk to be assaulted. Yet, if she is assaulted, the Baylor community is likely to ask why she thought it would be safe or “lady-like” of her to spend the night at a stranger’s house rather than to go back to her dorm, without taking into account how its policies contributed to such a decision.

Another scenario is important to consider: two students have been dating each other for a while and have a sexual relationship. One day, one partner assaults the other. Because Baylor has a student policy against pre-marital sex, the survivor is less likely to report the assault due to a belief that his or her claims will not be taken seriously.

If we sat down and had a frank and open conversation with many female and male students at Baylor, we would find that Baylor’s policies have contributed to the silencing of survivors directly or indirectly.

Instead of running away from the accusations, we should take the time to reflect on how our culture and long-standing policies have contributed to the rampant sexual violence seen at Baylor University. Baylor had, and still has, a lot of work to do with its Title IX office, Counseling Center, Athletics Department, and other offices within the university that contributed to a hostile environment for survivors. But that is not all Baylor has to work on. Baylor must also consider how its policies regarding sex and alcohol and heteronormativity have contributed to the problems we see today.


Katie Mendez is a junior majoring in international studies. 


Jubilee Food Market

Image courtesy of News Channel 25

Before Mission Waco opened the Jubilee Food Market, the North Waco neighborhood qualified as a food desert. This means that the closest grocery store was over two miles away (specifically, 2.2 miles away).

This may not seem like a problem to Baylor students. Most of us have our own cars or roommates and friends who will drive us to get necessities, as well as food plans to eat on campus.

However, many people in the low-income area of North Waco do not have their own vehicles or drivers licenses, so they must rely on the Waco Transit system (which stops running at seven p.m.) or walk to access affordable, healthy food.

The food desert then results in these people buying groceries from convenience stores, which overcharges for very low nutritional content. This explains the phenomenon of obesity and health issues in struggling communities.

Luckily, Mission Waco and executive director Jimmy Dorrell came up with a creative solution to the food desert. In January 2016, the organization began plans to build and operate a nonprofit grocery store at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue. Since then, they have successfully renovated the space and stocked the store. Jubilee Food Market officially opened on November 21, 2016.

Though the presence of a grocery store satisfies North Waco’s food desert, Dorrell claims that Jubilee Food Market represents much more than that. He hopes that this project will help North Waco residents break the habit of bad eating by presenting them with healthy options. Dorrell also hopes to staff the store with a nutritionist who is equipped to help customers choose healthy options.

Jubilee Food Market welcomes shoppers from anywhere, but Mission Waco implemented an “Oasis Card” system to give discounts to those who live in the area. These cards provide discounts on groceries to ensure affordability.

However, owning and operating a grocery store includes a slim profit margin, and because Jubilee aims to provide an affordable product to those who need it, they sell most products at prices barely above wholesale.

Furthermore, the Oasis Card system, while increasing people’s ability to afford products, decreases the profit. In an effort to save on stocking costs, Mission Waco has plans to build a greenhouse next door to Jubilee, which will facilitate the growing of fresh produce to be sold in the Food Market. Even with this, Mission Waco will be in large part relying on grant money and donations to continue to operate the store.

Jubilee Food Market is more than just a grocery store; it represents a change in the Waco community. If the store continues to operate, it will help North Waco residents change their eating habits and live healthier lives.

Unlike convenience stores, Jubilee Food Market aims to improve the lives of its shoppers by offering fresh produce at low prices and discounts. Baylor students have the ability to support this business. Instead of making large donations or volunteering our time, we can choose Jubilee Food Market over H.E.B. or Walmart. Having students pay full price will help in the effort to stock and operate the store and will help Mission Waco begin similar stores in Waco’s other food deserts.


Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.


Us and Them: Talking US Politics Across the Pond

Image courtesy of Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Before I left for the UK, I and everyone else getting set to adventure around the world were required, on pain of death, to attend a study abroad orientation. We learned things like how to be safe in foreign countries (“Just don’t walk around with your nose in your phone”), how to dress for the weather (“Texas is not normal—you will need a winter jacket”), and how generally to assimilate into our new home (“Just… don’t act so touristy”).

All of our study abroad advisor’s advice was invaluable, but there was one thing that he told us that, in my experience, has proven true over and over again.

“Especially now,” our advisor said, as I crammed my mouth full of free pizza, “people are going to ask you about politics. You may be the only American person some of these people ever meet, and you need to be prepared to answer them.”

Sure enough, in the six-odd weeks I have been on British soil, every single native I have ever had a conversation with has somehow found a way to bring up the election.  Some people are really clever about it—

“So how’s the weather in Texas?” a classmate asked me over coffee a couple weeks ago.

I tried and failed to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius in my head, and defaulted with, “It’s a lot warmer than here!”

The classmate laughed. “Oh, really?” he asked. “Not a frigid wasteland yet?”

I tried to think if I had ever heard anyone use the word frigid to describe east Texas before, and while I puzzled over it, he clarified, “You know. Because of the President.”

“Oh,” I said, clueing in. “Politics.”

After the initial broaching of the subject, all the conversations generally flow the same way.  What do you think of it all? Did you vote? What do you think he’ll do? What do you think he can do? And although no one says it—because nearly everyone in the UK is wary of the Trump administration—the main thought lying beneath this line of questioning is always how could you let this happen?

There is an obvious way to answer this question, and I am always tempted to let my frustration at current events get the better of me and to give the obvious answer. It would be so easy for me to shrug off my country, denounce nearly half the population who put their support behind President Trump and say, “Well, I didn’t vote for him. Ask them.” Classic Us-Them rhetorical device—easy and self-gratifying.

It is so easy to vilify people when we do not agree with them. Any six year old can tell you that the best color is blue and that anyone who thinks otherwise—green, maybe?—is just stupid. But I have spent a lot of time trying to convince the people I know that I am not a six year old, so I have to stop and think before I say anything else—Isn’t this divisive rhetoric the thing that I hate most about the Trump administration? Don’t I think that close-mindedness is the world’s most costly sin?  How hypocritical would it be for me to throw every right-leaning American I know under the bus, just to take the easy way out?

So when people ask me how I or anyone else in the United States could let any of this happen, I stop.  I think hard. And—because it would not feel right to do anything else—I try to understand.

There are some bad people who voted for Trump, I tell them. But everyone has a bottom line, I say. For some people, that bottom line is social equality. For others, maybe that line is abortion, or the economy, or the Supreme Court, or something else that, for those people, allows no compromise. Or maybe some people are unhappy with the way things are, I say. Maybe they really think that this new President can change things for the better.

I disagree, but if everyone agreed with me, we would burn every disgusting tomato crop to the ground, and then what would we dip our fries in?

I do not know what the future will bring, and I cannot know if anything I say about politics or America or anything else actually sways the people here who ask me about those things. What I do know, though, is that defending these people that I disagree with—trying to understand them—is a good thing. I know that America needs my understanding more than it needs my anger, and—above anything else—I know that we are stronger together than we are divided.

Chelsea Teague is a junior majoring in professional writing and rhetoric. 


You’re a Supernova and I’m a Space-Bound Rocket Ship

Image courtesy of Harvard University

Stumbling upon a number of articles published in the last two weeks on Supernova 1987A, a phenomenon observed unsurprisingly in the year 1987, I had two questions. First, why were people so excited to talk about it on its 30th anniversary? Second, what is a supernova? They look pretty darn cool in all of the pictures.


Supernovas are exploding stars. The last explosion within our own galaxy is thought to have been around a hundred years ago. In a binary star system, a white dwarf star builds up matter that it takes from its companion star until it becomes, in a sense, overloaded. These are called Type I supernovae. They are actually used as a standard measurement of light throughout the universe because they are considered to all produce approximately the same amount of energy. Type II supernovae are from single stars. The supernova is somewhat like its final grand breath. As the star runs out of fuel, matter flows into its core until it is overloaded and the core collapses in on itself. Its own gravity pulls it inwards. If you forgot just how small our sun really is, one of these explosions releases more energy than our sun will throughout its entire lifetime. (Don’t worry. Our sun isn’t big enough to create a supernova. Its death will be much less impressive.) These explosions carry debris containing incredibly important elements vast distances. This allows the birth of new stars and the birth of elements (the laws you learned in chemistry do not apply in the explosion of stars).


On February 23, 1987, Ian Shelton spotted 1987A while in the Atacama Desert in Chile. It was just a new star that appeared when he developed one of his photographs from the night in the observatory. It was in fact so bright that it could be viewed without a telescope. The supernova itself was not rare. It was it proximity that made it the sort of rare event astronomers live for. Over the next few months, and the next few decades, information gained from the supernova progressed alongside scientific advancements. There was a five-hour difference between detections of neutrinos in Europe and Japan. There were many questions about the phenomenon. Was it the explosion of Sanduleak or a companion star? Did the neutrino particles (rare and still little-understood particles that play an important role in these explosions) detected actually have mass? Questions like this led to new discoveries about supernovas that have been applied to the other ones we observed afterward. They are still studying 1987A today. Since, you know, the universe is mind-blowing and this phenomenon is STILL GOING ON.


If you are more confused than you were five minutes ago, that is okay. Studying these things always reminds how little I really know, how littler we all know. I think often we try to understand the world as if we created it. We did not. It doesn’t matter what you believe about the origin of the universe, of universes. None of it says that a human being created the laws of the universe. We are all attempting to understand laws and ideas that do not necessarily fit within the parameters of own minds. That doesn’t need to scare us, though. There is a freedom in knowing that the limits we put on ourselves do not apply to the rest of the world.


Katherine Estep is a junior majoring in neuroscience. 


Sources – Check out Supernova SN 2008D