Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges 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.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

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 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing 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 reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

Lavender Graduation Honors LGBTQ Seniors

The fourth annual Lavender Graduation was held on May 9 to recognize seniors who exemplify the values of Eastern Connecticut State University and support the campus’s LGBTQ+ community. Emma Costa, Shannon Carroll, Rebecca Cyr, Angelique Greenberg, Priscilla Leon, Rebecca Loh, Paige Matheson, Bria Nicole Prentice and Zac Troiano were all recognized. In addition, Cyr received the LGBTQ+ Campus Community Award, while Prentice received the Academic Excellence Award.Julia Golden-Battle, assistant dean of student affairs at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, was the keynote speaker. Golden-Battle was the first queer person of color to create a national Trans and Queer Person of Color safe training program.

Eastern’s Pride Center — expanded in 2016 — continues to provide leadership in advancing awareness sand support of LGBTQ+ issues on campus. In addition to seeing an increase in Pride Center visitors, the center sponsored a range of programs this past year, including participation in National Coming Out Day, International Pronouns Day, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Events specific to Eastern included a World Aids Day lecture, a Transgender Day of Visibility panel discussion attended by CSCU President Mark Ojakian, and Rainbow Connections, an open mike night that takes place three times each semester.

The Lavender Graduation was instituted by Ronni Sanlo in 1995 and is now celebrated by more than 100 colleges and universities across the country.

Eastern Honors Three Leaders in Memory of Cesar Chavez

(left to right) Keynote speaker Angy Rivera; Emillio Estrella ’17, accepting the Cesar Chavez Award for Yanil Teron; Jessenia Montanez, accepting the Cesar Chavez Award for her mother Indira Petoskey; awardee Italo Bucca ’19; and Eastern President Elsa Nunez. 

Sociology major Italo Bucca ’19 of Hartford, Indira Petoskey, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning; and Yanil Terón, executive director of the Center For Latino Progress (CPRF), were honored at Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony on April 24. Angy Rivera, co-executive director of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, delivered the keynote address.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez welcomed a packed house in the Paul E. Johnson Community Room in the J. Eugene Smith Library and highlighted Chavez’s role on the long road to freedom and justice. She said Chavez believed in service, non-violent resistance to oppression and a commitment to improving the lives of the disenfranchised in this country. “Today’s award recipients are truly living the values and principles of Cesar Chavez,” said Núñez. “Because of their will and resolve, Italo, Indira and Yunil remind us of our responsibility to serve others, so that everyone may share in the American Dream.”

Bucca won in the student category. He was accepted into Eastern’s STEP/CAP Program after attending the Classical Magnet School in Hartford, where he played soccer and basketball, and where he first demonstrated his passion for helping others. At Eastern, Bucca has worked the Center for Community Engagement, the Windham Middle School after school program and the Big Brother, Big Sister program, as well as in the Study Abroad office. He has participated in several campus clubs and organizations designed to motivate young people and regularly tells students to “Always be yourself. Never follow the crowd. And remember where you came from!”

A native of St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands, Petoskey won in the faculty/staff category. For the past 22 years, she has served in a variety of capacities at different institutions, including as an adjunct professor, student development specialist, dean of distance learning, computer lab director, coordinator of the Intercultural Center and vice president of student affairs and institutional research/development. In addition to her duties at Eastern, Petoskey has served as an adjunct faculty member at Hartford-based Capital Community College and at Wilson University in Elk Grove, CA, and as a member of the board of directors for the Urshan Graduate School of Theology and Urshan College in St. Louis, MO.

Since 2007, Terón has served as executive director of the Center for Latino Progress-CPRF, the only Latino workforce development organization in Connecticut. A native of Puerto Rico now living in Windsor, Terón has expanded the center’s workforce programs, comprehensive support services and civic and leadership educational activities. She has also increased the center’s visibility by establishing agency relationships with local, statewide and national organizations. She serves as Northeast Council representative to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the regional voice of organizations serving Latinos from Pennsylvania to Maine.

Keynote speaker Rivera said when she joined the Immigrants Rights Movement she learned that immigrant justice is more than just going to college and getting a degree. “I still felt voiceless when we started pushing for the Federal Dream Act. Being voiceless is the worst feeling ever. Organizing allowed me to take back my voice. My hope for all of us is that no matter where we are in our lives, that we work towards justice because every action we take has an impact. My hope is that we keep making space for those who are left out. We are all here because someone made space for us.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

State Trans* Leaders Speaks to Transgender Rights at Eastern

Left to right, Cassandra Martineau, university assistant in Eastern’s Pride Center; IV Staklo, hotline program director at Trans Lifeline; Ace Ricker, transgender advocate; Diana Lombardi, executive director of Connecticut Transadvocacy Coaltion; Eastern President Elsa Núñez; and CSCU President Ojakian.

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) President Mark Ojakian visited Eastern Connecticut State University on April 10 to support the transgender community and recognize three statewide leaders of the trans* community who participated in the panel discussion “Building Resiliency in a Time of Backlash.”

Panelists included Diana Lombardi, executive director of the Connecticut Transadvocacy Coalition; IV Staklo, hotline program director at Trans Lifeline and an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition in Connecticut; and Ace Ricker, a transgender advocate since the age of 15. Cassandra Martineau, university assistant in Eastern’s Pride Center, moderated the panel discussion.

“While the past few years have seen incredible gains in rights and visibility for the trans* community, this visibility has come with a certain degree of backlash against these advances,” said Lombardi. Lombardi volunteers at the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, and has worked for years advocating for the transgender population in Connecticut, especially the homeless trans* community in Hartford.

As a Ruska Roma trans person born in the USSR, Staklo relayed how they provide education on Soviet history and speak frequently about LGBTQ experiences in Eastern Europe. They have provided support to trans people across the United States and Canada and advocated for LGBTQ empowerment, intersex rights work and organizing against police violence and U.S. imperialism.

            Ricker said he has been working with many organizations fighting for equality. He has provided testimony for house bills such as HB 6599 (An Act Concerning Discrimination) and HB 7006 (An Act Concerning Birth Certificate Amendments). He also has spoken at numerous forums at Yale Divinity, Rutgers, UConn, among others, spreading awareness and education about the LGBT community.

            Ojakian said he attended the panel discussion “to support the LGBT community, especially the Trans community.” He pointed to the current attempt by some in our nation to roll back the rights and protections that have been legislated over the years in CT and elsewhere.

Written by Dwight Bachman

‘Jurakán’ Documentary Explores Puerto Rican Identity

Labeled an “unincorporated territory,” the island of Puerto Rico has been under United States control since 1898. On April 3, filmmakers Rosa Emmanuel Gutiérrez and Gonzalo Mazzini visited Eastern Connecticut State University to screen their documentary “Jurakán: Nación en Resistencia,” which addresses Puerto Rican identity amid the constant question of ownership.

“Jurakán” filmmakers Gonzalo Mazzini and Rosa Emmanuel. Gutiérrez.

Before beginning “Jurakán,” Gutiérrez and Mazzini asked audience members, “What do you know about Puerto Rico?” With several Puerto Ricans in attendance, results varied but were mostly enthusiastic. “Being from Mexico, I didn’t know anything about Puerto Rico,” until he became involved in the project, Mazzini admitted.

Mazzini’s first trip to the island came when Gutiérrez, a native, invited him after they met during undergraduate school. It was there that the documentary came to fruition. “It’s a very warm country,” he said, referring not to the weather but to the culture. However, he found it peculiar that for such a proud nation, Puerto Rican flags on display were often hung beside American flags.

Mazzini’s observation as an outsider caused Gutiérrez to consider why this was so common, and what it suggested about her role as a Puerto Rican. “It’s that Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony,” she said. “There’s no other way around it. For me, that was the norm.”

She started to think about the ways colonialism had long affected her as a Puerto Rican, sparking the inspiration to create “Jurakán.” The film includes commentary from 41 people — artists, politicians, economists and historians among them — who speak on Puerto Rico’s history as a Spanish colony up until the Spanish-American War, in addition to its current status as a U.S. territory.

Points raised throughout the film largely center on how Puerto Rican lives have been altered to fit a colonialist image over time, stripping people of autonomy in various spaces. Those featured cite the conversion of Catholics to Protestants, being forced to utilize the U.S. Merchant Marine and the past criminalization of the Puerto Rican flag as major examples.

Law 53 of 1948, commonly known as the Gag Law, was an effort by the nation’s legislature to suppress the Puerto Rican independence movement. This law, which lasted until 1957, made it illegal to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, to speak or write of independence, to sing a patriotic tune and to meet with anyone or hold any assembly in favor of Puerto Rican independence.

Discussion takes place in the documentary around significant figures like Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader in the Puerto Rican independence movement, as well as the psychological impact that comes with never experiencing self-governance. One person brings up Stockholm syndrome — a condition that causes hostages to develop psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity — that has developed in some Puerto Ricans, contrasting with the desire for liberation.

The film captures Puerto Rican identity on a wide spectrum, indicating the complexity behind years of oppression. “A common denominator is communities working together to solve their problems,” said Gutiérrez. “Beyond what political stance they choose, I think the most important thing is that communities realize their power.”

“Jurakán” won Best Documentary at the Rincón International Film Festival. There will be a sequel the production, focusing more heavily on the unification and organized efforts of Puerto Ricans against the setbacks that have continuously limited them.

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Recognizes Ella Grasso Award Winners 2019

Left to right, community activist Anne Ash; Shawn Ray Dousis ’19; State Sen. Mae Flexer; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and President Elsa Núñez

Shawn Ray Dousis ’19 of East Lyme, president of the Foundation for Campus Ministry at Eastern Connecticut State University; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and community activist Anne Ash, were named recipients of Eastern’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 27. The event took place in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

Dousis won the student award category. She will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a second major in Liberal Studies. At Eastern, she has served as a manager for Eastern’s men’s ice hockey team and as public relations officer of People Helping People. She currently serves as president of The Foundation for Campus Ministry. In 2017, Dousis established, planned, coordinated and facilitated “Shawn’s Cupboard,” Eastern’s Food Pantry.  The cupboard now serves many students, and has recently introduced a “Swipe It Forward” program that works through Chartwells, Eastern’s food service.  

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this award and want to thank everyone involved for considering me,” said Dousis. “Our efforts with Shawn’s Cupboard have made food insecurity at Eastern less of a problem today than it was yesterday.”

Dunn won the faculty award. She has overseen the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, along with several grant initiatives to assist students from marginalized communities in achieving their educational aspirations.  Prior to Eastern, she was the women studies conference and special events coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University. She also previously served as assistant to the director for the University of Connecticut’s Upward Bound Program, as well as Program Coordinator for Girls, Inc., in Stamford.

Dunn had an Ella T. Grasso story to tell. Her fifth-grade class at Hindley Elementary School suggested the sperm whale be made the state’s official animal. Hundreds of other schools and organizations across the state supported her, and Grasso signed the sperm whale bill in May 1975. Dunn eventually met the governor: “She was so authentic, down-to-earth and kind. This memory is why this award has additional special meaning and great honor to me.”

Rash, who won the community award, grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when girls playing basketball were limited to two bounces and could only play on half the court. Those challenges inspired Rash to become an educator, which provided a backdrop for working to make a difference in the lives of women and girls, locally and internationally. Her hands-on volunteer efforts include mentoring women in the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) Learning Partners Program; helping with fundraising efforts for Ecole Agape, the only free school for girls in Haiti; promoting the programs for women and girls as part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut (CFECT) Windham Women and Girls Fund; and encouraging literacy with Altrusa of Northeast Connecticut projects.

“It takes a village, so this award is shared with the people in this room,” said Rash. “My fellow awardees, my friends from Altrusa, the Windham Women and Girls Group, Ecole Agape School for Girls in  Haiti and the Community  Foundation, we all work together to make the world more equitable. We know that basketball has progressed, but there are still women who only have access to half court. We need to continue to work for full court access for all women!”

State Sen. Mae Flexer

In her welcoming remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez cited statistics showing women still earn “only $.81 for every dollar men make. Minority women make far less.” She engaged the audience in a series of cheers of “We Have Room to Grow!,” reminding those in attendance of “the special skills women possess.”

State Sen. Mae Flexer delivered the keynote address. Flexer said Grasso embodied what it means to live a life of commitment and service to others and to advocate for a more just and equal world. “Her dedication towards an issue like the underrepresentation of females in government – at a time when that issue was considered to be unimportant – is incredibly inspiring and meaningful, especially, as I stand here before you as a female elected official. She left an indelible mark on the state of Connecticut, but it also makes us think about our own legacy. In a hectic, ever-changing world, what are we doing to make our communities and our society just a bit better? I encourage everybody in this room to find what lights a spark within you and to pursue it. It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

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

#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