Faculty

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.

 

MEET THE ARTISTS

 

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

 

Elsie Okobi
Elsie Okobi. Photo taken by Mary Brown of SCSU.

Elsie Rogers Halliday Okobi, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Southern, will help train library staff members in Kenya as part of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program.

Okobi recently was awarded a fellowship that will take her to United States International University – Africa, located in Nairobi, where she will offer professional development training for 90 days. The exact timing of the project is uncertain because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she is hopeful that it could occur by fall.

The Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program is designed to reverse Africa’s loss of highly trained natural-born citizens by helping African Diaspora scholars give back to the continent’s next generation by sharing their expertise. The program also seeks to develop long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between universities in Africa and those in the United States and Canada.

“Having been involved in higher education in the United States for four decades, this award provides me with the opportunity in a small way to give back and contribute to narrowing the digital divide in Africa, as well as help in attainment of United Nations Millennium Development Goals for sustainable development,” Okobi said. “I hope that my participation will help develop global digital citizens in developing countries.”

Training topics will include digital reference services, information literacy concepts, establishment of library outcomes and assessment, and learning communities. She will collaborate with library administration and staff at United States International University to help improve the delivery of services. The project also will include the development of assessment tools using appropriate and measurable service outcome goals.

The program is funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and managed by the Institute of International Education in collaboration with United States International University – Africa. A total of 471 fellowships have been awarded for scholars to travel to Africa since the program’s inception in 2013.

Fellowships match host universities with African-born scholars and cover the expenses for project visits of between 14 and 90 days, including transportation, a daily stipend, and the cost of obtaining visas and health insurance.

Okobi also earned a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship in 2019, when she developed and presented a month-long training program for librarians at the American University of Nigeria to update staff and faculty on digital information skills.

She is a Fulbright Specialist Scholar for Librarianship, having traveled to Hanoi, where she developed and presented training for faculty and library managers at Hanoi University of Culture.

Okobi, who joined SCSU in 1990, has been active in various Connecticut library community and organizations during her tenure. She is a member of American Friends of Kenya — a New London-based, non-profit organization that works to develop school media centers, provide books and train teacher librarians to run the centers. In 2012, she traveled with the group to establish school library centers and conduct school media specialists training workshops in Kenya.

She also has worked with noted Harvard University professor Henry Gates Jr. on the publication of the Dictionary of African Biography.

 

 

 

 

Physics Professor Elliott Horch and students work in the university's observatory

It is easy to take the night sky in Connecticut for granted, especially when some of its finer elements are obscured by air and light pollution and they are the same things we’ve been looking at for years (the moon, Orion’s belt, the occasional shooting star, the faint reddish glow of Mars). But Professor of Physics Elliott Horch, aka “Southern’s astro-physics powerhouse,” says viewing the sky from Southern Connecticut State University’s observatory on Morrill Hall is both literally and figuratively eye-opening.

“When you take that telescope and look at the moon,” Horch says, “you can see craters and mountains in exquisite detail. When you look at Jupiter, you can see all the cloud bands and the four biggest moons, the Galilean moons [Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto], and they look like twinkling stars to the left and right of the cloud bands. You can even see the rings on Saturn. They’re spectacular. Incorporating that experience into the class is the first step between the collaboration between physics and Earth Science.”

The observatory structure, which dates back to the 1950s, reflects Southern’s early commitment to astronomy near the beginning of the “race-to-space,” according to Eric Anderson, Southern’s physics lab technician. Indeed, the first U.S. sighting of Sputnik – the prototype satellite launched into space by the Soviets on Oct. 4, 1957 – was by Southern astronomer Robert Brown atop nearby Engleman Hall six days later.

The observatory’s telescope is ripe for potential use for by students, would-be astronomer and faculty purposes, Anderson says. Best yet, the optics technology has not degraded.

“It is kind of like a classic instrument,” Horch says. “But we’d like to continue on improvements.”

a student prepares to use the telescope inside the campus observatory
A physics student prepares to use the telescope inside the campus observatory.

For example, one aspect of Horch’s work is building cameras for big telescopes, but “a small telescope on campus gives us a quick way to try out ideas for new cameras and get some test data before we move to large telescopes,” he says. “One way in particular that we would like to do that is in developing cameras that remove the turbulence in the atmosphere and give a much sharper image.

“I think there is a real opportunity to use the campus observatory as a testbed facility for new ideas on how to obtain the highest resolution images we can get in astronomy, then take those ideas to big telescopes for some hopefully spectacular results,” he says.

Horch, who developed a super-powered device for telescopes that enabled astronomers to capture images of celestial objects many times clearer than had ever been taken and was even tapped by NASA to assist with the Kepler Mission, teaches Principles of Astronomy. He currently brings groups of two to three students into the observatory, but says plans are in the works to share the view with a wider audience.

Physics Professor Elliott Horch and students use portable telescopes outside
Physics Professor Elliott Horch and students use portable telescopes outside.

“We want to restart a robust program of inviting people in the community to see these things and to use the observatory as a community outreach vehicle and research asset,” he says. He credits retired Earth Science astronomer James Fullmer with initiating this outreach.

According to Anderson, renovations to the utilities are currently being negotiated, as well as corrective measures to electrical and drainage issues.

“Eric was really the person who got the university’s utilities staff to see the potential of it,” Horch says. “Now, as they say, the sky’s the limit.”

Dr. Jonathan Wharton
Dr. Jonathan Wharton

Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, has agreed to continue to serve as the full-time interim associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies for another year. He served in this role for the fall semester, beginning August 26, 2020. Given the complexities the COVID-19 situation poses in conducting a nationwide search, the arrangement allows the university to maintain continuity for ensuring student success and effective completion of the ongoing SGPS and SCSU initiatives. Wharton has “passion for, and a proven track record in, effectively contributing to graduate education at SCSU,” said Manohar Singh, dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies.

Wharton is faculty advisor to SCSU’s College Republicans, College Democrats, and Golf Club. He earned his BA in history, cum laude; MPA (Public Policy Analysis); and Ph.D. in political science, state and local government from Howard University, and an MA in history from Rutgers University.

Wharton’s full-time appointment began January 1, 2021. The search for a permanent associate dean has been postponed and will be resumed at an opportune time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Interested in Contributing to “Our Red Book”?

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

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

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew

December 14, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris. Following three weeks of negotiations, the Dayton Peace Agreement — also known as The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina — was signed in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995, and formally signed in Paris, on December 14, 1995, bringing an end to the international aggression against Bosnia and the resulting genocide.

Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew has long been involved in advocating for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While his efforts are part of a personal commitment to human rights and social justice, Pettigrew’s work on Bosnia also has an academic dimension, expressed through his lectures, publications, film screenings, and other work. He also teaches a holocaust and genocide studies course at Southern.

Pettigrew recently published an op-ed essay in Al Jazeera Balkans on the Dayton Accords, following his co-organizing of the online international symposium, “Bosnia: 25 Years After the Dayton Accords 1995-2020,” which took place on November 5-6, 2020. His essay — “Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords” (the text of which is below) — sets forth fundamental structures for the possibility of transitional justice for Bosnia and the region. The things he proposes will provide the possibility for long-awaited constitutional reform that would respond to the destabilizing influence from Republika Srpska and as well as to rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. This essay was also featured as a lead essay (in German) in the “Memorandum on the Dayton Peace Accords,” which was published by the Society for Threatened Peoples [Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker], an NGO based in Germany.

Since the essay’s publication, Pettigrew was interviewed on FACE TV/Sarajevo by Senad Hadžifezović, a prominent journalist and TV show watched in the region and around the world. It was posted on YouTube and so far has more than 50,000 views. He also presented virtually a paper for KRUG 99 for their special session on the Dayton Peace Accords, and was again interviewed, this time by Al Jazeera Balkans, for publication in Sarajevo.

Among other invitations for interviews and participation in a podcast and a webinar, Pettigrew was also invited by Ben Moore, director of The Center for Bosnian Studies at Fontbonne University,  to participate in a panel discussion, “Bosnian Studies: Scholars’ Perspectives on an Emerging Field.”

Pettigrew’s essay follows.

“Confronting the Tragic Legacy of the Dayton Accords, 1995-2020”

As we reflect on the legacy of the Dayton Accords, it should not escape our attention that Bosnia and Herzegovina was the victim, from 1992 to 1995, of international aggression from Serbia and from Croatia. Indictments and convictions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have identified Serbian and Croatian nationals, including Presidents Tudjman and Milošević, as members of Joint Criminal Enterprises responsible for orchestrating the aggression. At the end, “Mladić addressed a letter to Milošević, copying General Perišić, to express his gratitude for the ‘invaluable’ assistance that the VRS (Army of Republika Srpska) had received from FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) authorities”. Mladić said he could not have done it without them.

Of course, Milošević was eventually indicted for genocide and other war crimes in 2001 as part of his own designs on “Greater Serbia.” Perhaps we should also recall that Bosnia had already sued Serbia for Genocide in the International Court of Justice in March 1993. Eventually, the ICTY Chamber found that the criminal enterprise in the Prlić case involved Croatian nationals “whose goal was to permanently remove the Muslim population from Herceg-Bosna.” However, in spite of being eventually implicated in Joint Criminal Enterprises, both Tudjman of Croatia and Milošević of Serbia were signatories to the Dayton Accords in 1995. Milošević was representing Serbia, as well as representing the leadership of Republika Srpska, by virtue of a “Patriarch Paper,” since Mladić and Karadžić were already indicted for war crimes and were unable to attend.

There were, however, representatives of the Bosnian Serbs at Dayton who had not yet been indicted. These included Momčilo Krajišnik and General Zdravko Tolimir. But both Krajišnik and Tolimir were also eventually indicted and convicted of war crimes. Hence, the problematic character of the negotiating team should have provided some foreshadowing of the fate of the peace agreement. In the years following the Dayton Accords, both Croatia and Serbia have worked to undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. Each has encouraged separatist/secessionist initiatives in Bosnia (Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska), arguably pursuing their territorial goals from 1992. Their tactics to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty have included anti-Muslim and nationalist propaganda.

There has also been the internal source of destabilization: Republika Srpska. It was Milošević who oversaw the legitimation of Republika Srpska at Dayton, one of the two entities “demarcated” by the agreement. The founders of Republika Srpska had officially declared the geographic territory of Republika Srpska and subsequently sought to secure the territory as ethnically homogeneous. The ICTY Trial Chamber in the Karadžić judgment determined that there was a common plan “to permanently remove the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory.” Indeed, having officially declared the ethnically homogeneous territory, the founders of Republika Srpska carried out their aggression from 1992-1995 against the civilians of Bosnia, committing atrocities that have been judged to be war crimes, including genocide. However, in spite of the atrocities for which perpetrators had already been indicted–the ICTY had been formed in May 1993–at Dayton, the Bosnian Serbs were “rewarded” in the sense that Republika Srpska, the territory they had declared and violently transformed in name and deed, was recognized and legitimized as an official entity within Bosnia, an entity that would undermine Bosnia’s national sovereignty for the next 25 years.

Following the legitimation of Republika Srpska in 1995 as an entity in Bosnia, the authorities have undertaken concerted efforts, in spite of Annex 7, to prevent non-Serbs from returning to the homes from which they were forcibly expelled, thus continuing efforts to achieve the goal of ethnic homogeneity. Such efforts have included the intimidation of returnees through hate speech, genocide denial, the glorification of convicted perpetrators, and suppression of memorials for the victims.  In addition, Milorad Dodik, now member of the Presidency of Bosnia, and former President of Republika Srpska, undermines Bosnia’s existence by challenging decisions of the national court and threatening secession. Republika Srpska seeks to prevent Bosnia from functioning as a state, undermining any hope of restorative justice that would lead to reconciliation. Genocide denial and threats of secession have been wielded by the leadership of Republika Srpska with impunity. The failure of the international community to respond to these destabilizing provocations have led to the public celebration of the genocidal atrocities, a phenomenon Hariz Halilović has referred to as a “triumphalism” that retraumatizes the victims and threatens a repetition of the atrocities.  Sadly, “triumphalism” is part of the legacy of the Dayton Accords.

In 2014, a plaque glorifying Mladić, for example, was installed on a hill from which his forces assaulted the civilians of Sarajevo, and in 2016, a plaque commemorating Karadžić was affixed to a student dormitory in Pale. A monument that glorifies the perpetrators has stood in the middle of Višegrad for years. Sculptor Miodrag Živković has created numerous nationalist monuments glorifying the Serb forces that committed the very atrocities that have been judged to be genocide and other war crimes.  These provocative monuments to the perpetrators, such as in Bijeljina, which is dedicated to “The Fallen Serb Fighters,” are a form of genocide denial that insults the memory of the victims. This again, is part of the tragic legacy of the Dayton Accords.

When I spoke with Richard Holbrooke, the lead negotiator at Dayton, in a brief conversation in 2009, I identified the recognition of Republika Srpska as a legitimation of a genocidal geography, and as a dehumanizing zone of discriminatory exclusion that continues the founding genocidal impulse by its very existence. I proposed that the political existence of Republika Srpska needed to be challenged through constitutional reform that would reverse that dehumanizing zone of exclusion. He said he agreed with me completely, but he doubted it would be practical. He described the founding leaders of Republika Srpska as opportunists, thugs and criminals. In his book To End a War Holbrooke had already expressed his frustration with recognition of Republika Srpska, stating that “to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into two independent parts would legitimize Serb aggression.” In 2005, in his Foreword to Derek Chollet’s book, The Road to the Dayton Accords, Holbrooke wrote “I still regret…agreeing to let the Bosnian Serbs keep the name ‘Republika Srpska’ for their entity. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic was right when he told me it was a ‘Nazi name’.”

The Dayton Accords attest, then, to the failure of the international community to recognize and stop a genocide in progress, from 1992-1995; the failure to create a just peace at Dayton; and the failure to support state-building in Bosnia in the past 25 years. As Republika Srpska wields genocide denial, challenges to the constitutional court, and threats of secession with impunity, the international community’s failure has betrayed the possibility of a meaningful future for the next generation and has undermined the possibility of restorative justice.

As we mark 25 years since Dayton, it is imperative that the international community confront this tragic legacy.  One crucial initiative would be for the High Representative, who has the responsibility to oversee the peace, to use his BONN powers to implement a law against genocide denial and against the glorification of convicted war criminals. This would be important for the survivors who are traumatized by these threatening and dehumanizing acts.  A legal framework for such legislation can be found in the Council (of the European Union) Framework Decision of 28 November 2008, on “combating … expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.” The Framework Decision indicates that “Member States shall … insure” that “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide is punishable.” Switzerland and Belgium have passed such laws against genocide denial. These laws, based on a tradition of laws against Holocaust denial such as exist in Austria and Germany provide a conceptual model for this long overdue legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Denial of a genocide is an act of hatred and discrimination, since it minimizes or justifies the barbaric crimes suffered by the targeted group, minimizing not only the crimes but also the suffering, and in this way the denial entails a threat that the crime could be repeated. The denial identifies the group as unworthy of empathy or protection against harm and renders the group vulnerable to a repetition of the harm. Such laws in Bosnia would need to criminalize the denial of not only the Srebrenica genocide, but of all war crimes that were committed, along with hate speech, as well as the glorification of war criminals and celebration of the atrocities.

Finally, it is imperative for the international community to resist and condemn threats of secession and destabilization and to recognize Bosnia’s sovereignty by expediting its membership in the European Union and its entry into NATO. A law against genocide denial, EU membership, and entry into NATO, should be the focused goals now in order to address the tragic legacy of Dayton and to support long overdue state-building in Bosnia.

David Pettigrew, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
Southern Connecticut State University
Member, Steering Committee, Yale University Genocide Studies Program

 

Photo by Prateek Katyal

Written by Dr. Michele Vancour, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Health and Human Services

Work-life balance is as intangible as the Holy Grail.

The idea that the work and non-work parts of our lives can be balanced as static, constant ideals is completely unrealistic, because in reality life is messy, unpredictable, and often overwhelming. As oxymoronic as this perfect storm may be, it’s 100% ours and we need to embrace it rather than spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy trying to compartmentalize and balance.

As a named “work-life expert,” some may be surprised by that opening. I didn’t always buy into this chaotic utopia (and most days, I still struggle with the lack of fair division, uncategorized and unorganized reality that is my life); however, seeing something personal in print a few years ago pushed me into this different way of thinking and being.

An award-winning, New York Times best-selling author and acquaintance asked if she could interview me for an article on the elusiveness of work-life balance from the perspective of work-life experts. As luck would have it, the day of the interview started as one of those mornings. I had to scramble to get my two sons and myself out of the house on time. My youngest son forgot his drums for band practice at home, so I had to run back home and back to school—navigating the bus-lined, impatient-parent-filled parking lot, the school’s new security protocol, and arctic morning temperatures twice—then rushed to the office in time for the reporters’ phone call.  It seemed fortunate at the time that her schedule also was off-track, as she made the call while still on the train commuting to her office. The phone connection was terrible, especially for her recording device, so she asked to call again in the afternoon. I agreed. While more relaxed when the second call came in at 4pm, I was, however, now in transit to my older son’s ice hockey game an hour away and was relying on my car’s navigation support to get me there. Before the official interview began, we shared a moment as I was somewhat joking with her about the day’s unplanned episodes, and how they are so commonplace in many working parents’ lives.

Fast forward now to the date her article hit the Internet. Imagine my surprise as I read the headline: “Even Work-Life Balance Experts Are Awful [emphasis added] at Balancing Work and Life.” I was taken further aback in reading further to find my name and the following:

Consider Michele Vancour, for instance, a professor of public health at Southern Connecticut State University whose area of expertise is how the stress and guilt of work-life conflict can make us sick. Yet she herself gets stressed out by work-life conflict. I spoke with her on a morning when all had gone smoothly until she went to drop her son off at school on her way to work and realized she’d forgotten to put the drums he needed for the day into the car. Her head started to pound. She sighed. “Every time I have to go give a talk, I always say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’” (Schulte, 2017).

I think those who know me would say that I am authentic, and while I embrace this term as germane to my identity, the paragraph above left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. My initial reaction was embarrassment. But, as a tough self-critic, I pondered this statement and my feelings until I realized that this was one of life’s amazing signs or more poignantly a personal call-to-action.

Over the following few months, I invested considerable time in reflection before I was able to pinpoint the lesson I was meant to learn and how I could make changes that would prevent this from reoccurring. I quickly realized that I wasn’t bothered by the fact that balance was elusive after over 15 years of practice as a work-life expert. I also wasn’t upset that I shared my personal story of the day with a reporter. The thing that hit me to my core was the message about life I was sharing with everyone who listened. I am not sure when I adopted the phrase, ”do as I say, not as I do,” but I knew I said it often. I further surmised that it originated from an internal feeling of inadequacy. My research focused on the ideal mother and ideal worker, and as many other parents, internally I felt like I was failing when in my heart I knew differently. Once I was able to get my heart and head in sync, I reframed my story, so that the one I believed in, lived and shared were the same.

Here are five actions that were critical to my progress and feeling of greater work-life balance.

Reflect: Reflection can move us from chaos to action even when we have those days when things don’t meet our expectations. Maybe you spill coffee on your shirt, get stuck in traffic, can’t find a parking space, miss an appointment (or all of above and more). It’s not the sum of things that do not go as planned as much as it is the way in which we react to them. Ask yourself these questions next time this happens to you: How do you feel? What’s wrong? What’s going right? What needs to change? How can you do something different to minimize the impact and add protections so that these emotions and events happen differently next time?

Debunk Perfection: Perfection is an unrealistic ideal; don’t perpetuate it. Move your thoughts from not-good-enough to self-acceptance. Shift your focus. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and making comparisons to others to focus on your strengths. Reframe your ideal realizing that we need to utilize other people’s strengths and to collaborate to fully achieve goals. No burden should fall only on one person at work or at home. Move away from unrealistic ideations of perfection and pressures to succeed. Focus on life being a journey rather than a destination.

Align Values and Purpose: If we do not prioritize our values (the people and activities that matter most in our lives), we likely will run out of time before tending to them. But, how do we identify our value priorities? Consider these questions:

What do you love (not love) to do? Does time fly by when you are doing that thing or spending time with that person? What drives you? What energizes you? What are you willing to sacrifice to have the thing(s) you love and enjoy the most? Who do you want to help? How do you want to help? You need to try it out and be willing to reflect, revise and try again.

Rebrand: You are the author of your story. Try asking yourself, how can you change your narrative? What is your message? What do you want people to remember about you from your story? You can revise your story as many times as you need to. Be self-accepting and focus on small successes that have shaped you along your journey.

Control: Small wins equal BIG change, especially when we have prioritized ourselves in the process. If we are not able to function at full capacity, the risks are greater to finding success in all of our relationships, activities and goals. If you feel like you do not have enough time in your schedule, then you may need to add boundary setting to your time management plans. Schedule uninterrupted time for dinner, fitness, meditation, reflection, and sleep. Setting boundaries allows us to be present in activities that help recharge us physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. By setting priorities around values, it makes it easier to achieve goals. If you’re like me, you may need to be selective with the things you say yes to, schedule specific time to ”work” on tasks, and avoid emailing colleagues after 6pm and on the weekends to stay on track.

Finally, start a gratitude practice. According to Psychologytoday.com, being grateful has been connected to improved sleep and self-esteem, greater empathy, reduced aggression, increased connectedness, and better overall health. A great way to start is to let someone know you’re thankful for them. By the way, I am really grateful that you let me share this with you today. If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to me.

Biology Professor Sean Grace was quoted in an article, “What kelp can teach us about thriving amid uncertainty,” published on Quartz. The writer, Katherine Ellen Foley, uses kelp’s ability to survive in harsh conditions as a metaphor for how we can look at life during a pandemic. Below is the full text of the article.

“What kelp can teach us about thriving amid uncertainty”
By Katherine Ellen Foley
Health and science reporter, Quartz
November 4, 2020

On days when it feels that the uncertainty is too much to bear, we’d be wise to take notes from a humble, giant algae: kelp.

We land-dwellers rarely think about kelp, but we’ve got quite a lot in common with this ocean friend. For one thing, neither of us are plants; kelp is actually a type of algae called a heterokont. Our lives also share similar beginnings and ends: We both create offspring via sexual reproduction, and eventually, our cells age and die.

These similarities should inspire us to know that we, too, can be like kelp in perhaps its most remarkable feat: It stays firmly rooted amid tumultuous forces beyond its control, and in doing so, inadvertently creates a nurturing environment for others.

Kelp is somewhat constrained in where it can live; because it is algae, it must stick to shallow salt water where it can absorb the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, though, these shallows experience incredibly turbulent waters—too rough for most organisms to handle. These forces would rip humans apart, says Sean Grace, a marine ecologist at Southern Connecticut State University.

Although kelp might be happier in a calmer environment, it continues to thrive. It does so by being both steadfast and flexible. At the bottom of kelp stocks are appendages called holdfasts, which live up to their names, Grace says. Holdfasts fuse themselves to rocks, and become unflappably grounded.

Portrait of SCSU Professor of Biology Sean Grace
Sean Grace

Holdfasts allow the parts of kelp that stretch up to the sky, called stripes and blades, to bend to the water’s will. This flexibility is what allows them to survive, instead of getting whisked away and torn to shreds. Even while it accommodates unforeseen pushes and pulls, kelp never stops reaching for the suns’ rays.

But here’s more: As kelp sustains itself by absorbing sunlight, water, and literal tons of carbon dioxide (cleaning up much of our dirty work, I might add), its stability creates a habitat for all kinds of marine life. It does so physically, by providing a reliable hideout for fish, crustaceans, and mammals; and biologically, by providing these creatures with the nutrition they need to thrive.

“If you look all around the world to wherever there are kelp forests, you find higher biodiversity, which is a signal of health,” Grace says. The more kelp, the more other kinds of life thrive.

We didn’t ask to live through the pushes and pulls of 2020, nor did kelp ask to live through the ebbs and flows of the tides. Yet kelp survives, and help others thrive, as should we. Although we don’t have holdfasts, we do have family and loved ones to keep us grounded. We have foundational values that allow us to keep sight of our goals, even while being pulled in undesirable directions. And we can make room for others along the way, too.

Perhaps when Confucius referenced the strength of the humble green reed compared to the stiff oak, he really meant to say “kelp.”

Dr. Samuel Andoh

Dr. Samuel Andoh, professor of economics, has been appointed as the next AP Macroeconomics Chief Reader for the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program. The position, known colloquially known as the Chief Reader, is responsible for overseeing the scoring of over 145,000 AP Macroeconomics exams at the annual AP Reading. Chief Readers are college faculty and considered experts in their field. Andoh has been involved with the AP Reading for 14 years and has served in Reading leadership positions for 8 years.

James Thorson, chair of the Economics Department, said “Dr. Samuel Andoh has served for years in the AP economics program. His promotion to Chief Reader is the result of his tireless devotion to improving the learning experience of our students. It is a real honor that the AP program has recognized his outstanding work in this area. His appointment brings great honor to the department, school and university.”

Andoh began his term as Chief Reader in July and he will serve in this vital role through June 2024.
The AP Program enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies – with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both – while still in high school. In 2020, over 2.6 million students took more than 4.7 million AP exams.

Held each June, the AP Reading brings together AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world to evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams. It is a unique forum in which an academic dialogue between educators is both fostered and encouraged. Andoh is one of just 32 Chief Readers, who are responsible for directing scoring activities for over 18,000 AP Readers across 38 different subjects.

During the Reading, Andoh will oversee more than 170 readers as they score student responses from the AP Macroeconomics exam, ensuring students receive fair and valid scores. Students’ scores on this exam help to determine credit and placement into college courses in economics on close to 2,300 college campuses each fall. Additionally, as Chief Reader, Andoh will serve in a leadership capacity on his subject’s Development Committee, where new tasks and questions are developed for future exams.

The AP Program has expressed its gratitude for the immeasurable ways Andoh, and Southern Connecticut State University, have positively impacted the lives of so many students, teachers, and college faculty over his years of service with AP.

James Thorson

As School of Business Dean Ellen Durnin has recently announced her impending retirement, Dr. James Thorson, chairman of the Department of Economics, has accepted the position as interim dean for the School of Business.

Thorson, who has been at Southern since 1992, knows the institution well and brings an excellent mix of skills and experience to the role.

In addition to serving as chair of the Department of Economics (his second round in this role, his first from 2009-2015), Thorson served as interim director of the MBA program, and has been chair and vice chair of the Graduate Council.

He has an array of publications and presentations ranging from works on overpaid baseball players to lawyers’ salaries to hedge fund returns.

Thorson will start his role as interim dean on January 1, 2021, concomitant with Dean Durnin’s official (semi)retirement. Durnin will continue to work with the School of Business through the spring 2021 semester in focused roles on accreditation and fund raising.

Durnin said, “I am pleased that Dr. James Thorson has accepted the position as the Interim Dean of the School of Business. Jim is a long-time colleague who will ensure that the School is successful while the university searches for a permanent dean. He has the respect of his colleagues, and has served as a department chair and an interim MBA director.  He will do a fine job in this role.”