Preserving Indian Culture at Eastern

Matika_WilburWritten by Jordan Corey

According to the National Congress of American Indians, there are 562 federally recognized Indian tribes, bands, nations, pueblos, rancherias, communities and Native villages in the United States. Matika Wilbur – member of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes of Washington – founded her photography mission “Project 562” to give each one of these groups honest representation. On Nov. 1, Wilbur came to Eastern Connecticut State University to tell their stories to help the University celebrate National Native American Heritage Month.

Upon entering the Student Center Theatre, attendees were met with a projected photo of a young Native American girl kneeling next to a tree, depicted in color against a black and white background. The girl is Bahazhoni Tso, a Navajo of New Mexico. She is pictured in front of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ – part of the Navajo people’s four sacred mountains. Tso sat with her family in peaceful protest to protect the mountain range from the city of Flagstaff, which wanted to use reclaimed water to create man-made snow for a ski resort there.

Wilbur began her presentation with a lively energy, a booming laugh and an evident passion for her culture. “I come from the people of the tide,” she explained, incorporating Native language into the opening. During her explanation of the Tulalip Salmon Ceremony, Wilbur introduced the crowd to the word “tigwicid,” a means of expressing thanks. For the past five years, this pride in heritage has guided Wilbur all over America in her RV – nicknamed “Big Girl” – and so far, she has documented about 450 of the 562 federally recognized Indigenous groups.

Project 562 aims to not only replace outdated, stereotyped representations that are found about Indigenous people in online searches, but to provide an accurate visualization of Native Americans overall in order to combat the negative viewpoints upheld by society. Part of what drove Wilbur to this pursuit was her experience as a teacher at Tulalip Heritage High School, where a number of her students died of unnatural causes, such as suicide, drug use and homicide. “I’d have students in class with me, and the next day, we’d be putting them in the ground.”

She knew the Tulalip students struggled with various issues centered on the misrepresentation of Native Americans, but had nothing to show them how to counteract it. Nevertheless, Wilbur felt obligated to do something. Refusing to continue the promotion of historically inaccurate narratives, she created Project 562 to spotlight the successes and depth of Native people. Not only does Wilbur take their photos, but she asks her subjects a series of questions to gain insight on who they are. One person featured during her presentation was John Trudell, a Santee Dakota poet, musician, actor, author and activist.

“The only thing that the American Indian has ever known is struggle,” Trudell told Wilbur when she met him in San Francisco. He discussed the direction he would like to see Native Americans move toward, and his own role in that progression. In addition to Trudell, Wilbur highlighted a Hawaiian language teacher who talked to her about incorporating Indigenous linguistic structures into Standard English to create a sense of community, and a farmer she called “Uncle John,” who discussed the problem of sunscreen-ridden water in regards to growing kalo. Other photographs included college professors, ranchers and artisans.

Wilbur touched on the connection between identity and land for Native people, playing a Project 562 video of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The video depicted peaceful protestors being sprayed with mace and attacked by dogs. “What we saw at Standing Rock,” she stated, “was an incredible violation of human rights without much consequence.”

The photographer argued that the current political climate surrounding Native Americans must be combatted in more ways than one, from creating welcoming spaces in society to further incorporating real representations, like those of Project 562, into educational environments. Wilbur concluded with a story of the Nisqually tribe and the fight to maintain their canoe-centric traditions, victorious in their efforts despite governmental backlash. “There can be great loss, but there can also be great resurrection,” she said.

Eastern Police on Community Relations

Written by Jordan Corey

•Eastern Police Lieutenant Thomas Madera converses with students regarding police brutality and the department's standards for hiring new officers.

• Eastern Police Lieutenant Thomas Madera converses with students regarding police brutality and the department’s standards for hiring new officers.

WILLIMANTIC, CT The contentious discussion of police brutality that has dominated American conversation in recent years has not been overlooked by the police department at Eastern Connecticut State University. Last week, University police officers emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with Eastern students by participating in National Coffee with a Cop Day and Eastern’s monthly Blackout Day. Eastern’s campus police used the two events to continue their open dialog with students regarding law enforcement practices.

•Eastern Police Officer David DeNunzio interacts with members of the Eastern community.

• Eastern Police Officer David DeNunzio interacts with members of the Eastern community.

Originating as part of the 2016 National Community Policing Week, National Coffee with a Cop Day (Oct. 4) has evolved into an international forum giving officers and citizens a chance to interact outside of hostile situations — over a cup of coffee. Eastern’s Coffee with a Cop event took place in the Student Center Café and featured Chief Jeffrey Garewski and Lieutenant Thomas Madera, along with officers Jennifer Murphy, David DeNunzio and Sergeant Steven Schneider. Garewski and Madera began by explaining how much the department values community relations, especially the connection between officers and students. “A lot of the students know us on a first-name basis,” Madera pointed out.

The officers stressed that the goal is not to get students in trouble. They also described the type of person they seek when hiring new officers. One thing they look for is amicability, someone who grasps that they are working on a college campus and not on the streets. Because of this, the department takes its time reviewing applicants and hires new officers carefully. “I would rather go short-staffed than hire someone who won’t work well with this population,” said Garewski.

A group of Eastern students and police officers take a photo for Black Out Day in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

A group of Eastern students and police officers take a photo for Black Out Day in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Garewski and Madera addressed questions regarding the ability of police officers to do their jobs as well. “A misconception, not just here but countrywide, is how we’re trained,” Madera commented. He elaborated by informing students that Connecticut is one of six states accredited by The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). Qualifications needed to be an officer are not taken lightly. It is the only occupation in Connecticut where a polygraph test is mandatory, they also mentioned.

The officers additionally wanted attendees to know that the divide between law enforcement and the public taking place nationally is not lost on them and that they understand people’s hesitation in talking with police at a gathering like Coffee with a Cop. Nonetheless, they hoped to highlight that while bad officers do exist, the media plays a large role in public perceptions and may focus on negative police work more than the positive. “People look at individuals as a group,” Garewski said. He and Madera conveyed that above all else, Eastern police will continue to perform ethically and with the best interests of students in mind.

Later in the week, Eastern’s Blackout Day created another opportunity for discourse between police and students, with Madera and DeNunzio as speakers. The event was organized to jumpstart conversation about police misconduct in a safe, comfortable environment. Statistics were presented concerning the number of people killed by police in 2014, particularly people of color. Students inquired about where the Department of Public Safety lands on the issue of racism affecting police work.

“Everybody shares the same rights,” Madera said, affirming that the University’s officers treat everyone equally. “Those are the types of officers that we hire.” He explained that students are the ones who count more than anything else, reiterating that the department is selective in its hiring process for that reason. Not only do they look for officers who are able to unbiasedly work with a diverse group of students, but the department as a whole follows strict legal policies about racial profiling.

One student brought up the impact of frequently watching videos of police brutality in the news, drawing attention to the emotional toll that comes with it. The officers discussed the news media and its power, arguing that it often focuses on what will sell. “The video you’re seeing is only part of the video,” DeNunzio commented. The two stressed that while there are undoubtedly “bad apples” in law enforcement, as in any profession, it is a necessity to do research in these situations in order to have all the facts.

Madera and DeNunzio provided further insight on how Connecticut law enforcement operates as opposed to other states, touching on its in-depth police training process and the many procedures that must be followed when employed as an officer, from diversity training to practicing lethal force. Though the presence of racial profiling in the overall system is undeniable, the officers acknowledged, and while fixing it is a work in progress, Madera made the department’s stance clear: “I will tell you this: not here. Not at Eastern. That’s one thing I do not tolerate.”  ###

 

Prisca Dorcas is a Woke Brown Girl

                                                                  ‘I am a Mami’s Revolution’

Written by Jordan Corey

Prisca Dorcas

Prisca Dorcas

To be a “woke brown girl” in America is no easy task – just ask Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez, founder of the popular online platform “Latina Rebels.” Widely known as Prisca Dorcas, she is an acclaimed writer and activist from Nicaragua who focuses on the plights experienced by people of color in America. Dorcas visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 4 for a “University Hour” presentation titled “Dear Woke Brown Girl.”

Dorcas is uncompromising in her mission to protect and uphold the stories of her Latino community. With a lighthearted demeanor, she can be sharp with her language; an intentional behavior that stands in contrast to her conservative Pentecostal upbringing.

She shared that it wasn’t until graduate school when she was regularly around white people. Studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, she soon realized that she was not being treated the same as her peers. Dorcas recalled attending a party with a group of friends and one of them saying that they would never fight her, assuming she’d beat them up. “You know nothing about where I come from, yet you have very real assumptions about what this brown body does,” she explained to the Eastern students.

The first piece Dorcas shared, “Politics of Pigmentation,” highlighted this sort of stigmatization, centering on the idea that her “mami” always warned her about getting too much sunlight. “She is not telling me to stay out of the sun for a deep concern for my health,” she read. “My mami does not want me to be too brown.” It took years, Dorcas revealed, to love the color of her skin.

The writer consequently stressed how important it is to bring her mother, a brown woman who has adapted to the very oppressions that Dorcas fights, into the spaces that she has been to. She wants to do what her mother could not, but without alienating herself. She uses her and her grandmother as guides to non-linear logic, discussing societal issues in a story-like manner with no clear beginning or ending. “I am a mami’s revolution.”

Dorcas concluded by reading “Dear Woke Brown Girl.” She described the piece as something she needed to hear during those challenging times in graduate school. “Woke brown girl, do not let them take away your passion,” she spoke, “And boy will they try, without any compassion, to keep you down. But remember that without passion you will extinguish, and if for some reason you do, and you might, there will be other woke brown girls to pick you and light you up again.”

Author Malik Champlain Visits Eastern, Speaks on Racial Injustice

Malik Champlain

Malik Champlain

Written by Jordan Corey

Motivational speaker and author Malik Champlain spoke at Eastern Connecticut State University on Sept. 6 during the school’s “University Hour” series. As part of #EasternBlackout Day, Champlain gave a presentation on how to remain proactive in the face of oppression. Attendees were encouraged to dress in all black as tribute to black and African-American people who have died unjustly at the hands of law enforcement.

Before starting, Champlain projected a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that read “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” which set the tone for the following hour. He began his lecture by thanking those who attended the University’s recent rally in support of DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and introduced himself through poetry.

Students gather for a group photo for "Blackout Day," in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement

Students gather for a group photo for “Blackout Day,” in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement

The topic of racism has long surrounded discussions of American society, becoming especially prevalent in the past few years. Champlain is one of many who feels a personal responsibility to speak, and more importantly, act out against it. He shared with the audience his own experiences, including marching in Washington, D.C. and co-sponsoring nonprofit organizations such as The Black Man Can Institute.

“Now is going to be in the history books,” he said, urging students to play their own part in joining a movement and emphasizing that sometimes it only takes one person to jumpstart something big.

Champlain provided a list of eight ways to get involved with a social justice movement, including educating oneself on a particular movement and using social media as a platform. Coming full-circle in his speech, Champlain concluded with a rhyme: “When I say Black Lives Matter, I look at you,” he said, “When you hear Black Lives Matter, what will you do?”

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Eastern Named a ‘Great College to Work For’ for Eighth Time

Written by Michael Rouleau

2013GCWF_4CsingularWILLIMANTIC, CT (07/17/2017) Eastern Connecticut State University has again been named a “Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities. Released today by The Chronicle, the results are based on a survey of 232 colleges and universities. This is the eighth time Eastern has received “Great Colleges” distinction since it first began participating in the program in 2009.

Only 79 of the institutions that applied for the program achieved “Great College to Work For” recognition this year. Eastern was also named to the national Great Colleges “Honor Roll,” one of only 42 institutions named to this exclusive club. This is the third year in a row that Eastern has been named to the honor roll. Eastern was also the only public four-year university or college in New England to gain “Great Colleges” distinction.

The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For survey is the largest and most comprehensive workplace study in higher education. Now in its 10th year, it recognizes the colleges that get top ratings from their employees on workforce practices and policies.

The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators, and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution received recognition was employee feedback.

Eastern won honors in six survey categories this year: Collaborative Governance; Compensation and Benefits; Facilities, Workspaces, and Security; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Teaching Environment; and Tenure Clarity and Process.

“It is gratifying to know that our employees continue to value the positive working atmosphere we share on our campus,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ recognition is not only a symbol of the common purpose found among our faculty and staff, it represents the welcoming and supportive environment that our students experience every day.

“To know that Eastern has consistently received this honor – winning ‘Great Colleges’ recognition in each of the eight years we have participated – is an indication that our commitment to campus unity is an enduring value firmly embedded in our culture.”

“Ten years in, the ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ distinction is well-known by academic jobseekers as a sign that an institution’s employees are valued and given opportunities for growth even when they face financial constraints,” said Liz McMillen, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Any college or university that’s on the list is showing that they emphasize one of their most valuable assets: their faculty and staff.”

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide. “It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner of ModernThink LLC. “Those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

###

About Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 23 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 64 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 26th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2017 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.

About The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education is dedicated to serving the higher-education community with insights, understanding, and intellectual engagement. Academic leaders and professionals from around the world trust The Chronicle’s analysis and in-depth exploration to make informed decisions.

About ModernThink LLC

As a research and consulting leader in workplace issues, ModernThink has supported a wide variety of “Best Place to Work” initiatives. Through these programs, the firm has gained substantial survey and industry expertise, including specific insight into higher education. ModernThink knows what it takes to build a great place to work and shares that know-how with its clients. The ModernThink team of organizational development experts is dedicated to helping colleges follow through and capitalize on feedback from employees and benchmark data from peers to drive meaningful change at their institutions. Learn more at http://www.modernthink.com.

View Online: http://easternct.meritpages.com/news/eastern-named-a–great-college-to-work-for–for-eighth-time/691

Former Washington Post Publisher Addresses Eastern Graduates

Written by Ed Osborn

                                                     Eastern Graduates 1,238 at XL Center

David Graham

David Graham

Hartford, CT — Former Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham told the graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 127th Commencement exercises to “treasure this college. Eastern has given you a wonderful education . . . once you are making a living, give something back so that you can help Eastern continue to be great in the future.”

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 17, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,180 undergraduates and 58 graduate students received their diplomas.

Graham also told the graduates, “Throughout our history, American leaders have stood up in times of peril — during the American Revolution, during the Civil War, confronting Hitler, standing up to Communism, and advancing civil and women’s rights.  At some time in your life, you will be asked to stand up for what is right, and I know you will answer the call.” Noting that the American political system has worked very well for more than 200 years, Graham said, “Future politicians will say, ‘I will fight for you.’  That’s fine. But ask them, ‘What will you do when you are done fighting?’”

Commencement 2017 Crowd_7167The commencement speaker also received an honorary degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings Co., formerly the Washington Post Co. A graduate of Harvard College, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving as an information specialist with the First Cavalry Division from 1967-68.  He later served as a patrolman on the Washington, D.C., police force before joining the staff at the Washington Post in 1971 as a reporter.  Graham assumed the position of publisher of the Washington Post in 1979, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katherine Graham, who led the newspaper following her husband Philip Graham’s passing in 1963. In 1991, Donald Graham took over leadership as chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co.

Commencement 2017 Nunez and BabyIn 2013, Graham and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett, joined Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Henry R. Munoz III, chairman of Munoz & Company, to co-found TheDream.US, a national scholarship fund that helps undocumented immigrant youth get access to a college education. Since its founding, TheDream.US has raised $91 million in scholarship funds, providing financial support to 1,700 college students nationwide. Graham also co-founded and served as chairman of the District of Columbia College Access Program; he remains a member of the board.  The program has helped double the number of District of Columbia public high school students going on to college and has helped triple the number graduating from college.

Commencement 2017 Nunez Shakes HandOther speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Matt Fleury, chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University System; and Senior Class President Abigail Caselli, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Ellen Lang ’81, president of the ECSU Alumni Association; Father Larry LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Commencement 2017 BEST BalloonNunez told the graduates she was confident they would impact the world in three ways,  first as professionals in the workforce, equipped with “. . . a highly desired set of skills” sought by the majority of American employers — “analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills, the broad intellectual and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.” Nunez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, quoting Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, who once said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Waving BESTLastly, Nunez encouraged the Eastern seniors to “. . . exercise your duties and rights as American citizens. Our nation remains a beacon of freedom and a guiding light for other nations to follow, not because of our military might or our economic power, but because of the political, religious and personal freedoms we enjoy.”

Commencement 2017 Four LadiesNoting those freedoms must be protected, Eastern’s president went on to say, “Being a citizen of this great nation is clearly an investment of time, but it is the only way we can protect the freedoms we hold dear. Never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else.  Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

Commencement 2017 FamiliesMore 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.

Commencement 2017 Student PresidentSenior Class President Abigail Caselli presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2017 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. “To a room filled with the next great doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, genetic counselors, presidents of universities, human resource managers and professors, just to name a few of the success stories to be written about my fellow graduates, I encourage you to use the opportunities that Eastern has given you and make the world around you better.  As someone once said, ‘Service is the highest form of leadership.’ May each of you find and share that leadership within you.”

Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Today is a significant milestone for you,” he said. “We are proud of your accomplishments and applaud the many sacrifices you have made to get here. Your journey to this point was not easy, but for that reason, it is so much more satisfying. Whatever path you have chosen, you can make a difference.”Commencement 2017 SelfiesMark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, also spoke to the graduates. “You have come a very long way since the first day you arrived at Eastern,” said Ojakian. “Life will take you in many different directions after you leave here tonight. The road in front of you is undefined. But I am hopeful that our state and our nation will be in a better place — as you become your future.”Commencement 2017 Christina

Commencement 2017 Foot GuardFrom the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, 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, this year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions.

Commencemetn 2017 SingersUniversity Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Abigail Perreira and Kristin Uschkureit sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Leigha Grushkin gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Peter Drzewiecki was recognized as the 2017 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Eastern Presents Inclusive Excellence Awards to ALANA Students

Written by Dwight Bachman

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

 Eastern Connecticut State University recognized the academic achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students on May 5 during its Fifth Annual Inclusive Excellence Awards ceremony. Nine awards were given and 165 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.5 or higher.

Eastern presented Melat Assefa and Christina Perez the Advisor’s Choice Award; Deja Seawright the Inspirational Leadership Award; and Chisolm Sunny Uduputa the International Student Award. The Resilient Warrior Award to AnnRichelle Akko, Daniel Costillo, Adrian Lopez Diaz and Yineira Lopez. Taylor Hemphill was named recipient of the Social Justice Advocacy Award, and the Volunteer Service Award went to Destiny Hartmann.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez told those in attendance that the awards ceremony was not just about inclusion. “It also speaks to Eastern’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, Social Responsibility, Engagement, and Empowerment. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  We are very proud of you! We are doing everything we can to promote the success of students of color. We know that having an inclusive, diverse, and culturally rich campus is good for all our students — in the end, we all must learn to live together in today’s global society.”

Natasha Stephens

Natasha Stephens

Alumna Natasha Stephens, who graduated from Eastern in 2003 and is the Title IX Coordinator at Wichita State University in Kansas, delivered the keynote address. She told the honorees she was honored to come back to campus. “While you have breath in your body, thank those who helped you, took time to meet with you, who gave you an opportunity and took a chance on you.  Never forget your roots and where you came from — no matter how high you go in life, give back of your time to someone else.”

She concluded by telling students that they can always change their plans. “Don’t limit yourself or your abilities — challenge yourself to new things. Believe in yourself, and give someone the wings to fly.”

Eastern Presents Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards

Written by Dwight Bachman

Left to right, Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent

Left to right, Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2017) Willimantic, CT- Sierra Colon, a political science major from Wethersfield, CT, and president of the Organization of Latin American Students at Eastern Connecticut State University; Carlos Hernandez, a member of the maintenance staff at Eastern; and Gloria Bent, past president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, have been named recipients of Eastern’s 2017 Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Award.

The awards, presented on April 19 in the Student Center Theatre, recognize individuals who best exemplify the teachings of Chavez, the late labor leader and human rights activist who advocated for fairness, equity and justice for farm workers. The awards also recognize individuals who have performed extraordinary service in support of the Latin-American community by either developing or contributing to programs or activities that focus on positive development of minority youth and/or foster minority educational opportunities and advancement.

“I think Cesar Chavez would look at our three award recipients and see three people who focus their time on

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

meeting the needs of others,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Sierra Colon, Carlos Hernandez and Gloria Bent have demonstrated exemplary leadership in service to the Latin American community, the Eastern campus and the community-at-large. They remind us of our own responsibility to serve others, so that everyone may share in the American Dream.”

In addition to serving as president of OLAS, Colon ’17 has been a resident assistant and has also served as a student orientation counselor, peer mentor and tutor for elementary students in Willimantic. This past summer, she was awarded the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship from the U.S. State Department, which allowed her to complete a two-month internship in Cape Town, South Africa, where she worked on agriculture reform and social justice issues. Colon has also secured an internship with the Department of Environmental and Energy Projection. She has advocated for affordable tuition at meetings hosted by state representatives. Graduating with honors, Colon plans to attend graduate school, focusing on higher education and policy reform.

Hernandez came to Eastern 31 years ago, while working part time at the post office. Over the years, he has supervised numerous students while serving as a mover, carpenter, painter and landscaper.

In Willimantic, Hernandez has visited halfway homes operated by Windham Area Interfaith Ministry) to donate clothes and talk with people transitioning from prison. He and his wife have served as foster parents for neglected children, and have adopted and raised five children.

Gloria Bent is a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Northeastern Connecticut, and the immediate past president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. She has been active in the league for 11 years, encouraging citizen participation in all levels of government through education and advocacy.

A resident of Mansfield for more than 40 years, Bent has served for four years on Mansfield Advocates for Children and two years on Mansfield’s Advisory Committee on the Needs of Persons with Disabilities. She earned a diploma in nursing from Saint Joseph Infirmary School of Nursing in Atlanta, GA, and a bachelor of arts from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, where she majored in religious studies and minored in women’s studies.

Eastern Unity Wing Organizes Social Justice Week

Actors from GTC Dramatic Dialogues perform in “Strange Like Me,” a series of skits about gender, race and LGBTQ issues. The skits kicked off Social Justice Week festivities.

Actors from GTC Dramatic Dialogues perform in “Strange Like Me,” a series of skits about gender, race and LGBTQ issues. The skits kicked off Social Justice Week festivities.

Written by Jolene Potter

Willimantic, Conn. – Leaders and student ambassadors of the Intercultural Center, Pride Center and Women’s Center at Eastern Connecticut State University organized a series of events for Social Justice Week from March 6-10 to raise awareness and educate students about social issues that impact Eastern’s campus and society as a whole. Social Justice Week programs allowed students, faculty, and staff to embrace and learn about relevant themes such as diversity, inclusion, integrity and community responsibility.

Award-winning poet and political activist Denise Frohman discussed with students her journey of self-exploration and self-identity through the power of poetry in an event title “Poetry Knows Me.”

Award-winning poet and political activist Denise Frohman discussed with students her journey of self-exploration and self-identity in an event titled “Poetry Knows Me.”

“The ultimate goal of Social Justice Week is for students to understand and challenge their own role when social injustices occur, placing an emphasis on how the Eastern community can support marginalized groups that are present on campus,” said Unity Wing Coordinator Starsheemar Bryum. The Unity Wing is composed of the Intercultural Center, Women’s Center and Pride Center. “The Unity Wing embraces all identities and uses intersectionality as a tool for cooperative effort that promotes social togetherness while creating an environment of social responsibility.”

On March 7 students attended “Reel Talk,” an event sponsored by the Women’s Center. The event involved the viewing of the documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.” The documentary tells stories of the personal struggles that women have faced over time and their connection to broader social constructs and concepts such as race, class and sexuality, with the goal to inspire men and women to advocate for gender equality and human rights.

At a poetry slam in the Student Center Café, students volunteered to perform their work, then shared a photo op with Denise Frohman.

At a poetry slam in the Student Center Café, students volunteered to perform their work, then shared a photo op with Denise Frohman.

Social Justice Week continued with a two-part poetry event on March 8 during a University Hour, professional poet Denise Frohman discussed the process of finding herself through the power of poetry. Frohman uses her poetry as a platform for identity expression and explores issues of race, sexuality and social change. “Poetry is a powerful tool to address social issues and create change,” said Frohman. “Poetry is about discovery and learning. Poetry keeps me honest and accountable and I like to believe that I try to do that in my personal life as well.”

Frohman also addressed how she has used poetry to express her experience as a woman of color. “I left high school with the perception that Latino and Latina writers didn’t write anything special because I didn’t see myself reflected in poetry and literature that I learned throughout my public education,” said Frohman. “Poetry has helped me explore my identity and raise my political and social consciousness.”

The second part of the poetry event included a performance of poems by Frohman as well as an opportunity for student poets to share their work at an open night. The poetry slam was centered on the themes of identity expression and social justice.

 Art Munin, dean of students at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, gave a talk titled “Color by Number” that delved into the facets of institutional racism.

Art Munin, dean of students at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, gave a talk titled “Color by Number” that delved into the facets of institutional racism.

Social Justice Week also provided students with the opportunity to participate in a self-defense program. The event, titled “Impact Personal Safety,” taught students tools and skills to defend themselves against verbal, physical and sexual violence. The 20-minute session focused on teaching students interpersonal skills and strategies to prevent assault and showing them how to recognize and confront oppression.

A conversation of bystander intervention followed the personal safety training. “Students Fight Back: Your Response Matters” focused on learning to trust your intuition when it comes to personal safety.

Social Justice Week provided a new and unique approach to discussing and advocating for gender, racial and LGBT equality, providing students with an inclusive environment to learn about what they can do to encourage social change and explore their own identities.