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

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

‘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

#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.