First Generation in College at Siena

As I prepare to enter last semester of undergrad, I still struggle to articulate my experience as a first-generation college student.

Overwhelmed by the memories of the past 3 and a half years as I type this, I am still unable to fully understand most of it. I cannot fathom the idea of standing in front of a filled classroom and speaking on the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and desperation I endured as a first-year student. To explain this commonly shared experience of first-gen students and then to follow it up the reassurance that it all ends up alright still seems like a far-fetched idea.

Somehow, Dr. Stacey Dearing of the English department did just that last Wednesday night.

The annual “First Generation in College at Siena” discussion series invites a faculty member to reflect on what it was like to be a first generation college student. As noted by Dr. Todd Synder, one of the professors who facilitates the event, “The series was established so that students at Siena who are the first in their family to go to college can get a sense that there are a lot of faculty members that come from similar backgrounds.” Dr. Stacey Dearing was selected this year to tell her story of going from being the first person in her family to attend college to earning her PhD in 2018.

Dr. Dearing discussed what life was like growing up in a working-class family in a small city in Michigan. She shared that her mother became chronically ill when she was young and that her father was constantly working trade jobs to support their family. She noted that at a young age, she learned how to do various household chores to take care of herself and family members.

When it came time for Dr. Dearing to attend college, she could not afford her first choice school. Instead, she chose a small-liberal arts college that provided her enough scholarships to attend. Her first year at college was… less than ideal. “It was not fine. It was terrible” as Dr. Dearing described it. During this time, she struggled with homesickness, isolation, and reaching out for help. While her parents were supportive, she felt that because they had not gone to college, there was no way they could understand what she was going through. She still regrets expressing that sentiment to her mother to this day.

“The weird thing about all of this is that while I was crying all the time and super miserable, classes were going fine.” Dr. Dearing explained that, while she was deeply struggling to adjust to college life, she found salvation in her classes. Through her love of English and history courses, she eventually found professors that acted as her mentors. Also through her academic passions, Dr. Dearing was able to find supportive peers who shared similar interests. With the right people by her side, Dr. Dearing was able to make it through not only undergraduate studies, but also a Master’s degree and a PhD program.

Dr. Dearing left the audience with ways to manage the emotional difficulties of being a first-gen student. These included accepting offers of friendship, talking with professors you trust about the hardships, and, asking someone for help. Looking back, I wish my 18-year-old self had utilized any of these tips in coping with the transition into college.

More importantly, I wish a faculty member had told me, as Dr. Dearing told the audience Wednesday night, that “It gets better. It all ends up ok.”

Fidel Castro’s Daughter Visits Campus

Alina Fernandez is one of the most well known Cuban anti-communist activists and a major critic of the Cuban government. She is also the daughter of the Cuban communist revolution leader and former ruler of the state, Fidel Castro. She is the niece of the current leader of Cuba, Raúl Castro, who took over political control of the nation after his brother’s death in April 2011. Since fleeing Cuba in 1993, Alina has been residing in the United States. On the evening of Monday, October 7th, she visited Siena to discuss her journey.

Sponsored by the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center, the Latinx Student Association, the multi-cultural studies minor, and the Diversity Action Committee, Alina was invited to campus as the Latinx Heritage Month Keynote Lecturer. President of the Latinx Student Association, Laura Rodriguez, had the honor of welcoming her to the stage. After taking the mic, Alina began telling the crowd the story of her life, growing up in the Cuban revolution. 

Alina spoke of her mother, Natalia Revuelta Clew,’s relationship with Castro as well as her marriage with her father, Dr. Orlando Fernandez. Well, step-father, as she would later explain. Natalia and Dr. Fernandez initially had a strong marriage and had a daughter together, Alina’s older sister. Alina’s mother became involved with the communist movement and held key roles in the initial rebel attacks in 1953. As leader of the rebels, Castro was incarcerated as a result of these attacks. He and Natalia wrote letters to one another for the entirety of his imprisonment. “How powerful a letter can be” Alina expressed as she believes that it was these letters that made her parents fall in love.  

She went on to explain that after being released from prison, Castro and Natalia would secretly meet with one another, as she was still married to Dr. Fernandez. Eventually, these meet-ups would lead to the conception of Alina. It would not be until Alina was ten years old that her mother would confess to her that Castro, and not Dr. Fernandez, was her real father. As Alina’s life was just beginning, as was the complete overthrow of the Cuban government. After Castro took control, the nation was torn.

“One morning, my sister wasn’t in her bed. And I was told they were traitors, worms. That’s what they called the Cubans that left the island.” As the revolution quickly progressed, Alina recalled how Dr. Fernandez and her sister fled Cuba after his private clinic was taken over by the rebels. She went on to explain that after Castro took control, private businesses, properties, hotels, and anything else considered to be capitalistic was invaded and destroyed. “Even Christmas was a capitalistic celebration, and like everything else, vanished.” Cuba fell apart as Alina grew up. She watched her favorite cartoons disappear and stared in confusion as Castro, the man who was always on her T.V screen, also regularly appeared in her mother’s home late at night. 

It wouldn’t be until Alina was well passed childhood that she could make her escape from Cuba. With the help of some friends in America and disguised as a Spanish traveler, Alina was able to flee from her homeland in December of 1993. She noted that just five years ago, she returned to Cuba for the first time since her escape and saw that there were small, yet positive, changes occurring. Just eight years ago, Cubans were not allowed to buy and sell homes and cars and could not use cell phones. Alina concluded by telling the crowd that today, the Cuban government now allows for all of this to take place and that she was pleased to see such progress.

Annual Clare Center Lecture Focuses on Relational Love in the Mayo Clinic

The 26th installment of the Clare Center Lecture Series brought Dr. Amy Koehlinger to campus on the evening of Wednesday, October 2nd. Each year, the lecture series aims to engage the Siena community in learning about a contemporary or historical aspect of the Franciscan tradition. This year’s lecture highlighted the Franciscan value of relational love in the developing of and revolutionary medical practices in the Mayo Clinic.

“I’m coming from Oregon so it may seem raining to you guys, but for me this is just an average Wednesday” Dr. Koehlinger joked about the dreary night as she began her presentation.  Dr. Koehlinger, an assistant professor of history and religious studies at Oregon State University, focuses her research on the culture of American Catholicism, the intersections of social reform and religion, and gender roles within American religious traditions. For her visit to Siena, it was only fitting that she discussed the historical connections between the  Franciscans and the Mayo clinic since the college announced it’s new dual-nursing program with Maria College last month.

As Dr. Koehlinger explained in her lecture, the Mayo Clinic is a premier medical center located in Rochester, Minnesota. While today it is currently ranked as the number 1 overall best hospital in the United States by the U.S News and World Report and is home to one of the top medical schools in the nation, the clinic had very humble beginnings. After a tornado struck the small town of Rochester, many individuals were left in need of immediate medical care. As they both realized their community was in desperate need of aid, a partnership between a physician William Mayo and Catholic nun Mother Mary Moes was born.

Dr. Mayo and Mother Mary Moes  would go on to lay the foundation for  “one of the most unexpected and enduring institutional partnerships in the American medical profession” as Dr. Koehlinger referred to it. The duo recruited local physicians and the sisters from Mother Moes convent and got to work healing their community members. Years later, Mother Moes and Dr. Mayo would go on to open up St. Mary’s Hospital, a Catholic facility fully staffed with Catholic sisters, but open to people from all religious backgrounds. 

“(The Franciscan  sisters) worked back-to -back shifts and slept on the floor when the hospital was filled to capacity, as it almost always was” Dr. Koehlinger stated. In her discussion, she explained that the sacrifices the sisters made were what made the hospital so revolutionary at the time. Patients were never turned away, measures to insure conditions were sanitary were being implemented like never before, and most importantly, the staff treated the entire being of a patient, not just the part of their body that most obviously needed care. Throughout the years, the Mayo Clinic never lost its core Franciscan values, as Dr. Koehlinger expressed in her closing. While eventually the nursing staff would no longer only be made up of  Franciscan sisters and the  Franciscans would let go of legal and financial control of the hospital all together, the core values that started it all still live on in the organization to this day.

Today, the Mayo Clinic has a sponsorship board dedicated to making sure that  Franciscan values are still embedded into every department. Dr. Koehlinger ended the 2019 Clare Lecture Lecture Series by telling the audience that the original  Franciscan values are still alive in the clinic as every new employee to asked to follow in the original sister’s footsteps by “treat(ing) every patient and every colleague with respect and dignity.” It was the Franciscan value of relational love that made the original medical partnership, the care patients received, and Mayo Clinic, so exceptional.

LGBTQ Discrimination and Sex Rights Discussed by Constitution Day Lecturer

On Monday, September 23rd, the Siena community came out to attend “Constitution Day 2019: Sex Rights and the Liquor of Bureaucracy” featuring guest lecturer, Dr. Anthony Michael Kreis. A national holiday, Constitution Day exists to commemorate the signing of the Constitution in September, 1787. Here on campus, Constitution Day serves as an annual opportunity to discuss a relevant concern regarding constitutional law. This year’s Constitution Day took on a question that has been recently creating turmoil in American legislation: who really is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? 

The discussion was opened by Professor of Political Science, Dr. Leonard Cutler. Dr. Cutler elaborated on the relevance of this year’s theme, “A few weeks ago, the Trump administration took it’s staunchest position to date in legalizing anti-gay discrimination..” he continued  “..when it asked the supreme court of the United States to declare that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act permits private companies to fire workers based on their sexual orientation.” 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. As explained by Dr. Cutler, the current presidential administration has taken on the stance that members of the LGBTQ community are not protected under Title VII in regards to private employers discriminatory practices. Following Dr. Cutler was Professor of Political Science, Dr. Jack Collens. Dr. Kreis and Dr. Collens attended graduate school together at the University of Georgia and after sharing his accolades with the crowd, it was time for Dr. Collens to invite Dr. Kreis to the stage. 

Dr. Anthony Michael Kreis currently teaches legal writing at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He authored the Illinois state law banning gay and transgender panic defenses in murder trials in 2017, which is the second of its kind in the U.S. Dr. Kreis opened by discussing how the accidental discovery of gay and lesbian bars during the Prohibition era sparked an ongoing dispute of the LGBTQ, immigrant, and working class communities versus American law-makers and private groups that wanted to maintain the social norms of pre-Industrial Revolution times. 

“If you had too many feminine men in your bar, they deemed it a place of disorderly conduct. And they put pressure on wholesalers to deny those establishments of liquor” Kreis stated. “In the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s the state said ‘If we see too many feminine men in a bar, we’re assuming it’s a gay bar and we’re shutting it down” he said about the determination if establishments could remain open post-prohibition. Basically, the battle between the LGBTQ community and American law-makers has been occurring for over a century.

At this point in the lecture, the question still remained, what does all of this mean for today’s concerns surrounding a new interpretation of Title VII? “The idea here is that you cannot discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation without also discriminating against them because of their sex.” He elaborated that the stereotypes surrounding gender roles used by employers to justify discriminatory practices against LGTBQ employees directly plays into sex discrimination. 

Dr. Kreis closed out his discussion by stating “Title VII is ultimately supposed to reflect our constitutional values and the law has been shaped by an understanding that sex stereotypes are dangerous..” Following the lecture, Dr. Kreis opened the floor for Q&A and soon after, Constitution Day 2019 came to an end. After all was said and done, attendees walked away from the event with a greater understanding on a topic that Dr. Kreis referred to as, currently, “the greatest civil rights case of our time.”

Siena Holds 6th Annual Hip-Hop Week

From Monday March 18th to Friday March 22nd, 2019, Siena celebrated its sixth annual Hip-Hop Week, a week-long celebration of the social and cultural impacts of the music genre. The week is coordinated by the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center and Dr. Todd Snyder, associate professor of English, as well as the professor of a popular, upper-level writing class, “Rhetoric(s) of Hip-Hop.”

Hip-Hop Week kicked off on Monday with a visit from hip-hop pioneer, Biz Markie. Born Marcel Theo Hall but better known by his stage name, Markie has been working in the music industry for over thirty years and is well-known for his unique musical style, beatboxing skills, and DJ performances, as well as a brief dabbling in an acting career. When he took the stage in the Sarazen Student Union on Monday, he performed his hit single from 1989, “Just a Friend” and the audience sang loudly along to the familiar song. 

In Dr. Snyder’s introduction, he proudly shared that Siena is “the only college in the United States of America that has an annual Hip-Hop Week.” The event has become a staple not only in the Siena community but in the larger Capital Region, as Markie’s visit drew an impressive crowd of students, faculty, and community members. Dr. Snyder then lead a Q&A with Markie, asking about his initial interests in the hip-hop genre, as well as some of his personal influences with music. Markie was an engaging speaker, and his entertainer personality shown through in his responses; he would beatbox throughout his answers and crack jokes with the audience.

The events of the week also featured Hip-Hop Karaoke on Wednesday night, where students could win prizes by performing and dressing as their favorite artists, as well as a Hip-Hop Trivia Night on Thursday. This Friday March 22nd, Hip-Hop Week will conclude with “Expozé: Evolution of Hip-Hop” at 7:30pm, presented by Siena College’s Black & Latino Student Union. The event is a talent showcase that will feature a number of performances by Siena’s dance clubs. Tickets cost $3 for Siena students & faculty and $5 for outside guests, and all proceeds will be donated to the Coalition for Homeless Youth. 

Hip-Hop Week is sponsored by the Black & Latino Student Union, the Diversity Action Committee, Damietta-Cross Cultural Center, the English Department, Greyfriar Living Literature Series, Community Living, and Student Activities & Leadership Development.

If you’re interested in reading more about Markie’s visit, I covered his performance and keynote lecture in the 3/29 issue of The Promethean, which can be read here.

Greyfriar Author Speaks with English Class

Each year, the English Department hosts the Greyfriar Living Literature Series in which they invite a distinguished literary writer to hold a workshop, discuss writing, and read from their work. This year’s Greyfriar author was Anand Prahlad, a published poet, memoirist, and professor. Prahlad visited my African American Literature class on Tuesday March 5th in the afternoon before his lecture and shared some of his insights on writing with our class. 

As part of our assignment for the day, my professor, Dr. Wilhite, assigned selected passages from Prahlad’s 2017 memoir, The Secret Life of a Black Aspie. His memoir discusses his experience with autism spectrum disorder and describes the way he sees the world. Prahlad kicks off his memoir with a bold statement: “Before I start telling you about my life, though, I should share with you a secret: I don’t remember most of it.” He admitted to our class that it was a line he wasn’t sure if he should keep in the memoir, but decide that there is an important, distinguished relationship between memory and life writing. “Everyone remembers differently,” Prahlad said.

Dr. Wilhite started off the class by having us read one of Prahlad’s poems, “Grind,” from his collection of poetry, As Good As Mango. The poem, written with extensive enjambment and impressionism, narrates an observer watching young black boys skateboarding in Harlem. Students discussed some of their observations from the poem, including Prahlad’s use of bright and positive imagery with darkness. Prahlad listened to student’s comments, then explained his own intentions with the poem, specifically how it was meant to capture a sense of percussive choreography. It was a great opportunity to hear an author speak about his own work. 

The class then transitioned into talking about the selected passages from Prahlad’s memoir. Students were able to ask Prahlad questions, and many of their inquiries centered around his writing style as someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “My relationship to memory is kind of rooted in sensory experiences,” he explained. Prahlad shared an anecdote about a time he was asked to describe the autistic experience in order to best understand how to work with someone with autism. “Imagine everything is alive,” he said. “Everything is an aura. Everything is vibrating.”

Hearing Prahlad speak about his memoir and poetry was a valuable opportunity as an aspiring writer and an English major. I was unfortunately unable to attend his reading and Q&A due to a class conflict, but I was fortunate to have the chance to hear him discuss his own work. If you’re interested in learning more about Prahlad and his publications, you can check out his website at https://prahladauthor.com.

Making the Most Out of the Career Fair

The Career, Internship, and Graduate School Fair is one of the biggest annual events of the spring semester, expecting over 125 employers to be in attendance. Regardless of your class year, it’s a valuable event to attend because it gives you an opportunity to spruce up your resume, dress professionally, and engage with prospective career interests.

The weeks leading up to the fair provide a lot of useful resources and information regarding how to best prepare yourself for the fair. Each year, Dress for Success Albany hosts an annual clothing sale open to students, faculty, and staff. The sale offers gently used business, professional clothing at a discounted price. It’s a great opportunity to buy discounted business pants, blazers, shirts, shoes, and purses. I have attended the Dress for Success sale since my freshman year at Siena and every year, I am able to find high quality business wear for less than retail price. The sale will be happening March 8th from 12-2pm (open to students, faculty, and staff only) and on March 9th 10am-2pm (open to the public) in Foy Hall. I would definitely recommend stopping by the sale to find some business clothing to wear to the Career Fair! 

The Carer Center is also sponsoring a Resume Critique Hour on Monday, March 11th from 12-2pm in Foy Hall Lobby. Students will be able to receive feedback on their resumes and connect with employers prior to the fair. Another great and entertaining event is the Dress for Success Fashion show, taking place on Wednesday, March 13th at 9pm in the SSU. The fashion show highlights what to wear and, more specifically, what not to wear in the professional world. If you’ve never been to the Career Fair and are nervous about what to expect, consider attending the “Make Yourself Stand Out at the Career Fair Employer Presentation” on Monday, March 18th from 12:30-1:30pm in the library, room L-26. This event will provide some helpful tips on professionalism and networking, as well as help alleviate any nerves about attending the fair.

The 2019 Career Fair is a great opportunity to network with employers, polish your resume, and practice professionalism. The best piece of advice I can give is to go into the fair with an open mind – don’t limit yourself to speak to employers only in your field. It can be nerve-wracking to approach people you’ve never spoken to before, especially in a professional setting, but part of entering the job market is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. No matter what class year or major you are, all students can find some sort of value in the event.

RSVP for the Carer Fair online at saintsconnect.edu! The 2019 Spring Career, Internship, and Graduate School Fair will be taking place on Tuesday March 19th from 3-6pm in the MAC.

MLK Keynote Tim Wise Visits Siena

This past Wednesday Jan. 30, 2019, author and activist Tim Wise delivered a lecture at Siena as the speaker of the 32nd Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. This year’s lecture was held in the MAC to accommodate the large audience. I’m terrible with numbers, but there were easily over 200 students, faculty, and people from the local community at the event.

Wise had a very commanding presence as a speaker, constantly keeping the attention on him and using his humor to connect with the audience. He commented at the beginning of his presentation that he has been delivering speeches nationwide for almost thirty years, and his impressive rhetorical abilities shone through. 

Wise spoke on how King’s memory has ultimately been sanitized and stripped of “revolutionary content” in America’s historical memory, explaining that people only remember the parts of King’s philosophy that make them comfortable. “See, everybody will tell you that they marched with Dr. King,” Wise said. “If everybody who says that they marched with Dr. King had actually marched with Dr. King, we wouldn’t be having to have this conversation about racism in 2019.”

The MLK keynote centered on the idea of a dangerous historical memory. Wise tied this notion to the 2016 election, immigration conflicts, and police brutality, honing in on the idea that past history is constantly repeating itself due to America’s faulty historical memory. “We keep trying to reinvent the wheel instead of understanding that we’re fighting the same dragons,” Wise explained, “the same monsters we’ve always been fighting.” He concluded his lecture optimistically and answered an hour of audience questions.

I will be covering Wise’s visit in the 2/15 issue of The Promethean, so if you’re interested in more extensive coverage of his time on campus and lecture, be sure to check it out.

Reflecting on Last Year’s MLK Keynote

This Wednesday, anti-racism activist and published author Tim Wise will take the stage in the MAC and deliver his talk, “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequity in America.” Wise will be the keynote speaker 32nd Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. I strongly encourage everyone to attend Tim Wise’s lecture this Wednesday at 7pm in the MAC, and because these MLK keynotes usually draw in a large crowd of faculty, students, and members of the local community, I suggest getting there early to reserve a seat. 

As the event approaches, I am reminded of last year’s speaker, Luis Alberto Urrea, whose meditation on borders seems especially relevant in regards to the political climate today. I personally covered Urrea’s visit in The Promethean, which involved a lot of research, interviewing, editing…and re-editing. Out of all the articles I have written for the paper and events I have attended at Siena, Urrea’s keynote keeps coming back to me, maybe because his encouragement of unity is more important now than ever in the face of political division.

A self-proclaimed “border writer,” Urrea’s talk centered on issues surrounding the US-Mexico border, which is arguably a more politically charged topic now than when he delivered his keynote speech last year. He narrated his own experience as a Mexican-American, highlighting his struggles with racism, discrimination, and oppression, and acknowledged that many anti-immigrant sentiments are born out of ignorance. “People don’t understand the folks who seek solace and shelter here in this country,” Urrea said.

Despite the emotional, poignant nature of his talk, the author ended his keynote with a sense of optimism, encouraging the use of art and human connection in the face of division. “There’s got to be a better way,” Urrea addressed the audience. “Force doesn’t work, politics doesn’t work, co-optive religion’s not working. What’s going to work? Maybe only, right now, art and song and hope and each other. Maybe we can understand there’s no ‘them’ out there. There’s only ‘us’ out there. Maybe we can help each other.”

Looking Ahead to MLK Week

With the first week of classes drawing to a close and a massive snowstorm rolling in, everyone’s looking forward to having Monday off. A long weekend means sleeping in, catching up on Netflix, and getting a small break from work and school. It’s important, though, to remember that this Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK day is observed on the third Monday of January every year in celebration of MLK’s birthday. The holiday celebrates King’s life and legacy, as well as encourages a day of reflection.

“The holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration . . . Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.” -Coretta Scott King

In recognition of King’s life and tremendous achievements, Siena will be hosting a weeklong series of events, including a mass, a gospel concert, and a day of service. The 2nd Annual MLK Week runs from January 23-20, 2019 and ends with the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series of Race and Nonviolent Social Change. This year’s keynote speaker is Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist. He will be delivering his lecture, “Challenging the Culture of Cruelty: Understanding and Defeating Race and Class Inequity in America,” on Wednesday January 30 at 7pm in the MAC. 

I attended last year’s MLK keynote speaker, author and activist Luis Alberto Urrea, and was incredibly moved by his talk on immigration and acceptance. Before delivering his keynote lecture, Urrea even met with creative writing students in a hour-long lunch. Wise will be meeting with students on campus before his lecture as well and leading a workshop in Dr. Wilhite’s African American Literature class. I’m looking forward to attending Tim Wise’s upcoming talk and am hoping to see a successful turnout for the event. Last year’s speaker brought a full house, so if you’re hoping to find a seat during the lecture, be sure to arrive early!

Best wishes for a restful, reflective weekend.