Eastern to Participate in Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘One Million Acts of Good’

Eastern Connecticut State University students will assemble 200 boxes of nonperishable food items on March 26 as participants of “One Million Acts of Good,” a program sponsored by Ellen DeGeneres and Cheerios. From 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Student Center Lobby, students will pack boxes of cereal, granola bars and other nutritious snacks that will be delivered to a Willimantic afterschool program the following day.

Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider, is partnering with General Mills, which is donating the food items. Eastern is one of 100 Chartwells higher-education clients nationwide participating in One Million Acts of Good. The lunchbox-sized boxes that students will assemble are provided by MATTER, a global nonprofit dedicated to increasing healthy food access to children.

Eastern’s mascot, Willi the Warrior, will cheer on students as they assemble the boxes – 25 of which will go to Eastern’s on-campus food pantry, Shawn’s Cupboard; the rest going to a local afterschool program affiliated with Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Former State Rep. Evelyn Mantilla Speaks on Being ‘Out’ in Politics

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/13/2019) Evelyn Mantilla, a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, visited Eastern Connecticut State University on March 6 to discuss her experience as the first openly bisexual legislator in the nation. Mantilla is committed to advocating for underrepresented groups and encouraging others to become involved in politics.

Before beginning her career as a state representative, Mantilla experienced setbacks that highlighted the importance of perseverance. During her initial run for office, she was thought to have won by five votes, which called for an automatic recount. She actually lost by 16 votes. “Every vote really does count,” she said.

Moreover, Mantilla was especially inspired to campaign again after being dismissed by another politician, a Puerto Rican man who had ties to law enforcement and used the position to his advantage. Born in Puerto Rico herself, Mantilla felt that she had to intervene. “I didn’t like the way he was representing my community, so I decided to challenge him.”

While Mantilla had more than 100 volunteers on her team, they were threatened and harassed by people working for the opponent. Despite their efforts, she lost a second time. “We celebrated because we were proud of what we did,” she stated. However, the man who beat her was convicted of voter fraud, and Mantilla received a third chance. She petitioned to be on the next ballot, and was finally elected in 1997.

“When I ran, I was not open about my sexuality,” she revealed, though she was in a committed relationship with a woman. “I realized that there was a big part of me that I was not bringing to that new table.” At a LGBT pride event in Hartford, Mantilla made a speech in which she not only declared her bisexuality, but also proposed to her partner in front of everybody. “I proposed marriage, in public, in the shadow of the State Capitol.” Feedback was mainly positive.

Nevertheless, Mantilla and her partner soon considered the safety risks that came with such overt vulnerability. With their lives exposed, they were occasionally nervous to leave the house, but found strength in support from those around them. “There were people in our community who we knew weren’t just going to be accepting, but encouraging.”

Still, as Mantilla had suspected, encouragement was not shown by all. When she strived for re-election, one Pentecostal minister ran a homophobic campaign against her, utilizing derogatory terms on posters and general hate speech to sway voters. Mantilla went about her business, running a “normal, door-to-door campaign,” and proved successful in the face of adversaries. She was re-elected with 88 percent of the vote.

During her role as a legislator, she acted as a resident “social worker” in lower socioeconomic areas, attuned to their most pressing needs and vocalizing them. She was able to work on the issue of same-sex marriage, along with contributing to election reform. “I really wanted to level the playing field,” said Mantilla. She stressed the significance of forcing combatants to collaborate with outcast groups “in all of their identities” and emphasized the effectiveness of connecting on a human level.

“I’ve remained involved professionally and as an activist,” she said of her time spent away from the House of Representatives. Her final term expired in 2007. Urging the audience to run for office, Mantilla pointed out that there is not enough minority representation and, consequently, not enough diverse opinions active in government. She promoted getting involved locally in addition to speaking with somebody like herself on how to approach a campaign. “You simply have to have knowledge of your community.”

Mantilla concluded: “Some of the simplest things carry you through in the end.” She cited familial support and focusing on successes rather than failures as means of pushing through to accomplish goals, particularly in politics. “There is nothing more powerful than bringing yourself to a table you have fought for.”

Written by Jordan Corey

Student-Leader Katelyn Root Selected for Newman Civic Fellowship

Katelyn Root, a third-year student at Eastern Connecticut State University, has been selected for the Newman Civic Fellowship, a program of Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities. The year-long fellowship recognizes and supports high-potential students who have demonstrated a commitment to their community through a record of public service. Fellows are nominated by their university president based on their potential for public leadership.

The 2019-20 class of fellows includes 262 community-committed students from across the country, Mexico and Greece. Root is one of six selections from Connecticut, and the only from the state university system.

Root is a student leader at Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Through her CCE activities, she has played an integral role in developing a volunteer program with the Windham Recovery Community Center, a branch of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). As a regular volunteer, she leads job-readiness trainings and group sessions, and has recruited more than 60 student volunteers over the past two years.

“Katelyn has been a vocal advocate for the recovery community and has created a welcoming and understanding corps of volunteers who support the center’s staff and guests,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “She has worked effectively to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and to support individuals in recovery.”

“Volunteering in the Willimantic community has changed me entirely,” said Root, who hails from Stratford and double majors in elementary education and liberal studies. “Without these experiences I would not be the person I am today. Working at the recovery center has allowed me to impact the lives of many adults facing recovery from drugs, alcohol and other addictions.

“I’ve had an overwhelming number of guests approach me with news of interviews, second interviews and job offers after my sessions. In addition to resume and job-search assistance, I chair recovery meetings and provide telephone support to guests attending other centers.”

Root was named CCAR’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2018 and received the CCE’s “Strengthening Communities” award in 2017.

She will be mentored by CCE Director Kim Silcox through the duration of the fellowship. In addition to exclusive learning opportunities with a national network of similarly engaged student leaders, fellows are invited to attend the Newman Civic Fellows National Convening this November 2019 in Boston.

The Newman Civic Fellowship was created in honor of Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and an advocate for the role of higher education in preparing students for active and engaged citizenship. The fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.

Campus Compact is a coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that are committed to the public purposes of higher education. The Newman Civic Fellowship is meant to nurture the next generation of public leaders through exclusive virtual and in-person learning opportunities.

Written by Michael Rouleau

#BlackOutDay Sparks Conversation on Healthcare Accessibility

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Eastern Connecticut State University hosted a #EasternBlackOut event on March 6 for students to discuss the disadvantages that women of color face in the healthcare system. The event was hosted by student ambassadors from the Intercultural Center (IC) and student leaders from the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC).

#EasternBlackOut events are hosted on the sixth day of every month. Those who attend are encouraged to wear all black to protest racial injustice against people of color.

Rebecca Loh, an IC ambassador and New Media Studies major, gave a presentation about healthcare statistics. According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, women of color are more likely to be uninsured, and doctors treat their symptoms less seriously and frequently misdiagnose their cases.

Eastern philosophy professor Ana Funes-Maderey spoke about accessibility issues in nontraditional forms of medicine. Many people of color, especially those of indigenous descent, seek alternative forms of medicine such as herbs, yoga or natural remedies.

“But even in these spaces there are barriers,” Funes-Maderey said. “When you think of the person who leads a yoga class, who is it usually? A thin, white, able-bodied, cisgender woman. And that fact alone can be very alienating to minority communities; it makes people feel as though the space is not for them.”

Several students discussed the challenges of going to the doctor and feeling alienated or misunderstood. A student shared a story about the difficulties finding a therapist who knew how to properly treat mental illnesses among women of color.

“I had a session with him where I was talking about micro-aggressions and racist experiences I’ve had, and at the end of it he said, ‘Wow, I’ve learned so much from you,’” she said.“And it just made me think: why am I teaching my therapist something? When are you going to help me?”

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Represents at ‘Women in Psychology’ National Conference

Antuanett Ortiz, Professor Jennifer Leszczynski, Joanna Casuccio and Alyssa Sokaitis present at Association for Women in Psychology.

Three psychology students and two professors from Eastern Connecticut State University presented two research posters at the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) national conference from Feb. 28-March 3 in Newport, RI. Students Alyssa Sokaitis ’19, Antuanett Ortiz ’19 and Joanna Casuccio ’19 presented alongside Psychology Professors Jennifer Leszczynski and Alita Cousins.

“Generational differences in feminist self-identification & liberal feminist beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Cousins and Casuccio.The research analyzes how feminist identification, descriptions and attitudes changed between 2011 and 2018. The researchers found that participants were more likely to self-identify as feminists and describe feminists as liberal in 2018; whereas in 2011, participants described feminists as radical. Additionally, participants reported higher beliefs in liberal feminism in 2018 as compared to 2011.

“Feminist identity and liberal feminist attitudes and beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Sokaitis and Oritz. The research analyzes how self-identified feminists differed from those who did not self-identify as feminists. The study found that those who self-identify as feminists were more likely to endorse liberal feminist attitudes and describe feminists as liberal rather than radical.

The AWP convened during the 1969 meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) because the APA was not responding to issues raised by the new women’s liberation movement. Today, they remain one of the leading feminist voices in the field of psychology, working closely with the APA and other organizations.

Written by Raven Dillon

Students Present at Eastern Economics Association Conference

left to right, Brendan Cunningham, Demitra Kourtzidis, Catherine Falvey, Anastasia Shnyakin, Lazizakhon Akbarkhujaeva, John Fiester, Marcus Lim, Al Viglione and Steve Muchiri.

Seven economics majors from Eastern attended the Eastern Economic Association’s 45th Annual Conference in New York City from Feb. 28 to March 2. Club advisors Brendan Cunningham, associate professor of economics, and Steven Muchiri, assistant professor of economics, accompanied the students to New York.

Students included Lazizakhon Akbarkhujaeva’22 of Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Demitra Kourtzidis ’19 of East Hampton; John Fiester ’20, from Monson, MA; Al Viglione ’19 of Clinton; Anastasia Shnyakin ’21, from Bethany; Catherine Falvey ’19 of West Hartford; and Marcus Lim ’19 from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Catherine Falvey presents her research.

The students presented their research, received feedback and commented on the research of peers from other universities. Falvey presented on the topic “If You Believe It You Can Achieve It: An Analysis of Expectations on Educational and Occupational Attainment of American Youth.” She said the conference was a great experience for herself and other members of the Economic Club.

Al Viglione presents his research.

“It is the best environment for learning about the research currently being conducted in the field, and it provided us all with a picture of where we could be in our future,” said Falvey. “As a senior, I was given the opportunity to present my Honors Thesis, and I could appreciate the other research being presented, having gone through the process myself.”

Viglione agreed: “Attending this conference helped me appreciate my current economic understanding and also opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of the field of economics, and how there is an opportunity to learn much more.”

Left to right, Marcus Lim and Al Viglione visit Columbia University to attend a research seminar on Development Economics.

“This conference provided an amazing number of benefits for students,” said Cunningham. “It allowed the students to practice their public speaking and communication skills during a professional conference. Second, they learned about the research of professional economists. This is highly valuable for classwork, and for those students who are continuing with graduate studies. Finally, the students themselves organized the logistics for this trip, and they also attended an economics research seminar at Columbia University.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern to Host Graduate Open House on March 20

The Graduate Division at Eastern Connecticut State University will host an open house on March 20 from 5-7 p.m. in the Johnson Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library. Registrants will browse Eastern’s graduate programs, meet with administrators, faculty and students, and visit Eastern’s campus.

Eastern offers graduate programs in accounting, organizational management and education. Education program options include master’s degrees with certification in teacher education; advanced programs in Educational Technology and Educational Studies; and a new concentration in dual-language learners, which enables certified teachers to apply for cross-endorsement in bilingual education.

The open house will feature information about financial aid and registration for the upcoming summer and fall semesters. Open house participants will have the opportunity to apply admission online while at the event.

Graduate classes are designed with the working adult in mind, and typically meet once per week in the evening. Most programs have online options, with the Educational Technology program available completely online.

Those interested in attending are encouraged to register at https://easternct.elluciancrmrecruit.com/Apply/Events/EventDetails?eventId=bba80ea6-1d89-e811-80d7-0e1c63987dd8. For more information, contact Paula Goyette at (860) 465-5292 or graduateadmission@easternct.edu.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern to Host Community Night with ‘Puentes al Futuro’

Members of the Willimantic community are invited to Eastern Connecticut State University on March 27 for a celebration of Afro-Caribbean music and dance led by local middle schoolers who participate in the “Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future” program. The free event will begin with light refreshments at 5 p.m. in the Fine Arts Instructional Center, with the main event beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall.

Puentes al Futuro is an afterschool program for Windham Middle School students coordinated by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement. The March 27 showcase will include the sounds of Afro-Caribbean jazz by well-known local teacher and musician Arnaldo Rivera and his band Bentetu. Rivera, who teaches percussion in the Puentes al Futuro program, will also perform with his young students who have learned Caribbean percussion rhythms.

The program will also include dancers from Puentes al Futuro. The colorful costumes and the fast-paced African, Salsa and Bomba dances will inspire audiences to get up and dance. The young students will be accompanied by instructors Tayla Bogle and Jackie Varian, Eastern students and Yusomil Bonet, a long-time teacher and choreographer with the Puentes program and Windham Middle School.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Artist Explains ‘Sacred Geometry,’ on Display Until March 7

Reni Gower explains the concepts behind her artwork during her visit to Eastern.

Mixed-media artist Reni Gower recently visited Eastern Connecticut State University to kick off the opening of her exhibition, “Sacred Geometry: The Perfect Proof.” The exhibition is on display in the Art Gallery from Feb. 1 to March 7, located in room 112 in the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

“Sacred Geometry” consists of large singular “papercuts,” which are complex patterns inspired by Celtic knotwork and Islamic ornamental tiles that are hand cut from single sheets of paper. Gower was inspired by sacred geometry, a concept from ancient times that derives meaning from perfect shapes such as circles, squares and triangles. At her lecture, Gower discussed her development as an artist and how her fascination with patterns and geometry has continually inspired her work since she was a student.

Papercuts: Burdock (2018) and Quatrefoil (2018). Acrylic on hand-cut paper

“Geometry exists as an intrinsic belief in the natural world,” said Gower. “Humans love to find patterns in everything, and there are plenty of them in nature. Time, culture and religion come together in this concept of observing and creating perfect geometric shapes.”

Gower’s artistic evolution began with her mixed-media work. She used recycled materials such as canvas, cheesecloth, plastic, aluminum screens or rug-hold, and cut them into strips to be layered onto a frame. After arranging these materials, she then painted her unusual canvas with acrylic in varying designs. This highly-contrasting work led to Gower’s experimentation with acrylic and canvas with more conventional methods, but her interest in mixed-media never wavered.

“I have always been interested in recycled materials being used in art,” Gower said. “A common theme in all of my work is materials adding up to more than the sum of their parts.”

Her interest in geometry led her to explore the ancient art of papercutting. These pieces are painstakingly designed and cut from a single piece of paper. Some of Gower’s works are over six feet in length. The process is laborious but meditative, allowing Gower to reflect on the nature of geometric designs.

“Sacred Geometry: The Perfect Proof” features these intricate works of art and Gower hopes the universal language of sacred geometry will connect Western and Middle Eastern artistic legacies with hope and optimism.

Eastern’s Art Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 1-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu/artgallery or call (860) 465-4659.

Written by Raven Dillon

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