2021 Symposium Speaker and Panel Information

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Meet the Keynote: Charlton McIlwain
Panel Descriptions with Speaker Bios
Additional Resources

9 a.m. — Welcome and Greetings

  • DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull; Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin; House Majority Leader Jason Rojas; Paul Mounds, Chief of Staff to Gov. Ned Lamont; Senator Chris Murphy; Senator Richard Blumenthal; Congressman John Larson

9:30-10 a.m. — Keynote Speaker Charlton McIlwain: Designing Technology for Racial Justice


10:15 - 11:30 a.m. — Culture, Race, Ethnicity, Language and Accessibility: What Are We Waiting For?

  • Tekisha D. Everette, Executive Director, Health Equity Solutions
  • Vikki Katz, Associate Professor of Communication and Information, Rutgers University
  • Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer for Disability Rights Strategy, President’s Office, Ford Foundation.
  • Moderator: Andrea Comer, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Consumer Protection; Social Equity Council Chairperson

11:45 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. — Lunch

1-2:15 p.m. — Critical Condition: The History and Future of a Shape-Shifting Media

  • Juan Gonzalez, Professor of Communications and Public Policy, Rutgers University, and co-host of Democracy Now
  • Silvia Foster-Frau, Multiculturalism Reporter, The Washington Post
  • Dan Haar, Columnist and Associate Editor at Hearst Connecticut Media
  • Amy Yee, Equality Reporter at Bloomberg
  • Moderator: Kaitlyn Krasselt, Communications Director, DCP


2:30-3:45 p.m. Underheard, Undercounted, and Underserved: Does Data Serve Equally?

  • Meredith Rolfe, Director, Data Analytics and Computational Social Science Program, University of Massachusetts
  • Sara Eisele-Dyrli, Assistant Director at Connecticut Data Collaborative (Connecticut State Data Center)
  • Susan R. Smith, Department of Social Services’ Director of Business Intelligence + Analytics.
  • Moderator: Kasturi Pananjady, Data Reporter for CT Mirror

3:45-4:30 — Concluding remarks and Call to Action


Charlton McIlwain

Charlton Deron McIlwain is an American academic and author whose expertise includes the role of race and media in politics and social life. McIlwain is Professor of media, culture, and communication and is the Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and Development at New York University. He is also the author of the recently published Black Software.

His recent work focuses on the intersections of race, digital media, and racial justice activism.


Activists, pundits, politicians, and the press frequently proclaim today’s digitally mediated racial justice activism the new civil rights movement. As Charlton D. McIlwain shows in this book, the story of racial justice movement organizing online is much longer and varied than most people know. In fact, it spans nearly five decades and involves a varied group of engineers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, journalists, and activists. But this is a history that is virtually unknown even in our current age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Black Lives Matter.

Beginning with the simultaneous rise of civil rights and computer revolutions in the 1960s, McIlwain, for the first time, chronicles the long relationship between African Americans, computing technology, and the Internet. In turn, he argues that the forgotten figures who worked to make black politics central to the Internet’s birth and evolution paved the way for today’s explosion of racial justice activism.

From the 1960s to present, the book examines how computing technology has been used to neutralize the threat that black people pose to the existing racial order, but also how black people seized these new computing tools to build community, wealth, and wage a war for racial justice. Through archival sources and the voices of many of those who lived and made this history, Black Software centralizes African Americans’ role in the Internet’s creation and evolution, illuminating both the limits and possibilities for using digital technology to push for racial justice in the United States and across the globe.



Culture, Race, Ethnicity, Language and Accessibility: What Are We Waiting For?

This panel will examine how implicit bias, often rooted in incomplete or biased data, impacts public policy, particularly in healthcare access, internet access and a recognition of disability as a social justice issue. There is a lot of talk these days about moving forward with understanding of the very diverse culture we live in, but how can we truly measure the success of efforts as opposed to the excess of righteous noise?

Tekisha Dwan Everette, Ph.D.          

Executive Director of Health Equity Solutions

Tekisha has built a successful career in public policy, particularly health care policy, and advocacy in the non-profit, state, and private sectors. Before taking the helm of Health Equity Solutions (HES), she served as the Managing Director of Federal Government Affairs with the American Diabetes Association where she provided strategic leadership on policy and advocacy initiatives with the White House, several federal agencies, and Congress, which led to important victories for people both with and at risk for diabetes.

Everette earned her doctorate in Sociology from American University with a concentration in race, gender, and social justice as it relates to social policy. She received her Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the Center of Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (popularly known as Virginia Tech) and holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Interdisciplinary Studies from the same institution.

Everette is an alumna of the Masters Series for Distinguished Leaders and the National Urban Fellows America’s Leaders of Change program. She is a lifetime member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Association of Black Sociologists.

When Everette is not advocating for health care policy and social justice, she enjoys fulfilling her thirst for cultural enrichment through travel. She believes seeing the world helps one to expand their worldview and cultural understanding and her goal is to visit every US city and touch every continent at least once. In her spare time, Everette enjoys listening to music, writing poetry, dancing, cooking and entertaining guests in her West Hartford home.

Vikki Katz

I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa before immigrating to the San Francisco Bay Area with my family in my teens. I attended UCLA as an undergraduate and received my MA and Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, where I subsequently held a two-year postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Annenberg Family Foundation.

I joined the Communication Department in the Rutgers School of Communication and Information in 2009, where I am now an Associate Professor and Chancellors Scholar.

I am also Affiliate Graduate Faculty in Sociology and hold a courtesy appointment in Latino and Caribbean Studies.

I have been a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation and a Senior Research Fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

I have the honor of serving on the Board of Directors for the National Center for Families Learning and the Advisory Board for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting-Public Broadcasting Service (CPB-PBS) Ready to Learn Program, which supports development of educational media targeted at preschool and early elementary school-aged children and their families to promote early learning and school readiness. I advise numerous PBS affiliates on creating and adapting content for immigrant families with young children, and for families who have inconsistent internet connectivity.

I also serve as Editor of Journal of Children and Media and Associate Editor for AERA Open.

I live in New York City with my husband, sons, and pandemic puppy.


Rebecca Cokley

Rebecca Cokley is a program officer in the President’s Office, developing the U.S. disability rights program strategy, the first of its kind at the Ford Foundation.

Prior to joining Ford, Rebecca was the co-founder and director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she built out a progressive disability policy platform that both protected rights and services disabled people and their families depend on for survival, but also developed innovative solutions for the future including a proposed disabled worker tax credit and increasing access to capital for disabled-owned small businesses. She was responsible for organizing a campaign that resulted in an unprecedented 12 Presidential candidates developing disability policy platforms. Prior to her work at CAP, she served as the executive director for the National Council on Disability where she worked on sexual violence on college campuses, policing reform, and the civil rights of disabled parents. A three time Presidential Appointee, Rebecca served in key policy roles at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a successful stint at the White House where she oversaw diversity and inclusion efforts for the Obama Administration.

Rebecca is a frequent speaker and contributor on issues of public policy and disability inclusion in the media and at major national conferences. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz.


Andréa Comer

Andréa Comer joined the Department of Consumer Protection in August 2021. As deputy commissioner, Andrea chairs the Social Equity Council and provides guidance on various Department initiatives. Previously, Andréa served as Chief External Affairs Officer for the CT Paid Leave Authority, where she led communications, legislative and outreach strategies.

Prior to her state service, Andréa served in several leadership positions, bringing more than two decades of experience in strategic planning and program management in government, industry and nonprofit entities.

Andréa has served on the Hartford Board of Education, as Chair of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Greater Together Advisory Committee, and as Chair of the CT NAACP’s Education Committee. She currently serves as Vice Chair of Five Frogs, Chair of the School + State Finance Project, on the boards of the Hartford Public Library and the state’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission.

Andréa holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State, is an Aspen Executive Leadership alumnus and a UConn MPA Fellow. She was an inaugural recipient of the 100 New England Women of Color Award and has been recognized by the CT Commission on Children, YMCA, Urban League of Greater Hartford and the CT NAACP. A resident of Hartford, she is the proud mother of a kindergarten teacher and wife of a law enforcement officer.


Critical Condition: The History and Future of a Shape-Shifting Media

This panel will look at how the media has changed, and some would argue, how its importance in communities has declined. We have lost much of the long-form contextualized stories to aggregated one sentence bits of information, and the panelists will ask how we, as advocates, community activists, and policy makers can use both the new and the traditional forms of media to our advantage. They will also look at the history and future of ethnic media and stories that use data in order to communicate overarching issues.

Juan González

For more than forty years, Juan González has been one of the nation’s best-known Latino journalists, activists and public intellectuals. A staff columnist for New York’s Daily News from 1987 until his retirement from the paper in 2016, he has also co-hosted for the past twenty-five years the daily radio and TV show Democracy Now, and he currently serves as the Richard D. Heffner Professor of Communications and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

His investigative reports on urban affairs, migration and political troubles in Latin America have won widespread recognition, including two George Polk awards. A founder and past president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, he became in 2015 the first Latino elected to the Society of Professional Journalists’ New York Journalism Hall of Fame and is also a Fellow of the New York Academy of History.

González is the author of five books, including Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, a required text for nearly two decades at colleges across the country; and News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, a New York Times best-seller and finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Award. As a young activist in the 1960s and 1970s, he was a founder and leader of New York City’s Young Lords Organization and of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.

Silvia Foster-Frau

Silvia Foster-Frau writes for The Washington Post about the nation’s emergence as a predominantly multicultural society, exploring its changing racial, ethnic and cultural demographics, and telling the stories of everyday Americans affected by and a part of such change.

Foster-Frau joined The Post in February 2021 after more than four years working at the San Antonio Express-News in Texas, where she covered immigration and border affairs, reporting in depth on separated families, border security and immigration courts. She was also the paper’s lead reporter on the 2017 Sutherland Springs mass shooting, closely documenting the small, rural community’s grief and recovery for over a year.

Foster-Frau was the recipient of a two-year Hearst Fellowship, which placed her in Fairfield County, Conn., for her first year before moving to San Antonio.

T: @SilviaElenaFF

Dan Haar

Dan Haar is columnist and associate editor at Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which includes the daily newspapers in the state’s three largest cities, five other daily newspapers, Connecticut Magazine, 20 weeklies and numerous websites.  As a columnist he focuses on the intersection of economics, business, politics and policy.  Dan was previously at The Hartford Courant in numerous roles including metro columnist, business columnist, business editor, economics beat reporter and state Capitol reporter. He started his career at The Courant as a photographer. Dan has won numerous awards as a photographer, writer and editor. He is a former president of the Connecticut News Photographers association.  From 2001 to 2017, Dan had a weekly TV spot called “Hangin’ with Haar” on Fox 61 in Hartford, delivering perspective on business news. He graduated from Wesleyan University and he lives in West Hartford, where he still competes in ultimate frisbee. Dan is also completing his Master Gardener certification, a lifelong dream.

Amy Yee

Amy Yee joined Bloomberg as a reporter covering equality in July of 2021.

She is an award-winning American journalist, writer and poet who was based in New Delhi, India from 2006-13.

She has also written for The New York Times, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Geographic, The Guardian, The Nation, The Atlantic.com, Foreign Policy.com, International Herald Tribune, NBCNews.com, Forbes, The Lancet, Science Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, ScientificAmerican.com, The Daily Beast, Undark (science magazine at MIT), Stanford Social Innovation Review, Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Globe, Ms. Magazine, Slate,  The Progressive, Roads and Kingdoms, Yes! Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Afar Magazine, Global Post (US), OnEarth.com, Far Eastern Economic Review.com and Buddha Dharma magazine, among other publications. As a journalist, she focuses on solutions to social problems, such as climate change adaptation and mitigation through renewable energy; reducing deaths of children and mothers in developing countries; and improving safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories; and much more.

From 2016 to 2018 she reported from 10 countries in Africa. She has reported from 20 countries in total: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Mozambique, Australia,  Bosnia, Russia, Myanmar, Sweden, Peru, Tibet and the U.S.

Her produced radio work from Bangladesh, India, Africa and Australia has aired on NPR (National Public Radio) and Voice of America. Amy researches, reports, field records interviews and ambient sound, writes and voices scripts, and edits tape, while doing all logistics, pre-production, travel planning in challenging locations. She uses a Marantz recorder, an RE 50 Mic (before it was stolen in DR Congo), and edits using Audacity.

Yee had three Notable Essays in the Best American Essays anthology.

She won the United Nations Correspondents’ Association award three times and is a four-time winner in the South Asian Journalists Association’s contest and a seven-time finalist.

She won First Place for public health reporting in the Association of Healthcare Journalists contest and won an Honorable Mention in the Society of Environmental Journalists contest last year.

Yee was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economics and Business Journalism at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree.

 [As a ‘solution’ for underfunded journalists and writers, I am experimenting with virtual tip jars, both powered by PayPal! If you want to donate, two options here:  https://www.buymeacoffee.com/AmyYeeWrites and https://ko-fi.com/amyyee ]


Kaitlyn Krasselt

Kaitlyn is the Communications Director for the Department of Consumer Protection. She joined DCP in September 2020, after more than five years as a reporter with the Hearst Connecticut Media Group where she covered statewide politics for the last 3 years. She won the 2019 Theodore Driscoll Award for Investigative Reporting with her colleague Emilie Munson for their series "Harassed at Work," which revealed the depth of harassment women face in the workplace. She is an Idaho native who's never seen a potato farm, and a graduate of the University of Idaho where she studied journalism and international relations.


Underheard, Undercounted, and Underserved: Does Data Serve Equally?

This panel will address the issues of how data is being used to create public policy that serves underserved communities. How does it inform state policy, and how do we know the difference between data informed and data driven? How do we know and understand how census information can serve marginalized communities? The panelists will look at how language is used in both the collection and analysis of data, and how that impacts those who depend on that data to inform their programs. The panelists will also consider the importance of creating data skeptics – and how data can be translated into plain language for those who use it to create policy.

Merideth Rolfe

Prior to joining the UMass Political Science Department, Meredith Rolfe spent almost a decade in England, where she was a member of the Department of Management in the London School of Economics after holding major research fellowships at Oxford University. Rolfe's methodologically innovative research documents how social networks and social interaction shape everyday political and economic behaviors from voter turnout to the ethnic wage gap. She has dedicated much of the past 5 years to developing computational social science certificates and degrees at UMass that aim to bring diverse voices into STEM and social data science.

Susan Smith

Susan R. Smith attended Williams College for her undergraduate degrees and Duke University for law school.

She has been a State of Connecticut employee for over 26 years.   She held various positions at the CT Department of Children and Families, including the Procurement Program Director, the Director of Research + Evaluation and the Chief of Quality + Planning.    Presently, she is the Department of Social Services’ Director of Business Intelligence + Analytics and serves as the agency’s Data Officer.

Over Susan’s career, she has focused on advancing cultural and linguistic competence and racial  equity across all aspects of service delivery for Connecticut citizens.  In her capacity as DCF’s Chief of Quality + Planning, she served as the Executive Sponsor for the agency’s Racial Justice activities.  In 2018, Susan was awarded the Department’s Dr. Janet E. Williams Humanitarian Award for her “Exemplary Leadership and Commitment to Racial Justice.”  

While at DCF, Susan worked to center equity across the Department’s data management and data governance infrastructure and practices.  In particular, she worked to standardize race and ethnicity disaggregation in data systems and reporting.  She was often quoted in the context of service oversight and monitoring, for asking the question: “Who’s Better Off?”   In 2019, Susan wrote DCF’s inaugural Racial Justice Report under PA 18-111, in which DCF protective services pathway, contracted services, risk and safety, and educational data were assessed for overrepresentation and disparate impacts on persons of color.

As DCF looked towards predictive analytics to support better outcomes for the children and families that the agency served, Susan developed a “Value Statement” to center equity and racial justice within that work.  In furtherance of that lens, she authored DCF Policy 5-4, “Client Data Protections and Client Data Dignity.”  That policy reads in part:

[T]he Department shall ensure the ethical, nondiscriminatory, and equitable use of data that it collects or may disseminate internally or externally. Further, the Department shall ensure that all DCF functions that collect client data, and/or use such data for decision-making are assessed to determine the risks and benefits to persons served by the Department. The Department shall make this assessment cognizant of the disproportionate representation of persons of color and economically disadvantaged persons in DCF and other public data systems. Therefore, the Department shall err on the side of caution when using and sharing data that may contribute to or cause bias, disproportionality or disparity.

Presently at DSS, she is continuing efforts to make high quality data more accessible and actionable through an equity, inclusion and diversity lens.  As the chairperson of DSS’ Data Governance Committee (DGC), she has supported development of Race/Ethnicity data collection and reporting recommendations.  The DGC is prioritizing similar recommendations related to language, sex/gender, orientation, identify and expression data.   The DGC is also standing up a data request process and approach that actively assesses for equity within the protection and security of PHI, PII + other sensitive data.

Last, Susan is a member of the CT State Data Plan’s Equity Affinity Group and a planning member of the Equity Community of Practice that is convened by the CT Data Collaborative.  On both groups, Susan is part of a community of individuals dedicated to collecting, analyzing, sharing, and using data in an equitable, ethical and culturally responsive way.

Sarah Eisele-Dyrli

Sarah Eisele-Dyrli, MSW, is the Assistant Director at the Connecticut Data Collaborative, a public-private partnership which seeks to democratize access to public data, increase data literacy, and facilitate data-driven decision making. She believes that data skills are civic skills that all of Connecticut’s residents - citizens and professionals alike – need in order to effectively make decisions for their own lives and for their communities. In her current role, Ms. Eisele-Dyrli advances the mission of CTData to support informed decision-making by collaborating with partners on increasing data capacity and making data accessible. As the Data Engagement Specialist, Ms. Eisele-Dyrli expanded the offerings of the CTData Academy and started the Equity in Data Community of Practice. As an evaluator, Ms. Eisele-Dyrli seeks to increase the quality of decision-making within organizations through participatory planning with a focus on equity, and through actively fostering the use of lessons and results. Ms. Eisele-Dyrli holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Messiah University and a Master of Social Work in Policy Practice and International Social Work from the UCONN School of Social Work. 

Kasturi Pananjady

Kasturi Pananjady is data reporter at the CT Mirror, a nonprofit newsroom in Connecticut that covers politics and policy, where she has spent the last few months focused on covering equity in the state's vaccine rollout. She is a 2020 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University.