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Professor Marian Evans and her Women's Health class meet virtually with author Rachel Kauder Nalebuff.
Professor Marian Evans and her Women's Health class meet virtually with author Rachel Kauder Nalebuff.

Students in Assistant Professor of Public Health Marian Evans’ Women’s Health class at Southern are getting hands-on writing experience with a New York Times best-selling author.

Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is the author of My Little Red Book, an anthology of stories about first periods, collected from women of all ages from around the world which was widely acclaimed and published in 2009. New Haven-based Nalebuff is at work on a second rendition, “Our Red Book.”

Not only did students get the chance to experience a guided writing exercise led by Nalebuff, they are writing pieces that the class will review, and they’ll pick some of the best stories to send to Nalebuff for possible inclusion in the book.

Nalebuff’s collection started in 2003 as a family oral history project, when she learned that her great-aunt got her first period on a train while fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland. Authors such as Meg Cabot, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, and Cecily von ZiegesarIt contributed to My Little Red Book.

The subject matter is a good fit for Evans’ course, which covers everything from women’s health and consciousness, sexuality, menopause, health equity and privilege, women’s rights and reproductive rights, and, of course, the menstrual cycle.

“I push students to think about menses and the messages that we receive from our society about our periods,” Evans said.

Evans and Nalebuff met several years ago, when they worked on a choir in the New Haven area. Evans actually had been using Nalebuff’s My Little Red Book in her curriculum; passionate about similar issues, the two developed a friendship.

Nalebuff reached out to Evans this fall when she began commissioning writers, artists, and activists to contribute pieces for My Little Red Book, which will include stories “that highlight period stories across gender identities, and the work of activists, writers and artists working today.”

“I wanted to see if she had anyone to recommend for a contribution,” Nalebuff said. “I was commissioning longer pieces, and so my starting place is trusted friends and colleagues, and Marian is one of them. She’s an educator and mentor, and she also has thought about conceptions around menstruation, where they come from, and their origins and taboos.”

Evans enthusiastically responded that her class could be a great starting point.

“Rarely do students get to work with a New York Times Best-selling author, and I wanted my students to be able to work with one,” Evans said. “And hopefully there will be a few class submissions that will be included in the book. Rachel and I decided to build two sessions to make sure the students knew what she was looking for, it gave us an opportunity to read some of the new entries and to do a guided writing session.”

Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, author of "My Little Red Book"
Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, author of “My Little Red Book”

Michele Leite said the class and writing session have made her reflect upon how someone’s experience of menstruation can shape their identity. (At age 61, Leite is a junior who is interested in self-designing a degree in health education and public health with a focus on women, gender, health and aging.)

“The experiences women have, they are important to share,” Leite said. “They may be embarrassed or ashamed, and if they hear other people’s stories, they understand that we are sharing a collective experience. Sometimes hearing a story can calm something in someone’s head.”

Nalebuff concurred: “I keep coming back to an interview in the book with musician Madame Gandhi, who says that stigma is one of the ‘most effective’ forms of oppression because it keeps us isolated, through our struggles and our joys. Sharing our words becomes a way to take our public health education into our own hands, and to collectively feel into an often hidden realm of the human experience.”

Even if the students’ contributions do not make it into My Little Red Book, Nalebuff has agreed to donate $1,000 to the class to give as a donation to a charity of their choosing, and Evans plans to “definitely build in a writing piece similar to what we have done with Rachel for this class and incorporate her book along with it.”

“The world is crying for connection and relationship on simple things,” Evans said. “It is my hope that students will take away a few messages. We all have stories about our periods and their experience and stories are important for the next generation. I also want them to know that we can take something so simple as the story of our first periods and turn it into a best-selling book.”

 

Interested in Contributing to “Our Red Book”?

Nalebuff has an open call for submissions on her website (http://www.mylittleredbook.net/submit_story.php) for “Our Red Book,” which will include stories that highlight first-period experience across gender identities and be published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. and Virago in the UK in 2022. The deadline is January 2021. Written contributions should be under 1,000 words and or shorter. Contributions can take many forms (essays, interviews, poetry, comics, a hybrid form).

Stories can be about first periods, last periods, missing periods, not having a period, and other meaningful period stories across ages. New commissioned stories include perspectives on being trans and feeling “period negativity,” one writer interviewing their two grandmothers, free-bleeding while running a marathon, a story from a father about caring for his daughter, and coming of age in a family separated by borders.

Erin Duff

This article was written by student Ketia Similen.

Erin B. Duff is a graduate student in the Master’s in Public Health (MPH) program and Southern’s COVID coordinator. She has always been involved in student affairs and is constantly trying to learn and grow through public health conferences and experiences on campus. Working as a hall director for Chase Hall and the Wellness Center for the past two years has helped Duff in managing her new position. Transitioning into the COVID coordinator role was an evolving experience, as the responsibilities of this position increased over time. Duff takes joy in this position as her new experiences have reinforced her passion for public health while highlighting the importance of it in our society. Duff says, “Every day I know I am helping someone and I think that is the best feeling, whether that is answering a question or making Southern a little bit safer by putting someone in quarantine.”

In addition to contacting those who test positive for COVID-19 or those who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, Duff speaks to students and staff about health education and how they can keep themselves and their loved ones safe, while clarifying any misconceptions around COVID-19. The most challenging part, Duff says, is that the actions of others cannot be controlled, making control of COVID-19 unpredictable. “Every day is different so I don’t always know what to expect – which is good, as it keeps me on my toes – but also can be overwhelming at times.” As Southern’s COVID Coordinator, Duff meets with the Department of Public Health once or twice a week for updates, while also working closely with other Connecticut schools to discuss the best practices that will help her be more effective in her job at Southern.

Duff is seeing first-hand that Southern students are resilient and committed to their safety and the community’s safety. Southern’s students continue to work hard during this pandemic so they can finish their semester strong, despite all the barriers that they face. “I am hopeful for our future,” Duff says. “I know we all crave a sense of normalcy and to one day go back to the way things were – but to do that everyone needs to play a role. By social distancing, washing hands often, and wearing a mask, that is the best way that we are going to combat this virus and come out stronger.” Duff tells us all, “Do not give up hope! We’ve got this!”

Erin Duff
Erin Duff

Erin Duff was relaxing at the beach on a day off in July when she received a phone call from her supervisor.

When she realized it was Director of Residence Life Rob DeMezzo, Duff — then the residence hall director at Chase Hall — was concerned at first that something might be wrong.

“I thought maybe something happened on campus,” Duff said.

But instead, DeMezzo wanted to gauge her interest in a new position that had just been approved — university COVID-19 coordinator. As the hall director at Chase, one of Duff’s duties had been to oversee the “learning, living community” for students seeking a career in the health professions.

“Her educational background, coupled with her experience in student affairs, made her an ideal candidate for the position,” he said.

Duff said she is happy that DeMezzo made that call.

“This is a great opportunity, and I really think I can make a difference in helping the campus cope with the ‘new normal,” she said.

Duff has a Bachelor of Science degree in public health from Southern, and is nearing completion of a Master of Public Health degree, also at SCSU.

Among her responsibilities are to educate the campus community on COVID-19 and to coordinate the university’s contact tracing program, as well as organize campus quarantine and isolation efforts.

She works closely with a variety of university officials, including Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of health services; Emily Rosenthal, Wellness Center coordinator; Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs; DeMezzo; and Jules Tetreault, dean of student affairs.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the campus community,” Duff said. “Part of my role is to help people understand the efforts we are taking on campus.”

She tells students that the more consistently they adhere to the university’s safety measures – such as social distancing, wearing marks, washing/sanitizing hands – the better the chances the campus can remain open.

Duff said she is happy to answer questions from students, faculty and staff about the virus and measures taken by the campus. “I realize the pandemic can cause considerable anxiety and raise lots of questions,” she said. “If I can help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

She can be reached at (203) 392-8626 or at scsucovid-19coordinator@southernct.edu.

 

 

 

New “Safe Store” rules took effect in Connecticut recently in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in grocery stores and others of the few remaining public spaces open to groups of people.

John Nwangwu, professor of public health and an epidemiologist, and Jean Breny, chair of the Department of Public Health, were both quoted in an April 2, 2020, front-page story in the New Haven Register that addressed the effectiveness of the Safe Store rules. Nwangwu and Breny discussed the latest protocols being used in supermarkets to reduce the chances of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Read the article, “Masks, restricted entry, one-way aisles: coronavirus retail reality.”

Jean Breny and John Nwangwu

Jean Breny, chair of the Department of Public Health, recently delivered the Presidential Address at the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE)’s virtual annual conference.

The title of Breny’s address, “Advancing Health Equity: Taking an Anti-racism Approach to Health Promotion Leadership and Action,” provided an understanding of how public health professionals can work towards health equity in their communities by using an anti-racism framework.

As of August 2019, Public Health Professor Michele Vancour has accepted a two-year position as interim associate dean for the School of Health and Human Services.

Vancour earned her B.A. in English from CCSU, an MPH from Southern, and her Ph.D. in health education from NYU. In 1998 she began her career at Southern as an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Founding Director of the SCSU Wellness Center. During her tenure at Southern, Vancour has established herself as an outstanding teacher, scholar, mentor, and leader. She has served in several major leadership roles, including 8 years as the undergraduate program coordinator for Public Health and most recently as the director of Faculty Development. Her list of service activities is extensive, and includes founder of the Childcare committee, Work-Life Advisory Committee, Southern’s Chapter of the CT ACE Women’s Network, and membership or chair positions with more than 30 different groups on our campus.

Headshot Photo of Michele VancourVancour earned tenure and promotion to professor in the Department of Public Health, received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award, Robert E. Jirsa Award for Service, and the Distinguished Academic Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award from the CT ACE Women’s Network.

She has an extensive list of professional presentations and publications in her areas of expertise, which include: motherhood, maternal health, breastfeeding support, women’s health, and work-life balance. She is highly respected in her profession having served as president and board member for the College and University Work/Family/Life Association, chair and board member for the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, and board member and committee chair for the CT ACE Women’s Network.

Adding Vancour’s talents to the HHS Dean’s office will allow the School to expand its support for students, department chairs, and coordinators. Vancour will take the lead to support chairs with course schedules and administrative processes related to student enrollment. She will also design and facilitate professional development for HHS faculty and staff, coordinate furniture decisions for offices and collaboration spaces in the new building, monitor implementation of marketing and recruitment efforts for HHS programs, and serve as a resource for program accreditation and new program development.

 

Dr. William Faraclas and his students prepare to cross Lake Atitlán to visit a comadrona—a traditional birth attendant—in San Juan La Laguna.

This summer, two groups of Southern students — one studying special education, and the other, public health — traveled extensively in rural Guatemala during a two-week short-course abroad. Journeying together, while learning in two separate courses, participants from both groups explored the colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala, and its surrounding pueblos; Mayan villages in the country’s central highlands, including breathtaking Lake Atitlán, the caldera of an ancient volcano; and the lush jungle rainforest at Tikal National Park, site of vast archaeological ruins.

Students enjoyed a walk through the village of San Juan La Laguna following the Public Health group’s meeting with Ana Toc Cobax, a traditional birth attendant (far right), and the Special Education group’s tour of Casa Maya School for students with disabilities. Students enrolled in the special education course, led by Dr. Kara Faraclas of the Department of Special Education and Reading, visited a variety of schools and programs for persons with disabilities, and met their inspiring founders and directors. Public health students, led by Dr. William Faraclas of the Department of Public Health, explored health program and facilities and engaged other providers of health services in Guatemala, including shamans and traditional birth attendants. The use of field guides developed especially for the two programs — the Quest for Understanding for public health students, and the Field Guide for the Journey for the special education group — fostered the interaction of students with people in the communities they visited, as students sought and analyzed information provided by cultural informants, used to compose essays for their field guides and perform community assessments.

Education students in Guatemala

During their time abroad, participants in both courses distributed greatly needed supplies they had carried from the United States. Students in the special education course provided materials to support the work of teachers of students with disabilities, and those in the public health course presented greatly needed medical supplies to health clinics. Accentuating and complementing the academic experience, students in both courses spent a day with an indigenous Mayan family, hiked to outlying villages, climbed ancient pyramids, sighted monkeys and toucans in the wild, and observed smoke and fire from an active volcano.

Public-Health

Both courses focused on an underlying theme of culture as a way to prepare teachers, health practitioners and participating students from other disciplines to work effectively with an increasingly diverse population in the United States and for opportunities in other countries. Several past enrollees were accepted into the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, and this year’s students in both courses reported gaining from their experiences in Guatemala a new understanding of how their studies at Southern would enable them to work globally or at home to help alleviate suffering and promote social justice.

Education students in GuatemalaPlanning for next summer’s trip is underway, and graduate and undergraduate students in all majors are welcome to participate. For information, contact:

Garden class with CARE at SCSU Community Garden

“Eat your vegetables” is time-honored advice for anyone looking to improve the quality of their diet. But for some people who don’t have easy access to fresh produce, preparing and eating healthy meals can be a challenge.

This summer, area residents who wanted to learn about growing fresh fruits and vegetables, nutrition, and healthy cooking were able to take part in a campus outreach program developed and run by the Sustainability Office and CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), assisted by New Haven Farms (NHF). The program involved improving the university’s organic garden, located near Davis Hall, while teaching participants about growing and preparing produce from the garden. Sessions took place on six Tuesday evenings, from early July through mid-August.

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Suzanne Huminski, coordinator of the Sustainability Office, and Alycia Santilli, director of CARE, teamed up with a few of their interns to establish the community garden education program. Santilli says that CARE “dedicated some limited grant funds to consult with New Haven Farms and expand the growing capacity of the garden.” Two public health interns planned and piloted the garden-based nutrition education program, which was based on New Haven Farms’ more extensive health education curriculum. Two Sustainability Office interns cared for the garden and worked with participants on growing and harvesting vegetables. Families from low-income communities that surround Southern were invited to take part in the program.

New Haven Farms’ 16-week garden program is open to people who are referred through a health center, Santilli explains. For instance, individuals at risk for diabetes might be referred to the program so they can learn healthier eating habits. “We’ve adapted their program to ours,” Santilli says, “but ours is not connected to health centers or prescriptions.” Sustainability intern Kaelyn Audette visited New Haven Farms to learn about the garden program and bring back what she learned to Southern’s garden. Abby Putzer and Meadeshia Mitchell, both graduate students in public health, went to NHF once a week starting in May to help with NHF’s health education program, so they could understand how it works.

CARE cooking class at SCSU community garden
While CARE sponsored the health education component of the program, with the help of interns Putzer and Mitchell, sustainability interns Audette and Megan McNivens gave the participants a weekly garden tour, answered their questions, and did some cooking demonstrations. Guest chefs also visited the program to do cooking demonstrations. Huminski says it was “very impressive to watch how Kaelyn and Megan stepped up and went above and beyond.”

A core group of about seven participants came every week. The program was an opportunity for the interns to work with community members and to learn how to manage a project themselves.

In addition to nutrition education, garden tours, and cooking demonstrations, participants received free produce from the garden. And the garden is now so productive, thanks to Audette and McNivens, that the Sustainability Office is also able to continue making donations to the St. Ann’s soup kitchen, which it has done for years. “Our goal was to double the produce in the garden so we could continue donating to the soup kitchens but also give a bag of produce to each of the participants,” says Huminski, and the goal was met. She says 363 lb. of produce was harvested from mid-July through early August, and the yield is expected to increase through September.

The weekly garden tour was exciting, says Audette. Many of the participants don’t have a yard, so they can’t have a garden, and they enjoyed watching the vegetables grow. Teaching people to eat more healthily – how to use different vegetables and make healthy food choices – was gratifying, the interns say. Participants got to see vegetables go from farm to plate, and they enjoyed taking home what they learned and sharing it with their families. “It was fun to see them come excitedly each week to show what they’d learned,” says McNivens.

Audette graduated in May; she majored in public health and plans to go to graduate school. McNivens is a junior psychology major. Putzer and Mitchell are MPH students, and this project was part of their practicum.

CARE garden class, entrance to SCSU Community Garden

There is a demand in urban neighborhoods for fresh produce, Santilli says, and beyond the community garden program, participants can continue to eat healthily even if they don’t have a yard where they can grow vegetables. New Haven has a network of about 50 community gardens where residents can grow their own produce, and farmers markets and farmstands around the city, as well as a mobile pantry through Connecticut Food Bank, offer fresh produce.

Santilli says, “We are hopeful that this will be a successful pilot year – and then we hope to start fundraising to become a more institutionalized program. It’s a fantastic university-community partnership.”

Huminski agrees, adding, “this is just the start,” of using the campus garden for community-based projects. “That is a big hillside back there, and it can work harder for the community, the education of our students, and for the environment.”

See more photos from the campus garden and community garden program.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

As director of the Westbrook Health Department in Connecticut, Sonia Marino, '09, M.P.H. '14, oversees public health for more than 6,900 residents.

As the first full-time health director in Westbrook, Conn., in more than a decade, Sonia Marino, ’09, M.P.H. ’14, is working to develop a community health plan that could touch on everything from opiate dependency and emergency preparedness to outdoor activities for children.

“Public health is my passion,” says Marino, who took the job in January 2015, replacing a part-time director. “It’s not just about wells and septic and food. It’s so much more.”

Marino envisions a forward-looking health department for her town, with public education and prevention programs, and social media campaigns tailored to the community’s needs.

She credits Southern, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health, for shaping her comprehensive approach and for providing the broad background she needs to deal with the numerous issues that come across her desk, from landlord-tenant conflicts to restaurant inspections.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

“The professors are great,” says Marino. “I had a wonderful relationship with all of them.”

Marino is one of about 20 Southern alumni now serving as health directors across Connecticut’s 74 local health agencies. Many more hold jobs as deputy directors and sanitarians — the latter, a public health worker with knowledge of environmental and public health issues such as food protection, water quality, product safety, and more.

Peggy Gallup, professor of public health and coordinator of the undergraduate program, says she was contacting Connecticut health directors for a project recently and was struck by how many she recognized as former students.

Professor of Public Health William Faraclas says producing graduates who would lead local health efforts in the state was a dream of founders who launched the program in 1980.

“We dreamed big and our dream came true,” says Faraclas, who chaired the department for 33 years.

Southern’s was one of the first undergraduate public health programs in the United States when it began, Faraclas says, and it continues to serve as a national model. The Master of Public Health program — state law requires local health directors to have the degree — was added at Southern in 1990.

While many graduates work in hospitals or nongovernmental organizations, Southern graduates are particularly suited for jobs in local health departments because of the program’s strong focus on community-based aspects of public health.

Meanwhile, hands-on programs, such as the popular two-week field study trip to Guatemala, foster the resilience and “roll- up-your-sleeves” attitude needed for jobs in public service.

Students must also complete an internship that takes them to the front lines of public health practice, says Faraclas.

It was an internship during his senior year at Southern that launched Robert Rubbo’s career with the Torrington Area Health District in 1996. Two decades later, he is running the place.

After graduation, Rubbo, ’96, M.P.H. ’02, was offered a position as a sanitarian trainee and worked his way up, becoming a sanitarian, deputy director and, in 2013, the director.

Comparing notes with colleagues who attended other schools, Rubbo says he realizes how much Southern stands out in terms of quality.

“I really feel like they have one of the more challenging M.P.H. programs out there,” Rubbo says.

Gallup notes Southern’s relationship with local health departments is reciprocal. Health directors often email her if they are looking for interns or resources for projects.

One graduate student worked with a health department to survey pediatricians about their lead-screening practices for young children; another created a brochure on healthy homes and household environmental hazards. In Westbrook, Marino says Southern students have helped her conduct a community health assessment in town.

Maura Esposito, ’90, M.P.H. ’11, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott, says she recently had several Southern students working for her as interns, and would love to work with more.

“I take Southern interns all the time because I know the program, and I know the quality of work that is expected,” Esposito says. In return, she gives them plenty of opportunities to work in the trenches.

“Anybody who comes through my department should be able to get a really good job,” she says. ■

CARE, New Haven

Above, left to right: Yan Searcy, associate dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Sandra Bulmer, dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Alycia Santilli, CARE director; and Jeannette Ickovics, CARE founder

The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) is partnering with Southern Connecticut State University to enhance its ongoing efforts to improve the health of residents in New Haven’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Since its founding in 2007 at the Yale School of Public Health, CARE has worked to identify solutions to health challenges such as diabetes, asthma, and heart and lung diseases through community-based research and projects focusing on social, environmental, and behavioral risk factors. During the next three years, CARE will transition from Yale to SCSU’s campus, with SCSU becoming responsible for CARE’s community engagement work. Yale will continue to manage and finance CARE’s research agenda while gradually shifting that work to SCSU.

“This partnership with SCSU represents a powerful next step in the evolution of CARE by engaging with a local state university to drive deeper change into our neighborhoods,” said CARE founder Jeannette Ickovics. “This is an opportunity of mutual benefit:  a way to extend CARE’s work in New Haven, provide continuity and new energy to the work, and provide a platform to launch a center at Southern. “

The new SCSU Center for Community Engagement will help foster student service learning, advance community-engaged scholarship, and benefit CARE’s community partners, said Sandra Bulmer, dean of SCSU’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). With Alycia Santilli as director, and Ickovics serving in an advisory capacity, CARE is beginning its transition to SCSU this month, Bulmer said.

Southern’s School of Health and Human Services is unique in Connecticut in combining seven disciplines under a single umbrella –  communication disorders, exercise science, marriage and family therapy, nursing, public health, social work, and recreation, tourism, and sport management. As a result, academic opportunities are highly interdisciplinary, while the school’s wide range of internships means that students participate in the community while earning their degrees.

“SCSU’s students and faculty are tremendous assets that will bring CARE expanded opportunities in community-based research, programming, and policy change, leading to further improvement in the health of New Haven residents,” Bulmer said.

During the transitional period, YSPH will remain as the central hub of CARE’s research activities, with a focus on data analysis from its New Haven Public Schools and neighborhood health surveys, said Santilli, who began her employment with SCSU Sept. 23 as a special appointment faculty member in the Department of Public Health.

“The potential of student, faculty, and staff power, combined with the legacy of work initiated over the past decade at the Yale School of Public Health, will be leveraged in a new way that I hope will have a lasting impact for another decade to come,” Santilli said.

“I am excited about the capacity and resources that this expanded partnership can bring to the SCSU campus community and the Greater New Haven area. As I become familiar with SCSU, two things stand out: the drive to best serve students and the commitment to social justice. These are simultaneously familiar and fresh perspectives from which CARE can begin to refine our focus on improving health in the New Haven community.”

Santilli, who has been with CARE since 2007, will spend the coming months transitioning CARE’s operations to Southern’s campus, developing CARE’s new strategic plan, and launching its new community engagement activities. She will split her time between offices at Lang House and Southern on the Green in downtown New Haven.

More information about CARE, including its accomplishments and publications, can be found on the CARE website.