Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year


Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.


“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.


“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

Author of ‘Latino City’ to speak at Eastern

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/08/2018) Llana Barber, author of “Latino City: Immigration and Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000,” will give a lecture on her book at Eastern Connecticut State University on March 21. Barber’s presentation takes place from 3-4:30 p.m. in Webb Hall, room 110. “Latino City” explores the transformation of Lawrence into New England’s first Latinx-dominated city, and how it was revitalized from its poor economic state, though not without numerous obstacles faced by Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Constance Motley Expert at Eastern

Written by Dwight Bachman

Willimantic, CT — Gary Ford Jr., assistant professor of Africana Studies at Lehman College and author of the book, “Constance Baker Motley, One Woman’s Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law,” will speak on Feb. 14, at 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre on Eastern Connecticut State University campus.

Born in New Haven in 1921 as the daughter of immigrants from Nevis, British West Indies, Motley attended Fisk University before transferring to New York University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in economics. She subsequently became the first black woman accepted to Columbia Law School. A wife and mother who became a pioneer and trailblazer in the legal profession, she broke down barriers, overcame gender constraints, and operated outside the feminine role assigned to women by society and the civil rights movement.

Motley met Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and became the only female attorney to work for the fund, arguing desegregation cases in court during much of the civil rights movement. From 1946 through 1964, she was a key litigator and legal strategist for landmark civil rights cases that included the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the desegregation of the universities of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. She represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others jailed for their participation in sit-ins, marches and freedom rides.

“Gary Ford’s well-researched book is more than a biography of Motley’s extraordinary life,” said Henry Louis Gates, Endowed Alphonse Fletcher Professor of History and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. “It is an argument for recognizing the tenacious, courageous role African American women like her played in advancing the cause of civil rights and equal justice for all. To witness Judge Motley in action was to be fortified and astounded. Now, thanks to Ford, a new generation can bear witness to her immense talents.”

“Dr. Ford’s book has sold out three times already this year,” said Stacey Close, associate vice president of equity and diversity at Eastern, whose office invited Ford to campus. The Offices of the President, Provost and Academic Affairs, Education Professional Studies and the Graduate Division, and Departments of History, Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work are co-sponsors for Ford’s appearance at Eastern.

“The narrative of the civil rights movement is fundamentally and irrevocably altered by the inclusion of Constance Baker Motley,” said Ford. “Her story is like a breath of fresh air that only strengthens the legacy of the movement as a whole. Her contribution expands the view of history from the model of leadership by charismatic men to a more complex model that is inclusive of female change agents and leaders. Judge Motley broke down barriers for other women of color, attorneys and women in general.”

Ford earned a bachelor of arts in African American history from Harvard University; a law degree from Columbia University; a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the New School; and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland. In addition to his writing and teaching, Ford helped produce the 2012 award-winning documentary film “Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley” with director/producer Professor Michael Calia, director of the Quinnipiac University Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center and scriptwriter Susan Bailey.

Eastern Hosts 7th Marrow Drive

University Partners with DeCasanova to Find Life-Saving Matches

•Members of the men's soccer team with Coach DeVido (left) and Willy the Warrior

Members of the men’s soccer team with Coach DeVido (left) and Willy the Warrior

 Written by Michael Rouleau

In its ongoing support for people with life-threatening blood diseases, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its seventh marrow registry on Dec. 6. Organized by the men’s soccer team, 140 people were registered into the “Be The Match” database – the largest marrow registry in the world – bringing Eastern’s total to 1,650 registrants over the past five years.

The campus’s first marrow drive occurred in 2012, when student and soccer player Jon DeCasanova was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and lymphatic cancer. DeCasanova, a senior at the time, was given less than a one-percent chance of survival by some doctors.

Jon DeCasanova '16 explains the registration process

Jon DeCasanova ’16 explains the registration process

“One of the treatments I needed was a marrow transplant,” said DeCasanova ’17, who graduated last spring and now works for the Rhode Island Blood Center. In his role as an assistant account executive, DeCasanova helps run Be The Match events throughout the region. “I was able to receive a stem cell transplant, which is a science that we’re supporting here today. It’s a science that saved my life.”

In the past five years, 20 Eastern registrants have made life-saving donations to people with rare blood diseases – a rate much greater than the national average of one in 300 being selected as a best possible donor, and one in 430 actually going through with the procedure.

People identified as matches have two options for donating. One method is via a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, a nonsurgical procedure similar to giving blood. The other method is via a bone marrow donation, a surgical procedure in which bone marrow is extracted directly from the pelvic bone.

On the day of the event, members of the soccer team spread throughout campus, asking everyone they saw if they’re willing to help save a life. They even recruited the school’s mascot, Willy the Warrior. “Without the promotion of the team, there wouldn’t be as much success as there is,” said Greg DeVito, head coach, who reports the team volunteered approximately 70 hours in advance and during the event. “It’s an honor to see the team use their free time to help out a good cause.”

Volunteer Lauren Landry '20 takes a minute between mouth swabs for a photo.

Volunteer Lauren Landry ’20 takes a minute between mouth swabs for a photo.

“Most current students weren’t here in 2012, so they don’t quite understand what it did to this campus,” said DeCasanova of his diagnosis, remembering the fear and outpouring of support across the Eastern community. “Most people don’t experience cancer at such a young age; I was only 20 years old at the time. None of us really understood what was going on.”

While the men’s soccer team spearheads the effort with Be The Match, several other student organizations help the event run smoothly. Among them this year were the Social Work Club and Love Your Melon, a nonprofit organization with a chapter on campus that is focused on pediatric cancer. Among other tasks, student volunteers prescreened interested donors for eligibility – using a questionnaire concerning general health – and administered mouth swabs.

“I don’t get emotional too much these days,” said DeCasanova, “but when it comes to this event and Eastern in general, and the family we have here, it’s amazing… the passion everyone still has for this event, and their continuing support, not only for me, but for all the patients out there that need matches.”

With DeCasanova’s story and Eastern’s support, the soccer team won the 2016 National Association of D3 Athletic Directors Community Engagement Award. In 2014, the University was honored with the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match Awareness Award. Representatives from the organization have commented that Eastern outperforms schools with much larger student populations.

“It’s not about me anymore. My life is saved,” concluded DeCasanova, adding that there are more than 70 diseases that are curable via marrow transplants. “It’s about all the other patients out there who are still looking for matches.”

Eastern Professor in Safe Passage Run

Bergstrom_Lynch_and_kidsWritten by Jordan Corey

Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University who lives in Manchester, participated in a road race on Dec. 3 to honor the late Alyssiah Wiley, an Eastern student who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2013. The Hot Chocolate Run is an annual fundraiser to benefit Safe Passage, an organization dedicated to creating a world free of domestic violence and relationship abuse. The run took place in Northampton, MA.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that nearly 20 people are physically abused every minute by a domestic partner in the United States – more than 10 million women and men per year. Of female murder victims, one in three are killed by intimate partners.

Safe Passage, located in Northampton, supports safe shelter, legal assistance and counseling services for adults and kids who have lived with violence in their homes. Since Wiley’s death in 2013, Bergstrom-Lynch has been dedicated to raising awareness of intimate partner violence.

Though she was never a “runner” before her recurring participation in The Hot Chocolate Run, Bergstrom-Lynch trained for it, feeling that it’s important to take a stand for all victims of domestic abuse. This year, she was joined by her two daughters, ages six and eight, as she raised $1,510 – totaling $6,185 for Safe Passage to date. “Donations came flooding in from my Eastern colleagues,” she said, including former students, the dean and the president, as well as many friends and family members.

As a professor and the department chair of sociology, domestic violence has a heavy impact on Bergstrom-Lynch – something undoubtedly amplified by what happened to Wiley. At just 20 years old, Wiley was kidnapped from campus by then-boyfriend Jermaine Richards, whom she had planned on breaking up with as a result of his unhealthy, possessive behaviors. Following her disappearance, Wiley was found dismembered in the woods a month later. Having gone through two mistrials, Richards was finally convicted in September 2017.

“My senior seminar students brought Alyssiah’s mother, Corinna Martin, to campus in fall 2013 to talk to an overflowing audience in the Student Center Theater about the loss of her daughter,” Bergstrom-Lynch stated. “She moved me deeply.” Tragically, Wiley’s sister – Chaquinequea Brodie – and nine-year-old niece were also murdered this past August. Brodie’s boyfriend is believed to be the perpetrator, again demonstrating the severity of domestic violence cases.

Brodie was the vice president of Mothers of Victim’s Equality (MOVE) Inc., a nonprofit group established by her mother to provide dating and domestic violence education. In a similar fashion, Bergstrom-Lynch stressed the significance of promoting awareness and discussing these issues that are often deemed “private” in a public way. “All of us know someone who has been impacted by intimate partner violence, and many of us have experienced it ourselves,” she said. “If anyone sees red flags, either in their own relationship or in friends or family members’ relationships, I want them to know that there is hope out there, and there are safe places to go.”

This year’s Hot Chocolate Run collected a total of $615,000 for Safe Passage, with 6,000 runners and walkers in attendance. “Alyssiah meant a lot to many people at Eastern, and her memory lives on,” Bergstrom-Lynch concluded, having completed another successful race. She encouraged students to seek assistance if needed. Options for support include Eastern’s Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Response Team (SAIV-RT) and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), which has a 24/7 telephone line at 888-774-2900.

Eastern Hosts DACA Event

Eastern students viewing an informational poster at Social Action Day.

Eastern students viewing an informational poster at Social Action Day.

Written by Anne Pappalardo

WILLIMANTIC, CT — The current national debate on immigration policy — in particular the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 — was the focus of an event at Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 14 hosted by social work students.

The students’ annual Social Action Day was held in the Betty R. Tipton Room in the Student Center. Titled “DACA 411,” the event was the result of a collaborative effort of social work students taught by Professors Isabel Logan, Paul Trubey and Pamela Chiang. Local community members were also invited to attend.

DACA was an executive order signed by Obama in June 2012 to grant temporary protection to eligible immigrants who entered the country as minors and received a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation. The policy also allowed the students to obtain work permits, drivers’ licenses and attend college. They are frequently referred to as “Dreamers,” a reference to the Dream Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001. While it has been debated and frequently reintroduced since—as recently as this fall — this legislation to provide a legal path to U.S. citizenship for millions of immigrants has not been passed.

Eastern student panelists speaking at Social Action Day.

Eastern student panelists speaking at Social Action Day.

In early September 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he was rescinding the Obama-era policy, pending a six-month delay to give those students whose DACA status was set to expire before March 2018 one month to submit an application for renewal. There are approximately 800,000 students covered under DACA in the United States; more than 100 attend Eastern.

Without legislative action to provide permanent protections to these undocumented students, they face deportation to countries they have no memory of, nations they have never considered home.

Featured speakers at Social Action Day included State Rep. Susan Johnson, who represents local District 49; Attorney Edwin Colon, director of the Immigrant Children’s Justice Project at the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford; and community activist Renato Calle of the Connecticut Working Families Party. The event also featured two DACA students enrolled at Eastern —Political Science major Yenimar Cortes ’19 and Computer Science major Estefanny Perez Hernandez ’20.

“What we want is for people to have the support from everyone in the community in terms of a clean (immigration) bill with no unfortunate actions, no building of the wall,” said Colon.  “Last week there were a number of acts of civil disobedience around the United States, protests in Washington and even in Hartford. Everyone is anticipating that this will be hard-fought effort. I know this is not going to come easy – we are hopeful but cautiously optimistic about the future. This issue hits very close to home for many.”

Colon, who is also a faculty member at Capital Community College in Hartford and the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, provided a legal aid van through the Center for Children’s Advocacy for students and local community members during the event. The mobile office provides free legal consultation and representation related to immigration issues.

“That people are having to constantly live in fear is not a way to run a country or state,” said Rep. Johnson. “We need to be able to support undocumented people without criminalizing them,” added Calle.

“The word ‘Dreamer’ comes with a narrative that you are an immigrant and a student with a high GPA – a ‘good’ immigrant,” said Cortes. “It tends to indicate that all others that are part of the immigrant community are ‘bad’ immigrants even though they sustain, work hard for their families and contribute to our community. I prefer to call myself undocumented instead of being classified as DACA.”

“DACA was a little bit of hope. I qualified for DACA, but by the time my sister came of age it was already being repealed,” said Perez Hernandez. “We lost everything that we had gained. However, the current issues are also bringing us together. Events like this educate people on the topic — we feel connected. I feel included here.”

Students from the Social Work program presented topics such as “DACA Policy, Now and Then” as well as “State Responses to DACA,” and hosted a mock debate and a discussion of the results of a student survey on DACA that was circulated among Eastern students. Attendees were also given the option to sign petitions to be sent to members of the U.S. Congress and Connecticut General Assembly.

Preparing for the Social Action Day event was an eye-opening experience for the social work students. “I learned about how hard it is to create a policy, especially when it comes to DACA, and then to see the abolition of the policy,” said Brooke Unikewicz ’20, a student in Trubey’s class. “I have been inspired and have been spreading my knowledge to anyone who doesn’t know about DACA. One thing that surprised me was the amount of people who supported the abolition of DACA when we circulated the survey – I expected there would be no one who wants to get rid of the policy.”

“The students were very engaged in several areas including the research study to assess the familiarity and knowledge of the DACA issue on campus,” said Trubey. “These social work students are learning the importance of standing up for social change and against social injustice. The students in the course embraced this challenge and put together an informative program.”

Social Work student Hanna Levesque ’19 of Bristol said, “I hope that the overall message people took away from our Social Action Day is that, above all else, Eastern cares, and we are trying to help our fellow colleagues, friends and loved ones enrolled in the DACA program feel protected.”

Professor Logan concluded, “I think that my students were definitely empowered and I think they took away more knowledge on a topic they were already passionate about.”