#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 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 Hosts Book Talk on Forgotten Civil Rights Activist

Connecticut College Professor David Canton discussed his new book on Feb. 20 at Eastern.

Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed Connecticut College Professor David Canton on Feb. 20 to discuss his new book, “Raymond Pace Alexander: A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia.” In this biography, Canton examines a prominent Civil Rights activist and attorney who has been long forgotten by modern historians.

Canton opened the University Hour event by analyzing Northern racial tensions, which are often ignored during discussions of the Civil Rights movement. “When we think of Civil Rights, we think of the South,” Canton said. “We think of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, dogs, buses, water fountains – it’s a very linear progression. There’s no nuance. It’s like a sitcom.”

The Northern Civil Rights movement, Canton argued, is not linear. Northern states such as Pennsylvania adopted Jim Crow laws, instilling a segregated society that relied on rigid social norms to keep the races separate. This, Canton explained, is de facto racism – social customs that aren’t written as law, but nonetheless established a hierarchical racist society.

Canton went on to discuss Alexander, who was a Harvard graduate and a well-known black attorney in Philadelphia. Alexander operated in the de facto racism of Philadelphia and became a major contributor to improving the status of black lawyers. In order to make progress in a world so tightly constrained by segregation, Alexander often changed his political platforms and stances.

In the 1930s, Alexander worked with left-wing organizations to desegregate an all-white elementary school, but after World War II, he became an anti-communist and formed coalitions with like-minded whites. In the 1960s, Alexander criticized Black Power rhetoric, but shared similar philosophies such as black political empowerment and studying black history. By the late sixties, he focused on economic justice by advocating a Marshall Plan for poor Americans and supporting affirmative action.

“Racism is an institutional system,” Canton concluded. “It’s not the actions of some bad folks. It’s systemic, and we need to be systemic about eradicating it from our institutions.”

Written by Raven Dillon

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.

 

Jared Brock Spotlights Life of Abolitionist Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson

Written by Jordan Corey

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, but few know the story of Josiah Henson, the real-life man who inspired much of the striking anti-slave narrative. On Nov. 14, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted Jared Brock, who has memorialized Henson in film and text.

The event included a partial screening of Brock’s documentary “Josiah,” which accompanies his book “The Road to Dawn: Josiah Henson and the Story That Sparked the Civil War.” A Q&A session concluded the event.

“Josiah” details the compelling history of Henson, who was named by Stowe as one of her sources for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” as he overcame the many plights of slavery to gain his freedom. In the documentary, Henson’s autobiography is used in collaboration with commentary from historical professionals and his living relatives to capture his journey.

Early on it is revealed that a young Henson watched his mother get sexually assaulted by their overseer, followed by his father attempting to defend her and being severely punished for hitting a white man — he was whipped a hundred times and his ear was nailed to a tree, only to be cut off. Henson notes that his father drastically changed, which caused him to be sold and sent away. “This is Josiah Henson’s first memory,” says Brock in the film.

As time progressed for Henson, he witnessed countless traumatizing incidents, from the separation of families during slave auctions to the detrimental

Jared Brock

impact of falling ill. When he became sick, he was traded for horseshoes to a man named Isaac Riley, which reunited him with his mother. Eventually, Henson grew strong and worked his way up to overseer.

He also worked as Riley’s “market man,” dealing with business affairs though he could not read or write at the time. He was known for being deeply compassionate and utilized his position to care for the other slaves.  As Riley’s right hand, however, he took much physical abuse, one day being attacked so badly that he was out of work for months and unable to lift his arms above his head again.

Riley sued Henson’s assailants for “destruction of property” and lost the case because Henson was not allowed to testify. When Riley fell into extreme debt, Henson was forced to travel to Kentucky and transfer all the slaves to Riley’s brother, Amos. From then on, Henson regretted not freeing everybody when he had the opportunity as they passed through Cincinnati.

Once Henson’s mother died on Isaac Riley’s farm, everything that connected him to that place was gone. Determined and put together in appearance, he spoke diligently as a preacher as he traveled between the brothers’ farms to earn enough money to buy his freedom. When he finally became only $100 shy of the price set, Amos Riley increased the amount.

After nearly being driven to murder as a means of escaping such bleak conditions, Henson committed to fleeing with his wife and children. He would have rather died as a slave than as a killer. The trip was dangerous, with an underlying risk of being caught at any moment. The family trekked through woods for weeks and received occasional help from strangers, such as a group of Native Americans who had never seen black people before.

Henson found himself working on a boat, where he managed to secure a ride to Buffalo, NY — his passageway to Canada. When the ship captain left Henson and his family, he asked him, “Are you going to be a good man?” to which he replied, “I will use my freedom well.”

He became free on Oct. 28, 1830. During the rest of his lifetime, Henson rescued 118 enslaved people from the United States, won a medal at the first World’s Fair in London, was invited to Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria and helped start a freeman settlement called Dawn, one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad.

Brock explained that he did extensive research on Henson, visiting his cabin and the Riley plantation in Kentucky, which is still owned by the same descendants. He mentioned that the family had not let anyone visit the premises in 30 years. “They gave me two hours, and I used every second of it.”

He called attention to the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Henson, two key Civil War figures who were “intricately connected” without ever having met. He went on to share that in telling Henson’s story, he had two goals. “I want to reintroduce society to Josiah Henson, and I want to have a conversation about the term ‘Uncle Tom.’”

After the wide popularity of Stowe’s novel, the term was adapted in racist fashions on various platforms, as seen by blackface-centric theater productions, for instance. Brock aims to “redeem” the Uncle Tom character and emphasize Stowe’s initial talking point: the stark inhumanity of slavery and those who support it. That said, Brock has largely been driven by Josiah Henson’s mission for good. “I encourage you to remember to use your freedom well,” he concluded.

Jared Brock has appeared on CBS, CBC and the 700 Club, and has published on Huffington Post, Writer’s Digest, Esquire, Relevant Magazine, Smithsonian.com and Today.com. In addition to directing “Josiah,” he is the director of “Over 18” and “Red Light Green Light.”

 

 

 

Eastern Students ‘Take Back the Night’ Against Sexual Assault

Take Back the Night keynote speaker Michael Bidwell of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Eastern Connecticut spoke with students about using their voices to take a stand against sexual assault.

Written by Jolene Potter

Eastern Connecticut State University students, faculty and staff took a stand against sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of interpersonal violence in October with a series of events focused on increasing awareness and response to survivors.

The events were hosted in collaboration with the Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing, Women’s Center and Sexual Assault & Interpersonal Violence Response Team (SAIV-RT), illustrating the collective approach of Eastern in addressing interpersonal violence.

Sexual violence and domestic violence are major public health concerns that plague communities and families across the nation and the globe. The statistics are staggering – every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

On Oct. 23, Eastern hosted 2, 90-minute sessions of Students Fight Back, a program that teaches tools for bystander intervention, awareness, personal safety, intuition and the basics of self-defense. The motto for the program was “The best fight is the one never fought.” Acknowledging survivors attending the program, keynote speaker Nicole Snell said, “We want to help survivors work through their trauma and reclaim their personal power.”

Nicole Snell of Girls Fight Back presented “Students Fight Back,” a gender-neutral class about using you intuition, being an active bystander and consent.

The program also provided an in-depth discussion of consent, including how consent is clear, unambiguous and verbal. “Firstly, silence is not consent,” said Snell. “‘No’ is a complete sentence. Anything said afterwards is a negotiation and there is no negotiation with people who don’t respect our boundaries.” Students gained a clear understanding of consent as ongoing, verbal, coherent and retractable at any time.

Students Fight Back encourages students to define their own personal boundaries and safety. “You are the expert of your own personal safety,” said Snell. “Who better than you to make decisions about your safety?”

On Oct. 29 from 6-8 p.m., Eastern held Take Back the Night, a march, rally and speak-out for survivors and allies of sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence. Take Back the Night is an international event and non-profit organization with the mission of ending sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all forms of sexual violence.  

“Intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking are a huge problem in this country, causing victims, as well as witnesses and bystanders, in every community to suffer incalculable pain and loss,” said Starsheemar Byrum, coordinator of Eastern’s Unity Wing and SAIV-RT. “It is important that we come together and take action on spreading the word and educating each other about these issues.”

The event has grown significantly from prior years, with a line of students outside of the Student Center Theatre wanting to support survivors and share their stories. “It is incredibly moving to see so many people show up to support survivors of violence,” said a student who shared her experience with the crowd. “When survivors speak out, even despite immense fear, they put a face and a story behind issues that are often shrouded in statistics or silenced altogether. It is an extremely courageous thing for anyone to do.” 

Support persons from Eastern’s SAIV-RT, Women’s Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Police Department attended the event to inform students of available resources and stand in solidarity with survivors of trauma.

For the Clothesline Project, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence made t-shirts to show support for those impacted by interpersonal violence.

Eastern also collaborated with multiple local organizations and non-profits to increase the network of support for students. Sexual assault crisis counselors and advocates from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Eastern Connecticut (SACCEC) were also in attendance, including college advocate Allison Occhialini, who offered support to survivors who shared their stories.

SACCEC is a private, non-profit agency offering free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault and abuse through crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling and prevention, and community education.

Representatives from the United Services Domestic Violence Program also attended to offer services and words of encouragement to students who may be struggling with or know someone in a domestic violence situation.

United Services provides the only domestic violence shelters and services in Northeastern Connecticut. They offer a wide array of services designed to respond to the needs of domestic violence victims and their children throughout their journey to become free of abuse.

Although Take Back the Night is usually an annual program held in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Eastern’s community united to offer the event in October as well in commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “We wanted to offer the program again this fall because we all have a role in hearing survivors and ending interpersonal violence on campus,” said Byrum.

As a visual display of survivor support, Eastern also launched the Clothesline Project. Displayed from Oct. 25-31, the project displays shirts with messages and illustrations designed by survivors of sexual assault, dating violence and domestic violence. The purpose of the project is to increase awareness, destabilize stereotypes about “victims,” celebrate survivor strength and to provide another avenue to courageously break the silence that often surrounds these experiences.

Attorney Ruth Santiago Discusses Solutions to Restore Puerto Rico

Written by Jordan Corey

Climate advocate and attorney Ruth Santiago came to Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 24 to discuss the environmental and electricity struggles faced by Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. During her University Hour presentation, Santiago detailed sustainable recovery plans and the issues that surround them.

Santiago began by explaining that various socioeconomic crises existed in Puerto Rico before the category-five hurricane, but became life threatening for many after the fact. A glaring setback is the island’s power grid made up of unreliable electric transmission lines, which, according to Santiago, bring no energy efficiency or storage. She says that nearly 100 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels. Moreover, the territory’s debt crisis has historically prevented necessary improvements to the system, and poorer communities are disproportionately impacted.

With power plants located on the southern coast powering the entirety of Puerto Rico – despite its capital, San Juan, being located in the north – the current system is not only inadequately constructed, but also costs more for consumers. Puerto Ricans pay higher prices for electricity than most people in the United States. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has faced accusations of corruption in management, in addition to being effectively bankrupt.

Santiago called attention to possible solutions for progressing beyond both the detriment of the hurricane and the outdated power grid itself to avoid similar disasters in the future. An advocate for solar power, she works closely with the Coqui Solar project and is part of Queremos Sol (We Want Sun), a group that calls for clean and renewable energy through initiatives. “We’re not just substituting one technology for another, we’re trying to transform the way we relate to energy,” said Santiago, who believes that solar communities offer newfound control over energy use and production. “We think our proposals are much more transformative.”

Santiago emphasized the importance of getting Puerto Ricans engaged and informed on a community level as well. In order to truly progress, it can be argued that citizens need more of a sense of ownership when it comes to how they are being affected by the current power system. Implementing microgrids is another potential means of making energy usage more small-scale, giving electricity users a local source of supply that is usually attached to a centralized national grid but is able to function independently.

“Ultimately our goal is to achieve energy democracy,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of energy literacy work – understanding the different aspects of generation and how we can be more efficient, how we can conserve more, how we can have incentives for daytime use.”

To conclude, Santiago encouraged the audience to contact government representatives and utilize their voices in helping make changes in Puerto Rico. “We need a continuing labor of the Stafford Act” – a U.S. law designed to bring orderly federal assistance to state and local governments after a natural disaster – “so that any federal funds are allowed to be used for transformation of the grid, not just rebuilding the same thing that we have.”

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.

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.