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.

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.