‘College Consensus’ Ranks Eastern Among Best Colleges

College Consensus, a college review aggregator that combines the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with actual reviews of college students, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University for the second year in a row. Eastern has been ranked among the “Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019” and the “Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019.”

“Congratulations on making the Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019 and Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019,” said Carole Taylor, marketing director for the College Consensus. “Your inclusion in the lists shows that you are making an impact on students that will have a transformative effect on their lives and the lives of others.”

Eastern began in 1889 as a normal school preparing teachers for careers in Connecticut’s elementary schools. Today it is known as Connecticut’s public liberal arts university. Eastern is home to 5,200 students, with more than 90 percent of them coming from Connecticut.

To identify standout colleges, College Consensus averages the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report, along with student reviews to produce a unique rating for each school. Read more about the organization’s methodology at: https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

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

Written by Vania Galicia

Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges 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.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

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 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year’s graduation ceremonies reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

Students Present at State Association of Social Workers Meeting

Left to right, Alex Casertano, Brittany Acevedo-Corona, Travis Walls, Marangely Diaz-Ortiz and Jimarie Morales

Eastern Connecticut State University students in the Social Work program presented their research during the 34th annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers Connecticut Chapter, held in Cromwell, CT, on May 3.

This year, Eastern students captured second and fourth place in the student research poster session, competing successfully against entries that included Master of Social Work students from the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University.

The conference is the largest annual state conference for social work practitioners, policy makers, educators and other related professionals, who gather to share their research, knowledge, latest practices, policy ideas and more.

Pamela Chiang, assistant professor of social work, serves as the group’s faculty mentor and led the students in their research presentations. In their year-long, original research projects, students selected topics of interest, created proposals, designed surveys, collected and analyzed data, and presented their findings.   

Student presenters included Alex Casertano and Marena Dees, whose presentation “Followers & Streaks: Does Social Media Use Boost the Self-Esteem in College Students?” won second place; and Britney Acevedo-Corona, whose presentation “The Impact of Emotional Abuse in Dating on College Students’ Self-Esteem” took home fourth place. Jimarie Morales and Marangely Diaz presented “Why Don’t You Call? Barrier to Child Maltreatment Reporting in a Financially-Disadvantaged Town,” and Travis Walls, Logan Cash and Olivia Donnelly presented “Knowledge of Opioid Use and Treatment among Willimantic Residents.”

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Alumna Onika Harry Recognized among ‘100 Women of Color’

Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Onika Harry ’03 of Windsor was honored last month at the 100 Women of Color Black Tie Gala and Awards ceremony hosted by June Archer & Eleven28 Entertainment Group – named for musician, author and motivational speaker June Archer. The gala recognized the contributions that women in business, education, entrepreneurship, entertainment and service have made to impact communities in Connecticut to Massachusetts.

Harry, a native of Guyana in South America, is passionate about giving to those in need. She has received several recognitions this year for her efforts, including citations from the Connecticut General Assembly and Connecticut Office of the Treasurer for positively impacting the lives of people in Connecticut. While at Eastern, she had a notable presence, participating in clubs and extracurricular activities, including tutoring.

“When I started at Eastern I didn’t know my purpose,” said Harry. “I was the first in my family to attend college, along with only being in the United States for four years at the time. Eastern led me to my purpose in life. There are many who assisted me through my journey, such as the faculty and administration. Those same individuals assisted in pushing me through adversities that I faced, allowing me to gain leadership principles and teach me how to handle conflict as I continue to grow professionally.”

In addition to working as an eligibility services worker for the Connecticut Department of Social Services in its Division of Eligibility Policy and Economic Security/Escalation Unit, Harry was appointed to serve on the statewide Affirmative Action Employee Advisory Committee. She regularly volunteers for the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford, where she helps low-literacy adults learn how to read, write and speak English.

With all of her achievements, Harry is humbled by her experiences. “I went from sharing my nightly dinner with my brother, which was served on the size of a salad plate, to now owning my own business and serving food abundantly.” Her knowledge about health and human service programs and the importance of perseverance have fostered a flourishing career path that is still evolving. Harry is in the process of obtaining her PhD in psychology from Capella University.

In the future, Harry hopes to become a college professor, author her first book and open a community center that provides resources for troubled youth. “Life is full of ups and downs. Use it as a tool to order your steps to success,” she concluded.

Through June Archer’s nonprofit organization, Concerned Citizens for Humanity, part of the proceeds from the 100 Women of Color Black Tie Gala and Awards event went toward scholarships for young women who graduate from high school and plan on attending college, leadership and mentorship programs. Contributions also promoted healthy living for women and supported groups that need funding for cervical and breast cancer research.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Honors Three Leaders in Memory of Cesar Chavez

(left to right) Keynote speaker Angy Rivera; Emillio Estrella ’17, accepting the Cesar Chavez Award for Yanil Teron; Jessenia Montanez, accepting the Cesar Chavez Award for her mother Indira Petoskey; awardee Italo Bucca ’19; and Eastern President Elsa Nunez. 

Sociology major Italo Bucca ’19 of Hartford, Indira Petoskey, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning; and Yanil Terón, executive director of the Center For Latino Progress (CPRF), were honored at Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony on April 24. Angy Rivera, co-executive director of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, delivered the keynote address.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez welcomed a packed house in the Paul E. Johnson Community Room in the J. Eugene Smith Library and highlighted Chavez’s role on the long road to freedom and justice. She said Chavez believed in service, non-violent resistance to oppression and a commitment to improving the lives of the disenfranchised in this country. “Today’s award recipients are truly living the values and principles of Cesar Chavez,” said Núñez. “Because of their will and resolve, Italo, Indira and Yunil remind us of our responsibility to serve others, so that everyone may share in the American Dream.”

Bucca won in the student category. He was accepted into Eastern’s STEP/CAP Program after attending the Classical Magnet School in Hartford, where he played soccer and basketball, and where he first demonstrated his passion for helping others. At Eastern, Bucca has worked the Center for Community Engagement, the Windham Middle School after school program and the Big Brother, Big Sister program, as well as in the Study Abroad office. He has participated in several campus clubs and organizations designed to motivate young people and regularly tells students to “Always be yourself. Never follow the crowd. And remember where you came from!”

A native of St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands, Petoskey won in the faculty/staff category. For the past 22 years, she has served in a variety of capacities at different institutions, including as an adjunct professor, student development specialist, dean of distance learning, computer lab director, coordinator of the Intercultural Center and vice president of student affairs and institutional research/development. In addition to her duties at Eastern, Petoskey has served as an adjunct faculty member at Hartford-based Capital Community College and at Wilson University in Elk Grove, CA, and as a member of the board of directors for the Urshan Graduate School of Theology and Urshan College in St. Louis, MO.

Since 2007, Terón has served as executive director of the Center for Latino Progress-CPRF, the only Latino workforce development organization in Connecticut. A native of Puerto Rico now living in Windsor, Terón has expanded the center’s workforce programs, comprehensive support services and civic and leadership educational activities. She has also increased the center’s visibility by establishing agency relationships with local, statewide and national organizations. She serves as Northeast Council representative to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the regional voice of organizations serving Latinos from Pennsylvania to Maine.

Keynote speaker Rivera said when she joined the Immigrants Rights Movement she learned that immigrant justice is more than just going to college and getting a degree. “I still felt voiceless when we started pushing for the Federal Dream Act. Being voiceless is the worst feeling ever. Organizing allowed me to take back my voice. My hope for all of us is that no matter where we are in our lives, that we work towards justice because every action we take has an impact. My hope is that we keep making space for those who are left out. We are all here because someone made space for us.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

43 Strong, Eastern Represents in Georgia at National Conference

With 43 student presenters, Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation, and the only school from New England to make the list.

Forty-three students from Eastern Connecticut State University traveled to Georgia on April 11-13 to present original research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The 2019 conference occurred at Kennesaw State University and featured hundreds of undergraduate students from across the country.

Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation this year – the only school from New England to make the list – and one of the few with a student population of less than 6,000.

Eastern students from a range of majors presented artwork, music performances and oral/poster presentations. Research questions probed topics such as the microbiome of scorpions, the link between casual sex and online dating, pop-culture glamorization of eating disorders, and much more.

Adella Dzitko-Carlson presents “Finding Faith in the 21st Century: The Search for the Sacred in John Luther Adams’ “In the Name of the Earth.”

Music major Esther Jones ’20 commented on the experience of performing a lecture-recital. “This experience at NCUR was a milestone in my life because I didn’t think that I could actually do it when the time finally came around. I thought that I would be trembling so badly that my mind would go blank.”

Jones’ piano performance was titled “‘Theme and Variations on an Egyptian Folksong’ by Gamal Abdel-Rahim.” She added, “This experience helped to boost my confidence and has given me courage to face new challenges.”

“One of my greatest takeaways from this conference is how it pushes you and makes you a better academic,” said Michael Tuttle ’19, who majors in psychology and mathematics.

“Presenting at a conference subjects your research to a higher level of scrutiny, challenging your thoughts and ideas. When audience members ask questions and offer suggestions, it pushes you to think critically and creatively.” Tuttle’s presentation was titled “Overconfidence and Impulsivity of College Students in a Cognitive Reflection Task.”

Theresa Parker presents “Echo Chambers in Social Media: Why do People Seek or Reject Opposing Viewpoints.”

Biology major Chris Shimwell ’20 presented “Molecular Identification of the Scorpion Telson Microbiome.” He said, “Presenting at a national conference is a valuable experience because it allows you to synthesize information into an audio-visual format and present it to others who are highly educated and knowledgeable about your field.”

Jacob Dayton ’19, a biology major who presented two projects – one on the genetic diversity of a migratory bird group and one on the behaviors of strawberry poison-dart frogs – added that the value of presenting at national conferences is threefold.

“One, it provides students with the opportunity to practice communicating their research to a diverse audience. Two, questions and comments from audience members challenge students to defend and/or expand their thinking. And three, it provides the opportunity to publicize Eastern and the quality research that its students are conducting.”

Students also cited being exposed to new research questions during others’ presentations, interacting with peers from across the country, and sharing the NCUR experience with their Eastern friends as highlights of the conference. Psychology Professors Carlos Escoto and James Diller and Biology Professor Patricia Szczys accompanied the Eastern group.

NCUR was established in 1987. From a pool of several thousand applicants, students are accepted into the conference if their research demonstrates a unique contribution to their field of study. NCUR offers undergraduates the opportunity to present their research findings to peers, faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the nation, providing a unique networking and learning opportunity.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

Connecticut Supreme Court Justices discuss Implicit Biases

Keynote speakers Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson and Justice Maria Araujo Kahn were on hand April 2 as Eastern’s Social Work Program celebrated its 20th anniversary, and hosted its First Forensic Social Work Conference (see conference details below). A packed house in the Betty R. Tipton Room heard Robinson and Kahn address the subtlety of racism in our society.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez opened the conference and congratulated students and faculty in the Social Work Department for their dedication to social justice. “In the 20 years since our program was founded, more than 600 students have graduated from Eastern and gone on to support families and communities as social workers in state agencies, healthcare organizations, school systems, child welfare and family service agencies, mental health programs, hospitals, community agencies and domestic violence programs,” said Núñez. “Others have been admitted to Master of Social Work programs at prestigious programs across the country.”

To better deal with the issue of racism, Robinson and Kahn said people need to “Turn Off the Auto-Pilot,” referring to a program the two justices present to audiences that focuses on the challenges that arise when people are from different cultures, not proficient in English or have a disability.

Implicit biases are the culprit, said Robinson and Kahn. All people unwittingly hold implicit biases; i.e. stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about social groups — men and women, white and black, old and young, majority and minority, fat and thin, liberal and conservative and more. These beliefs and attitudes can affect one’s perception, behavior and judgement about people in those groups.

“Implicit biases—the auto pilots—leave people blinded by their own prejudices. People don’t even realize what they are saying,” said Robinson. “The auto-pilot leaves them culturally incompetent, and they make decisions that negatively impact the decision-making of hiring staff, assigning work and giving promotions. We need to get off autopilot. We need to grow our awareness of the nuances of cultural issues, language barriers and disabilities generally.”

The justices’s presentation mixed compelling pictures, cartoons and humorous, entertaining videos in capturing the attention of students, faculty, staff and area residents. In drawing attention to the issue of implicit biases, they also offered a set of skills and resources for people to use when interacting with individuals in an increasingly diverse community. “Implicit biases,” says Kahn, “are a person’s gut justice, an autopilot that compels one to look for shortcuts throughout the day in one’s interactions.” She cited numerous implicit association studies and television commercials, showing how preconceived stereotypes interfere with how someone assesses people who do not look like them. “Example: When people see a Black person and say ‘I don’t see color,’ Oh yes you do! You take information about Black people already in your head, which rejects notions of you opening your mind more to being a more transparent human being.”

To support her research, Kahn revealed an overwhelming list of double standards resulting from hidden biases that stereotype women on a daily basis in almost every social or professional environment, including her own place of work. “These micro-aggressions, these unintended slights, these cultural shortcomings, have a powerful impact on our daily interactions.”

The conference featured a number of social work scholars who conducted breakout sessions on issues social workers address in their daily profession. Isabel Logan, assistant professor of social work at Eastern and conference organizer, addressed how “Bilingual Professionals Encounter Microaggressions in the Court System.”

In describing the goals of the conference, Logan explained, “The purpose of this Forensic Social Work Conference was to increase student awareness of the different ways in which social workers can interact in the legal system. Many times, social work education does not focus on how to navigate adversarial settings. I believe it is important for our students to know that, as social workers, they will sometimes interact with the court system  in civil, family, criminal or juvenile matters.  Their work is not only influenced by laws, but in learning and using the most recent research and evidence-based practices, they will also influence court outcomes.”

Other presenters included Steven Hoffler, assistant professor of social work at Southern Connecticut State University, who focused on “Implementing Restorative Justice Practices in the Juvenile Justice System.”

Kim McKeon, a social worker specializing in psychiatric defense with the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services, examined “Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System.”

William Rivera, director of multicultural affairs and immigration ractice at the Connecticut Department of Children and Families led a workshop on “Connecticut Child Welfare System Challenges to Working with Immigrant Children & Families.”

Katie Hefferan Farrell, Christine Rapillo and Elleen Knight of the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services, discussed “Forensic Social Work (Criminal Defense): Addressing Strengths and Challenges” in their panel discussion.

Elizabeth Allen, a social worker who collaborates with writers Kathleen Wyatt and Alicia Alamo, looked at “Justice-involved Women Desistance.” Robert Madden, professor in the Department of Social Work and Equitable Community Practice at the University of Saint Joseph, conducted the closing session on “Therapeutic Jurisprudence.”

Left to right, Social Work Professor and Department Chair Eunice Matthews; Isabel Logan, assistant professor of social work at Eastern and conference organizer; Connecticut Supreme
Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson; Connecticut Supreme Justice Maria Araujo Kahn; and Joanne Leon, assistant professor of social work and chair of the department at CCSU.

Social Work major Mabel Taveras ’20 described her own participation in the conference: “I participated in the panel discussion on Forensic Social Work (Criminal Defense). The panelists answered important questions about forensic social work. They left me and other students with valuable information that we are going to use in our career and personal lives.”

Social Work Major Francelis Gonzalez Perez ’20 described what she learned during the keynote address “Chief Justice Robinson and Justice Maria Khan left a huge impact on all the social work students who attended the first Forensic Social Work conference,” she said.  “One of the biases that stood out to me was the ‘prove-it-again’ bias. Women in the professional workforce must constantly prove themselves or do twice the work to get recognized. I also had the honor of attending Dr. Logan’s workshop of Bilingual Professional who Encounter Micro-Aggression in the Court System; it was one of the best workshops I have ever attended. I learned about the different tools bilingual professionals use to cope when they are constantly pulled from their work to do something outside their job requirements.”

Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson; Eastern President Elsa Núñez; and Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn

Robinson and Kahn offered an entertaining and insightful examination of “implicit biases’—stereotypes of other people’s race, gender, age and personal identity that influence how we perceive people from backgrounds different from our own. Two of Connecticut’s top legal minds said, “If we turn off the auto pilot, future discussions and encounters can be made simple. We can become more knowledgeable and even friendly with each other.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

‘Jurakán’ Documentary Explores Puerto Rican Identity

Labeled an “unincorporated territory,” the island of Puerto Rico has been under United States control since 1898. On April 3, filmmakers Rosa Emmanuel Gutiérrez and Gonzalo Mazzini visited Eastern Connecticut State University to screen their documentary “Jurakán: Nación en Resistencia,” which addresses Puerto Rican identity amid the constant question of ownership.

“Jurakán” filmmakers Gonzalo Mazzini and Rosa Emmanuel. Gutiérrez.

Before beginning “Jurakán,” Gutiérrez and Mazzini asked audience members, “What do you know about Puerto Rico?” With several Puerto Ricans in attendance, results varied but were mostly enthusiastic. “Being from Mexico, I didn’t know anything about Puerto Rico,” until he became involved in the project, Mazzini admitted.

Mazzini’s first trip to the island came when Gutiérrez, a native, invited him after they met during undergraduate school. It was there that the documentary came to fruition. “It’s a very warm country,” he said, referring not to the weather but to the culture. However, he found it peculiar that for such a proud nation, Puerto Rican flags on display were often hung beside American flags.

Mazzini’s observation as an outsider caused Gutiérrez to consider why this was so common, and what it suggested about her role as a Puerto Rican. “It’s that Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony,” she said. “There’s no other way around it. For me, that was the norm.”

She started to think about the ways colonialism had long affected her as a Puerto Rican, sparking the inspiration to create “Jurakán.” The film includes commentary from 41 people — artists, politicians, economists and historians among them — who speak on Puerto Rico’s history as a Spanish colony up until the Spanish-American War, in addition to its current status as a U.S. territory.

Points raised throughout the film largely center on how Puerto Rican lives have been altered to fit a colonialist image over time, stripping people of autonomy in various spaces. Those featured cite the conversion of Catholics to Protestants, being forced to utilize the U.S. Merchant Marine and the past criminalization of the Puerto Rican flag as major examples.

Law 53 of 1948, commonly known as the Gag Law, was an effort by the nation’s legislature to suppress the Puerto Rican independence movement. This law, which lasted until 1957, made it illegal to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, to speak or write of independence, to sing a patriotic tune and to meet with anyone or hold any assembly in favor of Puerto Rican independence.

Discussion takes place in the documentary around significant figures like Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader in the Puerto Rican independence movement, as well as the psychological impact that comes with never experiencing self-governance. One person brings up Stockholm syndrome — a condition that causes hostages to develop psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity — that has developed in some Puerto Ricans, contrasting with the desire for liberation.

The film captures Puerto Rican identity on a wide spectrum, indicating the complexity behind years of oppression. “A common denominator is communities working together to solve their problems,” said Gutiérrez. “Beyond what political stance they choose, I think the most important thing is that communities realize their power.”

“Jurakán” won Best Documentary at the Rincón International Film Festival. There will be a sequel the production, focusing more heavily on the unification and organized efforts of Puerto Ricans against the setbacks that have continuously limited them.

Written by Jordan Corey