In the News

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

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

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

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

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

Shelley Stoehr-McCarthy

 

 

When Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

[From left] The founders of sk.ArtSpace: Southern graduates Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone K. Wong.

It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another to implement it, especially when there are multiple people involved — three — and other responsibilities call — full-time jobs — and a physical space is needed — a bright, airy gallery would do nicely — and bills need to be paid — rent! — and there are only so many hours in the day — 24, to be exact. But when Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

The women, who have been friends for 14 years, met on the track and field team at Southern and, as they put it, “immediately connected.” They were in different academic programs at the university: Sutherland majored in studio art, Wong studied communication, and Mercer pursued a liberal studies degree. But alongside running, they also shared a love for the arts.

Members of the Class of 2009, (from left) Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone Wong became friends competing on Southern’s track and field team.

In 2015, after Sutherland and Wong headlined a two-woman show at VM Nation Studios, they began talking about having their own creative space, namely for black artists, to exhibit.

“Artists show art in places that don’t align with their vision, like in bars and coffee shops,” Sutherland says. “It takes away from the experience.”

“The main point isn’t the art,” adds Wong. “We needed a place that represented a space for artists.”

“We put the numbers together and said, ‘We can actually do this. Let’s do it,’” Mercer says.

By June 2016, sk.ArtSpace in Brooklyn was born. The two-level locale, which is bright and inviting, is one part gallery and one part event space, with a courtyard in the back. “It’s much more like a traditional gallery space, with white walls and lighting,” Wong says. “It’s a blank canvas.”

In addition to showcasing artists and musicians in the gallery, the women host product launches and wedding showers, and offer cost-friendly services to fellow creatives. The SK team also has launched successful events, including an annual Future Is Female exhibition, which features an all-women roster of artists from throughout New York City. Reaction to the show has exceeded the women’s expectations, creating a conclave of artists with close bonds.

The gallery showcases artists and performers in the community.

According to Sutherland: “Response has been quite amazing, sometimes overwhelming. People love and enjoy what we’re doing, and they think it’s something we really need, so they support us. There aren’t many galleries in our neighborhood that provide this platform.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been struggles. Before the women opened sk.ArtSpace they were working nine to five jobs as executive assistants in different industries. They still are: Mercer is with a wealth management firm; Wong and Sutherland at different marketing companies.

Says Mercer, “There are never enough hours in the day, but somehow the work always gets done.” The friends manage the workload by dividing and conquering. “We pick up each other’s slack. We all do whatever needs to be done, day-to-day,” says Mercer.

Finances, too, are a critical consideration. The gallery combines an event-space business model with a traditional gallery structure. The women receive commission for some collaboration packages as well as group exhibitions they curate, and they rent the gallery for private events.

They are continually looking for support to keep the momentum going.

“Support doesn’t always have to mean money,” Sutherland says. The gallery relies on interns, for example. Support could also mean assistance from a videographer to help with marketing. “We’re also trying to find sponsors and donors. We want to take the gallery and creative space to another level,” says Sutherland.

Based in Brooklyn, sk.ArtSpace has hosted more than 12 first-time solo shows for up-and-coming visual artists as well as more than 25 free art exhibitions for the community.

She continues: “One of our top priorities that we look forward to is offering services for beginning and emerging artists, like workshops on how to write an artist bio, and being able to coordinate panel discussions on how to become gallery artists, and the steps it takes to get there. We would love to connect with successful artists in the community and create spaces for artist talks.”

Networking and building a community for black creatives — a place they can call home — was the impetus behind the gallery’s creation. It will always take center stage. “We have a huge list of initiatives that would help with expanding the depth and knowledge of black artists,” Sutherland says. “We are working on building a larger creative network where people are able to connect, collaborate, and expose each other to new opportunities.”

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, but Sutherland, Mercer, and Wong all hope to parlay their work at the gallery into full-time positions. “That’s our ultimate hope, that we can make our own schedules and deep-dive into this,” Wong says. “We think about it every day. Our conversations as friends have always been, ‘How can we be our best selves and better ourselves and support each other and others?’” They’ve taken the first step by opening the gallery doors. ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

President Joe Bertolino on WTNH's CT Style program

In an interview with WTNH’s CT Style host Teresa Dufour, President Joe Bertolino addresses questions about public higher education during COVID-19, covering topics such as the challenges and opportunities presented when the university had to go fully online earlier this spring; how the university has operated during this time; how the university is preparing for a potential reopening of campus in the fall; and what that will look like.

Otus and President Joe Bertolino make a lawn sign delivery to a graduating senior.

About 300 members of the class of 2020 were surprised this week when volunteers from Southern’s staff, faculty, and administration — including President Joe Bertolino and Otus the Owl — visited their homes to hand deliver congratulatory lawn signs and to create the experience of a commencement ceremony. The undergraduate class of 2020 was to have celebrated their commencement on May 22 at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena, but the event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The university has been actively looking at rescheduling commencement ceremonies to late summer or the fall, depending on what happens with the virus and related guidelines for large events.

Read more about the lawn sign deliveries and front-lawn “commencements” in “SCSU brings commencement home for some graduates – literally” (By Brian Zahn, New Haven Register, May 22, 2020).

See the photo gallery of lawn sign deliveries.

 

As one of only four students in Connecticut to receive the Bob Eddy Scholarship, Jason Edwards is being recognized for talent and promise.

Spring 2020 will be one to remember for Southern rising senior Jason Edwards — and he has the photos to prove it.

In addition to completing online courses, working as a student photographer for Southern’s communications and marketing department, and serving as photo editor of the student-run Crescent magazine, the talented journalism major is turning his camera lens on his neighbors to visually capture the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Connecticut Naugatuck Valley.

Edwards is one of only four recipients of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Foundation’s Bob Eddy Scholarship, which recognizes excellence and promise in the field. The award is open to rising college juniors and seniors attending Connecticut universities as well as state residents who are studying elsewhere.

In related news, numerous Southern student journalists were recognized for their work in Crescent magazine and the Southern News from the Society of Professional Journalists in its Mark of Excellence competition.

Slate magazine quoted Deborah Weiss, professor of communication disorders and Faculty Senate president, regarding the changes brought to the educational experience as a result of the coronavirus. Weiss talks in the article about the uncertainty around what the fall semester will look like.
Read the Slate article, “Empty Lecture Halls, No Fall Football, a Freshman-Only Campus” (By Ruth Graham, April 28, 2020)
Deborah Weiss

Jean Breny, chairwoman of the Public Health Department, was interviewed recently by two radio stations about the racial health disparities associated with the coronavirus pandemic. She discussed a seeming spike in coronavirus cases in communities of color and places/areas of need.

Breny was interviewed on WICC (600 AM) and for the WSHU.org website. Read and listen to the WSHU story, “Son’s Death Highlights Testing Barriers For Black Residents” (By Cassandra Basler, April 21, 2020). Listen to the WICC interview.

Jean Breny

Pat Mottola

Patricia Mottola, a graduate of Southern’s MFA in creative writing program and now an instructor in the program, was featured recently in the Hartford Courant’s CT Poets’ Corner section. Read the article here: Pat-Mottola-Hartford-Courant-042620

Mottola was hired to teach Introduction to Creative Writing immediately after receiving her MFA from Southern because, as one colleague noted, “She was an exceptional student in our department’s MFA program,” and she has been an extraordinary instructor ever since. Mottola’s adviser and now colleague English Professor and CSU Professor Vivian Shipley awarded Distinction to Mottola’s MFA thesis, “If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit: Poems About Relationships,” something rarely done. Shipley remarked that since 1969, she has “never had a better student or known a more dedicated and inspiring teacher.”

Mottola was the 2019 Recipient of the Connecticut Board of Regents Adjunct Teaching Award. She is co-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society; works online with Afghan women and girls through the Afghan Voices project, encouraging them to write poetry in order to empower themselves; and she works with senior citizens, encouraging them to have a rebirth at a time when they are nearing the end of life.

She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern in 2011; an MS in art education from Southern in 1990; study in the Art Psychotherapy Institute, SCSU Department of School Psychology, in 1988; and a BS in art education from Southern in 1987.