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

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

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

 

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/08/2019) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Students present research during the poster session of the 2018 CREATE conference.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern’s Social Work Program is One of Nation’s Most Affordable

Eastern Connecticut State University’s bachelor’s degree in social work was recently named one of the nation’s 101 most affordable social work programs by humanservicesed.org.

Humanservicesed.org, which supports educational programs and careers in a variety of human services fields, developed a list of the most affordable accredited bachelor of social work programs in all 50 states, featuring one public and one private institution per state where both options are available. If there was more than one program in the private or public sector with similar costs, both were included.

The organization determined an average four-year cost of the accredited bachelor of social work programs in each state — one average for programs offered at public schools and a separate average for programs offered at private schools.

“We are honored to be among the 101 most affordable social work programs in the nation,” said Eunice Matthews-Armstead, professor and coordinator of Eastern’s social work program. “Accessibility is an important issue for us as we strive to prepare a diverse population of students to be competent generalist social work practitioners concerned with issues of social justice.  We provide our student with a strong and supportive learning community that successfully graduates 98 percent of the students, of whom 76 percent gain access to some of the top advanced standing Master of Social Work programs.” 

Each school on the list is accredited by a regional or national accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education and the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, only programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation were listed. CSWE accreditation looks at how curriculum is built and kept current; how faculty are evaluated; testing and grading standards; and resources and administrative support systems.

“I am very pleased to see that our social work program, which has a strong academic reputation among our region’s human service agencies, is being recognized as being one of the nation’s most affordable programs,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “At Eastern, we pride ourselves on offering high quality educational experiences while also being accessible to students from all walks of life. The Social Work program exemplifies both those standards.”

In addition to a cost estimate for four years of education at each institution, the profiles found at humanservicesed.org also provide other useful information about the institutions that made the list.

Written by Ed Osborn

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.