NEW HAVEN - Southern Connecticut State University introduced its 12th president Monday.
Dr. Joe Bertolino was among 80 candidates for the presidency at Southern. One reason he stood out: he has long been a champion of social justice.
"I've been a social justice educator for 25 years and it started with me being an openly gay man and talking about what it meant to be in the same gender relationship during a time where it was not particularly accepted," said Bertolino.
He's also a gentleman who, in addition to being a president of Lyndon State College in Vermont, was also a professor there at the same time. And under Bertolino's direct leadership, annual giving at Lyndon State increased by almost 200 percent over his final three years with the school. And, the college's endowment grew by 20 percent over the same period.
Some students believe with Bertolino being openly gay could encourage those hiding in the shadows, for whatever it is in their life they are battling, to emerge.
"Especially the LGBT community on campus," said SCSU senior Damian Barnes. "They're very active. And they like to be known. And I think it's amazing thing for the president that can help them out in any way."
Bertolino comes aboard at Southern at a time when there are significant, serious, conversations happening nationwide about issues of race, gender and equality.
"Everyone here deserves to be treated with dignity, with respect, compassion and with kindness," Bertolino emphasized.
"There's a lot going on, like politically, and I just think it's really important to bring those issues out," said SCSU senior Keara Blue.
"I am really looking forward to having a president at the University that seems more student oriented for my final year," said Tyler Pelliccio, another SCSU senior.
Today was Dr. Bertolino's first official day as the school's president. However, he's been engaged on campus for quite some time, students say.
"I've met him already previously in the student center when we had a discussion about police brutality and what was going on in the world," said SCSU senior Anthony Pohorilak.
Bertolini, says he's been teaching for the past 11 years and hopes to continue teaching at Southern.