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 Presents Annual Dr. MLK Jr. Awards

Leah Ralls (left), president of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch; Isabel Logan (middle, front), assistant professor of social work; and political science major Morgane Russell ’19 (right) received MLK awards at Eastern’s annual ceremony. Keith Beauchamp (middle, back), a documentary producer, delivered the keynote address.

Political Science major Morgane Russell ’19; Isabel Logan, assistant professor of social work; and Leah Ralls, president of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch, received Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Awards at Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual award reception on Feb. 27.

In her sophomore and junior years, Russell was president of the Black Student Union, a role in which she saw that she needed to gain more knowledge of policies affecting minority populations. As a result, she changed her major from Business Administration to Political Science. Russell is currently the president of the campus NAACP chapter and an intern in the Connecticut General Assembly. As she gains first-hand experience in the legislative process, she is learning more about public policy. She aspires to serve as a legislative representative while gaining insight into issues affecting marginalized communities around her.

“Morgane is a team player who carries out all of her duties professionally and with high quality and distinction,” said Stacey Close, associate vice president of equity and diversity. “She took the lead on organizing numerous major diversity programs within our office and off campus . . . Morgane is the embodiment of a peaceful agape warrior for justice!”

Logan’s passion for issues of social justice and equality began in 1996, when she was a social worker for the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services in the New Haven Superior Court and Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford. In 2001, American University selected her to assist with the development of the cultural competency curricula for drug court professionals.

Logan’s research has led to policy implementation and a continued cultural competence movement within the Connecticut Judicial System. She also assisted the Connecticut Court Support Service Division with the development of its cultural competence curriculum.

“Dr. Logan’s support of restorative justice mirrors the message of Dr. King,” said Eunice Matthews-Armstead, professor of social work and program coordinator of Eastern’s Social Work Program. “She is an organizer, teacher, leader and consummate fighter for justice, freedom and equality.”

Ralls is a social worker for the State of Connecticut, Public Defender Division. She started her career working in a local substance abuse agency helping people deal with homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and other chronic medical conditions. She now works with the same population but in a legal environment, where the consequences are greater for clients because they are facing incarceration.

Ralls has a passion for advocating for those less fortunate in the community. As president of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch, she brings that same compassion and energy in fighting for civil rights. In her remarks, Ralls thanked members of the local NAACP branch for their activism, and said Dr. King had the “tenacity to help those who were voiceless.”

Three years ago, the branch was in reactivation status and needed 50 active members to reestablish operations. Under Rall’s leadership, the branch has grown to more than 120 members. She and branch members have worked hard to start a conversation and increase awareness and appreciation of Black History and civil rights in the local community. “In the past two years, under the leadership of Mrs. Ralls, our NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch has run community conversations on race and addressed individual and institutional examples of racism in our area with a combination of education and legal action,” said Cassandra Martineau, university assistant in Eastern’s Pride Center. “She has worked with community leaders, schools and other institutions to raise awareness of racial disparity, helping ex-inmates find employment, and brought African American History to schools and libraries in the area.”

Keith Beauchamp

Keith Beauchamp, producer of the documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” delivered the keynote address. He is the executive producer and host of Investigation Discovery’s crime reality series, “The Injustice Files” and the producer of the upcoming feature film “Till.”

Till was a 14-year-old African American teenager from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 when he was brutally murdered by two white men for allegedly flirting with one of the men’s wife. The two men were acquitted of the murder, yet the truth behind Till’s death was largely left untold. Based in part on Beauchamp’s powerful film, the U.S. Department of Justice re-opened the 50-year-old murder case on May 10, 2004. While a Mississippi grand jury ultimately decided not to indict other suspects in the case, Beauchamp’s film reestablished Emmett Till’s story as a potent reminder of the need to fight racism and injustice at every turn.

“Racial issues are deeply embedded in the American lifestyle,” said Beauchamp. He called Martin Luther King Jr. a “gentle warrior,” and said Dr. King “left us with a vision of what this country can become. Regardless of our skill set, we are obligated to use it to uphold the legacy of Dr. King.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez opened the ceremonies, noting current racial tensions in the nation and encouraging the audience to “stand tall as Dr. King did, confronting every instance when a person or a group people acts out their prejudice and bigotry.”

“Human beings are inevitably connected, no matter how hard someone may try to separate us. That is why the truth and power found in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can touch each of us and lift our hearts up together. Let us never forget Dr. King’s message – that each person in this world deserves to live in a just, caring society, and that we can never let violence, bigotry, and inhumanity prevail.”

She concluded, “Let me end with this passage from Dr. King: ‘I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.'”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern Helps Hartford Deltas Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Eastern’s delegation (left to right): Dwight Bachman, public relations officer; Kayla Rose Thomas ’19 a communication major from Windsor; Morgan Russell ’19 a political science major from Hartford; Gov. Lamont; Stacey Close, associate vice president for equity and diversity; Katherine Atkinson, administrative assistant to Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Chelsy Popo ’19, a political science major from Manchester; Hanna Antoine ’22, a health sciences major from East Hartford; and Alyssa Lawrence ’22, a sociology major from East Hartford

Several Eastern staff and students attended the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.’s 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast at the Connecticut Convention Center on Jan. 21. Dr. King would have been 90 years old this year. 

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, State Treasurer Shawn Wooden, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, and Johana Hayes, the first African American woman elected to Congress from Connecticut, were among the many dignitaries in attendance.  Lamont promised the packed ballroom that he would create a diverse cabinet and state government that would work to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.

Since 1984, the Deltas have provided scholarships totaling $365,000 to upwards of 150 African American female high school students to support their college education.

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.

Alyssiah Wiley

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.