Joey Ovalle

Music business senior Joey Ovalle and rhetoric and writing sophomore Cole Ourso met through UT Queer Chorus. Ovalle and Ourso are engaged and preparing for this year’s spring chorus concert.

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

During a UT Queer Chorus rehearsal, rhetoric and writing sophomore Cole Ourso wears a yellow skirt and laughs at a recalled memory. Ourso wore the same yellow skirt almost two years ago to an event where music business senior Joey Ovalle was playing with his band. Now, Ovalle and Ourso are engaged and working alongside each other for this year’s spring choral concert. 

The choral group is made up of around 11 regular members who identify as a number of genders. Ovalle, the group’s director, organizes Bohemian Rhapsody sheet music while the altos and sopranos fawn over the ring. This is one of the last rehearsals leading up to the group’s spring concert on Friday evening. With two practices a week, the members get together and sing personal arrangements of classics by artists such as Katy Perry and Queen. 

Ourso, who was new to UT and excited to meet people within the queer community, decided to check out BloQ Party. The event, which takes place every fall, hosts an array of queer organizations on campus and is put on by Queer People of Color & Allies. At the same event, Ovalle was on stage performing with his band, The Manifest Electric. Ourso noticed his musical talent but couldn’t work up the courage to approach him. A week later, Oursosaid fate intervened after seeing Ovalle again at a queer meet-up group called Hangout. 

“I remember seeing this tiny blonde person inching toward me,” Ovalle said. “There was just something there — I don’t know what it was. I just needed to get to know this person. Somehow I was suave enough to get Cole’s number.”

The couple has been able to grow together through their work with UT Queer Chorus. Ourso stresses that gender isn’t something as easily defined as society perceives it to be.

“Coming to UT, I realized that genders outside of the binary were a thing,” Ourso said. “There’s a whole spectrum. It’s not just the line. It’s a triangle or a sphere.”

Both Ovalle and Ourso want to become teachers. Ovalle will be pursuing a master’s in musicology in the fall and Ourso, who still has a year and a half left before graduation, wants to get a doctorate in education or rhetoric. 

Ourso thinks it is important to incorporate discussion of social justice into everyday conversation. During the performance Friday, members of the ensemble will speak in between songs about topics ranging from asexuality to pronoun use. 

“We’re both really into and focus on issues of marginalization and oppression,” Ourso said. “We try to talk about these things in Queer Chorus. For people that don’t know much, we just like bringing them up so they know these issues exist.”

Tori Randall, a sophomore transfer student, was looking for a performance outlet within the queer community when she found out about UT Queer Chorus. 

“For me, it was about finding a way to be involved within the queer community that was comfortable while raising awareness,” Randall said. “There are other facets to the queer community other than the lobbying, activism side of things. With the discussion of queer musicians in the media right now, it’s even more important that we show we do a variety of different things within the queer community.” 

Randall said she was excited for her move from Arlington to Austin because it meant more diversity. Despite the more welcoming atmosphere, she still needed a place that felt inclusive and with Ourso, Ovalle and the chorus, she found that.

“[Ourso] and [Ovalle] were some of the very first people I met at UT,” Randall said. “They’ve both been amazingly welcoming and kind. With them, I found a group of people who are all really knowledgeable about social issues and gender stuff. It’s really nice to have that safe space where everyone understands what you’re saying and what you are going through. They are really great. When they’re together you just know they belong together.”

UT is filling a void in student financial aid with institutional grants after 60 students did not receive their Federal Pell Grants, a grant ranging from $555 to $5,550 for the neediest students, because of a change in federal policy effective this fall.

Thomas Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, said the University is still reviewing potentially affected students. He estimates UT will spend $250,000 in financial aid to students who were expecting Pell grants. Starting this fall, students nationwide can claim Federal Pell Grants for only 12 semesters instead of 18. The federal government implemented this rule to reduce spending on Pell grants by $11 billion over the next 10 years, cutting off students who had exceeded 12 semesters in school.

“We knew we had to act fast so these students wouldn’t be left without grant support they needed to pay tuition and other expenses,” Melecki said. “So we replaced their 2012-2013 Pell grants with grants from the University. By doing this, we made sure none of this year’s students who were counting on Pell Grants got hurt by the new law.”

Melecki said the U.S. Department of Education notified UT last spring. Beginning this past April, UT’s Student Financial Services published the information online and tried to notify students via Facebook and Twitter. The University is dependent on the U.S. Department of Education to inform it of those affected. Because UT does not have access to the Pell grants students receive from other colleges, it cannot easily come up with these names itself.

“The education department provided this information in early August, less than 10 days before UT-Austin Pell Grant recipients had to pay their fall tuition bills,” Melecki said.

While 60 students were affected this year, Melecki said he did not think too many UT students will be affected in the future because more than 80 percent of UT Austin’s undergraduate students graduate in 12 semesters. Melecki said the best way for students to avoid negative consequences would be to take 15 hours per semester.

Music studies junior Joey Ovalle said while he is on a Pell grant to help him pay for his college education, he does not think this reduction will affect him because he did not start taking out Pell Grants until a few years into his college education. But he does not think 12 semesters should be the maximum amount of time for students to use Pell grants.

“Only 12 semesters is going under the guise that you have everything figured out from the beginning of your college career,” Ovalle said. “I have a lot of friends who don’t like their majors now, but they can’t change it because they don’t think they can afford it.”

Brittany Lamas, a journalism junior who is also on a Pell Grant, said 12 semesters should be enough for any student to graduate.

“Even if you change majors, it should not take you more than six years to finish your degree,” Lamas said.

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: UT to fun tuition to fill Pell Grant gap

Music Studies sophomore Joey Ovalle, who identifies as trans man, changed his name on the UT records to differ from his legal name. This summer UT will begin promoting this policy, which allows transgender students to use a preferred name on official documents, such as class records and medical documents.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

For some students, roll call in a classroom is exactly what it sounds like — the reading of a name. However, for transgender students who identify by a different name than the one listed, roll call can open the door to being outed to classmates.

The University will promote a new policy this summer to allow transgender students to list their preferred names on University records, a name that may be different from their legal name. Under this policy, a student’s preferred name will appear on class rosters, identification cards, medical files and other UT records. While transgender students were first allowed to use a preferred name on their official documents beginning last fall, this new policy will also update the preferred name to their medical records. Patrick White, a student member of the LGBT presidential task force, said the task force plans to inform transgender students about the policy through orientation this summer and programs next fall.

This policy was initiated by the LGBT presidential task force, a committee of faculty and students who advocate for LGBT rights on campus. Transgender students were first allowed to change the name appearing on their records in September 2011, but had to personally request the change at the UT Gender and Sexuality Center.

Music studies sophomore Joey Ovalle identifies as a trans man and was approved for a preferred name last fall. Ovalle said when he first came out as transgender he asked all his friends to call him “Joey.” Ovalle said while he had never had a professor call him by the wrong first name because of the change, he did have a professor mention his middle name, which was a feminine name, because the preferred name policy did not apply to middle names at the time. Ovalle said he also faced problems buying football tickets because his preferred name did not match the one on his credit card.

Ovalle said he felt outed when people would call him by his birth name instead of his preferred name.

“It’s not necessarily being outed by it that bothered me,” Ovalle said. “It’s the questions and the explanations that people feel entitled to after that which can be difficult to deal with.”

While only students who request the change through the center will have their name changed on class rosters and other official records, all students will be able to take advantage of the UHS policy and use a preferred name on their medical records. However, preferred names cannot go on an official University diploma or transcript.

According to the center’s website, preferred name changes are granted after the student has a conversation with a staff member who determines that the use of the name would facilitate a student’s success at UT. The preferred name appears on class rosters, the private Texas Enterprise Directory, clips class information pages, Blackboard and official UT identification cards.

Ixchel Rosal, Gender and Sexuality Center director, said about five students have updated their records using the preferred name policy since it launched last fall. Rosal said she does not ask if studens are transgender when she meets with them about their request but that most students who requested it were. Rosal said all the feedback from students who were approved for a preferred was positive.

Jeffrey Graves, associate vice president for legal affairs, said UT considered many factors before approving the policy. Graves said preferred names cannot go on diplomas or transcripts without a legal name change.

He said one of the legal issues UT faced was putting preferred names on UT ID cards.

In cases such as police stops or when asked to surrender an ID card, Graves said, UT officials need to be able to confirm a student’s official name with the name on record with the University regardless of their preferred name. To address this, a student’s preferred name goes on the front of the ID card and the official name goes on the back.

“The whole point of the policy is to assist transgender students in transitioning to the University in a way that will correspond with how they live and how they identify,” Graves said.

White said the task force addresses many policy issues affecting the LGBT community by breaking down barriers and promoting a climate of inclusion and togetherness. White said the committee tries to address big and small things in the UT community that would make a difference.

For instance, White said the addition of many family and gender-neutral bathrooms on campus last year not only benefited people who identify as transgender, but also people with disabilities, people with a medical condition who need a private place to administer medication and people with small children.

“It’s not about acknowleding an accomplishment,” White said. “It’s the fact that we were able to put a different lens on something that should be there for all our students.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Students may now list preferred name on records