The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Research event brings Ted Talks format to A&M-San Antonio

By Erica Martinez

The mythical story of the Donkey Lady starts off with an old woman who raised her donkey as if it was her own child because she didn’t have any of her own. One day, local children were harassing the donkey and it ended up biting one of them. Local men were upset by the incident so they set fire to her house, which caused the woman to suffer burns severe enough that she looked more like a donkey than a woman.

Today, legend has it if you drive to the Donkey Lady bridge on the South Side of San Antonio and honk your car horn you will hear a donkey neigh. And, if you look back, the Donkey Lady will be standing right behind you.

The re-telling of the Donkey Lady story was spotlighted during “Scholarly Snapshots” during a presentation by English graduate student Mercedes Torrez. Her talk, “Bridging the Past with the Present: Reimagining the Cultural Haunting of San Antonio’s Donkey Lady” was one of several student research presentations designed to bring classroom research into public view.

Snapshots was one of several annual events that bring a higher awareness to university student research. During spring term, the Student Research Symposium, April 29-30 2016, welcomes submissions from students enrolled in Fall 2015 courses.

Sharing her research with a larger audience intrigued Torrez.

“My grandma told me urban legends like this to keep me from doing bad things, but she actually sparked my interest in these kinds of folktales,” Torrez said.

During her presentation, Torrez discussed how the cultural haunting exposes injustices of those that are not normal. Because the woman didn’t conform to having children, she was treated unfairly.

Mercedes Torrez, a graduate English major with a concentration in Chicano studies, presented her research on Reimagining the Cultural Haunting of San Antonio’s Donkey Lady. Photo by Ami Sarabia.
Mercedes Torrez, a graduate English major with a concentration in Chicano studies, explained the folktale of the Donkey Lady during her presentation. Photo by Ami Sarabia.

“Folktales, in general, don’t focus on current situations. Her myth is different, it can bring awareness,” Torrez said.

University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson initiated the idea for Scholarly Snapshots, based on Ted Talks to be held as part of her inauguration week on Oct. 6. Ted Talks’ mission is to spread ideas on powerful topics. Topics vary and last 18 minutes or less.

Attendance for the scholarly snapshot increased throughout the day, said criminology professor Robert Alonzo. In the first session, there were approximately 12 to 15 people, but in the afternoon, attendance jumped to 75.

Assistant English professor Katherine Gillen moderated the event.

“It’s important for students to present their research in a large venue because they can spread their information to others, besides students and professors,” Gillen said. “They get to answer questions and develop public speaking skills.”

A few professors were able to present their research as well.

“I wanted students to show up because they can see what research looks like beyond the classroom,” Gillen said. “We still have to conduct research, and (students) can see faculty presenting their research. ”

Alonzo’s course, Border Security Issues, CRIM 3357, requires students to pursue a research project.  

As part of the course, criminology senior Shazia Nagi selected human trafficking for her research project.

“Nagi did a wonderful class presentation,” Alonzo said. He suggested that she present her work in a larger venue.

“Her topic was the first thing that sparked my interest. She wanted to spread awareness and I felt that it was important to share with others,” he said.

Nagi was one of three students to present their undergraduate research during Scholarly Snapshots.

Her presentation included what happens to victims when they are able to escape the world of human trafficking.

“Most victims end up in prostitution houses, strip clubs and being escorts,” she said from the auditorium stage.

“Research as an undergraduate is very important because you get a more in depth look at your topic. Also, when you have a career you can do research on different things because it’s a skill you now have,” Nagi said.

Mr. Robert Alonzo presented his research “9/11- A Major Case.” Photo by Ami Sarabia.
Criminology professor Robert Alonzo helped organize Scholarly Snapshots as a member of the planning committee. Alonzo also presented his research “9/11- A Major Case” at the event. Photo by Ami Sarabia.

While working side by side with Alonzo, Nagi wanted to make sure her presentation was in a format everyone could understand.

“You see stuff like this on TV shows and movies but it’s something that’s real,” she said. The more I worked on this topic, I saw this as an opportunity to to raise awareness,”

“Human trafficking can be forced labor meaning being forced to work in a sweatshop factory or working in any kind of establishment they don’t want to work at,” Nagi said. “1 out of 236 people are a victim of human trafficking and it isn’t just about sexual abuse.  ”

According to her research, most of the victims are women or young girls.

In addition to her undergraduate work, Nagi works part-time at Kohl’s as a beauty advisor and also volunteers with the San Antonio Police Department.

Alonzo, who served as a member of the Scholarly Snapshots planning committee, said the committee put out a call for papers and encouraged students to present.

“Any student could have submitted a paper to present, all disciplines were welcomed,” he said.

Since the snapshots were a success, Alonzo feels like this event has great potential to grow. “I feel like this event can happen every year.”

About the Author

Erica Martinez
Erica Martinez
Throughout my life, I’ve heard people tell me that the bad people come from the South Side of San Antonio. I went into Communications so I can be that voice that’s telling future generations that you can be anything you want to be. Coming from the “bad side” of town doesn’t mean you won’t amount to anything. I’m proud of who I am, where I come from, and it will always keep me humble. In my senior year of high school I lost my father which forced me to work so I could help my mom pay the bills since she received government assistance. I’ve held a few jobs from working at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Furr’s Buffet, Speedy’s Chicken and finally settling at H-E-B. Working and going to school has been tough on me since my time is stretched but I've learned to manage my time whether it be waking up early before work to complete my classwork, or moving my work schedule around to do my part on a group project. I’m in my last year of college which I never thought would come. I’ve had a few setbacks, but that didn’t stop me from pursuing my goals.

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