Terri Givens

Associate government professor Terri Givens was one of only 14 professors chosen to attend the annual Brussels Forum last month. The attendees of the conference- which numbered approximately 200- included several policy makers and academics from around the world as well as members of the European Union.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Associate government professor Terri Givens teaches two government classes, updates two weekly blogs, runs marathons and insists on holding a family dinner every night.

For Givens, interest in foreign policy with a focus on Europe was ingrained in her early on, she said. Givens said she began learning French in middle school and went on to study abroad in France during her undergraduate years at Stanford University. Upon enrolling in graduate school at UCLA, Givens switched her focus from international relations to domestic politics and began taking German. She now focuses mainly on immigration issues in addition to European domestic politics. Givens was one of 14 professors to attend the Brussels Forum on March 23-25, amidst approximately 200 invited House of Representatives members, senators, ambassadors, university professors from around the world and members of the European Union.

A focus on Europe was a natural choice for her, Givens said.

“Europe has always been fascinating to me,” she said. “I’m continually fascinated by European politics. And the Europeans are equally fascinated by us, so it’s a two-way street.”

Givens, who has attended the forum several times, said the diversity of attendees this year made the event an enriching experience.

“It was just this amazing array of people from the EU and the U.S.,” she said. “It’s truly transatlantic in that they get high-level officials from Congress and business leaders and ambassadors. It was just this amazing experience.”

Forum attendees discussed current environmental, economic and political issues, including recent activity in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as discussions concerning energy issues. Givens said the topics discussed encompassed many of her direct interests as well as other areas of foreign policy. Givens said other leaders from Europe have mixed feelings about the United States but demonstrated major interest in the recent primary elections.

“I’d say the most questions I got asked were about the Republican primary situation,” she said. “We had a good congressional delegation there with people from both sides.”

The fiscal crisis in Europe was also a major topic of the forum, and Givens said European students are facing a bleaker job market than college students in the U.S., with unemployment rates higher than 40 percent in Spain.

“I tell my students they’re lucky they’re not in Europe,” she said. “It’s horrible for young people there because unemployment rates are really high. If you want to stay in your home country, it’s really hard right now.”

To keep up with current foreign policy issues during the year, Givens keeps two blogs and uses them in class to generate straightforward information for her students.

“I try to condense things down to a readable format,” she said. “Since I’m actively engaged in these issues, it’s easy for me to see the interconnectedness, but I want to be able to write that out in a way that is understandable for the average person.”

In the classroom, Givens said, curiosity is the one thing she strives to instill in her students.

“I tell them at the beginning of the semester, ‘I don’t care what your perspective is, I just want to show you how interesting things are out there,’” she said. “I want students to be able to go to a cocktail reception and have an intelligent conversation about these issues.”

European studies senior Abigail Rakkar said she chose professor Givens to help her with a research paper for her major because of Givens’ extensive knowledge in the area.

“Dr. Givens is really personal,” Rakkar said. “She’s really smart and open-minded without being intimidating.”

Givens also mentors both undergraduates and graduate students because she said her own personal mentors helped push her to success at the beginning of her career and hopes to offer her own students that push in the right direction.

“I was a first generation college student, so I didn’t have any role models in my family,” she said. “But I’ve been lucky to have great mentors along the way, so I want to turn around and pay it forward to others.”

Outside of her life at UT, Givens has two young sons and said she plays many roles during the day.

“I come in and teach, do some writing in the afternoon and immediately shuttle my kids to soccer, gymnastics and tutoring,” she said. “And I make time to run because I love running. It’s my ‘me’ time.”

While Givens said she misses the perfect California weather of her college days, she said she and her husband found their niches in the versatility of Austin.

“We love Austin,” she said. “It’s just been great how welcoming the community has been. We’ve just never found any other place that has all the wonderful things that we get here in Austin. We go to the symphony, performing arts center, ACL and South By Southwest. We could spend every night doing something.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, signs a supporter’s poster during a rally on the lawn of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library Friday afternoon. The rally, organized by University Democrats, focused on birth control awareness in light of the issue’s recent jump into national politics.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

In an effort to raise awareness about birth control and its importance in national politics, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards spoke to a crowd of supporters on campus.

Richards, a native Texan, spoke at a rally held on Friday on the lawn of the LBJ School of Public Policy. The rally focused on the ongoing national debate over whether or not contraceptive health care should be provided to women who work at faith-based institutions.

“Every woman in this country, regardless of where they work or go to school, deserves and will get affordable health care coverage through their insurance plans,” Richards said.

Richards said in order for this to happen, women will have to overcome stubborn political opposition.

“There are people in Congress and throughout the country, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who want to ban birth control entirely,” she said. “We can’t let that happen.”

The most recent congressional hearing over President Obama’s proposed birth control mandate took place four days ago. However, none of the speakers at the hearing were women. Richards said the fact that only men spoke at the hearing is unacceptable.

“It is time the people who used birth control are heard in Congress and heard across the country,” Richards said.

Richards said Planned Parenthood plans to fight to ensure that the mandate is passed.

“We’re going to stand strong for women in this country, for young people in this country, to have access to the health care that is their God-given right,” she said. Associate government professor Terri Givens spoke at the rally about her experience with birth control. Givens said when she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a gynecological condition that can lead to infertility, a doctor prescribed birth control to her.

“I could’ve lost my fertility if I did not take birth control,” she said.

Givens said she believes birth control must be provided to women as part of their medical coverage.

“Women are out there who really need this and it’s important that they are able to get this,” she said. “It’s important for women to have control over their bodies and their fertility.”

Givens also said birth control plays a large role in improving women’s economic and political capabilities.

“Study after study has shown that being able to control your fertility leads to economic growth and increased political power,” she said.

The University Democrats organized the rally. Andre Treiber, spokesman for the University Democrats, said bringing Richards to UT was a great accomplishment.

“We think it’s important for us to visibly display what we have to say in this discussion and to show there are both men and women that support what Planned Parenthood does,” he said.

Treiber stressed the importance of having the event on campus.

“This being in Austin, less than a mile from the Capitol, is a great way to make our voices heard to the state legislature,” Treiber said.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood and birth control held signs displaying slogans protesting the rally.

Sister Maria Rosario, a nun of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, said listening to the speeches given at the rally upset her.

“I find what was said very offensive and I believe it violates my freedom,” she said.

Rosario said she believes the birth control mandate proposed by Obama presents a serious threat to religious freedom.

“I don’t want Americans to have to live in fear and not be able to practice their faith,” she said. “We’re given the gift of life and I think we should share that.”

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Rally discusses birth control, national politics

Terri Givens, UT Government professor, hugs her kids during the launching of her clothing line Take Back the Trail. The clothing line will create fitness programs for minority women.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Blue, pink and black shirts emblazoned with a cowgirl boot or a high-heel shoe will help fund a fitness program geared toward minority women in Austin.

Associate government professor Terri Givens launched Take Back the Trail, a “socially conscious fitness apparel line,” Monday and plans to expand the line in the future.

Among women, obesity rates are highest for blacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“You go down to Town Lake and there’s thousands of people running around the trail, and I’ve always noticed there aren’t many people of color,” Givens said. “I don’t want people to see fitness as just something for the elite or wealthy.”

Health promotion senior Ashley Gayle said she became interested in Take Back the Trail when Givens told her about the concept in her office hours.

“I really like the heel look,” Gayle said. “I’m kind of a girly girl. I like that you can have a fashionable shirt, but you can sweat in it. It’s cute and it makes a statement.”

Gayle, a center on the UT women’s basketball team, volunteered at the launch for the line. The company is looking for more volunteers to help with the fitness initiative.

Austin Woman magazine sponsored the launch event for Take Back the Trail, and this month’s issue of the magazine features Givens in the cover article.

Apparel sales will fund 12-week fitness sessions that will cater to 30-40 minority women to help them improve their fitness and nutrition. At the end of the sessions the participants will have the opportunity to walk or run in a 5K.

A pilot program will start in August with another session planned for the spring.

“My main goal is to get them to realize fitness is something they can fit into their lives and that proper nutrition isn’t out of reach,” Givens said.

Plans for the community initiative include cooking demonstrations, information about where to buy healthy and inexpensive foods, and possibly vouchers for farmers markets. Executive Director Bridget Bailey said the company’s slogan, “take back your heart, health and community” is central to its social initiative.

“We really want to connect the people who already are dedicated to fitness to those who desire to do the same,” Bailey said. “This is not a handout, but a hand up. We’re really interested in how to tackle social issues with business.”

Psychology graduate student Desiré Taylor researches African-American women and body image.

“The heart is really the foundation and that’s the psychological aspect of being healthy,” she said.

Taylor attended the launch event and said she was interested in an organization that could be a health and empowerment resource for minority women.

“I’m noticing a lot of diversity around the room, and if this is a community-based group then it’s awesome that they’re bringing people in from different backgrounds, because they will be more effective in reaching out to different people in the community,” Taylor said.

Experts called for change in the minds of Europeans and Americans as they compared and contrasted racial and religious intolerance on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during a panel discussion at UT this weekend. The European Studies department hosted a two-day conference to discuss the heavy prejudice of the American and European societies against immigrants and Muslims. Associate government professor Terri Givens organized and moderated the discussions and said she chose 12 professors, politicians, activists and journalists from the U.S. and Europe to speak at the panel. The panelists called for activism against intolerance of race, religion or country of origin. “Of course, we don’t have all the answers, but I hope we continue working toward them and pushing our own dreams, even if they are Utopian,” Givens said. Givens said it is necessary for the scholars to continue the discourse about the issue through their writings to come closer to an end for prejudice. “Women didn’t get the right to vote without campaigning and struggle. We are not going to solve this problem without getting engaged,” said keynote speaker Glyn Ford, a former member of European Parliament. “I think there is a responsibility among politicians to push the envelope as far as you can.” Participants of the panel used the term “Islamaphobia” to describe the growing fear of Muslims after Sept. 11. “Islamaphobia” has replaced the anti-Semitism of the early ’80s, Ford said. “‘Islamaphobia:’ it’s no longer a Jewish conspiracy but a threat to Western Civilization,” he said. It exists in Spain as the country encourages immigration of Catholic Spanish speakers but deters immigration of Muslims into the country, he said. Panelists also discussed historical and political aspects of immigration, including maltreatment of Chinese and Irish immigrants to the United States. The far right in Europe hold more extreme anti-immigrant views than those of conservatives in the U.S. because the latter is a country of immigrants, Givens said. Panelist and Guardian Times columnist Gary Younge said people should be free to live wherever they want around the world, but immigrants tend to face prejudice. “Do you want to mow your own lawn? Do you want to look after your own kids?” Younge asked. “Because if you don’t, then these people need to stay. I think that [what] they want to do is suppress [immigrants]. They don’t actually want them gone, but they just don’t like the idea that they may one day be equal.” Younge criticized conservatives for having racist political views on immigration but also criticized liberals for not adequately fighting against racism. “The fact of racism is probably going to be a constant fact of human life,” Younge said. “I would like to think that resistance to racism on the political level would also be a constant fact of human life, but when the left doesn’t do that, you wonder who will.”