In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Connecticut schools welcomed a wave of Puerto Rican students who had been displaced from their homes and communities on the island. This February, the HESA program and campus partners (the Department of Educational Leadership, HESA students, and the HESA village) ran a winter clothing drive to benefit newly-arrived Puerto Rican students at two local high schools.
Professor Milagros Castillo-Montoya, who spearheaded the project, initially approached Christina Rivera, an Ed.D. student in the Department of Educational Leadership, with the idea. Rivera was able to connect Professor Castillo-Montoya with the two Connecticut schools that expressed the need for donations: Hartford Public High School and Windham High school.
Once the school connections had been made, Castillo-Montoya said, the HESA and EDLR communities mobilized to collect a total of 270 items, which included coats, jackets, boots, scarves, pants, and gloves. HESA practicum student Jessica Gramajo Vivas created a flyer to notify the HESA and EDLR communities of the opportunity to donate items, and HESA Student and Staff Development Manager Danielle DeRosa coordinated with current HESA students to distribute donation boxes to collect items.
“The success achieved in so little time would not have been possible without the people who helped get the word out, HESA students who collected donations at their respective assistantship sites, assistantship site and practicum site supervisors who allowed donations to get collected there, and everyone who donated,” said Castillo-Montoya. She also highlighted donations from EDLR faculty, HESA students, and the entire HESA village.
“For these high school students and their families, some of which are living in shelters, this made a big difference,” said Castillo-Montoya. “Thank you to all who got involved and helped make this happen.” While unable to assist in all hurricane relief efforts, this drive was an opportunity for the HESA and EDLR communities to build on existing relationships and support local students in a targeted and timely way.
Congratulations to Julia Anderson (‘18) and Lisa Famularo ('18) who successfully won first place in the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) 2018 Winter Case Study Competition for graduate students. The competition, which was was sponsored by the ACPA’s Graduate Student and New Professional Community of Practice, brought graduate students from programs across the nation to compete against one another. Students assumed responsibilities as acting members in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to create an 8-10 minute video which outlined an action plan to address the concerns of a specific transgender student. Through this lens, participants grappled with the treatment transgender students face on campuses nationwide in the current political climate. We caught up with current HESA students Julia and Lisa to talk a little more about the competition.
The challenge for this competition focused on building an inclusive higher education environment (specifically for trans students). Can you talk about why inclusivity in higher education is so important, and how you’re learning to be inclusive in your practice?
JA: This case study centered on a trans student who was concerned about her career goals unravelling, and she was also reporting that she was being misgendered by professors on campus. As someone who has worked with students facing similar situations, I am so thankful to work on a campus with a designated resource for LGBTQ+ students. Not all campuses are designed this way, so all student affairs practitioners must be prepared to support all students they encounter. This is a commitment that we must make anew each day – I work to re-commit myself to inclusivity by consistently considering intersections of identity within the LGBTQ+ community.
LF: The years a student spends in college can sometimes be some of the most influential years of their life. Because the primary reason students pursue higher education is typically to learn, it is important for higher education professionals to create and maintain spaces where every student feels comfortable enough to learn; there is nothing more distracting than feeling alienated, unwanted, or uncomfortable. One of the founding values of the field of student affairs is to tend to the whole student, so it is vital that student affairs professionals take the whole student into account when planning programs, events, and services in order to be inclusive and equity-minded. As a young student affairs professional about to fully enter the field, I believe that one of the most powerful equity-minded practices I have learned is challenging the underlying assumptions for each decision that is being made in order to avoid perpetuating assumptions that are biased, inequitable, or wholly incorrect. I believe this practice can and will little-by-little identify and eradicate some of the problematic assumptions and resulting decisions that persist in higher education today.
How did your UConn HESA experience help you with this challenge?
LF: My UConn HESA experience both directly and indirectly gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to be successful in this competition. When putting together our plan to address the issues presented in the case, Julia and I relied on information about student development
theory we learned in our classes, programming/campaign ideas that have proven successful in our assistantships, and the connections we have made with various offices on UConn's campus throughout our time in the HESA Program. In the end, we were successfully able to develop a plan to follow up with a student in crisis, put on support and educational programming, and establish beneficial campus partnerships to work towards a more inclusive campus climate.
JA: I believe that I was equipped to respond to students in crisis by my assistantship in the Rainbow Center. There, I work with students who are encountering difficulties related to their gender identity every day, and we work together to find and enact solutions.
What does this award mean for you and your career goals?
JA: This award was based on our recommendations for a case study about a transgender student who was experiencing difficulties in her personal, professional, and academic life. I am seeking positions in LGBTQ+ services, and my assistantship is in the Rainbow Center, so this award was an affirmation of the work I do each day.
LF: I am proud of achieving first place in this case study competition sponsored by a national organization because it shows that the knowledge and experience I have gained in the UConn HESA Program truly does make me stand out from other graduate students in the field. I plan to pursue a career as either a career counselor or career coach for college students, and in order to do so successfully, I need to be able to work effectively with students from a variety of backgrounds. This case, especially since it was focused on supporting a student with a marginalized identity, was putting my abilities in this regard to the test, and winning first place was an encouraging indication that I am headed in the right direction.