Eastern Helps Hartford Deltas Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Eastern’s delegation (left to right): Dwight Bachman, public relations officer; Kayla Rose Thomas ’19 a communication major from Windsor; Morgan Russell ’19 a political science major from Hartford; Gov. Lamont; Stacey Close, associate vice president for equity and diversity; Katherine Atkinson, administrative assistant to Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Chelsy Popo ’19, a political science major from Manchester; Hanna Antoine ’22, a health sciences major from East Hartford; and Alyssa Lawrence ’22, a sociology major from East Hartford

Several Eastern staff and students attended the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.’s 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast at the Connecticut Convention Center on Jan. 21. Dr. King would have been 90 years old this year. 

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, State Treasurer Shawn Wooden, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, and Johana Hayes, the first African American woman elected to Congress from Connecticut, were among the many dignitaries in attendance.  Lamont promised the packed ballroom that he would create a diverse cabinet and state government that would work to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

Since 1984, the Deltas have provided scholarships totaling $365,000 to upwards of 150 African American female high school students to support their college education.

Students Gain Insights Abroad: Ireland and Greece

Mackenzie Seymour ’20 studied abroad in Ireland.

Chelsy Popo ’19 studied abroad in Greece.

Eastern Connecticut State University students Chelsy Popo ’19 and Mackenzie Seymour ’20 recently completed semesters abroad this fall. They studied in Greece and Ireland, respectively.

Popo, who majors in political science, believes that studying abroad is invaluable because it allows students the opportunity to see the world. “My coursework at Hellenic American University in Athens included a class called ‘Athens Across the Ages.’ Each session was held at a different location in Athens, so I was able to visit and learn about many of the ancient sites and museums, in addition to more modern locations in the city.”

The destinations Popo found most memorable were the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens, as well as the island of Crete. She also enjoyed visiting Meteora, a rock formation in central Greece that hosts one of the largest, most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries. She took side trips to London, Paris, Budapest and Amsterdam.

Mackenzie Seymour

“I never expected to study in Ireland, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Seymour, an accounting major. Like Popo, she visited nearby countries, such as Spain, England, the Netherlands and Italy, while exploring Ireland itself. “I had the most fun traveling within Ireland, to Galway, Dublin, Cork and the Ring of Kerry, a scenic route in southwest Ireland. It looked like a breathtaking painting — and has become my favorite place.” Seymour noted her appreciation for learning about unfamiliar cultures along the way.

Popo similarly found herself intrigued by the environment she lived in. “It was interesting to study in Greece as a political science major, since Athens is known as the birthplace of democracy and because of the current political climate.” Popo also enjoyed the Mediterranean climate and the warm, welcoming people she encountered.

Seymour said study abroad programs help students step out of their normal lives. “Many of us are used to a normal routine — it can be hard to change things,” she said. “I believe that it’s important to explore life and experience new things. I became more independent and mature because of my trip. I have returned to America a much stronger person.”

Chelsy Popo

Popo concurred: “Once I made up my mind to step outside my comfort zone, I learned so much about the world and myself. The experiences and connections have helped me become a global citizen.” She plans to study international or criminal law after graduating.

“I have become extremely grateful for my time at Eastern and am excited about returning to continue with my classes,” concluded Seymour, who wants to attend graduate school to become a certified public accountant. “The professors go above and beyond to assist students in understanding the subjects we are studying, and after studying abroad, I can say for sure that my favorite part of Eastern is the academics.”

Written by Jordan Corey

 

Eastern Professor Patrick Vitale Wins Ashby Prize

Written by Raven Dillon

Patrick Vitale, a geography professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, recently won the Ashby Prize for the most innovative paper of 2017 in the journal “Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.” Vitale’s article is titled “Making Science Suburban: The Suburbanization of Industrial Research and the Invention of ‘Research Man.'”

The article traces the invention of the modern “tech worker” to an unlikely location: the suburbs of Pittsburgh. In the early 1900s, Pittsburgh’s industrial firms began to move research laboratories away from plants in crowded urban areas and into suburbs.

Vitale explains that workers, scientists and engineers had once worked alongside each other in factories. However, starting in the early 1900s, they increasingly worked in different places, lived in different communities, and began to see themselves and their labor as different. These new “labs” created a geographic and social division between mental and manual work.

“The class, race and gender relations of the suburbs were essential and invisible components of science and engineering,” Vitale writes. “In capitalist economies now and in the past, science and engineering are rooted in injustice, misery and inequality; the very problems they are supposed to solve.”

Westinghouse Research Laboratories (depicted here in the 1940s) is a research firm that fled the urban areas of Greater Pittsburgh for the suburbs.

Industrial firms even created a new title for scientists and engineers – “research men” – and argued that they needed to be isolated from the factory to do their work. “Many of the most prominent industrial scientists in the United States embraced their identity as ‘research men’ to cement their own place within industry and society,” writes Vitale. “Scientists and engineers actively adopted a class position that industry was producing for them.”

Vitale notes: “In the present, when local and state governments are offering billions of dollars to attract technology firms, it is important to realize that these companies are built on inequality and injustice.”

Vitale’s article is a part of a larger research project: a book manuscript titled “The Atomic Capital of the World,” which explores the role of science and engineering in the remaking of Pittsburgh during the Cold War.

Vitale is an urban, economic and historical geographer whose research broadly examines the effects of suburbanization, science and technology, and war on North American cities. He has published his work in academic journals including “The Annals of the Association of American Geographers”; “Journal of Urban History”; and the “International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.”

“Environment and Planning A” is an interdisciplinary journal of economic research. Articles focus on regional restructuring, globalization, inequality and uneven development. The Ashby Prize was established in 1990 and is awarded to the most innovative paper published in the calendar year.

Eastern Holds Third Civic Action Conference

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern students have a reputation of service to community that goes back decades. But at the Third Annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14, it was demonstrated how much students actually learn as a result of their service.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez introduced the idea of structured service learning in 2009, when she established the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), directed by Kim Silcox.

Nunez celebrated Eastern’s faculty for its commitment to organized, systematic service learning. “Students need to ask why people are suffering, and truly reflect on what they can do,” she said. “Getting faculty involved by connecting class curriculum to community needs will increase civic action in a meaningful way. It is so gratifying to see our students embrace this, as it reflects Eastern’s core values”

A wide range of speakers focused on four themes at the conference: 1.) writing assignments to promote civic action; 2.) employability and community engagement; 3.) higher education as a public good; and 4.) community engagement research.

“The conference highlights the amazing work Eastern faculty have achieved in engaging students in the community,” said Silcox, who organized the conference along with Nicolas Simon, assistant professor of sociology. “Students participating in service learning projects are engaging in research, thinking critically and expressing themselves as they reflect on the experiences. These are key marketable skills in today’s job market.”

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston and Nicholas Simon, assistant professor of sociology.

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston focuses on learning outcomes rather than just the student-volunteer experience. She had students conduct research on numerous issues, including homelessness and poverty. Students volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity housing project. The activity helped students change their perceptions of lower-income populations.

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch’s intensive writing course requires students to focus on social inequalities and to identify solutions. “Students then develop a research project through a sociological lens and write a research paper,” said Bergstrom-Lynch.

English Professor Miriam Chirico

English Professor Miriam Chirico’s students focused on urban revitalization. “The goal,” she said, “is to have students come together to create a social network that helps enhance writing about tourism and increase pride in community.” Through the experience, students reinforced their civic commitment and simultaneously developed writing and rhetorical skills.

Education Professor David Stoloff

Addressing the theme of employability and civic engagement, Art and Art History Professor Terry Lennox’s students creatively design with the intent “to advance the communication and marketing outcomes of non-profit organizations. It is a collaborative, guided effort designed to learn the value of art and also show what we all can do, working together,” she said. Through these projects, students build portfolios, which contributes to their employability upon graduating.

Fatma Pakdil, associate professor of business administration, examined employability from a market perspective. She presented statistics showing that “only 11 percent of business leaders agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their businesses need, while 96 percent of chief academic officers say their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work.” Pakdil proposed affording students courses that enable students “to study on projects analyzing real problems, issues and bottlenecks faced by business organizations,” which she believes will better prepare students for the work place.

Associate Professor of Business Information Systems (BIS) Alex Citurs and student Rebekah Brancato, a BIS major, with a minor in Healthcare Informatics, showed how community-based projects help students gain practical experience and make meaningful contributions to communities. Students also gain insight into new ways of doing things and building relationships for future collaborations. The work in information systems that he and his students do, which many organizations cannot afford from professional consultants, improves the operations of non-profit organizations.

Education Professor David Stoloff examined pre-service education as a positive dimension of civic engagement. His students participate in projects in local school and community centers. They write reflections on these experiences at mid-term and at the end of the semester. Stoloff said the goal is to teach students “knowledge, skills, responsibility and commitment within social justice views of civic engagement.”

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication, uses local radio, television, web sites, social and print media to demonstrate the value of service learning. Students use various media — digital platforms included — to share stories about the important assets of organizations and people served. This creates opportunities for students to build portfolios and provides information to the community on valuable, underutilized resources available in the community.

Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s “Geography of Food” class made community-engagement research a campus project. Their results suggest that many students on campus experience food insecurity. The students examined the impact of food insecurity, the resources that are available to support students, and what other universities are doing to address this crisis. “Their research shows the political and educational potential of a class that engages students to take on a pressing concern in their community,” said Vitale.

Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, a campus librarian, said “It is vital that librarians have a seat at the table as service learning partners.” She introduced a “Service Learning and Community Engagement” library research guide that was created in collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement. The publication serves as a resource guide of the various ways in which librarians promote community engagement. “Librarians serve as bridges, connecting the library to other campus organizations and the campus community to service learning resources in the library.”

Scholar-Activist Speaks on ‘Forgotten’ Bangladesh Genocide

Mofidul Hoque is an author and activist who has written 15 books on history, liberation and genocide studies. In 1996 he and seven trustees established the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. —Mofidul Hoque, acclaimed scholar and founder of the Liberation War Museum, came to Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 7 to give a presentation titled “The Forgotten Genocide of Bangladesh in 1971: Lessons for the Future.” Hoque spoke on the atrocities committed in 1971 by the Pakistani government, which resulted in the death of some three million Bangladeshi people, and how his activism efforts have culminated in the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

“The more we talk about it, the more it enters the public domain,” said Hoque of the genocide. “And we must talk about it, because if we are to say ‘never again,’ we need to know how it began.”

His presentation detailed how the people of Bangladesh became liberated after long struggling to obtain democratic and national rights, but at the expense of millions of lives. Initially many western countries were outraged at these acts of violence, however, interest in Bangladesh quickly faded. Now, Hoque says, it is considered the forgotten, or “lost,” genocide.

From 1975 to 1996, information regarding the Bangladesh genocide was suppressed, in a period academics refer to as “The Dark Era.” Hoque and other activists have taken steps to correct the misinformation and propaganda spread during this period.

Hoque and seven trustees established the Liberation War Museum in 1996 to commemorate the heroism of the Bangladeshi people as well as reestablish the facts and reality of the Bangladesh genocide. The Liberation War Museum, with its team of researchers, has collected more than 50,000 stories of recorded oral history.

Once a mobile museum contained within a bus, the Liberation War Museum now has a permanent location in Bangladesh. Hoque hopes to partner with other researchers and scholars who are interested in the historical events surrounding the Bangladeshi genocide, as well as other genocides which go largely ignored or unreported, such as the Rohingya persecution in 2016. In 2017, the Liberation War Museum sent researchers to interview Rohingya refugees to add to their oral history collections, and published a paper titled “The Rohingya Genocide: Compilation and Analysis of Survivor’s Testimonies.”

Although the museum collects artifacts from some of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history, Hoque still has a message of inspiration: “When we tell this story, it is not a story of victimization,” he said. “We talk about the struggle and the resilience of our people. That is what we wish to commemorate in this museum.”

This event was organized by the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Departments of Computer Science; History; and Political Science, Philosophy and Geography.

Eastern to Host Third Annual Civic Action Conference

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/02/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its third annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14 from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Johnson Community Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library. The conference is free and open to the public. Registration begins at 9 a.m.

The conference is organized into four overarching themes, each featuring a variety of subtopics, such as the role of service learning in urban revival and career-readiness via community-based projects. At lunch, keynote speaker Thomas Piñeros-Shields of University of Massachusetts-Lowell will discuss his sociological research about immigration policy, youth civic engagement and social movements.

The first theme, “Writing Assignments to Promote Civic Action,” begins at 10 a.m. Eastern sociology professors Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, Lucy Hurston and Nicolas Simon, along with English professor Miriam Chirico, will discuss social justice and service learning through writing.

The second theme, “Employability and Civic Engagement,” begins at 11 a.m. and will explore undergraduate student career readiness. Featured Eastern professors for this segment are Terry Lennox (Art and Art History), Fatma Pakdil (Business Administration) and Alex Citurs (Business Information Systems).

Following theme two is Piñeros-Shields’ luncheon keynote presentation from noon-1 p.m.

The third theme, “Higher Education as a Public Good: Dimensions of Civic Engagement,” begins at 1 p.m. Several presenters from the University of Connecticut will discuss the development and enactment of community-engaged critical conversations through a graduate level course.

The fourth theme, “Community Engagement Research,” will include presentations from Eastern professors Nicolas Simon (Sociology) and Patrick Vitale (Geography), in addition to Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, who is a public services librarian and reference lecturer with the J. Eugene Smith Library.

The Civic Action Conference is sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement. For more information, contact Kim Silcox at silcoxk@easternct.edu, John Murphy at murphyjo@easternct.edu or Nicolas Simon at simonn@easternct.edu.

College Democrats Bring Ned Lamont to Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont visited Eastern on Oct. 30 for a meet-and-greet organized by the student organization College Democrats. To a large audience in the Student Center Café, Lamont discussed his platform and fielded questions by students. 

Club president Alex Thompson ’20 opened the event by reminding the audience that Eastern is a non-partisan institution that does not endorse any political candidate. The mission of College Democrats is to inform students about the democratic process and to promote intelligent political discourse.

Lamont opened by listing his support for gun-law reform, Obamacare, public transportation and the state’s public university system. He emphasized his goals to retain Connecticut residents and to foster a strong job market for young people entering the workforce.

“There are a lot of great jobs in Connecticut right now,” assured Lamont. “Identify what you want and put your shoulder to the wheel. It’s a great time to be in Connecticut.”

During the Q&A portion of the event, students asked Lamont’s take on the opioid epidemic, renewable energy and support for undocumented students. Lamont answered that Connecticut should be a leader in creative tactics to address opioid abuse; that the state’s Energy Efficiency Fund should be restored; and that he sympathizes with the plight of undocumented families.

Members of College Democrats pose for a photo with Ned Lamont.

One student asked about the government’s role in creating jobs, to which Lamont answered: “The government doesn’t create jobs; it creates an environment where jobs can grow.”

Lamont claims he will foster this environment by enabling a highly skilled and educated workforce and by “bringing all stakeholders to the table, including business and labor, democrats and republicans.”

Another student asked about STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Lamont agreed that Connecticut’s workforce needs to possess STEM skills, but also that the liberal arts are important.

“We need to learn how to continue learning,” he said of the soft skills developed through the liberal arts. “Your job will change over the course of your career. You need to be able to change with the industry.”

Lamont was brought to campus via the outreach efforts of the College Democrats. “A lot of young people in college assume that politicians don’t care about them,” said club member Demitra Kourtzidis ’19, a political science major and Spanish minor. “This has shown us that when you reach out to them, they’ll follow through, especially if they’re trying to get your votes.”

Another club member, Jackson DeLaney ’21, mentioned that some of the important issues for college-aged people include paying off student debt and getting a good job — better yet, a good job in the state.

A political science major and communication minor, DeLaney is interested in working on political campaigns after college. “It would be great to help elect officials in the state that I grew up in.” 

For the past several months, College Democrats have been canvassing the Eastern campus, encouraging students to vote. “We’ve gone to all the residence halls, all the busy buildings on campus,” said Kourtzidis. “Our goal is to get every Eastern student to turn out and vote.”

Lamont closed with, “It’s said that 80 percent of 80-year-olds vote and 20 percent of 20-year-olds vote. Get out there and vote!”

FBI, Military, Social Work: 3 New Eastern Fellows Inducted


Charlotte Braziel, Shawn Meaike and Raymond Hill sit on a panel moderated by Interim Provost for Academic Affairs William Salka

Written by Jolene Potter

Three distinguished alumni from Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into the Eastern Fellows Program on Oct. 19. In addition to joining the ranks of the University’s most successful alumni, Charlotte Braziel ’80, Raymond Hill Jr. ’83 and Shawn Meaike ’95 returned to campus to meet with students and share career advice during a panel discussion.

Braziel is a retired FBI agent who now leads an investigative consulting firm; Hill is a professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology with an extensive military background; and Meaike is a former social worker-turned-entrepreneur who leads the multi-million dollar organization Family First Life.

A public policy and government major at Eastern, Braziel served 26 years as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). She specialized in organized crime, domestic and foreign terrorism, and bank and healthcare fraud.

“My father saw an advertisement in the paper for the FBI, recruiting women,” reflected Braziel on her life three decades ago. “When he told me he thought I’d be a good candidate, I laughed and said I would never get in. His response was, ‘Not with an attitude like that.’ But after a two-and-a-half-year application process, I got hired as an agent in December 1987 and had the career of a lifetime.”

Braziel continued, “As a young student at Eastern I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I’d make it to the FBI. I didn’t even know that women were FBI agents. The lesson I learned was to listen to people who have suggestions and encouragement for you. They may see talent in you that you don’t see yourself.”

In her current occupation as head of Braziel & Associates, LLC, Braziel advises defense attorneys as an investigative consultant. She also teaches courses in crime scene investigation and criminal justice ethics at St. Leo University in Florida.

“Because of what started at Eastern,” concluded Braziel, “I went from being a wallflower to an FBI agent who teaches internationally.”

Hill graduated from Eastern in 1983 with a degree in mathematics, went on to earn a Ph.D in industrial/systems engineering from The Ohio State University, and served as an active-duty lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force for 23 years. He continues to have a decorated career in the air force and academia.

Currently a professor of operations research at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Hill conducts research to support the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense, advises air force and army graduate students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, and teaches graduate-level courses in statistics and mathematical modeling.

 The new Eastern Fellows pose for a photo with President Elsa Nunez

“When I started thinking about the type of professor I wanted to be, I thought back to Eastern,” said Hill. “My professors’ doors were never closed. I could go to any of their offices for help both academically and personally. I’ve adopted that same philosophy.”

Hill has published nearly 90 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 250 technical works. He has advised more than 150 graduate projects at the master’s and doctoral levels, and been involved in another 125 projects. His extensive research background led to his management of more than $7.9 million in research funding. He is the principal lead investigator for an eight-university research consortium, as well as an associate editor for six journals and co-editor for the Journal of Defense Analytics and Logistics.

In advising Eastern students, Hill said, “Make the best of your current situation, always keep an ear out for other opportunities and move to something new when it feels right.”

Meaike graduated from Eastern with a degree in sociology/applied social relation in 1995 and then worked for the Department of Children and Families for 13 years as a social worker. “My social work experience here was raw and real,” he said. “We were challenged to speak and work with passion; it helped shape who I am today.”

In 2013, Meaike launched Family First Life, a multi-million dollar independent marketing organization located in Uncasville, CT, that generated more than $10 million in sales in its first year. The company is a network of agencies represented by 6,000 licensed agents around the country that markets life insurance, retirement planning and investments. After five years of continuous growth, the company is posited to finish 2018 with more than $175 million in paid life and annuity business and expects to reach more than $200 million in sales in 2019.

With an abiding desire to give back, Meaike launched the Family First Life Scholarship in 2014, which is aimed at helping students from New London County who have good academic standing as well as financial need. Meaike is also the founder of CT Affordable Waste. Since launching in August of 2018, the company is providing local Connecticut businesses and residential homeowners with an easier and more affordable way of completing renovations.

The Eastern Fellows Program was established in the 2008-09 academic year to recognize and engage distinguished alumni in the life of the campus community. Including the three newest honorees, 32 Eastern alumni have been inducted into the program.

Attorney Ruth Santiago Discusses Solutions to Restore Puerto Rico

Written by Jordan Corey

Climate advocate and attorney Ruth Santiago came to Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 24 to discuss the environmental and electricity struggles faced by Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. During her University Hour presentation, Santiago detailed sustainable recovery plans and the issues that surround them.

Santiago began by explaining that various socioeconomic crises existed in Puerto Rico before the category-five hurricane, but became life threatening for many after the fact. A glaring setback is the island’s power grid made up of unreliable electric transmission lines, which, according to Santiago, bring no energy efficiency or storage. She says that nearly 100 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels. Moreover, the territory’s debt crisis has historically prevented necessary improvements to the system, and poorer communities are disproportionately impacted.

With power plants located on the southern coast powering the entirety of Puerto Rico – despite its capital, San Juan, being located in the north – the current system is not only inadequately constructed, but also costs more for consumers. Puerto Ricans pay higher prices for electricity than most people in the United States. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has faced accusations of corruption in management, in addition to being effectively bankrupt.

Santiago called attention to possible solutions for progressing beyond both the detriment of the hurricane and the outdated power grid itself to avoid similar disasters in the future. An advocate for solar power, she works closely with the Coqui Solar project and is part of Queremos Sol (We Want Sun), a group that calls for clean and renewable energy through initiatives. “We’re not just substituting one technology for another, we’re trying to transform the way we relate to energy,” said Santiago, who believes that solar communities offer newfound control over energy use and production. “We think our proposals are much more transformative.”

Santiago emphasized the importance of getting Puerto Ricans engaged and informed on a community level as well. In order to truly progress, it can be argued that citizens need more of a sense of ownership when it comes to how they are being affected by the current power system. Implementing microgrids is another potential means of making energy usage more small-scale, giving electricity users a local source of supply that is usually attached to a centralized national grid but is able to function independently.

“Ultimately our goal is to achieve energy democracy,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of energy literacy work – understanding the different aspects of generation and how we can be more efficient, how we can conserve more, how we can have incentives for daytime use.”

To conclude, Santiago encouraged the audience to contact government representatives and utilize their voices in helping make changes in Puerto Rico. “We need a continuing labor of the Stafford Act” – a U.S. law designed to bring orderly federal assistance to state and local governments after a natural disaster – “so that any federal funds are allowed to be used for transformation of the grid, not just rebuilding the same thing that we have.”

Conference Lends ‘Parrot’s-Eye View’ into Latin America and Caribbean

Three Eastern students present “Media Narratives and their Impact on the Immigrant Rights Movement.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

On the 526-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, on Oct. 12, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its third Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) Conference. The symposium featured research presentations and panel discussions by Eastern faculty and students, as well as a keynote presentation by visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College.

“The date of this conference is significant,” said Anthropology Professor Ricardo Pérez, conference co-organizer. “It’s on this day in 1492 that Columbus spotted an island in the Caribbean and ‘discovered the New World,’ an event that resulted in a number of circumstances still felt today.”

The LACS Conference explored some of those circumstances, from the maroon communities of descendants of African slaves in Brazil, to the media portrayals of undocumented youth in the U.S., to the perils of Puerto Rican parrots after Hurricane Maria – and colonialism.

Anthropology Professor Mary Kenny opened the first panel with a discussion of her new book, “Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity of Brazilian Quilombos.” Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country, and was the last to abolish slavery (1888). Presently there are more than 4,000 estimated maroon communities (known as Quilombos) in Brazil, many of which are in remote locations disconnected from mainstream society.

English Professor Miriam Chirico presents “John Leguizamo’s Comic Frame and Search for Identity.”

Among the problems facing the Quilombos is their status. Without federal recognition – or land acquisition rights – they are seen as squatters and sometimes forcibly moved to make way for development. According to Kenny, less than 10 percent of the Quilombos have federal status, yet some have existed for hundreds of years.

The third panel opened with English Professor Miriam Chirico’s research “John Leguizamo’s Comic Frame and Search for Identity.” Her research explores the tendency for Latino men to be typecast as gangsters and drug dealers in movies and television, which only reinforces negative stereotypes. “It’s hard to underestimate the effect this has on the public mind,” said Chirico.

A longtime actor-activist from Colombia, Leguizamo has made a career in white-dominated Hollywood by playing to the stereotypes of Latin American men, while also attempting to retain his ethnic identity.

Social Work Professor Isabelle Logan closed panel three with her presentation “Microaggressions and Bilingual Latino Professionals in the Court System.” Prior to coming to Eastern, Logan worked in the court system for 20 years. “When I started I was the only bilingual social worker in the public defender’s office,” she said. “I soon realized I was being asked to fulfill certain tasks that my colleagues were not.”

Social Work Professor Isabelle Logan presented “Microaggressions and Bilingual Latino Professionals in the Court System.”

Many of these tasks included serving as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking clients, however this added workload resulted in her being unable to complete her other work. When she asked for support, her plight was dismissed with statements such as, “Isn’t this the reason you were hired?”

Microagressions are subtle forms of discrimination. Logan’s research shows that they affect bilingual professionals in the hiring process and work environment, as well as their work performance and professional development.

Panel four consisted of students Vania Galicia (English), Monica Torrijos Ronquillo (psychology and criminology) and Juan Matiz (computer science) who spoke on the experience of undocumented students in a presentation titled “Media Narratives and their Impact on the Immigrant Rights Movement.”

Though it has never been passed, the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 as a way to grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. In an effort to protect these youth from deportation, the Obama Administration passed DACA in 2012 — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“Growing up, we began to realize the effects of our undocumented status, particularly the lack of economic mobility and access to higher education,” said Matiz. Galicia agreed: “When I was a kid, I wondered if I’d ever be able to go to college, or if I could even get a job.”

The students’ presentation focused on the media’s role in crafting the DREAMer narrative – “DREAMer” is a term used to describe undocumented youth with high hopes in America. The students explained that this narrative is an example of “American exceptionalism,” as DREAMers are often depicted as highly educated young people with impressive career trajectories – an idealized notion of the “right immigrant.”

Student Monica Torrijos Ronquillo discusses the media’s portrayal of the immigrant-rights movement.

“If you’re undocumented, you’re either perfect (a DREAMer) or a criminal,” said Torrijos Ronquillo. “You can’t be anywhere in the middle. You can’t just be normal.” The students indicated that this societal pressure, coupled with their uncertain futures, breeds anxiety and depression.

The conference closed with visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College, who presented “The Great Silence: A Parrot’s Eye View of the Forests of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.”

“Imagine a Caribbean region with thousands of parrots flying overhead. Columbus described such a flock darkening the sky. This display is unimaginable today,” said Paravisini-Gebert, explaining that there has been a steady decline in parrot populations due to human and environmental events.

Visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College presents her research about the perils of Puerto Rican parrots after Hurricane Maria.

Many endemic species of parrot and macaw have gone extinct throughout the Caribbean due to habitat destruction/deforestation and hunting.

“If you’ve been around a long time, you become picky,” said Paravisini-Gebert. “This is true of the parrots, who commanded the forest a long time. They need certain habitats to be just so.”

Parrots have been slow to adapt to the changes brought after colonization. With diminished habitats from human development, parrot populations have declined to the point where, now, a direct hit on their range – such as by a hurricane – could bring a localized population to extinction.

To boost populations, some parrots in Puerto Rico are bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild in the island’s more remote regions. The problem with this has to do with loss of language. Parrots have complex vocalizations that differ among species and regions.

“Those from captivity don’t speak Puerto Rican parrot,” joked Paravisini-Gebert, “like their wild counterparts in other parts of the island.”

The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Conference also featured presentations by Sociology Professor Dennis Canterburgy, who recently authored “Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development”; Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s presentation “From McKeesport to Mexico City: How American Suburbs Fought the Cold War”; and History Professor Joan Meznar’s presentation “Saving Brazil from Communism: Our Lady Aparecida and the Military Regime, 1964-85.”