Eastern to Hold 3 Native American Heritage Month Events

Written by Jolene Potter

Eastern Connecticut State University will host three events in commemoration of Native American Heritage Month in late October and November. The events will feature prominent figures and guest speakers from the local Native American community, as well as demonstrations of music, jewelry making and natural medicines. All events are free and open to the public.

On Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. in the Student Center’s Betty Tipton Room, internationally acclaimed author and activist Winona LaDuke of the Anishinaabe Tribe will lead a talk titled “A Native Perspective: Sustaining Our Land, Recovering the Sacred.” Her talk will explore how indigenous understandings of land, religion and sacredness influence strategies for a sustainable environment. 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.

On Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre, Chief Marilynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe will present “A Talk with First Nation, First Modern Female Chief.” Appointed in 2010, Malerba is the 18th chief of the Mohegan Tribe and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history.

On Nov. 13 from 11-1 p.m. in the Student Center Lobby, Eastern will celebrate the diverse cultures and traditions with a “Native American Heritage Day of Events.” Starting at 11 a.m., there will be an opportunity to participate in demonstrations of natural medicines (led by Mohegan tribal member Charlie Strickland) and jewelry design (led by Natasha Gambrell of the Eastern Pequot Tribe). At 12 p.m., there will an interactive program featuring a variety of Native music led by Chris Newell, a singer and senior educator of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum.

These events are 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. The mission of Native American Heritage Month is 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 conquer these challenges. All events are free and open to the public.

Conference Lends ‘Parrot’s-Eye View’ into Latin America and Caribbean

Three Eastern students present “Media Narratives and their Impact on the Immigrant Rights Movement.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

On the 526-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, on Oct. 12, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its third Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) Conference. The symposium featured research presentations and panel discussions by Eastern faculty and students, as well as a keynote presentation by visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College.

“The date of this conference is significant,” said Anthropology Professor Ricardo Pérez, conference co-organizer. “It’s on this day in 1492 that Columbus spotted an island in the Caribbean and ‘discovered the New World,’ an event that resulted in a number of circumstances still felt today.”

The LACS Conference explored some of those circumstances, from the maroon communities of descendants of African slaves in Brazil, to the media portrayals of undocumented youth in the U.S., to the perils of Puerto Rican parrots after Hurricane Maria – and colonialism.

Anthropology Professor Mary Kenny opened the first panel with a discussion of her new book, “Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity of Brazilian Quilombos.” Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country, and was the last to abolish slavery (1888). Presently there are more than 4,000 estimated maroon communities (known as Quilombos) in Brazil, many of which are in remote locations disconnected from mainstream society.

English Professor Miriam Chirico presents “John Leguizamo’s Comic Frame and Search for Identity.”

Among the problems facing the Quilombos is their status. Without federal recognition – or land acquisition rights – they are seen as squatters and sometimes forcibly moved to make way for development. According to Kenny, less than 10 percent of the Quilombos have federal status, yet some have existed for hundreds of years.

The third panel opened with English Professor Miriam Chirico’s research “John Leguizamo’s Comic Frame and Search for Identity.” Her research explores the tendency for Latino men to be typecast as gangsters and drug dealers in movies and television, which only reinforces negative stereotypes. “It’s hard to underestimate the effect this has on the public mind,” said Chirico.

A longtime actor-activist from Colombia, Leguizamo has made a career in white-dominated Hollywood by playing to the stereotypes of Latin American men, while also attempting to retain his ethnic identity.

Social Work Professor Isabelle Logan closed panel three with her presentation “Microaggressions and Bilingual Latino Professionals in the Court System.” Prior to coming to Eastern, Logan worked in the court system for 20 years. “When I started I was the only bilingual social worker in the public defender’s office,” she said. “I soon realized I was being asked to fulfill certain tasks that my colleagues were not.”

Social Work Professor Isabelle Logan presented “Microaggressions and Bilingual Latino Professionals in the Court System.”

Many of these tasks included serving as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking clients, however this added workload resulted in her being unable to complete her other work. When she asked for support, her plight was dismissed with statements such as, “Isn’t this the reason you were hired?”

Microagressions are subtle forms of discrimination. Logan’s research shows that they affect bilingual professionals in the hiring process and work environment, as well as their work performance and professional development.

Panel four consisted of students Vania Galicia (English), Monica Torrijos Ronquillo (psychology and criminology) and Juan Matiz (computer science) who spoke on the experience of undocumented students in a presentation titled “Media Narratives and their Impact on the Immigrant Rights Movement.”

Though it has never been passed, the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 as a way to grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. In an effort to protect these youth from deportation, the Obama Administration passed DACA in 2012 — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“Growing up, we began to realize the effects of our undocumented status, particularly the lack of economic mobility and access to higher education,” said Matiz. Galicia agreed: “When I was a kid, I wondered if I’d ever be able to go to college, or if I could even get a job.”

The students’ presentation focused on the media’s role in crafting the DREAMer narrative – “DREAMer” is a term used to describe undocumented youth with high hopes in America. The students explained that this narrative is an example of “American exceptionalism,” as DREAMers are often depicted as highly educated young people with impressive career trajectories – an idealized notion of the “right immigrant.”

Student Monica Torrijos Ronquillo discusses the media’s portrayal of the immigrant-rights movement.

“If you’re undocumented, you’re either perfect (a DREAMer) or a criminal,” said Torrijos Ronquillo. “You can’t be anywhere in the middle. You can’t just be normal.” The students indicated that this societal pressure, coupled with their uncertain futures, breeds anxiety and depression.

The conference closed with visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College, who presented “The Great Silence: A Parrot’s Eye View of the Forests of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.”

“Imagine a Caribbean region with thousands of parrots flying overhead. Columbus described such a flock darkening the sky. This display is unimaginable today,” said Paravisini-Gebert, explaining that there has been a steady decline in parrot populations due to human and environmental events.

Visiting professor Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College presents her research about the perils of Puerto Rican parrots after Hurricane Maria.

Many endemic species of parrot and macaw have gone extinct throughout the Caribbean due to habitat destruction/deforestation and hunting.

“If you’ve been around a long time, you become picky,” said Paravisini-Gebert. “This is true of the parrots, who commanded the forest a long time. They need certain habitats to be just so.”

Parrots have been slow to adapt to the changes brought after colonization. With diminished habitats from human development, parrot populations have declined to the point where, now, a direct hit on their range – such as by a hurricane – could bring a localized population to extinction.

To boost populations, some parrots in Puerto Rico are bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild in the island’s more remote regions. The problem with this has to do with loss of language. Parrots have complex vocalizations that differ among species and regions.

“Those from captivity don’t speak Puerto Rican parrot,” joked Paravisini-Gebert, “like their wild counterparts in other parts of the island.”

The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Conference also featured presentations by Sociology Professor Dennis Canterburgy, who recently authored “Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development”; Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s presentation “From McKeesport to Mexico City: How American Suburbs Fought the Cold War”; and History Professor Joan Meznar’s presentation “Saving Brazil from Communism: Our Lady Aparecida and the Military Regime, 1964-85.”

 

Eastern to Host Third Latin American and Caribbean Conference

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/03/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its third Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) Conference on Oct. 12 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre. The conference is free and open to the public. Registration will occur at 8:30 a.m.

The conference will consist of four panels discussing a variety of topics, from military regimes during the Cold War to modern day media portrayals of immigration. The event will culminate with a keynote presentation by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert of Vassar College, who will speak on the recovery of the forests of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“The LACS Conference provides an opportunity for Eastern faculty to share their research on themes related to Latin America, the Caribbean and the experience of Hispanics in the United States,” said Anthropology Professor Ricardo Pérez, conference co-organizer and coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.

The first panel includes book talks by Eastern Professors Mary Kenny (anthropology) and Dennis Canterbury (sociology), who recently authored books on Brazilian Quilombos (Afro-Brazilian settlements) and “Neoextractivism,” respectively. The second panel, starting at 10 a.m., is titled “Cold War Politics: Latin America and Beyond” and feature presentations by professors Patrick Vitale (geography) and Joan Meznar (history).

The third panel, starting at 11 a.m., is titled “The Comical and the Serious: On Latino Identities in the United States” and features presentations by professors Miriam Chirico (English) and Isabel Logan (social work). The fourth panel, starting at 12 p.m., features Eastern students in a presentation titled “The DREAMER’s Dream: Media Narratives and their Impact on the Immigrant Rights Movement.”

The keynote presentation by visiting professor Paravisini-Gebert will begin at 1 p.m. Each panel will conclude with a Q&A session where the conference’s many scholars and presenters may be addressed.

“The LACS Conference supports the curriculum of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies minor,” said Pérez. “It expands the scope of the lessons that faculty cover in the classroom and sheds light on important developments occurring in the Latin American and the Caribbean region.”

For further information, contact conference organizers Christine Garcia at garciachris@easternct.edu or Ricardo Pérez at perezr@easternct.edu.

 

English Students Study in Italy

Eastern’s Creative Writing Abroad group at Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence.

Written by Dwight Bachman

A group of Eastern students, under the guidance of Professor Christopher Torockio, recently traveled to Italy to participate in the Creative Writing Abroad course. The students spent five weeks, from June 25 to July 31, writing fiction stories inspired by their travels and experiences at the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence.

A quick break from one of our class workshops, which were held in the beautiful garden of Studio Art College-Florence’s main building, Palazzo dei Cartelloni, a Renaissance-era palazzo that was remodeled in the 17th Century as a residence for the mathematician Vincenzo Viviani, who had been a pupil of the astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei.

 Michael Merrow, a junior majoring in Communications, was one of the students who used Italy’s Tuscan views, scenery, art and architecture to inspire their writing. “The creative writing study aborad course is an amazing way to gain cultural perspective,” said Merrow. “The art and lifestyle of Florecne provided great inspiration. This was truly a life changing experience.”

Colleen Deely, a junior majoring in Psychology, agreed: “Since taking this creative writing course, I’ve explored not only a new and beautiful place, but a different, more creative side of myself. Through my classmate’s inspiring stories and breathtaking surroundings, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and greater knowledge for Italian culture. This trip has really encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and travel more!”

The group took intensive, creative writing workshops in the lovely Renaissance-era palazzo garden at SACI, where they also critiqued and edited each other’s original works of short fiction.

Somewhere in Tuscany.

“Florence is a great location for creative writers, as it’s not only a beautiful, historic and artistically rich city,” said Torockio. “Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and is also centrally located in Italy, allowing the students to take lots of day trips almost anywhere throughout Italy.”

Abby Murren, a junior majoring in English, said the course was the one of the best adventures she will ever take: “As an English major with a concentration in creative writing, this course gave me the perfect opportunity to improve my writing while experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The amount of inspiration I had from experiencing Florence’s people, culture, and history only strengthened my love for writing, and I’m beyond grateful to have had that opportunity.”


Hiking-from-Vernazza-to-Monterosso

Guided by SACI art historians, the students also visited Italian destinations ranging from Fiesole to Siena, Venice, San

Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa the Amalfi Coast and the Colosseum in Rome. Trips to other European destinations included Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam and more, where the students visited museums, galleries and other cultural landmarks.

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College 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.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

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 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.

 

“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.

 

“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

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

‘Thread City’ Dazzles Audiences with Unique Tale of Immigration

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

The ever-relevant topic of immigration was on dramatic display from Oct. 11-15 when Eastern Connecticut State University premiered “Thread City,” a unique performance that “told” stories of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. The dialogue-free play blended choreographed movement, visual projections and folky-electronic soundscapes to convey a heartfelt and historically representative tale of immigration in America.

In their 19th- and 20th-century heyday, Willimantic’s thread mills were among the largest producers of textiles in the world. They were major employers in northeastern Connecticut, drawing workers from New England and beyond. Willimantic became a hotbed of immigration. According to U.S. Census data, 29 percent of Windham residents were foreign born in 1910, with people from 26 different nations living in town.

“Thread City” opens with a stage that represents many different countries and eras. Multiple scenes that happen simultaneously fade in and out of action as a spotlight moves about the stage. As the setting shifts to a turbulent transcontinental boat ride, the performance space eventually comes to represent Willimantic exclusively – including its homes and the hazardous work environment of the mills.

Due to the multicultural theme of “Thread City,” it was important to the creators to devise a play that would transcend language. Using “moment work” – a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored – actors conveyed the stories of immigrants without the use of words.

Several years of research and preparation went into “Thread City,” which involved visiting historical sites, researching testimonies of past residents and interviewing current Willimantic residents. Theatre Professors Kristen Morgan and Alycia Bright-Holland, co-creators of the production, traveled to Quebec and Puerto Rico – the origins of two of the largest ethnic groups to migrate to Willimantic – and led a class trip Ellis Island in New York City.

“Wandering through the beautifully curated exhibits at the Ellis Island museum inspired our students to create all sorts of new ‘moments’ when we returned to campus,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, who led moment-work workshops and co-taught two upper-level theatre courses to prepare for “Thread City.”

Intimate scenes of the immigrant experience – from leaving heartbroken family members, to being inspected by immigration officers who bark orders in an unfamiliar tongue, to being reunited with family in their new home – were conveyed with precise gestures and emotion-filled facial expressions.

“The method of storytelling in ‘Thread City’ was an attempt at universal communication,” said student Matt Bessette ’19, the play’s dramaturge. “Its characters were direct portrayals of historical individuals of various backgrounds and time periods. The overall spectacle demonstrates the thematic elements of individuality and unity – the idea of being alone and yet, at the same time, together.”

 

While “Thread City” would not fall under the genre of “musical,” rhythm and soundscapes play a star role in advancing the story. “This project drove me to immerse myself in the folk music of the major immigrant groups of Willimantic,” said composer Travis Houldcroft, media specialist at Eastern. “I strove to develop music that fit the show but was also exemplary of my own style.”

Houldcroft’s compositions, which he performed live, were played on banjo and guitar, as well as a laptop, which he used to loop sounds and manipulate effects. “This allowed me to integrate elements of string instrumentation as well as experimental electronic effects into the score. This aesthetics bleeds into the design of the soundscape.”

Adding to the overall musicality of “Thread City,” the cast of more than 20 characters – who seem to share the stage for the bulk of the show – added to the soundscapes with rhythmic knee slaps, toe taps and choreographed, dance-like movement.

To make “Thread City” a reality, Morgan and Bright-Holland partnered with members of the Eastern campus, as well as residents of several local communities. Among them, representatives of the Windham Textile and History Museum helped describe what life was like for mill workers more than a century ago. Several staff and faculty from Eastern gave insights into their own immigrant experiences, connected the production team with valuable community members, and shared knowledge of various historic migrations.

Beyond entertainment and message, “Thread City” perhaps had a nobler cause: to further unite the local community. “With the privilege of having a beautiful building dedicated to the arts,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, in reference to Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center, “comes the responsibility of serving the community with that space.

“We discussed the idea of a performance created specifically for Willimantic – not something simply ‘for’ the community, but something that would engage residents so that they might see themselves truly reflected and represented on stage.

“Today more than ever, we need that physical and emotional connection to one another,” they concluded. “Theatre has the power to transform, to heal, to activate and ultimately to create social and political change.”