Eastern’s Bergstrom-Lynch Runs in Honor of Domestic Violence Survivors

Despite the rainy weather, thousands of runners participated in the Hot Chocolate Run on Dec. 2, with Eastern’s Cara Bergstrom-Lynch among the top 10 fundraisers event wide.

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, CT (12/05/2018) Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, sociology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, participated in a road race on Dec. 2 to honor the late Alyssiah Wiley, an Eastern sophomore who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2013. The Hot Chocolate Run is an annual fundraiser in Northampton, MA, to benefit Safe Passage, an organization dedicated to providing support for victims of domestic violence or relationship abuse.

This year marks the sixth consecutive year that Bergstrom-Lynch has participated in the Hot Chocolate Run to help raise awareness of intimate partner violence. This year, she raised $1,815, making her the 10th highest fundraiser out of a pool of more than 6,300 participants. She has raised more than $8,000 for Safe Passage in the past six years, thanks to the generosity of friends, family and dozens of Eastern faculty, staff and alumni.

Wiley’s murder at the hands of her ex-boyfriend not only impacted Bergstrom-Lynch, but the entire Eastern community. “All of us know someone who has been impacted by intimate partner violence, and many of us have experienced it ourselves,” she said.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence and stalking.

Bergstrom-Lynch hopes to continue honoring Wiley’s memory for years to come at the Hot Chocolate Run. “It’s a wonderful event that raises money to provide peace, safety and justice for survivors of domestic violence,” she said. “I am honored to participate.”

This year’s Hot Chocolate Run raised more than $628,000 for Safe Passage. The organization provides shelters, legal assistance and counseling services for adults and children who have experienced violence in their homes. Since 1977, they’ve helped thousands of women and families achieve safety, build justice, and rebuild their lives in the wake of domestic violence.

For Eastern students who are seeking assistance or support, please contact Eastern’s Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Response Team (SAIV-RT). Additionally, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) has a 24/7 telephone line at 888-774-2900.

Eastern Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

Demonstrations of Native dancing by members of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes rounded out the Native American Heritage Day of Events on Nov. 13.

Written by Jolene Potter

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/28/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University held several events in commemoration of Native American Heritage Month in November. Events featured prominent figures and speakers from the local Native American community – including internationally acclaimed author and environmental activist Winona LaDuke of the Anishinaabe Tribe as well as Chief Marilynn Malerba of the local Mohegan Tribe. The celebration also included demonstrations of music, jewelry making and natural medicines.

There are currently 573 tribes recognized by the federal government according to The Bureau of Indian Affairs. All federally recognized tribes are sovereign and self-governing nations that maintain a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Each indigenous nation has a distinct history, language and culture.

Native American Heritage Month serves to educate the public about the challenges faced by Native people currently and historically as well as the ways in which tribal citizens and communities have worked to address these challenges.

There are two federally recognized Native American tribes in Connecticut – the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and the Mohegan Tribe. However, there are several other tribes, bands and communities in Connecticut that don’t have federal recognition, including the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Tribe and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.

Many Native communities are not recognized by the federal government, as obtaining federal recognition requires extensive documentation, which is particularly difficult for the many Native communities that have oral histories with little written down. Without recognition, communities aren’t eligible for certain services and have limited rights to self-governance. The Eastern Pequots lost their federal status on Oct. 12 (Columbus Day), 2005.

Author and activist Winona LaDuke of the Anishinaabe Tribe spoke with the Eastern community on Oct. 31.

The first event of Native American Heritage Month occurred on Oct. 31 and featured internationally acclaimed author and environmental activist Winona LaDuke of the Anishinaabe Tribe. LaDuke’s talk, “A Native Perspective: Sustaining Our Land, Recovering the Sacred,” explored how indigenous understandings of land, religion and sacredness influence strategies for a sustainable environment.

The current and historical territorial dispossession of indigenous peoples often goes hand in hand with natural resource exploitation. LaDuke discussed how the exploitation of natural resources threatens Native communities, as well as the necessity for utilizing renewable forms of energy. This exploitation often violates treaty rights, threatens the environment and contributes to climate change.

LaDuke is the executive director of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and financial support for indigenous environmental justice. The organization recently played an active role in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. LaDuke was also involved in stopping work on the Sandpiper Pipeline in northern Minnesota in 2015.

Eastern hosted Chief Marilynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe on Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre. Malerba is the 18th chief of the Mohegan Tribe and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. Malerba spoke of many issues affecting Native communities throughout the nation including land rights, voting rights, rates of poverty and unemployment, violence – particularly against women and children – suicide, drug and alcohol abuse rates, educational shortcomings and healthcare inadequacies. “American Indian activism is needed now more than ever,” she said.

Chief Marilynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe spoke with the Eastern community on Nov. 7.

Malerba focused on the tendency for Native communities to experience poverty and joblessness. Seventeen percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 27 percent of all self-identified Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“The living conditions for Natives on reservations are often of poor quality,” said Malerba. “On many reservations the electricity is subpar, plumbing is subpar or nonexistent, the roads need renovating and the homes are overcrowded.” Malerba’s assertions are supported by data from the National Congress of American Indians, which states that 40 percent of Natives who live on reservations are in substandard housing, one-third of homes are overcrowded and less than 16 percent have indoor plumbing.

Eastern Pequot tribal members Natasha Gambrell ’15 and Valerie Gambrell ’77 (both Eastern graduates) spoke on Nov. 13 about the difficulties their tribe experiences with federal recognition.

Also discussed was the shockingly high rates of violence against women and children in Native communities. According to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, American Indians are the victims of rape and sexual assault at a rate more than three times higher than that of any other race in the United States. Furthermore, while the majority of survivors of sexual assault are victimized by a family member or intimate partner, American Indian and Alaska Native women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence committed by a stranger or acquaintance outside of the tribal community, with 70 percent of perpetrators being non-Native. This creates unique challenges for tribal communities in adjudicating cases of sexual assault, leading to lower prosecution and a lack of justice for Native survivors of sexual violence.

Malerba also discussed the massive disparities in health care for Native Americans as compared to the general population. Although Native Americans are able to receive health care through Indian Health Services (IHS), like many other federal agencies that serve Native people, the IHS suffers from a lack of funding. As a result, one in three Natives are uninsured and lacking proper healthcare. According to the Center for Disease Control, Natives suffer from high rates of diabetes, obesity, substance abuse, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Another epidemic facing Native communities is youth suicide. According to U.S. Census data, suicide is the second most common cause of death for Native youth ages 15 to 24 – two and a half times the national rate for that age group.

“Maintaining a connection with their tribe lowers the suicide rate for indigenous youth, among serving them in other ways,” said Malerba. “The Indian Child Welfare Act is not highly regarded and indigenous children are still being displaced. This contributes greatly to an increased risk of suicide.”

Demonstrations of Native dancing by members of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes rounded out the Native American Heritage Day of Events on Nov. 13.

Malerba also stressed voter suppression as a major issue for Native communities. “Only about two percent of the U.S. population is made up of American Indian and Alaskan Native people,” said Malerba. “We can’t move mountains with elections. We need other people to care about and rally toward Native rights.” Some factors that contribute to voter suppression are lack of official addresses on most reservations and the distance of polling places from reservations.

Malerba ended her informative talk with an important lesson: “Have a large voice when you’re offered a seat at the table. Advocate for what you think is right.”

The month of recognition and celebration continued on Nov. 13 with the “Native American Heritage Day of Events.” Lessons in jewelry design were led by Natasha Gambrell ’15 of the Eastern Pequot Tribe. An interactive program featuring a variety of Native music was also held by Chris Newell, a singer and senior educator of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum.

Native American Heritage Month events were co-sponsored by the Intercultural Center, Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Institute of Sustainable Energy and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work.

 

Social Action Day Focuses on Ex-Offender Reentry

A group of social work students presents at Social Action Day.

Written by Jordan Corey

The issues surrounding housing reentry for ex-offenders were center stage on Nov. 13 for Social Action Day. Organized by the Social Work Program, the event included student presentations, a panel of ex-offender reentry experts, and a “listening tour” featuring formerly incarcerated individuals.

Social Action Day is an opportunity for junior social work students to address a real-life issue that affects vulnerable populations. In five groups, students worked to educate the audience on housing setbacks faced by former inmates in their lives after prison.

Some of these barriers include finding a steady means of income, obtaining residency in certain areas because of their criminal record and being subjects of racial discrimination. The goal of this year’s Social Action Day was to present an evidence-based housing policy to lawmakers that will help increase housing stability and promote post-release success.

Students discussed re-entry population demographics, re-entry policies utilized in other states and direct actions that Connecticut can use to improve the quality of life for ex-offenders reentering society.

One group shared an interview with caseworkers, who touched on the unmet needs of ex-offender communities, many of them homeless and without proper resources—such as clean clothes — to thrive in a working society. Another presented results from a survey given to 92 Eastern students that reflected the attitudes and understanding of facts surrounding ex-offenders. Student also had Social Action Day attendees take the same survey.

Social Action Day panelists included (left to right): Theresa Severance, coordinator of Eastern’s criminology program; Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, community education and outreach specialist with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center; Steven Hernandez, Esq. interim executive director for the Commission on Equity and Opportunity; Fernando Muniz, chief executive director at Community Solutions, Inc.; State Representative Brandon McGee; Lisa Cato, chief probation officer I of the Court Support Service Division.

Panel members were Fernando Muñiz, Theresa Severance, Lisa Cato-Scott, Brandon McGee, Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, Bruce Bressler and Steven Hernández. They covered a range of subjects, from stigmatization to advocacy, reflecting the diversity of their experiences and knowledge.

One point raised by Muñiz — CEO of Community Solutions, Inc. — was that while incarceration rates have decreased over the years, the population leaving prisons is now older. Many ex-offenders have physical limitations that restrict their work and housing options. “The system hasn’t really shifted to accommodate them.”

Bressler, who is co-chair of the Legislative Housing Re-Entry Working Group and has spent more than 20 years of his life incarcerated, emphasized the importance of mental health and maintaining a motivated mindset as an ex-offender. He talked about changing the value system of the inmate, calling for outsiders to recognize their individuality within a generalized group and for inmates to exhibit positive attitudes. “The past should be something that teaches us,” he said, “not something that holds us hostage.”

Students present to a packed Betty Tipton Room in the Student Center.

McGee, a state representative, encouraged the audience to identify their government representatives and contact them if they want to assist in making changes. “There were, and still are, champions around this work,” he stated. As somebody familiar with the impact of having family in and out of prison, McGee has made an effort to reform social justice issues such as housing for ex-offenders. He explained that not all legislators understand this population — one reason why awareness must be spread on all sides. “Now is the time more than ever. Your voice matters.”

The Legislative Housing Re-Entry Working Group, directed by the Commission on Equity and Opportunity, organized a “listening tour” in partnership with Representative McGee as part of Social Action Day. Members of the post-incarceration community were given the opportunity to speak directly to stakeholders about their experiences obtaining permanent housing in Connecticut.

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.”

Eastern Supports Greater Hartford Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Day

Eastern was on hand on Nov. 2 when the Urban League of Greater Hartford (ULGH) celebrated its 54th Equal Opportunity Day with a gala at the Marriott Downtown Hartford. The ULGH’s mission is to reduce economic disparities in area communities through programs, services and educational opportunities. It provides programs and services in such areas as adult education, youth development, workforce development and training, economic empowerment, and health and wellness. The league provides services to more than 3,000 area residents annually.

The ULGH honored five individuals and Pratt and Whitney for their efforts in restoring hope in the community. They include WVIT-TV anchorwoman Keisha Grant; Entrepreneur Sanford Cloud Jr.; State Senator Douglas McCrory; noted photographer Riley Johnson; and Aundrya Montgomery, an active member of the ULGH’s Young Professionals auxiliary.

A&E Executives Visit Eastern, Speak on Crime TV

The panel (back left) and audience watch an unaired scene of an A&E show.

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted several Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) executives on Nov. 7 who discussed the representation of crime on television. Held in the J. Eugene Library, the panel included Laura Fleury, senior vice president of programming, Sean Gottlieb, vice president of development and programming, and Peter Tarshis, executive producer of A&E and Lifetime Movies Network.

Several sociology and criminology classes attended and asked questions regarding police procedures, documentary film crew work, and the differences between scripted and unscripted crime shows. Moderated by Eastern faculty and professors, the panel treated students to exclusive, unaired clips from A&E’s upcoming shows, including the new season of “The First 48,” a show produced by Tarshis that focuses on the first 48 hours after a crime has been committed.

Students also inquired about the difficulties of filming shows such as “Live PD,” which gives a transparent look at law enforcement on duty. Gottlieb, the producer of “Live PD,” talked in detail about the humanizing aspect of showing police interactions and how the documentary crew or bodycams often captured things that the officers missed.

The written and unwritten rules regarding “true crime” – meaning unscripted television about crimes which actually occurred – were discussed at length. “Unresolved cases are corrosive to viewership,” Tarshis explained. “So right away, you need to focus on cases that resolve nicely, that end with the bad guy going to jail.”

Tarshis went on to explain that this gives an extremely black and white perspective of crime on linear network television, with little room for morally gray areas. Other mediums, like streaming services such as Netflix, allow producers to stretch story arcs over several episodes so they can delay viewer gratification.

One student asked about the families of the victims, which prompted a discussion regarding scripted television. Fleury, producer of the Emmy-nominated show “Beyond Scared Straight,” talked about how carefully they have to tread in order to make a stimulating, yet non-exploitative narrative.

“Our first priority is to not re-victimize the family of the victim. We have to be very careful with not only the victims themselves, but the victims’ families, as well as creating a satisfying story for people who don’t care about these rules.”

The event was sponsored by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work.

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.

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.

A&E Network Executives to Discuss Crime TV at Eastern

Three executives from the Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) will visit Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 7 to discuss the criminal world as portrayed on television. The event will occur from 3–5 p.m. in the Johnson Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library. The public is invited to this free event.

The panel will feature A&E executives Laura Fleury, senior vice president of programming, Sean Gottlieb, vice president of development and programming, and Peter Tarshis, executive producer of A&E and Lifetime Movies Network.

“The format will be a panel discussion about crime television programming on A&E networks,” said Sociology Professor William Lugo.

Faculty from Eastern’s criminology and sociology programs will sit on the panel to moderate the discussion. The event will feature short TV clips from A&E crime shows. “We’ll analyze how crime is portrayed on television as well as help viewers separate fact from fiction,” said Lugo.

Fleury has produced many of the network’s top-rated series, including the Emmy-nominated “Beyond Scared Straight.” Gottlieb is the executive producer of “Live PD” and is a seasoned producer with more than 20 years in the television industry. Tarshis has produced series such as “The First 48” and “The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case.”

The event is sponsored by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work.

Written by Michael Rouleau

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.”