BOR President Speaks to the Eastern Community

(From The Campus Lantern – December 10th, 2015)

On Wednesday, December 2, the newly elected President of the Board of Regents (BOR), Mark Ojakian, met with twenty Eastern students to discuss the future of the 17 Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), focusing on Eastern. Dr. Elsa Nunez introduced Mr. Ojakian, “[We are] lucky to have him as the new president of the BOR,” and noted her relief with his stability in the position.

Before delving into any questions, Mr. Ojakian introduced himself to the students in attendance. He previously served as Governor Malloy’s Chief of Staff and worked in the realm of public service and politics for almost two decades. He urged the importance of a liberal arts education, noting that he himself has a Bachelor’s degree in History from Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. With a sincere smile, Mr. Ojakian stated, “The best part of my day is when I meet with students.”

Among one of the most talked about issues at the meeting was the apparent lack of counseling and psychological resources on Eastern’s campus. This semester, representatives from Student Government have been in conversation with students, administrators, and the Counseling and Psychological Services Center (CAPS) staff to discuss possibilities for the future of CAPS. He noted on the importance of counseling, especially for college students, but specified that there is currently no additional money in the system for the resources.

In fact, in response to most of the student’s concerns, Mr. Ojakian reminded the students about the lack of funding that all of the State Universities and Colleges received this year. He proposed to come up with a long-term strategy that would bring additional dollars to the university, possibly talking to politicians about investing more in higher education. He also suggested his interest in reaching out to private businesses to build partnerships with the CSCU system. Mr. Ojakian also hopes to create a system-wide approach that makes it easier for students to advocate on behalf on institutions, specifically to their legislatures, an initiative that the new legislative director will assist him in.

When asked what kind of initiatives he has planned to benefit the students, Mr. Ojakian admitted that he does not have any definite plans yet since he has only been the BOR President for two months. However, he did mention the importance of access and affordability, support for nontraditional and undocumented students, and eliminating barriers to success.

“We all need to take a deep breath and start over with a new leader and with the presidents of the universities,” he stated.

There are speculations floating around as to the specificity of the BOR’s current contract negotiations with the faculty and staff unions. Mr. Ojakian stated that he is “not in favor of moving programs from one institution to another” and that he is “not looking to eliminate faculty, to eliminate tenure, or to eliminate professional development.”

When asked specific questions, however, his ambiguity was made apparent. One student directly asked, “Are teachers going to be moved from campus to campus without their consent?” Mr. Ojakian responded, “I don’t negotiate in public; that’s my rule.” He noted how important it is to talk about having flexibility and moving resources.

After his hour-long meeting with Eastern students, Mr. Ojakian moved from the small meeting room in the Student Center to the Betty Tipton Room, which was filled with over 150 members of Eastern’s faculty and staff who were waiting for the question and answer session with the President. When introducing himself to this crowd, he focused on his experience and professionalism in working in the government. Mr. Ojakian made it clear that he has connections with folks in the labor committee and the general assembly.

Mr. Ojakian admitted that union contract negotiations “got off to a bumpy start” due to the transition in leadership and people feeling a lack of respect from previous leaders in the system. He noted that he values staff and faculty greatly, and stated that he wants to have a fair contract. He declared, “Proposals are meant to start a discussion, not to be an end all be all.”

The previous BOR president, Dr. Gregory Gray, resigned last December after his leadership received votes of no confidence from the four Connecticut State Universities. There is a historical tension between the CSU faculty and staff and the BOR, and Mr. Ojakian hopes to “talk to each other, not at each other, and move forward to create the best educational opportunities that we can.”

C.O.P.S. Open Rec Night

(From The Campus Lantern – November 19th, 2015)

The 20th annual C.O.P.S. Open Rec Night is scheduled for Friday, December 4th this year. The event, which is held from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., will take place at the Sports Center. It serves as a fun alternative event instead of students going to parties or drinking off campus. There are giveaways every hour that include LCD televisions, iPads, iPods, and game systems. At the event, there is also music, sports, massages, games, and food such as burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches.

One of the main purposes of the event, other than to serve as a form of entertainment for the Eastern community that doesn’t include drugs or alcohol, is to collect non-perishable food items to be donated to local food pantries. Last year, over 750 students attended C.O.P.S. Open Rec Night, and the police department is projecting an even larger turn out this year since it is their 20th year hosting the event.

One of the main organizers of the event, Sgt. Steve Schneider, says, “Another purpose of the event is for officers and students to interact outside of our usual confines. Usually no one likes to see a cop because the only times you do is when you’ve done something wrong or something bad has happened to you. This night gives us a chance to be seen as people too. I have found it helps our relationships throughout the year.”

Sgt. Schneider also notes that the event brings together many communities on campus. Public Safety could never put on an event of this size by themselves. He says, “It takes the combined effort of the Student Government Association, Student Affairs, Student Activities, Housing, and Facilities along with the Police Department to pull this night off. We have a lot of officers give a significant amount of their time to this event and it’s a fun night for everyone involved.”

“I enjoy organizing this event for the students and it’s amazing how big it’s gotten in the last twenty years. Last year we had over 750 students swipe into the event. They ate their way through ten six foot subs, 150 pizzas and 500 burgers. So this year we’re getting more,” he continues, “There are a ton of businesses in the area involved as well, through either food donations or gift certificates as prizes. It’s really become a community event, not just an Eastern one. Because we hand out extra raffle tickets through student donations of canned goods, we collected over 2,500 cans of food last year that went right back into the community with the help of the Center for Community Engagement. It’s a great event and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

ECSU-AAUP Update

(From The Campus Lantern – November 12th, 2015)

On Thursday, October 29, the Eastern Connecticut State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECSU-AAUP) held a tabling event in the Student Center Lobby. At the event, students and passersby could sign a petition to show their support for the ECSU-AAUP in their battle against the Board of Regent’s recent budget proposals.

One of the faculty members spearheading the union’s efforts is Theresa Bouley of the Education Department. She explains, “All the CSUs wear red on Thursdays to show solidarity because that is the union color.”

Bouley continues, :The budget cuts are an attack on education and faculty. The proposed changes could set national precedent for universities and K-12 teachers across the country.”

Students have shown their support for the faculty by getting involved in organizing. Rachel Borden, Alexis Apel, and Leah Slawinowski are just three of the students who are involved on Eastern’s campus.

Borden says, “I came to Eastern for the smaller class sizes, the dedicated full-time professors, and the potential for research assistantships. If the proposal passes, Eastern would not be the same that it is today.”

To get involved in the ECSU-AAUP and to learn more about the BOR’s proposed budget, like the page “Eastern Students Stand With ECSU-AAUP” on Facebook, email Theresa Bouley at bouleyt@easternct.edu, or visit http://www.csuaaup.org.

Speak Up, Speak Out on Immigrant Rights

(From The Campus Lantern – November 12th, 2015)

On Thursday, November 5th at 3pm, a speak out to honor the spirit and resiliency of the immigrant community was held in the Student Center Lobby. The event, which was called Speak Up, Speak Out on Immigrant Rights, was organized by Eastern senior and Women’s Center Student Ambassador Erika Sanchez as well as sophomore Amber Domond.

Sanchez introduced the first speaker of the event, Dr. Elsa Nunez. In her speech, she reflected upon her family;s experience coming to the United States from Puerto Rico. Dr. Nunez also highlighted the importance of deferred action for the childhood arrival program, urging that all students deserve merit scholarships.

Throughout the rest of the speak out, representatives from organizations such as Connecticut Students For a Dream (C4D), the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, and United Action Connecticut shared their unique and moving stories.

Intersectionality is an important aspect of any social movement, including immigrant rights. At the event, Varun Khattar from the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project spoke about the erasure of queer and trans individuals in the immigrant rights movement. In a call to action, Khattar asked the crowd to not focus their activist efforts only on gifted and privileged communities, but to also remember the homeless, HIV positive youth, sex workers, and addicts.

Another speaker, Ainslya Charlton, who is part of C4D, spoke on the intersections between gender, race, and immigration status. She talked about her experiences as a woman of color from Jamaica, and how she worked to earn the top GPA in her high school. Still, when she was applying for college she was not eligible for scholarships. Despite financial and institutional setbacks, Charlton is currently a Posse Scholar at Trinity College in Hartford.

Another one of the students from C4D started off her speech confidently: “I am undocumented and I am unashamed.” She spoke about her experiences as the only undocumented Latina in her predominately white high school. She also lamented on her experiences in how vulnerable undocumented women are in reporting sexual assault. When she was assaulted at a young age, her family felt they could not report the crime due to the fear of being deported.

Towards the end of the event, the crowd and organizers took part in compelling chants. Powerful phrases such as, “Education is a right, that is why we have to fight!”, “I am somebody and I deserve full equality right here, right now!”, and “Not one more deportation!” were chanted throughout the lobby of the Student Center.

The event ended with an open mic portion in which attendees were encouraged to share their own experiences. A poetry teacher from Windham High School who had brought her class to the event delivered a moving piece that ended in solidarity with, “I am speak, up speak out on immigrant rights… I am Eastern Connecticut State University.”

“This is not the end, this is just the beginning,” Sanchez ended the speak out. If attendees took anything from the event, it was the importance of using their voices to get involved in social movements.

Overall, the speak out discussed the obstacles and barriers that immigrant students and families face as well as legitimizing and humanizing their stories and experiences. It is important and necessary to continue this dialogue at Eastern. Undocumented students are your classmates, friends, RA’s, and co-workers.

To get involved in the movement, contact Erika Sanchez at sancheze@my.easternct.edu or C4D at info@ct4adream.org.

President’s Breakfast Update

(From The Campus Lantern – October 29th, 2015)

The first President’s Breakfast of the semester was held Wednesday, October 28th at 7:15 a.m. in Hurley’s President’s Dining Room. The meeting, which was open to all executive board members of Eastern’s student organizations, lasted about an hour.

The first item on the agenda under Dr. Elsa Nunez’s report was the facilities update. Final inspections are being made in the new Fine Arts Instructional Building, and furniture and equipment will start to be moved in soon. It was confirmed that classes will be held in the building starting next semester. The total cost for the building comes to around $65 million.

As for the Communications Building and Goddard Hall, the university is currently negotiating design contracts with architects. The construction is scheduled to start in 2017 and finish in late 2019. Faculty offices will be displaced from the buildings for anytime between 18 months to two years. During the construction time, classes will likely be held in temporary trailers. The university is making it a priority to keep adequate space and resources for the Eastern radio and television stations.

Starting around Spring 2017, Shafer Hall will start to undergo renovations into loft-style apartments. The Harry Hope Theatre that is currently in the building will be transformed into a gym facility. There will also be a small café that serves breakfast in the renovated dorm for students who live in Shafer, Noble, and Burr.

Next up was an update about the Pride Center, a project which Dr. Nunez noted had been discussed heavily last year in Student Government Association meetings. The budget for the space, which is currently called the Pride Room, has doubled since last year. There is currently a Coordinator and two undergraduate interns in the Room. The proposed location for the Pride Center would be in the SGA Suite downstairs in the Student Center, in the vicinity of the Unity Wing. Construction for the Pride Center is scheduled to begin this summer, with the space opening to the public next August. The cost of the project is about $100,000. To view and discuss diagrams of the Center, be sure to attend the next SGA meeting on Monday, November 2nd at 3 p.m. in room 107 of the Student Center.

Possibly the most anticipated item on the agenda was a budget update. The President started off the update by noting how $3.90 out of every $10 that the university spends is paid for by the state. The rest of the money is paid for by Eastern students. In other words, about 40% of the university’s funding, which estimates to a total of about $130 million per year, is paid for by the state, while 60% is student-funded. Dr. Nunez made it clear that if there are ever safety concerns for students, the university will find a way to provide funding to best accommodate the situation. She also urged how important it is for students to be informed about the status of the budget and involved in budget discussions, especially including testifying at the Capital.

Enrollment at the university was also discussed. The numbers are up this year, with a total of 977 new enrolled freshmen. 11% of the freshman class is from the top 10% of their high school class, and 32% are from the top 25%. In total, Eastern has 4,267 full-time undergraduate students. Since there is a lack of funding from the state, enrollment serves as a primary basis for the school’s budget.

Subsequent on the agenda was winter preparations. There is high student concern for on-campus parking and the increase in faculty spots. The President reminded everyone at the table that the long-term goal is to transform Eastern into a green campus with perimeter roads and no parking lots on campus, solely garages. She addressed the complaint that there is not enough parking on South Campus by announcing that there will eventually be a parking garage replacing Low Rise. She also noted that the reasoning for the change in parking policies on the second floor ramp in Shakespeare was because there were 80 faculty and staff parking spots that used to be where the new Fine Arts building stands.

When talking about winter, it is important to put on students’ radars that there may be ice falling from buildings. The buildings do have snow guards, but it is impossible to stop this problem from happening due to the sloped roofs.  If students notice ice falling, and there are not yet barricades put up in the area, the President herself asks them call her office at (860) 465-5222.

Another hot topic discussed was the wireless internet on campus. Starting next week, the university will be moving Wi-Fi to new controllers and raising the bandwidth, so the connection should improve. In fact, the bandwidth is planned to increase from its current 1G up to 10G by January. The end goal is for students to be able to walk around the whole campus while staying connected to the Wi-Fi. Many students have complained about having issues with connecting their personal devices to the internet. If you are having problems with your connection, be sure to call the ITS Help Desk at (860) 465-4346 so they can assist you.

The breakfast ended with an SGA report and updates by the representatives from student organizations. To learn more about upcoming events put on by organizations, check the Online Event Calendar on Eastern’s website.

Habitat for Humanity’s Annual Shack-A-Thon Fundraiser

(From The Campus Lantern – October 15th, 2015)

Next week, Eastern’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity is hosting their largest fall event, Shack-A-Thon. During the event, Habitat members stay outside for 24 hours to raise awareness on the topic of homelessness.

Shack-A-Thon is an annual event held with the goals of raising funds and awareness for those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.  As an organization, Habitat asked each of its members to fundraise a minimum of $50 in order to participate. Members’ donations, as well as additional funds received from students, staff, and faculty during the duration of the event, will go towards the Windham chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

“I think it is super important to realize the privilege that we have. Those who do not have adequate housing usually do so under circumstances that are out of their control. Tonight, I will go back to my residence hall, regardless of how long my day was, and get a good night of sleep in my bed. Others will not have that chance, but still, they continue to live day-to-day and fight to keep their hopes and dreams alive. I personally do not know any homeless people, but they are some of the strongest people out there.”

This year, Shack-A-Thon will be held on Webb Lawn from October 20th to the 21st, spanning from 12pm that Tuesday to 6pm that Wednesday.

Highlights from the 2015 VMAs

(From The Campus Lantern – September 3rd, 2015)

First things first, when I say highlights from the 2015 VMA’s, I feel like I should touch upon one of the reoccurring themes of the night: marijuana. Miley hosted, so you know there was going to be some weed references. But there were more than just a few. She mentioned the ganj every time she came on stage. One of her skits even included her eating a “special” brownie with Snoop Dogg – the popstar got so high that the rapper turned into her pet pig. For a country that doesn’t want to legalize it, we really do love talking about how awesome weed is in the media. Anyway, onto the happenings of the show.

Taylor Swift took home Video of the Year for her lady-filled music video “Bad Blood.” She also won Female Video of the Year for “Blank Space” and premiered her new video for “Wildest Dreams”. Other notable award winners included Fetty Wap for Best New Artist and Nicki’s “Anaconda” for Best Hip Hop Video.

The VMAs are supposed to be about the awards, but the main focus of the night was the performances. The night started off with a jaw-dropping performance by Nicki Minaj, who donned a glorious, feathery red dress. After performing the beat-heavy “Trini Dem Girls,” she transitioned into “The Night is Still Young.” Taylor Swift came onto stage to join the performance and I will admit that tears came to my eyes when the two ended with a duet of “Bad Blood.” The girl power was serious, y’all.

Later on in the show, Justin Bieber performed on-stage for the first time in two years. Other performances included Demi Lovato, Pharrel, and Tori Kelly. The night closed with an interesting hip hop collaboration between Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky.

Every time Miley came out on stage throughout the night, she had a different outfit on. The outfits ranged anywhere from a rectangle rainbow box to a bunch of different colored circles taped onto her body. One look that stayed consistent throughout the night was the dreads in her hair. Miley is notorious for appropriating black culture, and her VMA hairstyle proved that she still hasn’t learned. At one point in the night, Nicki called Miley out for saying that she should keep quiet on black women’s issues. Instead of admitting that she messed up, Miley blamed the whole thing on the corruption of the media.

Other awareness-raising events at the VMAs included an award for Video With A Social Message, which Big Sean won for “One Man Can Change The World.” When Kanye took the stage to accept his Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, he made a long, ironic speech about how unimportant award shows are. While his speech was pretty confusing, he talked a lot about the corruption of the media and how important it is to “listen to the kids.” The Black Lives Matter movement was briefly mentioned at the show, but it was ultimately turned into a joke by Rebel Wilson. She had a skit in which she mentioned how she knew many people have had it with police, but she couldn’t stand “police strippers.” She donned a shirt that read “F*ck tha Stripper Police,” and went on to make jokes about police violence.

We all know the VMAs aren’t the most serious award ceremony of the year. However, many young people such as myself do tune in each year. Cultural appropriation? Jokes about institutional racism? Hopefully next year the VMAs can do better.