All posts by Erika Peters

Aspiring journalist, student, and sloth enthusiast.

Poet Ashley M. Jones talks about winning SCCC’s First Book Visiting Writer Award

Poet Ashley M. Jones was one of  three award-winning authors to headline the undergraduate conference that brought the 2018 Creative Writing Festival at Suffolk County Community College to a close on the Ammerman campus Friday.

She spoke with Suffolk Sentinel about the experience in the podcast above.

The five-day Creative Writing Festival brought together professional writers, teachers and students from SCCC and other colleges across the area to celebrate creative writing.

Friday’s conference day, which was full of workshops, panel discussions, readings from speakers and a ceremony for the Creative Writing Awards for College Writers, had more than 100 attendees.

Jones, winner of the First Book Award for her debut poetry collection “Magic City Gospel,” told the crowd to “keep supporting writing. Make sure writing events keep happening, because people need that outlet to express themselves and understand themselves. It’s just very important.”

Sue Halpern, winner of this year’s inaugural Lawrence J. Epstein Award, read excerpts from her novel “Summer Hours at the Robbers Library.” The award, along with the inaugural SCCC First Book Visiting Writer Award, was intended to bring attention to emerging authors from beyond Long Island, according to the SCCC Creative Writing Festival Committee.

“I hope that students who are interested in writing and in reading will have those interests magnified and maybe be inspired to do more writing themselves,” Halpern said.

Adrian Canham, an English major at SCCC, said he attended the event for the second time because he enjoys creative writing and the festival has opened him up “to new writers and new styles of writing.”

Colin Clarke, an English professor who helped plan the festival, said he was happy with this year’s turnout.

“Events like this … are a tremendous opportunity for our students to be exposed to fresh ideas and perspectives, and it’s heartening that so many students took advantage of this opportunity.”

Martinez calls for measures to protect immigrants in ‘Fight Ignorance, Not Immigrants’ talk

Photo courtesy: Suffolk County Legislature

Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez visited the Ammerman campus April 2 to discuss how rescinding temporary protected status for immigrants and recent efforts to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would affect our community and the nation.

Martinez, whose district includes Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bay Shore, gave her presentation as part of a week-long series of programs called “Fight Ignorance, Not Immigrants” organized by the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding in collaboration with the SCCC Undocumented Student Task Force.

Martinez, who emigrated from El Salvador at age 3, grew up in Brentwood and was a social studies teacher at Brentwood High School for 10 years. She also served as assistant principal at a middle school in Brentwood for four years.

“I could have had the opportunity of leaving Brentwood. I could have been living anywhere else, bought a home somewhere else, but I decided to stay at a place where it made me,” Martinez said. “I grew up in Nassau County, in Lynbrook. I was the only Latina in the entire district. So for me, coming to Brentwood was a huge culture shock. Now I was interacting with students who were from the same background as me, same religion as I am, and it was different. But I can only tell you that Brentwood actually opened the doors for me, to diversity and to understanding others, because of the diversity in our community.”

Martinez said she understands the adversities and day-to-day challenges residents face and has been an advocate for immigrants and Dreamers during her time as a Suffolk legislator.

“At the county level, we need to do our best to not only advocate for what we believe in, but pass measures, not just the ones that I’m doing, to make sure that our immigrant community feels safe, that there is someone there to listen to them, and someone who will respect them as humans,” Martinez said.

Martinez explained to students and faculty that TPS is given only to immigrants from specific countries facing natural disasters or civil unrest that the Department of Homeland Security deems unsafe for individuals to return. These immigrants have been given the right to work and live in the U.S. temporarily. Once the U.S. decides that these countries are livable again, TPS holders are given a date when they must leave the country. TPS does not provide immigrants with a pathway to citizenship in the U.S.

Rescinding TPS for these immigrants, Martinez said, will have negative impacts on Long Island as well as the entire nation.

Long Island business, mostly restaurants, landscaping, and construction, many of which are located in areas such as Brentwood, may face closure, because of the loss of many employees and clients in the community who are TPS recipients. Nearly one-third of TPS recipients are homeowners, meaning that many home foreclosures on Long Island are possible as well.

Revoking TPS could lead to repercussions such as economic crashes, the possible separation of nearly 273,000 children born in the U.S. from TPS holders from their parents, and a $164 billion loss in GDP over the next decade, she said.

Martinez also spoke about the dangers of repealing DACA, an immigration policy that allows those who were brought to the US illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to become eligible for a work permit, who are better known as Dreamers.

“For no fault of their own, parents have brought them here, under the age of 18, and they’ve grown here. This is their country too, believe it or not. Only because they’re not citizens doesn’t mean that they’re not part of the American fabric,” Martinez said. “I will defend them because they’re not doing anything wrong. They are people who are trying to make ends meet, they’re trying to make families here, and just call this place their own too.”

“For a legislator that’s only had two terms in office, she’s done quite a bit. I work with her very closely in the community, she’s very involved and very, very engaged in a lot of community efforts and someone that has extensive knowledge and personal knowledge about the process of immigration and what we call being a Dreamer,” said Renee Ortiz, executive director of the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding.

Ortiz said that the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding, along with the SCCC Undocumented Student Task Force, created the series of programs to educate SCCC about how recent decisions concerning immigration policies impact our neighbors, and how students can make a difference.

“It’s a series of different programs on each campus to just educate folks about the process of immigration, how recent changes in legislation are going to impact residents that are immigrants, or undocumented. Also just to give folks a more personal perspective of what it is like to live in fear of being deported, especially when individuals do have presently legal status, but are at risk of losing their status because of the recent changes,” she said.

Nieves Alanso-Almagro, a professor of Spanish and college coordinator of foreign languages who attended the presentation, said that the best way for students that feel strongly about this issue to make a change is voting.

“You have something that is very powerful to help our neighbors that are TPS recipients and DACA recipients — you have the power to vote that they don’t have. Overcome apathy, vote in your local elections, vote on federal elections, and that’s the way to change things,” she said.


Where’s the #MeToo movement at SCCC?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has come to cover a broad scope covering sexual harassment and sexual violence and prohibits sex discrimination in schools. Photo by Erika Peters

The #MeToo movement has been a wake-up call to reflect on how schools and workplaces handled sexual assault and opened up a discourse about what change is needed. And while Suffolk is making efforts toward more awareness, such as the planned “Take Back the Night Event” on the Michael J. Grant Campus on April 13, the conversation about sexual assault isn’t loud enough at Suffolk.

Suffolk has resources for students that have been victims of sexual misconduct at their Counseling Center, Health Services, and Mental Health Services. These are extremely important and useful resources for all students, without a doubt. The college has mental health counselors available; health services provides a confidential space for students with a connection to outside resources and referrals, and there is a Title IX brochure that includes information and resources for sexual violence victims. But there is a lack of student involvement in the process of reporting sexual assault on campus, which may cause student victims to feel alone and refrain from reporting incidents.

Suffolk does have a prevention program in place, where each year peer mentors, orientation leaders, athletes and student leaders are trained in sexual violence prevention. At Suffolk though, the fact that these peer mentors exist is not widely known. These students trained in sexual violence prevention should have made their presence and the ways to reach them more distinct in light of #MeToo. With more awareness, this resource could be much more effective, because students often feel more comfortable opening up to a peer, especially one that has experienced something similar to them, than to a school official.

Suffolk conducted the SUNY Sexual Violence Prevention (SVP) Campus Climate Survey Report in 2017, meant to make sure faculty and staff are aware of policies and resources regarding sexual assault and to gauge students’ experience with and knowledge of reporting it and what the college’s processes are. The survey was administered to 21,679 students. Only 236 students responded to the survey for a 1.1 percent participation rate. The survey was administered by the Title IX coordinator. Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” under the Education Amendments of 1972. It has come to cover a broad range covering sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

For those that don’t know what the Title IX Coordinator’s role is at the college—like 35 percent of the students that took the survey— it includes making sure that training and education is provided to students and staff about their rights and obligations about sexual misconduct under Title IX, and responding to and investigating sexual assault claims. Even 9 percent of faculty that took the survey answered that they were unsure of what the role of the Title IX coordinator’s role is.

The college concluded that “more information, outreach, and communication is needed to provide resources and to faculty and staff” about Title IX from that answer. The Title IX coordinator conducts presentations for all new faculty and staff and educates them about rights, responsibilities, and policies regarding sexual assault, and there is online training that is required for all faculty and staff implemented last semester that is being issued again this upcoming semester. There is also ongoing face-to-face training for staff, and the coordinator and deputies attend meetings of faculty to promote prevention work.

However, nothing new has been put into action since the report was issued and the #MeToo revelations.   

Only 58 percent of the vastly underwhelming number of student respondents indicated that they were aware of policies and procedures specifically addressing sexual assault and 20 percent indicated that they were unaware of how to report sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking to the college.

According to the 2016 Annual Security Report from Public Safety, there were a total of seven Violence Against Women Act Offenses across the campuses in 2016. While statistics regarding sexual assault are sometimes tricky, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault, suggesting that the numbers at Suffolk may be higher.

Suffolk even was slow to catch up on the issue of mental health — the Mental Health Services program only became formalized in 2015, which now is one of the resources for students who experience sexual assault and other issues.

But the conversation about sexual harassment hasn’t been completely lost. Some faculty members, such as Sarah Boles, coordinator of Mental Health Services, are pushing for more awareness about resources for sexual assault victims at the college and hopes that the work she and the Mental Health Services are doing will help create an environment where students feel safe and supported.

“I can’t speak for all students, but since the Mental Health Services Program became formalized in fall of 2015, there has been a significant increase in the number of students receiving services on campus,” she said. “Faculty and students are becoming more aware of this resource and more students are taking advantage of it. We are in the process of creating a webpage for Mental Health Services which will also be helpful in raising awareness about the support we offer on campus. We are hoping this will also help students to familiarize themselves with our services and encourage them to take advantage of not only our services but others that may be of help to them in the community.”

Silent no more: Student finds her voice at Suffolk after six years

If you had never met 19-year-old Katie Digena before, you would never be able to tell from her bubbly personality that just two years ago she was nearly mute.

Digena has struggled with a stutter since she first was able to speak at two years old. Bullied heavily in elementary school, Digena entered junior high school looking for a way to avoid speaking and being bullied any further. An English teacher suggested that she try communicating through a whiteboard and marker, which went on to become Digena’s voice for most of the next six years at school. Although it was a salvation from having to use her voice, it didn’t prevent bullies from targeting her.

“There were a few times when someone would take my whiteboard—break it, throw it away,” Digena said. She only spoke to her parents at home and a few close friends.

After high school, Digena entered Suffolk knowing that she would have to start speaking to get through everyday adult life. She slowly started speaking little by little in her first semester.

“I started to talk in my English class a little, and I realized I was able to not stutter as much. I thought, ‘I can do this, in this one class.’ Then I did it in a second class. I started talking more and more,” she said.

Digena also went to therapy to help with the social anxiety she felt about public speaking.

“I was told to just talk, just forget everyone’s around. If you stutter, just keep pushing through it, just keep going,” Digena said.

Now in her fourth semester, when Digena speaks, her stutter can barely be found.

“It’s a world of a difference. I don’t even remember her stuttering her last time I saw her or the last dozen times I’ve seen her. I think she became much more confident in herself and who she is,” said 19-year-old Spencer Ross, Digena’s friend since junior high.

Digena hopes to become a teacher or even a public speaker at schools and colleges in the future.

“I want to be the voice for other people when they can’t talk because they’re terrified. I would be terrified to go to school, terrified to get up in the morning. I wanted to kill myself—I tried it. It was such a horrible time in my life. I just want to be that voice for other people,” Digena said.

Suffolk student Kimberly Ramirez, 19, has been Digena’s friend since third grade and says she is proud of Digena and is happy that speaking has become easier for her.  

“Having a stutter is something that a lot of people don’t realize the effect that it can have on someone, and also the way that other people perceive it and treat you as a result of it. I don’t think people fully understand the impact that that can have on someone’s life,” Ramirez said.

For others going through something similar, Digena has some advice.

“If I could speak to my junior high self, I would say, ‘This is all for right now. Your entire world is this school — for right now. But when you’re older, you won’t even think about these days. You’re going to look back and you’re going to think,  ‘Wow, I spent all that time worrying about what people thought when I could’ve been doing something that made me so happy.’ And right now, I want to take back that time, and do as much as I can with it,” she said.