‘We’re a Mighty Force’: J Mase III Talks on Life as a Gay, Trans Person of Color

Written by Jordan Corey

As the first “University Hour” lecturer of the spring semester, Seattle-based poet J Mase III discussed his experience as a black, gay and transgender man during his talk at Eastern Connecticut State University on Jan. 31. Using a powerful combination of poetry and dialog, Mase called attention to setbacks faced daily by minority groups.

He has worked as an educator with thousands of members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community across the United States, England and Canada, in addition to founding “awQward,” the first talent agency for transgender and queer people of color. His career as a poet, he revealed, began because he was fired from his job — an event that inspired the haiku he opened his presentation with.

After reading a poem titled “Neighbor,” Mase, who grew up in a Christian-Muslim household, touched on what it was like coming out to his family. “I got two very different reactions,” he explained. While his Muslim relatives were considerably understanding, the Christian side practiced “passive faith” and was less than supportive at times.

Mase took such pushback and incorporated it into his writing, with thoughtful poems like “Josephine.” He emphasized the transformative, somewhat healing power behind feeling anger and being able to vocalize it. “If anything, this is free therapy for me,” he joked, before drawing attention to the symbolic “Ambiguous Power Guy.”

Mase asked attendees to articulate qualities somebody in a position of power typically has. Answers included able-bodied, neurotypical, white, straight, upper-class — the list goes on. He used this as an opportunity to address societal power disparities, specifically wealth distribution, pointing out that discrimination “looks a very particular type of way even if we don’t always identify it as that.”

Mase also shared a collection of quotes from people he has encountered in the career world. One was from when he worked at an LGBT youth organization, the only transgender person and one of few black people there. In the process of determining whether or not to hire a new applicant, who was also transgender, Mase recalled, his boss questioned him, “But are they ‘angry’ trans?”

Mase acknowledged that speaking out often comes with repercussions — losing his standing in the community, being seen as a “difficult” employee, getting looked over for future promotional opportunities. Another quote came after Mase approached an employer about his unequal position among his white coworkers, as he was actively aware of his disadvantages. “But if you get promoted, my title won’t mean much,” he was told in response, indicating the perception that supporting minority individuals comes with a cost.

Not only did the interaction bring up questions surrounding accessibility, but showcased the hidden hypocrisy behind some organizations. Not all that claim to be intersectional actually are, and subsequently contribute to the structure they are supposedly against. Part of the reason for this, Mase noted, is the lack of representation in power positions.

To stand in solidarity, he argued, we sometimes have to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to promote equality — to think critically of our own positionality. “There are living standards that are very different for trans people of color,” Mase said on the issue. Life expectancy of transgender women of color, for example, is only 35 years.

In his creative professional life, Mase has experienced pushback from schools and traditional workspaces, often getting treated like a token guest instead of a valuable asset. “People were treating me as a flavor of the month.” However, he highlighted that through his choices, he has gained a sense of voice and agency that not many in the community are afforded, and that being forced into the background of a mainstream company run by a mainstream group of people is like “disappearing into someone else’s dreams.”

Concluding with poems such as “Gender Buddy” and “#AllyFail,” which make humorous yet honest commentary that reflects his strong character, Mase encouraged the audience to continue to speak passionately in favor of social justice. “We’re a mighty force,” he stated confidently.

Kathy Manizza, Coach-of-the-Year

Written by Casey Collins

Eastern Connecticut State University cross country coach Kathy Manizza was named Little East Conference (LEC) Cross Country Coach-of-the-Year this fall after leading the Warriors to their first-ever LEC title. Manizza, who resides in Lebanon, has been coaching at the university level for more than 24 years, serving as head coach of Eastern’s cross country and track and field teams for the past six years. She is the first LEC Cross Country Coach-of-the-Year in Eastern’s history.

At this year’s LEC championships, the Warriors found themselves matched up against a daunting field of competitors. Eastern’s main rival, Keene State College, entered the championship as the 17-time defending conference champions. In the end, Eastern placed all five of its scoring runners within the top 14 finishers, out of a seven-team field from seven schools. As a result, the Warriors edged out second-place Plymouth State University by a mere eight points to take home the championship.

“This was my dream team,” said Manizza. “We had been building this team for the past five years, and we had an outside chance of winning the conference last year. We knew that it was a small chance, but we also knew that we had the talent to do it.”

Junior Christina Gosselin has been running for Manizza for the past three years. When asked about her head coach she said, “Coach Manizza has been a great mentor and coach to me. Not only has she helped me become a stronger runner, but she has led our team to achieve success and many accomplishments over the year.”

Sophomore Samara Johnson just concluded her first year running on the team, and said of her coach: “Coach Manizza is always supportive, encouraging and pushing us to do our absolute best. If anyone deserves coach-of-the-year, it’s certainly her.”

Eastern Joins Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative

Written by Casey Collins

In an effort to promote awareness of substance use, Eastern Connecticut State University has been granted $10,000 by the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative, a project supported by the Wheeler Clinic and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The grant supports a number of awareness, education and prevention efforts at Eastern around the topic of substance use on college campuses.  In addition to marketing to targeted audiences, the University will be sponsoring public awareness events and speakers throughout the spring semester. In addition, as a member of the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative, Eastern will be inviting its students to participate in a voluntary survey in January to further understand the attitudes and perceptions of substance use on campus.

The survey is being administered by the Core Institute, the nation’s largest database on college students’ drinking and substance use. It has been found that students’ perceptions of drug use and the reality of campus drug use are often far apart. The survey aims to bridge this knowledge gap by understanding trends among students, identifying influential factors and determining areas that need to be monitored or improved.

One of the project’s education and awareness efforts concerns the proper disposal of medicines and legally obtained drugs. Far too often, prescription drugs are handled in an improper manner, starting with how they are prescribed. Dr. Daniel Tobin, assistant professor of medicine at Yale University, says that 80 percent of doctors prescribing opioids are primary care physicians, not pain specialists. They may not receive the same comprehensive training that pain specialists receive and may be less qualified to accurately diagnose and responsibly distribute opioid prescriptions. This contributes to an issue we face as a nation today — the improper disposal of unused medicines.

To many people, a natural solution to this issue is simply to dispose unused medications by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the garbage. This approach only worsens the situation. Drugs that are flushed down the toilet enter our water stream and can contaminate water or harm aquatic wildlife. The same goes for garbage as well, as pills that make it to landfills can make their way into the soil and contaminate the ground.

To address this issue, Eastern has invested in a special new preventive technology called Deterra. Known as a drug deactivation system, Deterra consists of a charcoal lined bag that seals off and deactivates the active compounds inside a capsule, therefore rendering them completely safe to dispose of. The school has made Deterra widely available to students who need to dispose unused medicines.

Eastern’s participation in the Healthy Campus Initiative program comes at a time where our nation faces a serious drug abuse issue. As of Oct. 26, 2017, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “national emergency.” While Eastern has never experienced an opioid overdose on its campus, the state of Connecticut finds itself at risk. The Wall Street Journal estimates that more than 1,000 people in Connecticut perished from an opioid-related overdose in 2017. By promoting the safe storage and disposal of drugs, along with other prevention initiatives, Eastern is building a foundation of knowledge to reduce the risk of opioid use.

If you or anyone you know is dealing with these issues, contact the Opioid Treatment hotline at (800) 563-4086.

6 Years, Eastern a ‘Top Workplace’

Professor Okon Hwang teaches piano and ethnomusicology for Eastern's Music Program

Professor Okon Hwang teaches piano and ethnomusicology for Eastern’s Music Program

Written by Edward Osborn

For the sixth time in the past seven years, the Hartford Courant has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its “Top Workplaces” survey. With almost 1,000 employees, Eastern ranked fourth in the “large” category, and was the only public higher education institution recognized among 60 organizations in Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham and New London counties. Results were published on Sept. 22 in the Hartford Courant. Eastern also received a special recognition this year for the leadership provided by Senior Management.

Surveys were administered on behalf of the Courant by WorkplaceDynamics LLP, a research and consulting firm that has compiled top employer lists for some of the nation’s largest media outlets. Rankings were based on confidential survey results completed by employees of the participating organizations.

The survey included 24 statements, with employees asked to assess each one on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Topics included organizational direction, workplace conditions, effectiveness, managers and compensation. Each company was assigned a score based on a formula.

“We are honored to be recognized once again as a top workplace in Connecticut,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Even though Eastern was recognized in the large organization category, our campus has always prided itself on being a close-knit community and a welcoming, inclusive environment for students, their families and the community-at-large. This announcement reminds us that Eastern is a great place for our faculty and staff to work and a wonderful atmosphere in which our students can learn.  I am very pleased that we were among those recognized.”

Author Malik Champlain Visits Eastern, Speaks on Racial Injustice

Malik Champlain

Malik Champlain

Written by Jordan Corey

Motivational speaker and author Malik Champlain spoke at Eastern Connecticut State University on Sept. 6 during the school’s “University Hour” series. As part of #EasternBlackout Day, Champlain gave a presentation on how to remain proactive in the face of oppression. Attendees were encouraged to dress in all black as tribute to black and African-American people who have died unjustly at the hands of law enforcement.

Before starting, Champlain projected a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that read “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” which set the tone for the following hour. He began his lecture by thanking those who attended the University’s recent rally in support of DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and introduced himself through poetry.

Students gather for a group photo for "Blackout Day," in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement

Students gather for a group photo for “Blackout Day,” in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement

The topic of racism has long surrounded discussions of American society, becoming especially prevalent in the past few years. Champlain is one of many who feels a personal responsibility to speak, and more importantly, act out against it. He shared with the audience his own experiences, including marching in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsoring nonprofit organizations such as The Black Man Can Institute.

“Now is going to be in the history books,” he said, urging students to play their own part in joining a movement and emphasizing that sometimes it only takes one person to jumpstart something big.

Champlain provided a list of eight ways to get involved with a social justice movement, including educating oneself on a particular movement and using social media as a platform. Coming full-circle in his speech, Champlain concluded with a rhyme: “When I say Black Lives Matter, I look at you,” he said, “When you hear Black Lives Matter, what will you do?”

Students Study Health Care in Ghana

Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18
Photo courtesy of Helena Delfino '18

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Ten health sciences students from Eastern Connecticut State University returned from a study abroad trip in Ghana this August. The purpose of the two-week trip was to introduce students to the health care system of a developing country.

Trip highlights included two days at Mampong Hospital, a rural facility where the students observed two live births. “Students got to see a cesarean section and hold a five-minute old baby, which is an unparalleled experience,” said trip supervisor Rochelle Gimenez, a health sciences professor at Eastern.

“My goal is to become a labor and delivery nurse,” said Helena Delfino ’18. “We all got the chance to stand in the operating room and watch a cesarean section! A few days later we observed a natural birth; I got to stand next to the table and hold the baby boy immediately after he entered the world. This experience solidified my dream of becoming a labor and delivery nurse.”

The Eastern students also spent time at an orphanage and gained first-hand knowledge of the local infrastructure while touring a water-treatment plant and an environmental health/sanitation center. They also visited local markets, a game reserve, a monkey sanctuary, a cultural center, a rainforest, and learned about the slave trade at Cape Coast Castle.

“After returning home, the impact of my trip has really become apparent,” said Allison Nadeau ’17. “As an American-born citizen, I have never known any other lifestyle. My times of hardship are minuscule in comparison to what Ghanaians may go through daily. Clean water, wash rooms, consistent electricity and drivable roads are things that I have taken for granted in the United States. Ghanaians showed me the simplicity of true happiness.”

Students Write Fiction in Italy

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Fourteen students from Eastern Connecticut State University spent a month this summer in Florence, Italy, in a global field course called “Creative Writing Abroad.” The region of Tuscany’s rich culture and picturesque landscapes inspired students’ literary senses as they wrote, critiqued and edited original works of fiction.

“While my story had an element of fantasy, other students in the class wrote about realistic scenarios,” explained Victoria Randazzo ’18. “One thing everyone’s story shared was a touch of Florence. Whether characters or places, everyone drew from our daily experiences. I was happy to get more in touch with my creative side; the beauty of Florence was an inspiration.”

“I was able to put a lot of detailed description into my story that I wouldn’t have been able to had I not been there firsthand to see how the city looked, how the people interacted, and the feeling of being away for an extended period of time adapting to another culture,” said McKenzie Fayne ’17. “Being in Italy as a creative writing student gave me the tools I needed to step out of my comfort zone in terms of writing style. I enjoyed writing this piece on my own terms and being able to perfect it while in such a beautiful city.”

Led by English Professor Christopher Torockio, the students gathered for writing workshops at SACI—Studio Arts College International (in Florence)—and immersed themselves in Italian culture as they visited the famed cities of Fiesole, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and Pisa.

2 Students Awarded Eastern Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern students Jolene Potter ’18 and Julie Leitao ’18 participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity Fellowships this summer. Potter, a psychology major, prepared her research study, “Awareness and Understanding of Rape Culture among College Students,” for publication. Leitao, a theatre and early childhood education double major, worked to devise the script and choreography for the upcoming Eastern theatre production “Thread City.”

Jolene Potter '18

Jolene Potter ’18

Potter began her research in fall 2016, and aspired to submit her 9,000-word manuscript to an undergraduate research journal at the conclusion of the summer fellowship.

“Through in-depth interviews with Eastern students, my research examines how students define, perceive and reproduce notions about rape culture,” said Potter. “The study explores student acceptance of rape myths, their victim-blaming behavior and their tendency to defend the perpetrator. I also assess feelings regarding campus safety, beliefs regarding the necessity and efficacy of campus programs regarding sexual assault, and awareness of services for victims of sexual assault.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest “an association between awareness and understanding of rape culture and decreased rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming behavior, increased concerns pertaining to campus safety, and increased awareness of services offered to victims of sexual assault.”

Julia Leitao '18

Julia Leitao ’18

Leitao worked on the upcoming theatre production “Thread City,” which will be performed at Eastern Oct. 11-15. The show aims to tell the story of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. During one of Leitao’s spring semester classes, she interviewed local residents, learned about theatre companies and completed “moment work”—a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored.

“We delved deeper into the research and used it to create the characters, storyline and movement pieces of the show,” said Leitao. “‘Thread City’ will focus on movement and sound rather than being a text-heavy performance.

“Devising a piece of theatre that tells the story through the body is something I am very excited to be a part of,” added Leitao. “Our characters and movements will represent immigrants from various locations who have traveled to a new, strange world and are adapting to a new life.”

Eastern’s Summer Research/Creative Activity Fellowship program is administered by the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Advisory Council. Students from all majors can apply for the competitive fellowship. Participants receive a $1,000 stipend and $250 for travel.

2 Biology Students Complete NASA CT Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Two Eastern biology students were among six undergraduate students from universities across Connecticut to receive fellowships from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium this summer. Lauren Atkinson ’17 used the fellowship to assist in her pursuit of discovering new antibiotics. Lillian Hyde ’17 used hers to research a cell found in the central nervous system known as microglia.

Lauren Atkinson and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Lauren Atkinson ’17 and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Atkinson’s research is titled “Evaluating the Scorpion Microbiome for Diversity and Antibiotic Production.” Alongside her research mentor Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, Atkinson researched the scorpion abdominal microbiome in pursuit of finding new antibiotics to address the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. A microbiome is the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment — in this case, the abdomen of a scorpion — and antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microbe to resist drugs (like antibiotics) that had previously been useful in treating them.

“The United Nations has declared antimicrobial resistance a fundamental global threat to human life, food production, economic development and security,” said Atkinson. “One step in responding to this threat is to develop new drugs that microbes have not developed resistance to.”

Scorpions are routinely exposed to potentially deadly microbes since many of their prey are vectors for deadly pathogens. “We are testing bacteria naturally found in the abdomens of scorpions for their ability to produce antibiotics,” said Atkinson. “We hypothesize that scorpions have formed symbiotic relationships with bacteria that produce antibiotics that protect the scorpions from these pathogens.”

Lillian Hyde '17

Lillian Hyde ’17

Hyde’s research is titled “Assessment of Microglia Function in Brain and Blood Microenvironments.” She reports: “My experiment focuses on microglia, a cell found in the central nervous system that has been shown to change between an anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory state. These cells are normally grown in fetal bovine serum, however in the body they are isolated in a cerebrospinal fluid-like environment, the fluid that coats the brain and the spinal cord.”

The purpose of the study is to test if the microglia have different states in cerebrospinal fluid (fluid closest to their native environment) compared to fetal bovine serum (their standard culture media).

“A main component of the study is cell culture,” said Hyde, who worked with Biology Professor Kurt Lucin during the fellowship. “I am responsible for maintaining the cell culture and conducting various experiments. My experiment is testing how the cells react to growing in different culture environments and assessing their different states based on their appearance, chemicals that they secrete, and how they respond to foreign substances.”

Relating the experiment to space travel, the NASA CTSGC writes: “By establishing a baseline for microglia function in their native environment, space travel conditions can eventually be tested to assess their effects on the central nervous system.”

NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium is a federally mandated grant, internship and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Eligible full-time undergraduate/graduate students of a consortium university/college may apply for the fellowship program, in which students are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

Students Complete NSF Research Experiences Across the Country

Written by Michael Rouleau

Two Eastern Connecticut State University students participated in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) this summer. Mathematics major Haley Knox ’18 and Catherine Falvey ’17, who double majors in mathematics and economics, conducted research at Iowa State University and California State University respectively.

Knox (middle, first row) with her group of five undergraduate students, two graduates students and Steve Butler (back right), professor at Iowa State University

Haley Knox ’18 (middle, first row) with her group of five undergraduate students, two graduates students and Steve Butler (back right), professor at Iowa State University

Knox’s project was titled “Ordered Multiplicity Inverse Eigenvalue Problem for Graphs on Six Vertices.” Alongside a team of undergraduate and graduate researchers, her project was in the field of mathematics known as combinatorial matrix theory, which is a mix of linear algebra and graph theory.

“It was a wonderful experience to live in Ames, IA, for eight weeks!” said Knox. “I enjoyed working in a group, and am grateful to have been able to join a new community in the middle of the country without financial burden. I learned a lot this summer and highly recommend that undergraduates studying mathematics apply for an REU before they graduate.”

Catherine Falvey

Catherine Falvey ’17

Falvey’s project was titled “Probabilities Concerning Sets of Matrices.” At the Channel Islands campus of California State University, her team-based project involved linear algebra, number theory and abstract algebra.

“I am honored to have been able to work under a NSF grant,” said Falvey. “I gained valuable research experience as well as insight into working on a team. It was a change of pace from the typical semester because we focused on answering only one main question, and we worked on it every day. It gave us an idea of the ups and downs that come with doing research.”