Monthly Archives: February 2021

Seth Michelson
Seth Michelson
Understanding the Plight of Detained Migrant Children

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, migrant children who are detained at the U.S. border “face almost universal traumatic histories.” Award-winning poet-activist Seth Michelson has given some of those child asylees a voice in his bi-lingual collection of their poems, Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum Security Detention. This April, through the Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) Committee’s social justice program, Michelson will share his experiences with the campus community.

During Michelson’s three-day virtual visit, he will meet with classes, conduct a poetry workshop for creative writing students, talk with Latinx community leaders, and present a lecture for the entire community. On Wednesday, April 7, he will deliver a live keynote address, “Dreaming America,” followed by Q&A from 12-2:30 p.m., and from 5:30-7:30 p.m. will engage with community members in “A Conversation with Seth Michelson on Meaningful Advocacy and Activism.” Both events are free and open to the public.

“We have robust activities,” says committee co-chair William Faraclas, professor of public health, and director, LACS. “We have a session with organizations that serve immigrant populations, and a workshop on meaningful advocacy and activism to help attendees think more broadly about potential for activism.”

In November 2019, the LACS Committee brought to campus Sonia Nazario, journalist and New York Times best-selling author of Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. Similarly, this year’s event aims to heighten Southern’s commitment to social justice and its institutional values.

“Many students wanted to do something after last year’s event,” Carmen Coury, an assistant professor of Latin American history and committee co-chair. “I suggested Seth to the LACS committee because he takes his poetry to people who need a voice and that can be inspiring to students. We all have different skills and gifts, and they can be used to make a difference.”

Faraclas adds that Michelson’s visit also provides an opportunity to educate students and the community about immigration.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion in our country about immigration,” Faraclas says. “Just about 2 percent of the population consists of native people, and 98 percent is a result of immigration. We are all immigrants and yet a significant part of society has a cautious or hostile reaction to immigrants.

“We need to understand how we share a place in the world and how our relationship is a two-way street,” he says. “In our LACS program, we want students to understand that complicated relationship. We need to consider facts and have a conversation. Perhaps we can begin to talk together about how we can create policies that work for everyone.”

poster advertising Seth Michelson's talk

Michelson isn’t the person only to “visit” campus for the event.

Southern will welcome back Laurence Moffi, ’61, founder and publisher of Settlement House, the non-profit publisher of Dreaming America. Settlement House “takes its name from the settlement houses of the late 19th and 20th centuries that provided community through their social and cultural support and services to the urban poor and immigrant populations.” True to its namesake, the publisher is donating the proceeds of the book to a legal defense fund for incarcerated child asylees.

Loida Reyes, committee co-chair and assistant professor of social work, plans to invite a speaker from the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) to her Children and Families in Child Welfare class to talk about “how unaccompanied children have been sent back to their home country or are staying with an American guardian,” and current DCF policies in Connecticut.

“I worked for DCF before I came to Southern so I bring first-hand knowledge to this issue,” Reyes says. “How do we prepare families for what may happen if they are undocumented? Do they have plans in place for their children? These issues are prominent. Policies continue to change. I want my students to think about how as up-and-coming practitioners, how are they doing to integrate this experience into their work.

“It’s not enough to just have compassion and just to want to help children and families but I really want to emphasize and assist my students with how, especially in ways that don’t cause further damage.”

The hope, too, is that the event helps to foster respect for the dignity of all human beings.

“It’s important that students understand why thousands of immigrants are leaving Central America,” Coury says. “These people are not just numbers. [Michelson’s book] helps create compassion and a desire to understand the situation.”

SCSU art professor Thuan Vu reviewing student artwork in Earl Hall
Professor of Art Thuan Vu (in blue) reviews student artwork in Earl Hall.

Students paint and draw their way through the pandemic, tackling assignments that nod to life today — from masks to 6 feet of separation.

COVID-19 has dramatically altered life as we know it, including the intermediate drawing and painting courses taught simultaneously and in person by Thuan Vu, professor of art [above in blue]. Like many colleges and universities, Southern launched the fall semester with plans to switch entirely to remote education after the Thanksgiving break. But throughout the unseasonably warm months leading to that date, Vu’s students met for almost three hours each Tuesday and Thursday on the second floor of Southern’s Earl Hall to learn, create, and social distance.

Many aspects of the courses shifted in step with health and safety guidelines. Throughout Earl Hall — home to Southern’s departments of art and music — signs highlight one-way traffic patterns, separate entrances/exits, and reduced room-occupancy rates. Vu’s students were assigned to workspaces in three separate but adjacent studio classrooms to ensure social distancing, and all always wore protective masks.

In addition to shaping how the students worked, COVID-19 also informed their assignments. “I can always say, ‘Do a portrait.’ But there is so much going on right now in the world. Why not be topical, while still leaving the assignments open-ended so students can express what they want to express?” says Vu. And so, through their art, the students were asked to explore 1. masks (be they physical or psychological), 2. 6 feet of separation (a work at least 6 feet long or wide, reflecting social-distancing guidelines) and 3. the year 2020. For the latter, students hand-stretched two 20 X 20-inch canvases. On one, they presented a positive aspect of the year; on the other, a negative. Some of the results are seen here.

Vu is an award-winning, practicing artist — the recipient of a 2020 Artistic Excellence grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, one of only two painters to receive the honor. He’s taught at Southern since fall 1999, but notes that he and his fellow faculty members are navigating uncharted territory. “I have done this for 21 years, and [in the past] students would have concerns or be facing situations that usually fell into certain categories. But we’ve never had a worldwide pandemic. We’ve never had to switch to online teaching in the middle of a semester [like Southern did last spring], turning on a dime,” he says.

In contrast, faculty and staff had time to prepare for the 2020-21 academic year. “To teach on-ground is a blessing. They chose to be here,” says Vu, gesturing to the students. He stresses the need to be cognizant of students’ greater challenges — family and friends sick with COVID-19, personal illnesses, financial issues caused by the pandemic, or a potential need to quarantine.  In response, he has created 10 videos to demonstrate techniques both online and in the classroom, so students can watch him up close and personal while social distancing. Supplies also were ordered so the artists wouldn’t need to make additional trips. Above all, Vu insists that health concerns are first and foremost.

On a sunny day in October, he considered several of the 6-feet projects being drawn and painted: “Some people are drawing trains in the desert. Others are creating mythic graphic works that are super detailed or propaganda movie posters. And one is making an autobiographical portrait about being the son of a fisherman. Everyone has a take on it, because they are living through it. We want to hear their voices coming out in the work, and we do — and I love it all.”

Jaime Roy

Work of art by SCSU art student Jamie Roy

When the COVID-19 pandemic surged last spring, Jaime Roy, a senior majoring in studio art, was taking the art history course, “Global Arts of the Renaissance.” At the time, it seemed apropos to be studying art and the plague. Her mask paintings are inspired by what she learned. In particular, Roy recalls a painting the professor shared of bodies being placed in a mass grave. “One of the people carrying the bodies had a little slip of paper tucked in his hat, a prayer that was supposed to protect him from the plague. But if you looked closely, you could see a sore on his face, a sign that he was already infected,” says Roy.

Work of art by SCSU art student Jamie Roy

“This is my hand and my boyfriend’s hand,” says Roy of her 6-feet project. “I used to see him every single day. Now, when I do get to see him, I don’t know when the next time will be. It could be two weeks. Or, it could be a month. Especially with the lockdown, we had no idea. So, that is what this is about.”

Joshua Fitzpatrick, ’20

Work of art by SCSU art student Joshua FitzpatrickFamily is a central theme in the projects created by Joshua Fitzpatrick, ’20, who is one of seven siblings. “I have never drawn any of them, so I thought it would be a fun way to approach the [mask] project” says Fitzpatrick, then a senior majoring in studio art with a concentration in graphic design. While his siblings’ faces are depicted realistically, he rendered the masks in a flattened style without shadowing, adding a pop of color on images that graphically depict one of many aspects of the wearers’ personalities — from a love of star gazing to an analytical nature. For his youngest sibling, 15-year-old Hazel, a heart depicts the artist’s high regard and acknowledgement of the challenges facing teens, especially during the pandemic. “She is such an amazing person, so much better than anything she could possibly show on social media,” he says.

Work of art by SCSU art student Joshua FitzpatrickThe inspiration for his 6-feet project came from a visit home and a momentary pause he took before hugging his mother goodbye. “I guess everyone understands where that pause came from. But it made me think about the people who normally see their friends all of the time, but haven’t been able to visit for a while. I haven’t seen my friends in months,” he says. His project is 10-feet across — so the figures at each end are truly 6-feet apart. In the center of the drawing, figures embrace. “They just want to be close to each other, and, obviously, COVID got in the way of it,” he says.

Work of art by SCSU art student Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee

Sophomore Brandon Lee has weathered his share of recent challenges. The week prior to beginning freshman classes at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, he learned that its partnership with the University of New Haven was ending at the close of the 2018-19 academic year — effectively shuttering the degree-granting program he was enrolled in at the Lyme campus. And so, as a sophomore, he finds himself at Southern. It’s been a fine move artistically, says Lee. In the midst of the pandemic, on-campus, in-person courses bring peace and relief. “It’s a shared experience, everyone committed to the same common goal of completing works. It definitely gives you motivation,” says Lee. He notes that his 6-feet drawing [right] — among the largest he’s ever done — is his favorite from the course — a self-portrait based on a narrative he imagined about a fisherman’s son.

Shaina Alexander

Senior studio art major Shaina Alexander is a transfer student who came to Southern with credits from Middlesex Community College and Montserrat College of Art. “She embraced the idea of having a little more humoristic aspect to her work,” says Vu, with a smile.

Work of art by SCSU art student Shaina Alexander

“So, I thought, why don’t I do strange masks that I’ve seen,” she says. Included are a self-portrait and drawings of her cousin and father, all donning intricate masks complete with zippers, an opening for straws, or a clear space to reveal the wearer’s mouth.

Work of art by SCSU art student Emelia Luz

Emelia Luz

Emelia Luz, who transferred to Southern from the Maine College of Art, appreciates Professor Vu’s willingness to embrace whimsy in her drawings.

In search of inspiration for her mask project, the sophomore turned to the nation’s health care workers. Her initial muse: a parent who works as an emergency room nurse. “I wanted to show how basically we see health care workers as warriors,” she says of her cartoon-inspired images of health care heroes fighting the COVID-19 virus. “And I do love playing with a little bit of fantasy in my pieces,” she says.

Thomas DeFranco

Work of art by SCSU art student Thomas DeFranco

Work of art by SCSU art student Thomas DeFranco

“My series is about how masks change us — who we appear to be to ourselves and the world,” says senior Thomas DeFranco, a studio art major with a concentration in graphic design. “For this [self-portrait], I thought about how we perceive ourselves under the mask. Nobody sees under the mask anymore — the fear associated with the sickness and the threat of death.”

For the 6-feet project [right], DeFranco was inspired by the three parts of Italian-writer Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem the Divine Comedy: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). DeFranco’s work reflects the etching style often used to illustrate Dante’s masterpiece, “with some personal twists,” he says.

Nathan Shilling

Work of art by SCSU art student Nathan ShillingA self-described “hands-on learner,” Nathan Shilling says he’ll enroll in on-campus course options whenever possible.  He’s an interdisciplinary studies major, with concentrations in biology and studio art. Commenting on one of his mask drawings, he notes: “Originally, I didn’t want to have a definable figure. Just a mask. But then I figured with the political climate [in October before the election], everything is devolving right now, so I drew a chimp.”


Isabelle Reina

Work of art by SCSU art student Isabelle ReinaIsabelle Reina, a senior art education major, is student teaching this spring. But she first experienced the power of art education at age 15, while working at Cindy Stevens Fine Art in Clinton, Conn. “I was inspired by all of the positive things [my boss] was doing for the community — working with children, adults, people facing addiction. I saw how a creative outlet helps to positively impact lives,” says Reina. She strove to relay that positive spirit in Vu’s class. Her mask projects portray close friends, her brother’s girlfriend [right], and her new dog, Max, a husky puppy, who joined the family when he was 4-months old, right before Southern closed its physical campus and switched entirely to remote education for the spring 2020 semester. Max was a joy and a challenge for Reina, who was tackling upper-level, online courses. “He’s ripping up the masks [in the painting]. Because he’s a dog — and that’s his thing,” says Reina, with a laugh. She was thrilled to return to Earl Hall when campus reopened for the fall 2020 semester. “I love working in a classroom setting,” she says.

Work of art by SCSU art student Isabelle Reina
Samantha Melendez

Work of art by SCSU art student Samatha MelendezHer loved ones figure prominently in the three mask paintings created by Samantha Melendez [right]. She typically uses a more realistic style, but with Vu’s guidance explored the use of color for a portrait of her boyfriend. A second imagine shows her baby sister, who was born last year, bringing great joy to the family — as well as the worries and challenges of protecting a baby. “I think it’s because I am already in my 20s, and she is so small. I tend to have this almost motherly love toward her,” says Melendez. Another portrait depicts a young woman pulling an octopus from her mask — and was created after Melendez learned that a beloved family member had been raped. “I made this intentionally,” she says of the image of a young woman wearing a shirt printed with the phrase: Just Say No. “A lot of people say, ‘If you don’t want to have sex with someone, just say no.’ . . . But that’s not always the answer. Sometimes you are forced to do things. They are out of your control.”


Ryana Kelsey

Work of art by SCSU art student Ryana KelseySenior Ryana Kelsey is a general studies major, enrolled in a flexible program that allows students to delve into broad academic themes: business, humanities, social sciences, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Kelsey’s interests pointed her toward the social sciences concentration. She took both online and in-person classes for the fall 2020 semester, among them, courses from the departments of anthropology, psychology, women’s and gender studies, and art — including intermediate painting with Professor Vu. Her portraits reference both COVID-19 and social justice  — deeply connected issues based on racial health disparities and the high percentage of Black Americans to get the disease.


Kyra Catubig

Work of art by SCSU art student Kyra CatubigWith Professor Vu’s urging, Kyra Catubig moved on from a self-portrait to create a more surreal image for her second mask project. The painting includes two of her friends, who were originally drawn in separate sketches. Sunflowers and bees nod to one of Catubig’s favorite album covers: Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator. A studio art major with a concentration in graphic design, Catubig is a resident adviser and desk attendant at Chase Hall, and also works for Southern’s Office of Orientation, Transition, and Family Engagement. Looking forward, she is considering graduate school, most likely, to pursue a degree in counseling. Meanwhile, she welcomes the opportunity to connect in class. “Honestly, it feels really good. I look forward to going to those classes,” she says.

Samantha Pansa

Work of art by SCSU art student Samatha Pansa“Being around other creative people really encourages you to push your boundaries. I would never have moved toward [so much] color if I wasn’t surrounded by people who were experimenting with their own art,” says Samantha Pansa, a senior studio art major, with a concentration in photography and a minor in art history. Pansa focused her mask projects on the environment, referencing the California wildfires, pollution, and threats to the oceans in her surrealistic paintings. Initially a journalism major, she changed course after studying photojournalism. “I realized I liked the camera aspect much more than the journalism,” she says.




Cover image, Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring '21Read more stories in the Spring ’21 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.


Southern alum Phil Capp playing guitar; poster of Jefferson Airplane from SCSC Homecoming, 1969

Philip Capp, ’71, took a turn down memory lane after recently unearthing a Jefferson Airplane poster off his bookshelf. The group had performed at Southern’s 1969 Homecoming (tickets were $4.50!) and while Capp — living in Lancaster, Penn. — was socially distancing at home due to COVID-19, the find provided an opportunity to travel across the miles and the years.

“My time at Southern had much more of an impact on the world than I realized at the time. I was on campus for the first Earth Day ever [the event was first celebrated in the U.S. on April 22, 1970], along with everything else that hit,” notes Capp, who shared the poster and memories of his campus days with Southern Alumni Magazine.

Among his recollections: studying English and history, and running cross country as a college senior under the late Lloyd Barrow, professor emeritus of health and physical education. Capp is still running and has completed nine marathons over the years.

He’s also built a career in the arts. “I stumbled into show business as an actor in a local community theater. One thing led to another and being a triple threat — I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, and I couldn’t act — I gravitated to the technical side of the theater,” he says of his career as a stage manager and stagehand.

Capp has helped numerous stars take the stage, from Willie Nelson to Bruce Springsteen to Ella Fitzgerald. “I’ve worked corporate shows, stadium rock ’n’ roll concerts, legit theater, ice shows, car shows, and pretty much anything that came down the pike requiring theatrical expertise,” he says of the productions he’s helped bring to fruition, which include Les Misérables, Jersey Boys, South Pacific, and even the reopening of the Statue of Liberty in the 1980s.

Not all of his work is behind the scenes. Before COVID-19 temporarily shut down much of the entertainment industry, Capp performed as a solo act. He’s also a guitarist with the Moonlighters Big Band, playing swing-era tunes from Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Bassie. “It’s pretty cool to be in an 18-piece horn Band,” Capp says.

As for Jefferson Airplane? The group disbanded in 1973, spawning a next generation of bands, including Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna, and others. Jefferson Airplane reunited only briefly, but its legacy remains. In 1996, the band was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and in 2016, earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award — which is why it’s such a kick that Capp cheered them on at Southern way back when.

Hear him perform:

Did you raise a lighter or a cellphone? Share memories of that epic Southern or New Haven concert from your student days. Send your recollections and photos if available to be considered for a future story to: or SCSU, Attn: IC&M/Southern Magazine, 501 Crescent Street, New Haven, CT 06515. Submissions may be edited for content and length.

Cover image, Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring '21Read more stories in the Spring ’21 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.


Southern is committed to being a social justice university. In the spring 2021 issue, Southern Alumni Magazine looked at some of the many ways the community is taking a stand — and spotlighted some additional campus resources.

SCSU students gather at Black Live Matters, Southern Connecticut State university

When President Joe Bertolino came to New Haven in 2016, he pledged to make Southern a social justice university by ensuring that all members of its extended community were treated with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion, and civility — inspired by the tradition of Cura Personalis (care for the entire person) that he had learned during his Jesuit education at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

Four years later, this goal — and the actions and conversations it sparked — remain at the forefront, further informed by an international outcry for racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. COVID-19 has also graphically illuminated racial and economic disparities. How does a campus community committed to social justice move forward?

In July, Diane Ariza joined Southern as vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion  — a new senior-leadership position. The move echoes a national trend: the number of chief diversity officers is on the rise on college campuses and in the business community. But while many developed the position in response to a major incident, this was not the case at Southern. Instead, strategic leadership was sought to bring the university to the next level of commitment and change.

Diane Ariza
Diane Ariza

Ariza was raised in a bi-racial, bi-cultural community in Puerto Rico. She brings decades of experience to Southern, including, most recently, social justice-related leadership positions at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., and Quinnipiac University in Hamden. She began her Southern tenure by talking to hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Within months, she developed a three-year strategic plan: Advancing Southern Towards a Social Justice and Antiracist University: Priorities and Recommendations (2020-2023).

“In recent years there has been some great work done at Southern promoting antiracism and social justice that I haven’t seen in other places,” Ariza says. “But we will not solve systemic racism and inequality overnight, so we must find ways to take meaningful action by contributing however we can and moving forward as a community.”

Working with Ariza, students are continuing to drive Southern’s social justice mission throughout the 2020-21 academic year. The Student Activism Committee, often working alongside the Student Government Association and multicultural student groups, held many events — including an on-campus Black Lives Matter (BLM) March (Sept. 30), a Voter Teach-In (Oct. 26), and the State of Social Justice at SCSU Town Hall (Nov. 18).

For the BLM march, hundreds gathered at Buley Library, then traveled on to the residence life quad. The event included speakers, art, and music, and culminated with a vigil commemorating Black lives lost to police brutality and racial injustice. “The community came out and they came out in force. . . . If you wanted an example of a peaceful, intelligent, informative, teachable rally — that focused on action and the future while simultaneously acknowledging the pain of the present and the past — Southern was it. . . . I couldn’t have been prouder,” said Bertolino, commenting on the event during a Diversity in Higher Education podcast.

The State of Social Justice at SCSU Town Hall, moderated by Ariza and held online, was also a semester highlight. The event outlined ongoing goals and progress made on multiple fronts, including campus diversity. (Watch at In recent years, Southern’s student body has come to increasingly reflect the community at large: about 38 percent of students are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and, last year, more than 50 percent of the incoming class were students of color, says Robert Prezant, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

The developments were too numerous to highlight exhaustively during the town hall or in this article. But they cross all areas of campus, from curriculum development to residence life. Additional training programs are preparing staff and faculty to support all students, including those who are first-generation and BIPOC. Services offered through the Multicultural Center have been expanded, and a new initiative — Athletes Fighting Injustice — was launched this summer.

In terms of academic developments, a new minor — Racial and Intersectional Justice Studies — will be launched. And Enrollment Management is working to enhance access to higher education, even for high school students not planning to attend Southern. Staff offer programs on topics like paying for college and completing the application for federal student aid. (Southern’s Financial Literacy and Advising program is listed among the top 10 in the nation.)

Jules Tetreault, associate vice president and dean of student affairs, emphasized the importance of understanding the complexity of many students’ lives — most notably, a lack of access to basic needs such as shelter and food. In October, the university opened an on-campus Food Pantry along with a related Social Services Center to help students access vital resources.

Of course, a commitment to social justice is not a new endeavor for the university. COVID-19 altered plans for Social Justice Month, which is historically held on campus in November. For the first time, the event was offered online and given an overarching theme: Changing the paradigm from ally to antiracist. Southern also annually offers social justice grants, ranging from $500 to $2,500, to members of the campus community for projects/initiatives that forward a climate of inclusion and challenge injustice. And the Top Owls Social Justice Awards honor those who have taken a stand.

Still, much remains to be done. Among the many goals cited during the State of Social Justice meeting:

  • Attracting and retaining a more diverse faculty. Approximately 23 percent of full-time faculty are BIPOC, compared to about 19 percent in 2005.
  • Determining how to best support housing-insecure college students and high schoolers who want to go to college.
  • Leveraging existing and external support to meet students’ pressing needs with limited resources.The list goes on — and the work continues. •

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES The Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shares a wealth of information online, including social justice priorities, suggestions for getting involved, and resources, a podcast, and more.

Real Talk: A Diversity in Higher Education Podcast In Season Two, student activist Jamil Harp and Professor KC Councilor break down communication barriers and get to the heart of equity and inclusion conversations on college campuses.

History Department Teach-in Series Watch the series — which addresses topics ranging from militarization to incarceration to the psychology of racism.

Crucial Conversations: A Southern video series addressing important topics in two parts — Race in America part 1  and part 2.

Cover image, Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring '21Read more stories in the Spring ’21 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.


James Barber (left) working with students in the Organization of Afro-American Students (OAAS) in 1977; and (right) Vice President for DEI Diane Ariza with student and alumni panelists in a virtual forum on anti-racism in September 2020

Southern Connecticut State University is committed to a mission of social justice, and to address that mission more directly, the university recently welcomed its first vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Diane Ariza. For the past several months, Ariza has been working to develop the new DEI division, and an important part of that work has been the creation of a website that speaks to Southern’s commitment to social justice.

Although the DEI division is new to Southern, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is not new to the institution, and it’s possible that no one knows better than Mr. James Barber how far the university has come and how far it still has to go.

For more than 50 years, James Barber, ‘64, M.S. ’79, has given dedicated service to Southern, its students, and the surrounding community. In 1971, Barber launched Southern’s first Summer Educational Opportunity Program (SEOP), which over time successfully opened the door to a college degree for scores of minority students. He also led the university’s affirmative action office in the 1970s, served as director of student supportive services for more than 20 years, and now helps to advance Southern’s mission as director of community engagement.

In 2020, Diane Ariza was named as Southern’s first vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), following a national search for this new senior leadership position. She brought to the position more than two decades’ experience of administrative leadership in social justice and a background of teaching and research in ethnic studies. Most recently, Ariza served as chief diversity officer at Quinnipiac University and as vice president for community and belonging at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. As an administrator and strategist at both institutions, she worked with senior leadership teams to promote greater access and inclusion through systematic and structural change, ensuring that all students, faculty, and staff reach their fullest potential.

Here, Barber and Ariza trace the past, present, and future of DEI and social justice at Southern.

James Barber
James Barber

Q) Mr. Barber, you were an undergraduate at Southern in the early 1960s. How would you describe the institution in terms of diversity and inclusion in that era?

A) There was no focus or sensitivity to the areas of diversity and inclusion as it related to attracting or retaining students of color nor addressing the exclusionary hiring practices. There was some recognition during my early days as teaching faculty, by both Dr. Buley as well as Dr. Middlebrooks, Vice President for Academic Affairs, that change needed to occur. Dr. Buley who was president during my undergraduate days and, with the encouragement of Dr. Jim Moore, was the person who brought me back to the university’s teaching faculty, was becoming somewhat sensitive to the fact that there needed to be a cultural change. In spite of his recognition, as president, for a need to begin addressing and initiate change, the rest of the university was not ready. Diversity, Inclusion and Equity was not on the university’s radar.

Q) In 1971, you launched Southern’s first Summer Educational Opportunity Program (SEOP), which over time successfully opened the door to a college degree for many minority students. How did you come to develop this program, and how have you seen it impact students?

A) The SEOP program was the outgrowth of 2 years of strategic planning, meeting weekly with the Organization of Afro-American Students (Black Student Union) and the few faculty of color employed during that period covering 1969-1971. We knew that in order for change to occur, that would benefit students of color, that we had to change the thinking of policy makers and some faculty. There were several critical issues that needed to be addressed:

First we needed to begin addressing the cultural climate on campus, both in and outside of the classroom. We especially needed to begin to expose the campus community to the contributions made by people of color to the arts, which included music, theatre, dance, etc. The university was like a castle with a moat around it located in an urban environment.

Second: We needed to ensure a stronger support system for students of color.

Third: We needed to ensure that there were more students of color around the table when decisions that were going to affect/effect their existence on campus were being made.

The SEOP program, which was designed to look beyond SAT/ACT scores and assess the whole person, has been successful. For a significant period of time the average graduation rate for students who had successfully completed the program was higher than that of students who were outright admits. We have had individuals who have gone on to careers in medicine, law, education, social work, wealth management and many other professions. The minority student enrollment at Southern prior to the beginning of the program was approximately 1/10th of 1 percent.

One of the areas that needs to be highlighted is the 25 years when I was Director of Student Supportive Services. When I assumed responsibility for the department in 1989, it had six existing but siloed programs: Veterans Advisement, SEOP, Disability Resources, International Students Advisement, Tutorial Center, and the Writing Center. We broadened the departmental outreach to do the following: educate the campus community of the significance of the mission and objectives of the existing programs; develop a program that was similar to SEOP but would provide an opportunity for students who for whatever reason could not participate in a program that had a residential mandate; create programs that had an intentional focus on early intervention; and academic enrichment and support for middle and high school students who resided in the Greater New Haven area. To address the latter I aggressively pursued grant funding to kickstart and sustain 4 new programs: ConnCAS, which provided support for a commuter students’ summer educational program; ConnCAP, which provided funding for a year around academic enhancement and support program for middle school students who would eventually transition into high school; Let’s Get Ready, a preparatory program funded by Goldman Sachs, for local high school students; and ConnCAB, which provided funds to establish the university’s book loan library. The University Student Success Center now embraces the work with students that was previously the focus of the Writing Center and Tutorial Center.

Q) You were also instrumental in the development of the first affirmative action plan for Southern. When did this work take place, and how did it come about?

A) I believe that we filed our first Affirmative Action Plan in 1976. I was a member of the group that wrote the plan. The process was initiated when I decided to take a couple of students of color and a colleague, who at the time was chairperson of the university’s Urban Studies Program, to Brown University, to the first weekend conference in New England on AA Plan Development. It was hosted by a Southern alum, who, at the time, was the assistant to the president at Brown. We wrote the plan and my colleague was appointed to the position of Director of AA. Eventually, I was asked to assume the role, a position that I held for about 8 years.

Q) Your career as a track and field coach was an important part of your journey at Southern and beyond. How has your work in athletics related to your work in the DEI arena?

A) I have had the privilege of a journey through the world of track and field, which began in 1964 with SCSC Men’s Track and Field and has provided me many opportunities to engage and coach at every level of the sport, both nationally and internationally. I initiated in 1975, with the assistance of 2 SCSU undergraduate students, a grassroots youth program that has had over 5000 children, attracting young athletes from as far south as Bridgeport, north to Waterbury and New Milford, and all along the shoreline. In spite of the fact that it was an athletic program, the intentional focus on diversity and inclusion is why this volunteer program is still attracting families in the year 2021.

Q) You are now advancing Southern’s mission as the university’s director of community engagement. How does this role enable you to impact diversity, equity, and inclusion at Southern?

A) My role as director of community engagement provides me opportunities to reach out without boundaries to every segment of the local, statewide, and sometimes national community on behalf of the university, students, faculty, staff and alumni.


Diane Ariza
Diane Ariza

Q) Dr. Ariza, what do diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging mean to you?

A) It is central to Southern’s mission as an educational institution to ensure that each member of our community has full opportunity to thrive in our environment.

Diversity: Commitment to increasing diversity, which is expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status and political perspective.

Equity: Commitment to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination. We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status.

Inclusion: Commitment to pursuing deliberate efforts to ensure that our campus is a place where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. We know that by building a critical mass of diverse groups on campus and creating a vibrant climate of inclusiveness, we can more effectively leverage the resources of diversity to advance our collective capabilities.

However, these words sometimes can lose meaning over time. “Diversity” is a decent word. It is. Companies and politicians started weaving “diversity” into their lexicon in the 1990s, attaching it to many well-meaning, outward-facing initiatives. But their overuse of the word is part of what has hung it with a connotation that’s forced and inauthentic.

Belonging – Having a sense of belonging is a common experience. Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for a huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter.

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance, and Belonging is having my music played.”

Q) How long have you been involved in DEI work, and how did you get started in it?

A) Reflecting back, I have to say the work started when I was a child growing up in a bi-racial, bi-lingual, bi-cultural household and community in Puerto Rico. It was just more interesting and fun growing up where one could hear different languages, eat different foods, and engage in different practices and beliefs that made life vibrant and exciting!

As I got older, though, I realized that not everyone celebrated my joy in the same way, and noticed even within my family that prejudice and racism existed as well as in school, and community. I wanted to change that! Wanted to understand why this was and pursued majors in history, sociology, anthropology, and ethnic studies that provided meaning, context and critical understanding for why these social problems in our society and in the world existed. Thirty years later, I have become a stronger thinker and practitioner in my professional career including teaching, admissions, student services, enrollment management. When I make decisions, I try to think how will this impact individuals, whether they are non-traditional, commuters, food and housing insecure, with disabilities, etc.

Q) Why is DEI work particularly important in the higher education sphere?

A) In The Compelling Need/or Diversity in Higher Education (1999), documenting expert testimony in two law suits brought against the University of Michigan’s race-conscious policies in undergraduate and law school admissions, Gurin argued student experiences with racial and ethnic diversity in college have far-ranging and significant educational benefits, including preparation for democratic citizenship in the post-college world.

Other benefits beyond preparation for democratic citizenship is the value to having a diverse workforce. Evidence suggests:

Start with a variety of world views in one room, and you’ll come out of the other side with better ideas…

Increased Creativity…
Increased Productivity…
Reduced Fear, Improved Performance…
Boost Your Brand’s Reputation…
Global Impact…

I can’t think of any better industry that prepares students over time to learn, stumble, problem solve, and become better leaders and practitioners.

Morever, today colleges and universities are experiencing “perhaps the biggest upsurge in student activism since the 1960s.” Today, students are actively organizing around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. This new group of DEI champions wants something different, including more formalized recognition for their knowledge, skill and efforts; more advanced training; and professional opportunities for leadership roles.

Q) What do you think are the biggest challenges of doing DEI work? What are the biggest opportunities?

A) Some of the biggest challenges:

There still is an expectation that DEI VPs or CDOs will provide the fixes for everyone without others doing the work, and I mean really doing the “hard” work.
Dismantling systemic oppression and racism takes time. However folx mostly affected by these systems are tired, really tired, broken and harmed. We have no time to waste.
Many are doing the hard work, however, they are still doing it in silos and not collaboratively and intently.
We need to measure our success. Fifty more programs/events will not change culture or climate on campus if we don’t measure over time and hold folx accountable.

Training programs are not just checking the box and saying “I did it.” How does one take responsibility to continuously reflect on this work and do better?


The nation is woke all of a sudden since the summer racial violence and murders of black individuals. There is a reality that we must do better, and quickly! As I said earlier, Gen Zs are actively organizing around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. This new group of DEI champions wants something different, including more formalized recognition for their knowledge, skill and efforts; more advanced training; and professional opportunities for leadership roles. And they are willing to take on the system!

Q) As the first vice president for DEI at Southern, how do you see your role in helping to move the institution forward? What is the DEI Division working on now, and what are your plans for the first few years on campus?

A) I remember when interviewing for the position at Southern, I was asked how would I help to move the institution forward? I responded with the following analogy: Southern has an amazing orchestra with fine musicians doing anti-racist and social justice work. My role as the conductor of the orchestra is to unify a large group of musicians into a core sound instead of a wild bunch of different sounds surging out; unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble, and to control the interpretation and pacing of the music.

Learn more about DEI at Southern

Students Alexandra Cervone and Miles Bagoly play the game Rocket League.
Students Alexandra Cervone and Miles Bagoly play the game Rocket League.

Miles Bagoly, ‘22, and his friend Brian Harner, ‘22, were merely looking for other students who were interested in playing collegiate Rocket League — “the high-powered hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem” — when they founded the Esports Club at Southern in fall 2019.

“What we found was something much larger and exciting,” Bagoly says. “At the club fair in fall 2020, the kickoff for our official start, we received an overwhelming response of interest. Within the first hour of the fair, 40 students signed up.

To garner further interest, Bagoly and Harner scheduled competitive gaming in Engleman Hall. “We have held over 20 on-campus competitions and I personally organized an inter-collegiate competition with other Connecticut colleges,” Bagoly says. “My main goal for the club is for us to become a recognized sport akin to the traditional sports like football or basketball and to become a formidable presence in the collegiate esports community.”

Esports, or live video game competitions, isn’t anything new, but it’s definitely become part of the fabric of American higher education and is growing in popularity and revenue potential.

According to Inside Higher Ed, esports — not just within colleges — are expected to be valued at $1.4 billion this year. Pro gamers can draw big money. For reference, popular esports athlete Lee Sang-hyeok (aka Faker) earned approximately $1,228,000 dollars in 2020. There are plenty of viewers, too. Riot Games League of Legends 2020 World Championships Final, held in Shanghai’s SAIC Motor Pudong Arena, set a new record of close to 45.9 million online viewers at its peak, making it among the most-watched sporting events in the world.

“Esports is kind of like the new frontier of gaming online,” explains Recreation and Fitness Coordinator Andrew Marullo. “It’s popping up all over the country, and students are playing from elementary school through college. At Southern, we decided it’s time to elevate it to another level.”

For the first time, the newly formed Esports Club at Southern will compete in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. The ECAC is an 80-year old organization with more than 200 member schools across NCAA Divisions I, II and III. In 2021, Southern’s Esports Club will battle it out against more than 20 teams, over seven weeks, in titles like Overwatch, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Madden 21, FIFA 21, NBA 2k21, Fortnite, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate. The winner will advance to the 32-school College Championship bracket, then the College League of Legends will conclude with an 8-school final College Championship event.

More than 300 teams and 2,000 competitors competed in ECAC’s Esports fall 2020 competition; broadcast nightly on ESTV, the competition drew more than 100,000 views weekly.

Bagoly, a biotechnology major and club president, says esports has been big for many years and “definitely has seen a large jump in both participation and viewability.

“Competitive gaming at Southern wasn’t around when I first arrived, even though there were gaming systems in all the dorms,” he says. “So for Southern, it is one of the newest things offered and I can see it growing each year into something quite amazing.”

As with other clubs, students can find the Esports Club on Owl Connect. The club is student-run; initially it will have advisors and possibly a coach. Although it’s in its infancy, there’s an eye toward growth, even academically.

“There are employment opportunities in this field, so there are possible partnerships to grow this academically,” Marullo says.

Southern currently offers a newly launched minor in esports management, which focuses on the business side of the industry, but James MacGregor, associate professor and chair of the Department of Recreation, Tourism & Sport Management, says an academic major isn’t far away.

“The advancement of the Esports Club gives students practical experience in the minor, and marketing, promoting teams, setting up events, and events logistics,” MacGregor says. “Beyond that, there’s tremendous opportunity to build the program in an interdisciplinary way. There’s overlap with business and psychology and computer science, just to name a few.”

Long-term, Southern may even have an esport facility, Marullo says: “It’s an opportunity for different students to get involved. There’s a huge female population who game. The best part is that you get a huge range of students. It really brings all majors together — all people together.”

Adds Bagoly, “We found that esports is universal and that gaming reaches across all genders. All have shown an interest in joining the esports club and all are welcome to become a part of our family.”

If current trends are any indication of the club’s and program’s potential, the family may very well pack an arena of its own.

Diane Nowak
Health & Movement Sciences

You’ve researched careers, searched your heart, and found your calling. You excitedly begin to look at the programs at your state’s universities and…crickets. Your chosen major isn’t offered locally. You find programs in other states, but out-of-state tuition costs are substantially higher than going to your state’s university. What do you do?

If your interests lie in athletic training, the exercise sciences, or physical education & school health education and you are a New England state resident, you may be in luck. Southern Connecticut State University’s Health and Movement Sciences Department (HMS), recently had its programs added to those offered under the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) Tuition Break Flexible Program.

The NEBHE Tuition Break Program, also known as the New England Regional Student Program (RSP), was originally a program designed to provide permanent residents of the six New England states; Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, a reduced cost when one’s own state does not have their chosen program. Recently, the organization expanded this tuition break to include a Flexible option. This Flexible option allows participating schools to offer the reduced tuition rate to the entire New England region instead of to just the state where the program is not offered. In fact, eligible out-of-state full-time students pay a tuition rate that is significantly less than regular out-of-state tuition, saving an average of $8200 annually.

“Our [Health and Movement Sciences] department has been fortunate to offer four of our programs as part of the NEBHE Flexible program – our Accelerated BS to MAT Athletic Training program, our Accelerated BS Physical Education and MS School Health Education program, and our two concentrations that are part of the Exercise and Sport Science degree.” said Chairperson Gary Morin regarding HMS’ programs. “More impressively, the program has been extended to our graduate programs in Athletic Training, Exercise Science and School Health Education as well.”

Here’s some information on the specific HMS degree programs at Southern that are available under the NEBHE Tuition Break:

The accelerated BS to MAT Athletic Training program is the longest running accredited athletic training program in Connecticut, and it allows students to complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in five years. It is designed for a student who wants to work in athletic, occupational, performing arts, military, and other areas providing prevention, examination, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses.

Those in the Accelerated BS Physical Education and MS School Health Education programs are eligible to apply for a CT pre-K-12 teacher certification in Physical Education and in Health Education upon completion of this five-year degree.

The Exercise and Sport Science degree has two concentrations, Allied Health and Sport Science. The Allied Health concentration has been re-designed for students interested in applying to graduate professional health studies, like physical or occupational therapy, or for careers in exercise science fields, such as cardiac rehabilitation and research. The new Sport Science concentration is specifically designed for future fitness and performance specialists as it prepares them to become strength and conditioning experts, personal fitness instructors and performance specialists.

HMS graduate programs are also part of the NEBHE Tuition Break Flexible program. Graduate programs in Athletic Training, Exercise Science, and School Health Education are available for students completing their undergraduate degrees. The MS in Exercise Science program offers concentrations in human performance and sport psychology and prepares students to enhance the performance and health of their clients through better physical and mental preparation. The MS in School Health provides educators and others providing health instruction with advanced knowledge in curriculum design and methodology.

Starting this summer, HMS will begin offering classes as part of its new MAT in Athletic Training. This 2-year innovative professional degree program will prepare graduate students to serve as athletic trainers in a variety of professional settings.

“The NEBHE Tuition Break Program gives students the chance to think about a state school outside of their own borders because the programs are more affordable,” commented Morin.

Lauren Tucker
Special Education Department

Assistive technology (AT) is defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as any item that “increases, maintains, or improves the functional capability of a student” (IDEA, 2004). When focusing purely on the definition of AT and applying it to the challenge of virtual learning for many students with disabilities, a variety of tools are revealed as critical aspects of this new learning modality. In this unprecedented pandemic, teachers are consistently learning new tools and navigating foreign platforms and activities along with students, and it is natural to feel vulnerable, like we are stepping off the edge of a cliff, unsure of where it will take us.

Think of a scene in Indiana Jones in which there seems as if there is no way to get to the other side. But if we take a chance, a path is revealed. Once we take the risk, we can discover the path to accomplishing our tasks, just as Indiana Jones did.  Most importantly, we must model the way for our students, so they don’t feel the same sense of worry as the path reveals itself.

We have an opportunity as teachers to model the use of built-in assistive technology to support the pandemic learning for our students now and impact their future use. Since many schools utilized Google or Microsoft platforms, I’ll focus on options within these two.

Built in Accessibility for Reading

The majority of the academic tasks our students need to complete require some aspect of reading—maybe they only need to read the assignment directions or they have to read an entire story to complete the task. However, many of our students encounter an immediate barrier with the need to read, especially those with reading challenges and ESL learners. While reviewing our expectations or an activity for students, we can model how to use text-to-speech; that is, the computer reads text aloud. We can script out loud to our students what tool we are using and how it helps us to listen to and understand the text. Google and Microsoft both have options to do this for free.  The Chrome extension Read and Write for Google, by Texthelp, will read any text out loud for the user.  It will simultaneously highlight the sentence and word as it is reading them. An example is included below:

On the Microsoft platform, Immersive Reader is built into Microsoft products.  In Microsoft Word it can be accessed under the “Review” menu, where there is a “Read Aloud” option.  This feature can also be a great editing tool.  Students can listen to their typed work before submitting it to a teacher or printing it out.

If students are working in Microsoft Teams or OneNote, they can also access the Immersive Reader under the “View” menu.

Modeling how we use these tools teaches our students where and how to access these necessary supports.  Many students are also experiencing increased challenges with inconsistent routines, learning environments, and new tasks.  I have found that many students are benefiting from increased options and supports to remove additional barriers to their learning.  To complement removing assignment obstacles, facilitating executive functioning supports is also a perfect use of tools as assistive technology.

Executive Functioning Supports

As a professor and mother, I had to level-up my organizational game during virtual and in-person teaching and learning hopscotch. Similarly, our students are experiencing the same disorientation, challenges, and worries. I have found that increasing the executive supports available for my students helps me stay organized and improves their performance.

Microsoft To Do has integration with Outlook Calendar and Microsoft Teams so you can create aList for your class and share it with students, paraprofessionals, or parents. You can add files to tasks, reminders, and/or repeat a task.

Similarly, Google Forms has Google Keep which is also a task or to-do list. Google Keep allows you to also share specific lists with others, set reminders and alerts. In the example below I included a class task list with cues referencing the assistive technology tools within the task to remind students when they can access tool to remove barriers.One of the features I love most about Google Keep is the ability to open a side bar with Google Keep while working in a Google Doc.  The screen shot below displays an example of student work on the left and a Google Keep note with a reminder of the R.A.C.E. strategy on the right.  Students can also drag and drop information from Google Keep directly into their Google Document.

Long Term

Although we are teaching and learning in extreme circumstances right now, we can create long-term routines and strategies to impact accessibility and learning. Universal access on platforms is increasingly built-in and transparent.  Given this increased access, all students, regardless of ability, can harness the use of this technology to facilitate learning. We can utilize these features available to all students as technology to “increase, maintain, or improve the functional capability of a student” (IDEA, 2004)—be it in virtual or on-the-ground learning. Assistive technology and universally designed tools are beneficial for all students, but vital to success for some.  We can help reveal the path of implementing these tools within their learning.

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

Please join us for the following array of events in observance of Black History Month!

Black History Month events poster