Tags Posts tagged with "social justice"

social justice

Tim Parrish

English Professor Tim Parrish, coordinator of the creative writing program and author of the memoir Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, recently published an op-ed in the New York Daily News, “Our work cut out: What whites need to try to learn and change when it comes to race and racism” (July 1, 2020).

In the op-ed, Parrish looks at the antiracism protests that have been taking place across the country, and considers the work that white people must engage in for real systemic change to occur. He writes, “Will we justice-and-equity-leaning white people, especially middle-and-upper-class whites, continue to make a difference? Only if we do the hard work personally and politically. We have to listen to people of color and educate ourselves about black Americans’ reality through books, articles, documentaries and even movies by black people. We have to look into our own heads and hearts and root out racist indoctrination from privilege and institutions.”

 

 

 

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our tenth group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Ashley Burkell, Alyssa Maddern, Jay Moran, Sal Rizza, and Meredith Sinclair for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Ashley Burkell

Nominated by a faculty member, Ashley Burkell is a public health major, and her nominator wrote that “each year she strives to do more to promote equity.” Burkell recently emailed her nominator, who is also her advisor, to tell her that learning about privilege freshman year had led her to understand how she needs to help others with less privilege. While educating herself on social media and attending recent protests, she still didn’t feel it was enough. On a recent weekend, Burkell decided to use her week’s grocery money to make vegan pasta and garlic bread and sell it in her neighborhood (with contact-free pickup) to support Black Lives Matter Global Network. In fewer than three days, she had already raised $1100. Her nominator reports that Burkell intends to repeat this drive in July with a local social justice/equity group as the recipient. Burkell, her nominator wrote, even included instructions for safely warming the food, to avoid food-borne illness. Burkell, she wrote, “is using all she has learned in her public health and nutrition classes to help promote health equity.”

Ashley Burkell

Alyssa Maddern
Nominated by a faculty member, Alyssa Maddern is a full-time student who completed her undergraduate degree in recreation & leisure (concentration: therapeutic recreation) and is continuing her education for her master’s at Southern in recreation therapy. She was hired in February as a part time activities assistant at Maplewood Senior Living at Orange (MAO); however, amidst the pandemic, she has been working more and has been given more responsibilities and challenges to overcome. Due to this pandemic, her nominator wrote, Maddern “has been able to prove herself and her expansive abilities through creating innovative activities for her residents. Those activities include developing and distributing a daily BINGO newsletter to play together, but apart from others, a Workout From Your Apartment packet that shows her residents how many repetitions of an exercise they should do, a detailed explanation of how to do the specific exercise, and a hand drawn cartoon figure, properly doing the exercise, a Fun Brain Fitness Packet she creates for each and every Friday that includes themed sudoku, word searches, crosswords, anagrams, hidden pictures, etc. She has also provided Happiest of Hours to her residents’ apartments, facilitates 1:1 Hallway Exercises, developed and distributes a TV Guide for her residents to follow and tune in to entertaining movies and shows Thursday through Sunday, rolls around a cooler as the ice cream woman and distributes a variety of ice cream to her residents, developed and collaborated with her residents to create a ‘We Are All In This Together’ banner, and the list continues on.”

For all of her efforts, Maddern was recently awarded the H.E.A.R.T Award for the month of May at MAO; H.E.A.R.T. is the philosophy MAO associates embody in their work performance, going above and beyond with all their heart. H.E.A.R.T stands for Humor, Empathy, Anatomy, Respect and Reaching Out to Others, and Trust and Triumph. Her nominator wrote that “Each and everyday Alyssa brightens the lives of older adults who have been separated from family and friends during this epidemic! She is truly a hero!!”

Alyssa Maddern

Jay Moran

Nominated by a colleague, Southern’s Director of Athletics Jay Moran has led his staff, coaches, and teams — comprised of approximately 500 student-athletes — through, at his own admittance, his most challenging year as an athletic director. The department was faced with the EEE scare in the fall, which Moran addressed, and through coordination with his staff managed to avoid canceling any athletic competition or practice. Shortly thereafter, Moran’s nominator wrote, “the athletic department and gymnastics program, to say nothing of the entire SCSU community, was struck with the tragic loss of [student gymnast] Melanie Coleman. Jay has dealt with personal tragedy of his own, and never backed away from lending a helping hand and the needed patience to anyone that needed to talk.”

Moran then oversaw a midseason coaching change and was later confronted with the coronavirus pandemic. His nominator wrote that “he has been at the forefront of coordinating efforts for the entire Athletic Department in lending support to its student-athletes, and has worked tirelessly with the message being the same along the way: we have to get our student-athletes safely back on campus and get our fall student-athletes a season. Jay’s style of leadership ensures inspiration to his staff and coaches and presents himself as personable and approachable to student-athletes, as they are always first in line for his attention.”

Jay Moran

Sal Rizza

Nominated by a student, Sal Rizza, director of Orientation, Transition and Family Engagement, was described as having “contributed numerous outreaches and important knowledge to Southern students and people in general during this hard time for people fighting for a change in systemic racism. He has been a shoulder to cry on, person to reach out to, and an educator to fight for this change and make it possible for others to fight too.”

His nominator added that he recommended Rizza because students look up to him. Rizza has been on Instagram lives with students “to send positivity and distractions from being in quarantine,” wrote his nominator. “He has tried to give students a positive place to go, in order to feel like they are at home on Southern’s campus. There were many Instagram lives and event schedules that he and his orientation crew put together that truly helped me and other students during this time.” Rizza is also a part of the Orientation Ambassador Alumni group on Facebook, and his nominator wrote that he is “always available to reach out to and support those who are suffering through the tragedies in the black and brown communities.” Rizza, his nominator wrote, has always supported students and lifted them up through hard times, but “he has just truly shined through during this time. He was an amazing boss when I worked as an orientation ambassador during my time at Southern and he is an even more amazing person inside and out. Students are very lucky to have him on Southern’s campus.”

Sal Rizza

Meredith Sinclair

Nominated by a student, Meredith Sinclair, associate professor of English education, is described as having always been a supportive professor: “As soon as we went online” when the pandemic caused campus to close in the spring semester, her nominator wrote, “she assured us that our mental health was the first priority, and she adjusted our class to meet the needs of the students. Her biweekly TEAMS chats provided a place not only to discuss class content, but to express how we are feeling during these times.”

Sinclair taught an engaging class not just on the methods of teaching, but on unlearning racist biases in order to become better teachers, her nominator wrote. Sinclair is a member of the Educational Justice Collective at Southern as well and has reached out to the group to arrange discussions on teacher activism. Since the semester has ended, Professor Sinclair has continued to show her support for the Southern community by voicing her support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the end to racial injustice, especially within education, and attending protests.

Meredith Sinclair

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our ninth group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Rondell Butler, Adam Cohen, Chelsea Harry, Debra Risisky, and Barbara Tinney for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Rondell Butler
Nominated by three staff colleagues, Rondell Butler is recognized as an exceptional member of the Registrar’s Office staff who goes above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to students and the community on a daily basis. His supervisor has many examples of Rondell responding to calls to speak to area high schools and student groups to share information about Southern, personally delivering transcripts to scholarship organizations on behalf of students, calming upset students and more. These activities are not part of Butler’s regular job description, but he does them because, in the words of his supervisor, “that’s just who he is.” Among his fellow administrative support employees, he is a leader they seek out for guidance and assistance with challenging student service situations because they trust him to bring grace, compassion, and respect to every interaction. “We’re grateful to have someone with Rondell’s integrity and service orientation on the Enrollment Management team,” wrote one nominator.

Another colleague noted in his nomination of Butler, “Rondell without question is an ambassador for the university. He does not hesitate to contribute above and beyond that which is required. His investment in the community on behalf of the university is remarkable. He not only volunteers as a presenter to youth and other community based groups, but also shares opportunities with other colleagues and coworkers encouraging their involvement. I recommend him without reservation.”

A third colleague wrote of Butler, “Mr. Butler is a major asset to SCSU. Knowledgeable, Hard working, fair, honest, loyal for starters. He solves problems, reviews all matters, Fantastic Human Being teammate.”

Rondell Butler

Adam Cohen
Adam Cohen, head women’s soccer coach, has been an outstanding source of leadership, guidance, and inspiration for the women’s soccer team and others during this pandemic, wrote his nominator, a fellow staff member. Cohen is in communication with the the student-athletes everyday on a variety of topics, including monitoring their academic involvement, checking on their families, sending motivational messages and COVID information, and keeping tabs on their overall well-being. Cohen’s nominator wrote that “He is providing the resources that show the student-athletes that they are cared for in a complete manner at SCSU. He has been accessible at all times for players to call or have video chats with so that they may discuss whatever is on their minds during this unprecedented time….and many have come to him and will continue to. Individually during this time he has continued to better himself by taking part in many webinars so that he may better serve the student-athletes of SCSU. The group is in a good place collectively as a result of Adam Cohen’s guidance.”

Adam Cohen

Chelsea Harry
Chelsea Harry, associate professor of philosophy, “has gone above and beyond in volunteering relative to food insecurity in the New Haven area during the pandemic,” wrote her nominator, a student. Her nominator explains that Harry has been on many food runs (picking up food from certain places and delivering them to people’s houses) and has worked with local soup kitchens many times to provide food for those in need. Most importantly, Harry’s nominator wrote, she “has extensively educated her students in her Honors 300 Service Learning course about what food insecurity is and how they can help in making a difference during this time of need by giving them the resources necessary to participate in food runs and volunteerism themselves, as well as discussions of the real effects that a lack of food has on society in such an unprecedented time.”

Chelsea Harry

Debra Risisky
Nominated by a student, Associate Professor of Public Health Debra Risisky is, the student wrote, “the person who opened my eyes to my white privilege as a white woman in America. Dr. Risisky taught me about equity, health disparities and social justice issues and how it is our responsibility to make change. Before I crossed paths with Dr. Risisky at Southern, I was blind to my privilege and had not put much thought into the struggles that BIPOC face every single day. Dr. Risisky encourages us to vote, march and demand justice. She’s an honorable woman and she has an incredible impact on students like me. During the outpour of Black Lives Matters and demanding justice for the lives lost due to racism and a broken system I decided to take direct action. This week I have sold vegan comfort meals out of my home to raise money for Black Lives Matter Global Network. As of today, I have raised $1,100 for the cause. I say this with my whole heart, if I did not cross paths with Dr. Risisky and open my eyes to the racial inequality and inequities, this money would not have been raised. Social justice is something I am very passionate about and will continue to speak out on for the rest my life and this is because of what Dr.Risisky taught me. Dr. Risisky has an incredible impact on her students and she is creating serious change for our generation.”

Debra Risisky

Barbara Tinney
Nominated by a student, Barbara Tinney, assistant professor of social work, was lauded for helping her students to stay on track after classes were moved online due to the pandemic. Her nominator wrote that Tinney “checked in with her each and every student at the beginning of each WebEx meeting. She also relaxed due dates at the beginning of the online transition, allowing us to plan ahead and lower the stress and anxiety that surfaced through this transition. She communicated consistently! For me, this was imperative to my academic success because I have an anxiety disorder and I felt my mind and body shutting down through this tough time. She made me feel that my learning was just as important to her as it was to myself! Thank you for providing a platform to recognize her efforts!”

Barbara Tinney

On June 16, English adjunct instructor Shelley Stoehr-McCarthy and her family will share their lives on a national stage when a documentary film about the family, Little Miss Westie, is screened on several TV channels. Stoehr-McCarthy, a graduate of Southern’s MFA in creative writing program who teaches composition at Southern, won the university’s prestigious J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teacher Award for 2017-18 and, more recently, the CSUS Board of Regents Adjunct Faculty System-Wide Teaching Award. She and her husband Chris McCarthy are the parents of two transgender teenagers, and the family’s journey over the past few years has been captured in Little Miss Westie. The film is named after an annual beauty pageant that takes place in West Haven, where the family lives. In the film, the McCarthys’ daughter, Ren, a trans girl, competes in the Little Miss Westie Pageant, and her older brother, Luca, a trans boy, coaches her on posing, make-up, and talent. Luca competed several years ago when he was living as a girl, so he’s an experienced adviser.

The film was made four years ago when son Luca (19 now) was 15 and daughter Ren (now 14) was 10.

“Little Miss Westie” premieres on WORLD Channel Tuesday, June 16, at 8 p.m. during his LGBTQ+ Pride Month and on worldchannel.org as part of its “America ReFramed” series. (It’s also on certain PBS stations Tuesday, namely WGBY in Springfield, Mass., and streaming platforms such as amdoc.org and PBS.org.)

The New Haven Register recently ran a feature about the McCarthy family and Little Miss Westie. Read “‘Little Miss Westie’ tells of West Haven family with 2 transgender kids,” by Joe Amarante, June 12, 2020

Download the PDF: ‘Little Miss Westie’ tells of West Haven family with 2 transgender kids

Shelley Stoehr-McCarthy

 

 

In recent days, the senseless, brutal killing of George Floyd and its ripple effects have placed the issues of racial inequality and injustice under an intense spotlight across the state, the nation, and around the world. To promote campus-wide dialogue, Southern is hosting a virtual panel discussion with Southern faculty, students and community members. Please join us.

Wednesday, June 17 (12 – 1:30 p.m.)

A community online forum streaming live on Southern’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SouthernCT/

A community online forum moderated by Jonathan L. Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, Southern Connecticut State University.

This event is open to the public, and a Facebook account is not required to attend.

Submit questions for the panelists here.

Panelists:

Shanté Hanks, ’97, M.S. ’99, 6th Yr. ’05, is the deputy commissioner of the State of Connecticut Department of Housing, with professional experience spanning government affairs, public policy, affordable housing development and education. She holds two Southern degrees and an advanced certificate.

Solomon James, ’22, a rising junior at Southern, is a community activist and the co-organizer of a recent racial justice march held in Danbury, Conn., in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Julian Madison is an associate professor of history at Southern with a scholarly focus on race and ethnicity, civil rights, culture and the Jazz Age. His books and manuscripts cover a wide range of topics, including desegregation of sports and the fight to end school segregation.

Cassi Meyerhoffer is an associate professor of sociology at Southern. Her research and teaching interests focus on systemic racism, racial residential segregation, and the role of race in American policing. She is working on a book proposal: From the Old Jim Crow to the New: Tracing the Roots of Reconstruction to Residential Segregation, Police Brutality, and the Mass Incarceration of Black Bodies.

Orisha Ala Nzambi Ochumare is one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter New Haven. She is an anti-racism organizer and has done work with youth in local schools. She is currently the LGBTQ+ youth program officer at the New Haven Pride Center.

Timothy Parrish is a professor of English at Southern, an award-winning writer, and one of the architects of the university’s MFA program. He is the author of three books, including Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, a Memoir (U Press of Mississippi).

 

Xia’ian Carrasco (center) Photo courtesy of Lindsay Vigue Photography

Solomon James, ’22, had never organized an event in his life. “Not even a birthday party,” he says. But that was before he saw a social media post seeking support for a local march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The gathering — to be held June 6 in his hometown of Danbury, Conn. — would echo protests throughout the nation and, indeed the world — and would provide the community with an opportunity to express anger and sorrow over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25.

James knew the march — kickstarted by Serenity Schreiber, a white high school student — was important. And he also knew the protest wasn’t garnering the support it warranted. So, he reached out. James is well-known in Danbury, active in sports and church. He has a large, loyal social media following. “So I said, ‘I want to help.’ I cosigned in Twitter and it got a buzz going,” he says

After that, James hit the ground running. Despite his lack of experience, he knew one thing: the protest had to remain peaceful. “Anything else would undermine our message, and they would say, ‘See? We shouldn’t gather.’” And more than anything, James felt, now was the time to gather. Like other students at Southern Connecticut State University who are joining statewide protests and speaking out, James felt the overarching racial impact of Floyd’s death couldn’t go unaddressed.

“It’s not just George Floyd,” he says. “[These protests are] the accumulation of lifetimes and lifetimes of injustices.”

James spent the next week seeking advice and securing the appropriate permits and endorsements for the march. He made phone calls, staying up until 3 a.m. and waking at 6 a.m. He spoke with everyone from Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour to Wesley Johnson, pastor at The Gathering Community Church. He reached out to Dorothy Day Hospitality House, which supplied masks and water bottles.

Solomon James, far right, marches in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement

When the June 6 march finally came, it started with a prayer. As protestors walked from Danbury Public Library to City Hall, they chanted in unison: “I can’t breathe” and “Say their names.” (Accounts of the numbers of attendees vary from the hundreds to the thousands.) They marched to the police station, where Chief Ridenhour fielded questions about his police force. Half the crowd then marched to I-84, where, with the help of police, the highway was shut down for an hour.

Standing on the highway, James could feel the tension growing, and he reminded his fellow protestors to keep the conversation on the cause and not on personal feelings. “I knew that just one bad incident could ruin the whole protest,” he says, of the protest, which remained peaceful.

A Community of Support
Fellow Southern student Xia’ian Carrasco, ’22, understands the challenge firsthand — the delicate balancing act of expressing raw emotions during a fraught, emotionally charged protest. Like James, Carrasco was compelled to take action, when she took the microphone at a June 4 peaceful protest in Bristol.

“I’m very emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve,” Carrascox says. “My friends and I have attended nine protests, all in Connecticut, but I just recently got the confidence to take the megaphone to speak to the masses. At first it’s nerve wracking, but I center myself and realize the movement and purpose is bigger than my emotions. I know that that will get through to people more.”

Xia’ian Carrasco

As a black woman, Carrasco says she feels disbelief that it is 2020 and “we still have to fight for equity.”

“I was 12 when Trayvon Martin was killed and now that I’m 20, I realize that these are hate crimes committed by someone who is supposed to protect us,” she says. “It’s definitely a challenge. Police are on our side in Bristol. They were there at the protest and listening. As for everywhere else, I keep my head on a constant 360. I, too, fear the people who get paid to protect us.”

Madison Johnson, ’22, a political science major at Southern and a self-described social activist, shares experiences similar to Carrasco’s. This fear and disbelief led her to join the protests as well.

“I’m a black woman so [Floyd’s death] hits home for me,” Johnson says. “I’ve had brothers and cousins affected by police brutality and I know this could be my dad. It has been my cousins. . . . I have been around this all my life, and I want to stand for my people and be a voice in their corner.”

To keep the momentum going, Johnson and a group of fellow supporters, including a Black Lives Matter group, are organizing a June 19 march at Bushnell Park in Hartford. “I’ve always been vocal about social justice and things that are important to my people,” Johnson says. “I definitely think there’s more movement toward change. This time it feels like people are listening. We are pushing to get in front of important people, trying to get them to pledge to take action.”

There are encouraging indications that important people are listening. Sen. Richard Blumenthal attended the first Danbury march. Johnson has been in touch with black legislators in anticipation of the Hartford march. Mayors, police chiefs, and town officials have been part of the dialogue.

In the city of Danbury, James notes that the conversation continued, too, after protestors walked off I-84 and back to town, where the police chief fielded more questions. To James, that accountability is absolutely necessary to affect real change, but it’s only one part of the equation.

“I’m so proud of the turnout,” he says. “It was white Danbury, Hispanic Danbury, Asian Danbury, straight Danbury, LGBTQ Danbury, black Danbury. Everyone was there! It was amazing to see everyone in unity. But after the march, I didn’t want it to be over. We need to keep asking questions. This isn’t a one and done situation.”

He continues: “This gets the ball rolling. But we can’t let it get to a flat surface so [that] it stops. Protesting is the easy part! You’re surrounded by people who share your cause. The hard part is when you’re by yourself. What happens when you’re the minority? Will you still be able to talk out against it and educate people? What you’re willing to do in the light, you also need to do in the dark. You can’t stay silent.”

Education and raising funds for support services may be key, too. “If we spent half the time educating police officers about educational reforms — and had more social workers and nurses in schools, that could make a change,” Carrasco says. She envisions a community where people would receive needed resources; a call for support rather than a call for police action. “So that [a] person could end up in a safe place instead of in a coffin. That’s why we’re here. This isn’t a trend, and I don’t want it to die out,” she says.

Rayon Lennon, '09, MSW '16

Poems can be prayers, life savers, and eye-openers. Poems can be therapeutic and transformational. For Southern alumnus and poet Rayon Lennon, ’09, MSW ’16, poetry is all of these things and more. So when the moment calls for a poem, Lennon answers that call, saying that poetry’s purpose “is to make us see — by clarifying and deepening our understanding of what it means to be alive.”

Lennon has won a number of writing contests, and his most recent accolade — his poem “Any Light” won the journal Rattle‘s “Poets Respond” contest on June 2, 2020 — is for a work that speaks to the moment we’re living in right now: a moment of global protest and the raising of millions of voices in support of racial justice.

“The poem originated from an incident I experienced on the golf course a number of days after the George Floyd tragedy,” Lennon says. The Poets Respond contest is Rattle‘s solution to the length of time it often takes for a poem to be published in the print journal. The contest recognizes poems “written within the last week about a public event that occurred within the last week.”

Lennon’s poem was published on Rattle’s website on June 2, 2020, eight days after George Floyd was violently killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Read “Any Light”

Born in rural Jamaica, Lennon moved to New Haven County when he was 13 and now lives in New Haven. He earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, as well as a master’s degree in social work, from Southern, and in addition to his successful career as a poet, he works as an adolescent psychotherapist. His work has been published widely in various literary magazines, and his poems have won numerous poetry awards, including the 2017 Rattle Poetry Prize contest for his poem “Heard” (the poem was chosen out of 15,000 contest entries and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize), for which he received a $10,000 cash prize. His poem, “Heaven Tree,” was nominated for Best of the Net by The Indianapolis Review in 2018. His first book of poems, Barrel Children, was released in March 2016 by Main Street Rag Publishing Company and was a finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for best poetry book.

Below, Lennon shares his thoughts on the power of poetry, living in a racist society, his work as a clinical therapist, and more.

1) How did you get started writing poetry?

My poems are prayers, I think. I write with the sense that God is reading my words and tweaking the world because of them. I write to map my emotional world too. I started to write in general at an early age because of a budding stutter (I still stutter). I write too to bridge my inner and outer worlds.

I was beyond sad to leave Jamaica when I was 13; in Connecticut, I wrote to preserve my warm memories of Jamaica. But the more I wrote the more I discovered that there were issues clouding paradise — issues I wanted to highlight.

I’m primarily a place poet. I draw from the world around me. I imbue objects in my surroundings with human qualities.

People have told enough lies about me for me to know that it’s not the truth that usually survives; what survives is the most compelling story. People can ruin your life that way. A good storyteller matters. I’m the child of divorced parents. I didn’t know my father well until I came to Connecticut. My father is easily the best storyteller I know. He can weave a story so intricate and moving that you forget that it may be a world of lies.

I can tell you there is nothing as thrilling as creating a poem. I would even take that feeling over winning the lottery or falling in love.

The poet Jericho Brown has talked about “crafting a rant.” That’s exactly what I do in my poems now. I let myself go and then package it in a poem.

The poet Tiana Clark has said she writes to save her own life. That’s true for me too.

2). You give a brief explanation as to the origin of the poem “Any Light” on the page below the poem. I like Rattle‘s idea of poetry that responds to events in the moment, and becomes part of the conversation — and your poem certainly does that, very powerfully. Can you talk a bit more about the golfing incident that inspired you to write the poem? Can you tell me about the poem’s title, which I see comes from a line in the poem?

Yes. I love Rattle’s Poet’s Respond contest. I think it encourages poets to look outside of themselves and to help to bring about change by making connections and enlightening people — with striking language — about who we were, who we are, and how we live now. The poem originated from an incident I experienced on the golf course a number of days after the George Floyd tragedy. I will say that the poem is a heightened version of what happened. In reality, it was a cordial exchange. In the poem, I sharpened the language and brought current events and history into the fold. I captured the spirit of that moment while also tailoring the incident to fit the needs of the poem. It was not the first time that someone hit a ball my way while I was on a golf course. It was the first time I confronted someone about it — in that way. Those other incidences also shaped the poem. It was twilight and I was playing the last hole at a golf course. I was about to hit my second shot into the green when a ball zinged by my head. I couldn’t believe it. Someone on the tee behind me had hit a tee shot while I was close enough to be hit by it. I knew the person had seen me before he hit the shot. I waited for the person; and saw it was a young white guy. He was nonchalant about the incident — as though he hadn’t valued my life. I was nice to him, but made him know that it was wrong. I was wearing a red shirt. So he must have seen me. In golf, one is supposed to wait before hitting a ball if the person is close and could get hit by the ball. I immediately thought about George Floyd then as I knelt to read the putt — the way the officer had devalued Floyd’s life and kept his knee on his neck even as Floyd begged for air. That’s how the poem was born. I wrote it within an hour.

I’m usually not very good at analyzing my own poems. I leave that up to readers and scholars. But I’ll give it a try.

I think the title, “Any Light,” can have different meanings for different people. “Any Light” can mean any source of hope. It can mean that any light — self-awareness, love, kindness, empathy, etc., — will help to root out racism. For me, it also means people can choose to make you invisible if it benefits them. Someone can see you in any light they want. That means that the person who is viewing you is projecting on to you whatever internalized/generalized perceptions that person has been harboring about you or people like you. That person can choose to see you as good or bad. It’s a choice. It can also be the poet/speaker’s way of asking for any “light” of kindness in these trying times. Any light, any hope to increase racial harmony. People can choose whether to see or treat you how they want to see and treat you. What’s important is that we treat each other fairly and well. In the poem, the poet speaker tells the offending golfer that the golfer — before hitting his ball — should have been able to see him in any light because he was wearing a red shirt. But also, the poet speaker is saying that the golfer chose to not see him; and it’s his choice whether he wants to challenge and root out racist programming or continue to live by it. It’s not only that he hit the ball towards me, but it’s if I were invisible to me. And that’s a choice he made.

On another note, I love golf because it teaches me about life. Tiger Woods, the first African American golfer to win the Masters and who is now tied for the most wins in PGA tour history, once said that his father used to yell the N-word at him during practice sessions just so he would get used to hearing it, so he wouldn’t get distracted by hearing it from people in crowds during tournaments.

Golf teaches me how to be patient and roll with life. In golf, you can hit a perfect shot and it ends up in the water or the woods. You have to be patient and be mentally tough. I typically play 18 holes (4-5 hours of walking); and a lot happens in that time. It’s an adventure. I started to golf to find peace on weekends after working a long week of providing therapy to families. I love the groomed greens, clapping leaves, and bodies of water. I love how the game occupies my thoughts. It’s brought me peace.

I also stutter and the key in golf is to not swing with all your power. If you swing hard you will likely lose control of the club and ball. The key to managing my stutter is to slow down my speech.

3) Of what use is poetry in today’s world?

I love what Salman Rushdie says about poetry: “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” Yes. Poets “name the unnameable.” Poets live to point out connections. I can’t say exactly what poetry means to the wider world. I can say what poetry means to me. I don’t want people to fall in love with my poems. I want people to be uncomfortable when they read my poems; I want them to question their lives; I want them to change. I know a poem has matured when I can’t read it without crying or getting angry. The singular gift of poetry is its ability to open up a window into another person’s perspective. Poetry tells you what the other is experiencing. It tells you in a moving, eye-opening and startling way. I want to startle people into action. I want to know what someone else sees and feels. I think on some level I’m talking about empathy, which is key to love and unity. And as a clinical therapist, I do use poetry in therapy. Poetry is my therapy. Poetry shows us that we are all mostly tiny dots down here facing the same hurdles to happiness. Poetry has this ability to open my eyes and enlighten me, helping me to see and think differently. I love being enlightened by poems on a line to line level. I remember discovering the poetry of the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott and understanding for the first time how poetry can deepen and define a country and a people’s understanding of themselves. How everything, as Walcott indicates, is a poem. Poetry’s work then is to make us see — by clarifying and deepening our understanding of what it means to be alive.

4) Tell me about your experience as a creative writing student at Southern. Were there particular courses or professors or experiences at Southern that you would say especially made an impact on you?

On a more formal level, I fell for poetry after failing as a fiction writer in college. I attended SCSU and attained a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. I learned much of what I know now from the terrific creative writing staff there. In college, I wrote an unpublished novel (which was really a prose poem). I flirted with narrative poems and discovered that my thoughts fit better into this form. I love being able to fit a whole short story into a page-long, enlightening poem. My poems tend to have a strong narrative spirit running through them (because of my previous relationship with fiction). I want readers to get wrapped up in the narrative of my poems. My poems operate somewhere between fiction and poetry. I like to mix genres.

The English Department at Southern made me into the poet I am today. Jeff Mock (poetry professor), Tim Parrish (fiction professor), Robin Troy (former fiction professor), Jennifer Holley Lux (former creative writing professor), Vivian Shipley (poetry professor). All of these people shaped me into the poet I am today. Also, other English professors at Southern played pivotal roles in my growth as a poet. I received unconditional support from Steven Larocco, Brandon Hutchinson, Dana Sonnenschein, Dr. Ogbaa, Anthony Rosso, etc. These professors regularly read my budding creative work outside the classroom and provided me with valuable feedback.

Nearly two decades later, I still continue to communicate with many of the above professors. Vivian and Dana provided blurbs for my first poetry book. I regularly trade poems with Brandon Hutchinson. Steve Larocco and Rosso were like my therapists and good friends while I attended Southern. I stay in touch with Tim as well. I am proud of the work that Tim has done to transform the creative writing program into a powerhouse MFA program.

When I was struggling as a poet while in college, Steve Larocco pointed me toward Derek Walcott’s work (Derek Walcott is a towering, Nobel-winning, Caribbean poet). This helped me tremendously. I learned a lot from Walcott’s work. And this helped me — perhaps more than all other factors — to become the poet I am today. Walcott’s themes and way of writing matched my poetic vision. His work taught me how to see differently; how to find poetry in everything.

Also, the creative writing contests and literary journals at Southern helped me to gain confidence as a writer. I still remember the thrill of seeing my first published story in Folio, the undergraduate literary journal at SCSU. I remember the deeper thrill of winning the magazine’s poetry and fiction contests some time later. One year I won both of Folio‘s contests — poetry and fiction. I think I won the poetry contest a few years in a row. I also won many SCSU creative writing contests. To me, these early successes fueled my confidence and led me down the path I am still on today. Those early poems would take center stage in my first poetry collection.

Southern was good to me. I even received speech therapy for my stutter from the Communication Disorders Department. I think I attended speech therapy there for years. I learned a lot. They taught me how to manage my stutter and how to accept it — and embrace my gifts and my challenges. This was crucial for my growth as a poet, person, and therapist. While in college, I would ask my friends to read my poems at poetry readings. But after speech therapy, I gained enough confidence to go on stage and read my work. It empowered me. And I continued to challenge myself by reading to a wider audience.

After I left Southern, I helped to start a poetry workshop group of former creative writing students. We meet at each other’s homes once per month and workshop each other’s poems; and drink wine and eat pastries and fruits. The group has been meeting for four years. There are currently five members in our group: Lee Keylock (founding member), Pat Mottola, Matthew Beacom, and Maryanne Bowen. The workshops are serious and fun, and have played a pivotal role in my success as a poet.

5) Can you tell me about the work that you do in your profession of clinical therapist? Do you see a connection between your work as a poet and your work as a therapist?

Yes, there is a connection. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I received my master’s in social work from SCSU. (On a side note, while attending Southern as a social work student, I won the graduate poetry contest. It proved to me then that my true calling was poetry and that I ought to continue to write.) I work as a psychotherapist. I provide in-home therapy to a range of clients. I provide individual, couples, and family therapies. I frequently utilize art in my work. Especially with clients who are artistic. My work drives my art and my art drives my work. I work to empower people and to shine a light on their perspective.

6) I see on your website that your mission is to help Barrel Children in Jamaica. Can you tell me the nature of this work and why you do it?

Barrel Children are children whose parents leave Jamaica to come to America to make a living and send back money and barrels full of essential and nonessential items for them. The barrels replace the parents. The children are left with relatives or others. They face psychological and physiological challenges. It’s a major problem in Jamaica. I am a Barrel Child. My goal is to increase awareness around this challenge.

Also, my first poetry book, Barrel Children, came out of a special project I completed in order to fulfill my requirements for my master’s degree in social work. A good many of my poems are about feeling “Homeless at Home.” Or being an immigrant in a sometimes cold foreign land.

I recently completed a new poetry manuscript called “Heard.” And I’m working on a new chapbook called “Notes for Wedding Vows during a Pandemic.”

Learn more about Rayon Lennon and his work.

 

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our eighth group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Jennifer Botwick, Alexander Grant, Rebecca Hedreen, Jamie Malaterra, and Deborah Weiss for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Jennifer Botwick
Nominated by a staff member, Jennifer Botwick is an adjunct faculty member who teaches in the Department of Public Health. Her nominator wrote that they initially met when Botwick asked to borrow some yoga mats to teach yoga to her Wellness class. When COVID hit, and Botwick was unable to practice yoga with her students in person, her nominator reached out to ask if Botwick would be able to host a live meditation, and, hr nominator wrote, “she contributed so much more! Not only did Dr. Jenn host several Instagram live meditations and other Q&A sessions focusing on different areas of student health, she also contributed recipes and tips and resources for our Recreation and Fitness team to share with our community to inspire continued well being at home. She made herself available at all times, while seeing her patients via telehealth and still teaching her Southern students online. As an adjunct faculty member, she didn’t have to contribute anything, but as a health practitioner and genuinely caring member of our community, she said ‘yes’ to all of our requests because of her genuine care for health, safety, and well being of our students. Dr. Jenn absolutely went above and beyond and we are so grateful for her talents and positivity to help our community.”

Jennifer Botwick

Alexander Grant
Nominated by a fellow student, Alexander Grant is a sophomore, majoring in political science, from Woodbury, Conn. He is also a Presidential Student Ambassador at Southern. His nominator reports that Grant has worked at his local grocery store, LaBonne’s, since high school and often talks about how great his co-workers are and how he has always enjoyed working there. His intentions to return to work there were only for the duration of spring break. However, due to the sudden shutdown of the campus, he was quick to return to work and start helping his community. “Now that he’s a part of one of the smaller populace of workers still working during this time,” wrote Grant’s nominator, “he’s been doing as much as possible to help those in need all while trying to balance coursework from classes. Alex recently has been making grocery runs for friends and family to help them and ensure that they continue to stay safe and get all the essentials they’ll need to remain at home.”

Grant’s nominator added that Grant is also actively involved with managing and controlling the long lines often seen at the grocery store, yet again ensuring that those coming to shop are staying sanitary and having a smooth experience. His nominator continued, “He underestimates the amount he’s contributing to his community and still is by continuing to work during these tough times.”

Alexander Grant

Rebecca Hedreen
Nominated by a faculty colleague, Rebecca Hedreen has been carrying out a multitude of tasks in Buley library as the Distance Librarian in charge of all of the library’s virtual services during the pandemic. Her nominator wrote that Hedreen “has been an exceptional colleague this time and the go-to person for students and faculty in anything related to library online resources and services. What is most admirable about Rebecca is her willingness to drop everything she is doing to help anyone who approaches her online anytime any day.”

Hedreen created the initial Virtual Library page, which was used as a template for the new Buley Library homepage, and participated actively in the decision making and design of the new page as a member of the Library Technology Committee. She has been a tremendous help to her colleagues in using the SpringShare suite of products library uses for remote services. Hedreen continues to participate actively in the university-wide Online Learning Team’s planning sessions, trainings, and drop-in times including a host of other committees. In addition, she manages the library’s social media presence (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) with over 500 posts. She continues to participate in virtual desk services and online library instruction providing assistance to many students and faculty in her liaison subjects in biology, nursing, and psychology including distance learning assistance in all areas. “She is a remarkable and outstanding librarian and we want to appreciate her expertise and professionalism,” added her nominator.

Rebecca Hedreen

Jamie Malaterra
Nominated by a fellow student, Jamie Malaterra is a communication disorders major from Trumbull, Conn. Her nominator wrote, “I can’t think of a student more worthy of recognition than my good friend, Jamie Malaterra. Throughout this time of crisis, Jamie has been a shining light. There are so many examples of how she has been there for her community.”

In the very beginning of quarantine, her nominator wrote, Malaterra noticed her elderly neighbors were afraid to leave their homes and wanted to do something to brighten up her neighborhood. She wrote and delivered letters challenging all of the neighborhood children to decorate the neighborhood with colorful chalk messages of hope, and even supplied the chalk. That same day, the children filled the street with drawings and hopeful words.

Malaterra is also an essential healthcare worker. At the Kennedy Center, she works one-on-one with several adults with special needs. Her nominator said that one of Malaterra’s clients has been making incredible progress with her. Together they practice communication skills, occupational skills, and exercise. Currently, Malaterra is working with this client on learning to write his name, and he is making great strides.

Also, her nominator wrote, Malaterra is the older sister of a high school senior, and is planning a driveby graduation celebration for her sister, recruiting all of her friends to decorate their cars and drive by their house to celebrate her sister’s graduation. Her nominator added, “I couldn’t be more proud of Jamie. Southern is so lucky to have her as a part of our community.”

Jamie Malaterra

Deborah Weiss
Nominated by a faculty colleague,  Deborah Weiss is a professor in the Department of Communication Disorders, co-director of the Judaic Studies Program, and president of the SCSU Faculty Senate. Her nominator wrote, “Since the moment it was understood that our semester would be disrupted in an unprecedented way, Dr. Deborah Weiss, in her role as President of the Faculty Senate, bounded into action and has been at the center of developing and getting approval for policies that have been vital to enabling
students to succeed. At the same time, she has been instrumental in finding ways to ensure vital processes (e.g., faculty evaluation) would go forward in an orderly way, and has masterfully applied crisis-communication techniques to bring clarity to new options, revised procedures and altered expectations.

Under enormous pressure to “get it right the first time,” her nominator wrote, Weiss has been able to work harmoniously and productively with, and foster consensus among, key faculty, administration and staff leaders. Her accomplishments have served the university well, he writes, adding “in fact, they are awe inspiring, and worthy of a presidential medal of valor, were such a thing to exist. All of this was done at a tremendous personal cost of time and sleep, and in spite of the most difficult of family demands that were happening at the same time — which, of course, attests to Deb’s heroic dedication to Southern Connecticut State University and the members of our campus community. During times of crisis, clear thinking, full engagement with all affected parties, willingness to act, selflessness, compassion and smarts carry the day. Deb Weiss embodies all of those characteristics and has used every available ounce of energy to make Southern shine brightly during a dark period.”

Deborah Weiss

 

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our seventh group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Alan Bensen, Haroon Chaudhry, Diane Morgenthaler, Roland Regos, and Sue Zarnowski for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Alan Bensen
Nominated by a faculty member, Alan Bensen is a biology major who took Physics 201 this spring, a course designed for non-Physics majors. His professor wrote that Bensen was an excellent student and very responsible, but at some point during the semester, he requested some accommodation for an exam time change. At that point, Bensen’s nominator wrote, “I learned from him that he is a first responder, working in the EMS. And he had a very busy new schedule. At some point later, he told me that ten of his patients were confirmed with COVID-19. Even in such a situation, he still got a perfect grade for that exam. I asked him if there was anything I (we) could do to help. He said the best way for people to help was to stay home and practice social distancing. I have been truly touched by his service, his attitude, and his performance, and feel that he should be recognized.”
Alan Bensen

Haroon Chaudhry

Graduate student Haroon Chaudhry was nominated by a faculty member, who wanted to recognize Chaudhry for his offer of free resume and cover letter editing, and practice interviewing to students and recent graduates. “These are services for which he could be paid,” she wrote, “but is giving back to the community by offering these services for free.”

Chaudhry is an undergraduate alumnus (class of 2019) and a graduate student in the accelerated MBA program. He takes time from his own busy work and academic schedule to offer his time and skills to help ungraduated students and recent graduates. In Chaudhry’s Facebook post, where he offers his services, he writes, “This university has given me everything a student can ask for and now I want to give back to the community. I typically charge people for professional services but I’m offering free services to everyone. First, congratulations to the class of 2020.”

Chaudhry continues, “Currently, we are living in a global crisis and many of us are struggling. I know people who have been laid off or had internships cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak and I know this is happening everywhere. I want to help out in any way I can and would love to edit resumes or cover letters, do a practice interview or provide career advice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!”

Haroon Chaudhry
Diane Morgenthaler
Diane Morgenthaler, director of Student Health Services, was nominated by a student who recently graduated. This student had been hospitalized for three weeks with COVID-19, and when she was finally well enough to go home, she was told she needed to have a nebulizer to give herself breathing treatments. There were no nebulizers available anywhere in the state for her to have at home, and her breathing began to slowly deteriorate again. Roland Regos (see below), a member of President Bertolino’s staff and and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management, asked this student to give him some time to make calls and send emails to try to get a nebulizer machine. Otherwise, she would have gone back to the hospital. “Then,” she wrote, “a miracle happened. I received a phone call from Diane Morgenthaler. She learned from Roland about my plight. Diane left her home in Old Saybrook and drove to the SCSU campus and picked up a nebulizer machine and medicine. She then drove to Waterbury to bring me this life-saving equipment. I couldn’t believe it! Diane stood in the parking lot and was showing me how to properly use the nebulizer. The teamwork that Roland and Diane performed truly saved my life.”
Dr. Diane Morgenthaler
Roland Regos

Roland Regos, nominated by the same recent graduate who nominated Morgenthaler, coordinates the Presidential Student Ambassadors program and served as a mentor to his nominator, who was an Ambassador. But, his nominator wrote, he “was more than a mentor to me . . . He encouraged me to do my best and to have a positive attitude in good and bad times. In March, I was admitted into Waterbury Hospital extremely ill from COVID-19. Every day I struggled to fight this virus. Roland called and allowed me to call him any time of the day. There were many days of pain, fear, and tears. Roland faithfully was there for me as I lost many family and friends to COVID-19. Often, I would tell Roland to just make me laugh. I was so exhausted from the struggle to breathe. Roland always found a way to make me want to fight on! The funny pictures and Snapchat memes of himself made me smile when I wanted to give up.”

His nominator reports that Regos still checks on her just about every day. “His dedication and commitment are priceless,” she wrote. “I will be forever grateful to one of the kindest, caring, and supportive people on earth.”

Roland Regos

Sue Zarnowski

Nominated by a colleague, Sue Zarnowski serves as case manager for the Dean of Student Affairs Office, where she supports students who encounter challenges of all types. Prior to quarantine, Zarnowski helped connect students to countless resources in the community and at Southern, from accessing financial resources to, as an example, working with hair salons to help students access free hair cuts for job interviews. Since the university moved online, Zarnowski has been integral to helping students find and access resources. Her nominator wrote, “She is often the person behind the scenes that is moving pieces into place so that students can be successful or sometimes, just receive some relief from the burdens of the world. She has worked tirelessly to identify ways to provide wifi, financial assistance, shelter, and other basic needs. She connects with countless students individually to help them to build a strategy, learn how to advocate for themselves, and sometimes just to listen. Going well beyond her role at the university, she has an unwavering commitment to Southern, students, and people in need.”
Sue Zarnowski

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our sixth group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Parker Fruehan, Loida Reyes, Cara Richardson, Shuei Kozu, and Andrew Smyth for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Parker Fruehan

Parker Fruehan, systems librarian at Buley Library, was nominated by a colleague, who wrote that he “has been an instrumental part of Buley Library’s transition to being fully online and he’s making a difference beyond the Southern community during this pandemic.”

Fruehan’s nominator explains that as the systems librarian, Fruehan works with the technology needs of the library. When campus closed, he worked tirelessly to ensure all library faculty and staff had laptops and other any other technology needed to continue their services remotely. He worked with library employees to answer their questions and support them in any way needed. In addition to this, he updated the library website and catalog to highlight Buley’s virtual services and resources. These updates allow students, faculty, and the entire Southern community to find digital resources such as articles, e-books, and streaming videos, without sifting through physical items that are current inaccessible due to the building closure. All of this work has allowed the entire library to seamlessly switch to a virtual platform as it continues to provide support to all academic departments, students, faculty and more across the university’s now virtual campus.

Fruehan is also making a difference beyond Southern during the pandemic. His nominator wrote that he is working with UConn Health to print mask exoskeletons using the 3D printers from Buley Library’s Makerspace. The mask exoskeletons, which were highlighted on scsulibrary’s Instagram page on April 9, create a better seal for non-respirator masks. Fruehan and his student worker each brought home a 3D printer and the necessary filament before campus closed and have been printing the mask exoskeletons at home and sending the masks to Uconn Health.

His nominator continued, “I believe all of these reasons make Parker Fruehan an excellent candidate for the SouthernStrong Award. I’m proud to be able to call him my colleague and hope that his hard work can get recognized.”

Parker Fruehan

Shuei Kozu

Shuei Kozu, assistant professor of social work, was nominated by a graduate student, who wrote that she “has made the transition to online learning enjoyable rather than extremely stressful.” According to her nominator, Kozu was able to re-evaluate the course syllabus to adjust assignments and accommodate accordingly and “has reached out to the quiet students individually to address if they needed anything or if she can further support them in any way. She has went as far as to chat with her students on the phone.” Her nominator added that Kozu “has been extremely empathetic and accommodating to all students and had started a support group for social work staff. Her dissertation in crisis management has prepared her to handle situations like this in the most professional and supportive way. As a graduate student, I am extremely grateful and thankful to have had Dr. Shuei as a professor.”

Shuei Kozu

Loida Reyes

Loida Reyes, assistant professor of social work, was nominated by a student, who wrote that Reyes “has done a tremendous job of reminding her students that despite this difficult time, that we will get through this. Along with the rest of the SCSU class of 2020, my SWK 491 class expressed our feelings of sadness in regards to our graduation ceremony getting cancelled. Being the empathetic person that she is, she threw a graduation celebration for our class through Zoom. She played the graduation song, gave us each our own personalized speech about our achievements throughout the Social Work program, and recognized all of our hard work that we have put into this program. She also invited other faculty and their students in the program to join our Zoom session as well. Although this is not the graduation ceremony that we had all planned on having, she completely went out of her way to make sure that her students knew that their work would be recognized. This was the most thoughtful gift that she could have given us, and this act of kindness is something that I will always cherish, and never forget. Dr. Reyes is such a caring, compassionate, and inspiring teacher that deserves this recognition.”

Loida Reyes

Cara Richardson

Student Cara Richardson holds many leadership positions, both on and off campus. On campus, she is a Peer Mentor, a Presidential Student Ambassador, the Panhellenic Delegate of Alpha Sigma Alpha, the co-vice president of Psi Chi, and a Representative at Large for SGA and the class of 2021. Her nominator wrote that Richardson is “constantly reaching out to her peers to make sure they are okay during these trying times,” as well as making service efforts in her hometown. She is a volunteer for a local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, and she has been collecting food and clothing items to donate to her local shelter during the pandemic to help those who have been affected by this crisis.

Cara Richardson

Andrew Smyth

Andrew Smyth, chairman of the English Department, was nominated by four of his colleagues in the English Department, all of whom expressed deep gratitude for his exceptional leadership, kindness, and sensitivity during the pandemic and move to virtual classes.

One nominator wrote that Smyth has “juggled his many responsibilities with grace, skill, and — when needed — a sense of humor. His care for both students and colleagues is evident. He’s thorough and efficient in providing information, taking care to keep us up to date while also respecting our time. He’s responded to my questions with amazing speed and remarkable patience and thought, providing guidance that has allowed me to better serve my students.” Smyth has held regular office hours on Teams so faculty knew there was a time they could check in with questions, and he even started a weekly department happy hour via Teams to provide his colleagues “with much-needed time to chat and laugh together. He’s helped to lift the spirits of both students and colleagues.”

A second nominator added that Smyth has been “a model of thoughtful, helpful leadership, and our semester would have been much harder without his guidance.”

A third nominator wrote of Smyth, “In addition to answering any student and faculty questions and regularly addressing any concerns, I wanted to draw especial attention to his sincere and consistent efforts to provide resources and a voice of support for our part-time faculty colleagues. Andrew recognized the particularly vulnerable situations that many part-time faculty have found themselves in over the last couple of months, and has been outspoken in seeking to help them navigate this crisis. Somehow, he is able to offer this same level of support to full-time faculty, students, and staff both within and beyond the English department as well — I cannot see how he ever has time to sleep, given all that he does!”

His fourth nominator wrote that most of the many reasons for which she felt Smyth deserved to be recognized with a SouthernStrong Award “fall into two categories: advocating for students by modeling and urging empathy for what is actually happening in their lives right now; and communicating clearly and consistently with faculty and students in order to keep everyone as calm and focused as possible.” He was able to help a student who had become housing insecure and had her hours at work cut, and he supported his faculty even more than he usually does by responding quickly to emails, Teams chats, and phone calls, and doing all of this “with grace and good humor.”

She added, “The English Department is large, with over 60 full- and part-time faculty. What Andrew is doing for me, he is doing for all of us. He is definitely Southern Strong. I hope you will recognize his extraordinary efforts on behalf of our students.”

Andrew Smyth