Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Eastern Honors 3 Advocates at Cesar Chavez Awards

Stefan Keller, Maribel Sanchez and Freddy Cruz

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony occured on April 18. Those honored at the event were student Freddy Cruz ’18, Eastern academic advisor Maribel Sanchez and Stefan Keller of CT Students for a Dream. The keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González.

Chavez was a prominent Latino-American civil rights activist, and his effective tactics made the struggles of farm workers the center of national attention. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers union, in 1962, and his public relations approach to unionism has left a long-lasting impact on the Latin-American community.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez gave a welcome address that called attention to Chavez’s impressive legacy, and connected his role to those having a similar influence on today’s society. As a Hispanic woman, Núñez was well aware of the activist’s influence at an early age. She highlighted three of his values that are upheld at Eastern: advocacy for education, commitment to service, and preservation of culture.

While the fight for Latino rights is far from over, especially equal access to academic opportunities, Núñez pointed out that it is because of people like Cruz, Sanchez and Keller that there is hope for progress. “I think Mr. Chavez would look at the three recipients today and smile,” she said.

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in campus community, Cruz is the president of the Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students – as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

Sanchez, who works in Eastern’s Academic Services Center, received the faculty/staff award. She serves as an advisor to Eastern’s Dreamer students. Sanchez noted the power of the mentors she has encountered in her own life and said Chavez himself was a universal inspiration. “I can only hope to be half the person these people are to me and my students,” she said.

Keller, recipient of the community member award, graduated with his master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut in 2015, and works for CT Students for a Dream. An ally of undocumented students (Dreamers), Keller believes in working with students and educators to create open spaces for Dreamers on college campuses. “Part of that work is educating others,” said Keller. “All of us need to move to a place where we see that our world is not going to be what we want it to be without justice for all.”

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in Eastern’s community, Cruz is the president of the

Jose B. Gonzalez

Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students- as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González, who was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and immigrated to New London at age eight. Gonzalez has authored numerous publications and received accolades including the New England Association of Teachers of English Teacher-Poet-of-the-Year award. He spoke on the importance of honoring service work, as the Cesar Chavez awards aim to do.

 

Eastern to hold Annual Cesar Chavez Awards

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony on April 18 at 3 p.m. in the Johnson Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

This year’s three award recipients will be student Freddy Cruz of East Hartford, a senior who is the president of Eastern’s Organization for Latin American Students; staff member Maribel Sanchez, a student development specialist with the Advising Center; and Stefan Keller, a college access program manager with CT Students for a Dream.

These awards recognize members of the campus and local community whose actions promote advocacy and service to the Latino community while working toward the ideals and legacy of Cesar Chavez. Members of the public are invited to attend.

 

Eastern Names Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awardees

Left to right, Bill Stover, Mariana Serrano and William Lugo, winners of Eastern’s 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award

Written by Dwight Bachman

Willimantic, CT — Mariana Serrano, a senior majoring in health sciences with a minor in anthropology; William Lugo, professor of sociology; and Bill Stover, director of family and community partnerships in Windham Public Schools, have been named recipients of Eastern Connecticut State University’s 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Awards. The awards were presented on Feb. 28 in the Paul E. Johnson Community Conference Room of Eastern’s J. Eugene Smith Library.

            Serrano is a student ambassador in Eastern’s Intercultural Center. One of her favorite quotes by Dr. King is “Life’s persistent and the urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” 

She mentors minority students in high school and college, implementing leadership, cultural awareness and inclusive programming. After completing her undergraduate degree, Serrano plans to attend medical school and wants her legacy to be one of educating and inspiring people within marginalized communities on the importance of social justice.

            Lugo, who works with local community groups to advance public policy, has served as director of the Windham Community Task Force to Prevent Underage Drinking, and on the executive board of the Northeast Communities against Substance Abuse from 2006-10. He serves as an advocate for Eastern’s Opportunity Scholars and other undocumented students, and is one of the advisors for the new Freedom at Eastern Club, which supports undocumented and DACA students. Lugo is also an elected member of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education.

As a bilingual educator, Stover has made a significant impact on youth and families in the Windham community. He has drawn together community nonprofits, universities, municipal leaders, parents, teachers and school administrators to address the significant academic achievement gap in Windham Public Schools. Stover has been a catalyst for parent and community member training for many years, to develop confidence and skill among Windham’s low-income and minority populations

Bishop John Selders Jr., pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford and associate college chaplain at Trinity College, delivered the keynote address. “While Dr. King is certainly among the greatest of orators this nation has gifted to the world,” said Selders, “the more evolved, more mature Dr. King gets far too little attention. Dr. King also said America was a very sick society, where people of color with skills and character could not get jobs.

“The challenge I leave with you today is this; What will each of you do for the cause of justice today? What will your life be about? Will it all be about ‘The Benjamins’ (money), or will your life be about something rooted deeper than money? Will you ask, like Dr. King, what can I do to better my community and the world?”

‘We’re a Mighty Force’: J Mase III Talks on Life as a Gay, Trans Person of Color

Written by Jordan Corey

As the first “University Hour” lecturer of the spring semester, Seattle-based poet J Mase III discussed his experience as a black, gay and transgender man during his talk at Eastern Connecticut State University on Jan. 31. Using a powerful combination of poetry and dialog, Mase called attention to setbacks faced daily by minority groups.

He has worked as an educator with thousands of members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community across the United States, England and Canada, in addition to founding “awQward,” the first talent agency for transgender and queer people of color. His career as a poet, he revealed, began because he was fired from his job — an event that inspired the haiku he opened his presentation with.

After reading a poem titled “Neighbor,” Mase, who grew up in a Christian-Muslim household, touched on what it was like coming out to his family. “I got two very different reactions,” he explained. While his Muslim relatives were considerably understanding, the Christian side practiced “passive faith” and was less than supportive at times.

Mase took such pushback and incorporated it into his writing, with thoughtful poems like “Josephine.” He emphasized the transformative, somewhat healing power behind feeling anger and being able to vocalize it. “If anything, this is free therapy for me,” he joked, before drawing attention to the symbolic “Ambiguous Power Guy.”

Mase asked attendees to articulate qualities somebody in a position of power typically has. Answers included able-bodied, neurotypical, white, straight, upper-class — the list goes on. He used this as an opportunity to address societal power disparities, specifically wealth distribution, pointing out that discrimination “looks a very particular type of way even if we don’t always identify it as that.”

Mase also shared a collection of quotes from people he has encountered in the career world. One was from when he worked at an LGBT youth organization, the only transgender person and one of few black people there. In the process of determining whether or not to hire a new applicant, who was also transgender, Mase recalled, his boss questioned him, “But are they ‘angry’ trans?”

Mase acknowledged that speaking out often comes with repercussions — losing his standing in the community, being seen as a “difficult” employee, getting looked over for future promotional opportunities. Another quote came after Mase approached an employer about his unequal position among his white coworkers, as he was actively aware of his disadvantages. “But if you get promoted, my title won’t mean much,” he was told in response, indicating the perception that supporting minority individuals comes with a cost.

Not only did the interaction bring up questions surrounding accessibility, but showcased the hidden hypocrisy behind some organizations. Not all that claim to be intersectional actually are, and subsequently contribute to the structure they are supposedly against. Part of the reason for this, Mase noted, is the lack of representation in power positions.

To stand in solidarity, he argued, we sometimes have to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to promote equality — to think critically of our own positionality. “There are living standards that are very different for trans people of color,” Mase said on the issue. Life expectancy of transgender women of color, for example, is only 35 years.

In his creative professional life, Mase has experienced pushback from schools and traditional workspaces, often getting treated like a token guest instead of a valuable asset. “People were treating me as a flavor of the month.” However, he highlighted that through his choices, he has gained a sense of voice and agency that not many in the community are afforded, and that being forced into the background of a mainstream company run by a mainstream group of people is like “disappearing into someone else’s dreams.”

Concluding with poems such as “Gender Buddy” and “#AllyFail,” which make humorous yet honest commentary that reflects his strong character, Mase encouraged the audience to continue to speak passionately in favor of social justice. “We’re a mighty force,” he stated confidently.

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Open ‘Minded’ House: Eastern’s Unity Wing Welcomes All Students

Staff members of the Unity Wing pose for a group photo in the Pride Center.

Written by Jordan Corey

Despite the pressure that comes with the start of classes, there are always systems on Eastern Connecticut State University’s campus to support its students. To ring in the new semester and encourage student engagement, Eastern’s Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing held an activity-packed open house on Jan 24.

Consisting of the Pride Center, Women’s Center and Intercultural Center, the Unity Wing creates a safe place for all students, something that was evident through the positivity-centric stations at the open house. Julissa Pabon, Intercultural Center graduate assistant, recognized the importance of dealing with academic stress as she sat at their “coloring relaxation” table. “You can grab a couple of pages and take it on the go, or you can sit and relax and color and talk about anything you want to,” Pabon explained. “And we’re going to give out tips on ways that we think you can best stay organized for the semester.”

Pride Center coordinator Nicole Potestivo leads a group of students through the “eye see you” activity, in which students write down a problem they feel goes unseen and then post it to the wall for all to consider.

Similarly leaning toward an artistic side, the Women’s Center allowed open house attendees to make decorative sand jars complete with written, positive affirmations about themselves — a way, graduate assistant Courtney Mayberry noted, to combat some of society’s negative energy. The crafts are meant to be kept as motivating reminders. “We just want to throw a little positivity into the air and have our students remember the things that they like about themselves, and continue to look at them as things to get them through the year,” Mayberry said.

Using notes to foster a connection with students, Pride Center graduate assistant Marcus Morales described the “Eye See You” project constructed for the open house. This allowed people to freely write down any problems that they feel go unseen, granting them recognition and promoting openness. “Different things — from identity issues, to health issues — there’s no real structure to what the issue has to be, but it does look at how we raise awareness for things that people go through that we don’t normally talk about in popular media or discussions,” Morales stated.

The open house, set up “passport style” ensured that students visited all three centers, with their passport stamped at each station before getting to refreshments at the end.

Intersex Activist Speaks at Eastern

Sean_Saifa_Wall Written by Jordan Corey

Approximately one out of every 1,500 to 2,000 people in the United States are born intersex, according to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA). Despite the presence of intersexuality in our country, the topic remains surrounded by misconceptions that activist Sean Saifa Wall is on a mission to combat. He was a guest speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 15.

Intersexuality is a condition in which individuals have both male and female gonadal tissue (ovary or testis), or have the gonads of one sex and the external genitalia of the other sex. A prominent voice for intersex rights, Wall has partial androgen insensitivity syndrome (PAIS), a form of intersexuality. The ISNA reports that 1 in 20,000 intersex people are born with AIS.

From the start of his presentation, Wall exhibited confidence and an easygoing sense of humor, which served him well in addressing serious concepts. He informed the audience that advocating for intersex people is his life’s work, particularly regarding societal pressure to make them fit in and the execution of invasive surgeries to do so.

“As a gender non-conforming intersex person, I’m a threat,” Wall said. “This body was never meant to exist.” Nonetheless, the activist emphasized the prevalence of the intersex population, comparing the chance of knowing someone who is intersex to knowing someone with red hair.

Born in the Bronx in the late ’70s with a father who drank, abused drugs and cheated on his wife, Wall said, doctors assigned him a gender regardless of his intersexuality – girl. “I came into the world healthy and strong, but the doctors were confused,” he stated. Given the first name of “Susanne,” Wall grew up with undescended testes and ambiguous genitalia that his mother nicknamed his “torpedo.”

With the loss of his father to prison, and eventually death from AIDS, Wall’s mother was his primary caretaker. She reinforced his then-female gender identity with dresses and dolls, but he always felt more like a boy. For Wall, puberty included the expected development of breasts, but also incorporated certain male characteristics like substantial body hair growth. Then, something alarming happened: he began experiencing severe groin pain.

When Wall and his mother arrived at a New York City hospital, she was scolded by a doctor, who argued that she had waited too long to confront Wall’s undescended testes. From there, they met two doctors who changed Wall’s life forever: Dr. Terry Hensle and Dr. Anke Ehrhardt. The doctors decided he needed a gonadectomy, telling his mother that her then-daughter’s “gonads” were to be taken out – a medical procedure that effectively removed Wall’s testes.

The doctors then scheduled a “vaginoplasty” and told him they were going to “create a cavity inside of him.” Wall was repulsed. Aware of his concern, his mother asked if the surgery was something he wanted. Wall said no.

It was not until age 25 that he began his medical transition from female to male with shots of testosterone. At first, constant misgendering by others took a toll on Wall, at times hindering his functioning for an entire day. This is when he connected with “Jim,” the first openly intersex person he had ever met.

Since then, Wall has become dedicated to being open and active in his advocacy. As the former president of interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth, he is well-versed in public speaking as well as utilizing visual arts as a platform. Wall uses his past as a means for fighting against surgeries performed on intersex individuals who do not explicitly consent. He campaigns for the preservation of the community’s well-being and right to be left alone by society. “I share my story because people are starting to listen,” he said. “I have the story of so many people.”

As part of his efforts, Wall will soon release a documentary titled “Letters to an Unborn Son,” which centers on him responding to 30 letters his father wrote from prison. To conclude his lecture, he encouraged attendees to join the movement towards intersex liberation by speaking out on social media, integrating Twitter hashtags like “#IntersexStories” and “EndIntersexSurgery” to raise awareness. “We can’t do this alone. We need your help.”

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.”  ###