Antisemitism (again)

Recently some students came to see me about their fear that antisemitism might be growing at Wesleyan. They were cautious about making any claim, knowing that this university has been a welcoming place for Jewish students, faculty, and staff for about fifty years now. Yet they were also aware that Wesleyan is no bubble, and that attacking Jews has, on the right, become a key aspect of white supremacist talk and, on the left, a feature of criticism of Israel and of American elites. They did not disagree that Israel and elites are reasonable subjects for critique; they also were conscious of the fact that scapegoating Jews comes as easily to many people as other forms or racism and discrimination. I told the students that I would share their concerns more widely, and so I decided to write this blog.

There’s no doubt that public antisemitism is on the rise, and it’s not just Ye. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents in the United States reached an all-time high in 2021. Expressions of Jew hatred are ever more commonplace in the public sphere, and Twitter’s recent welcoming back of known antisemitic accounts is yet another sign that this traditional form of hate speech has found a compatible outlet in contemporary social media. 

The students who came to see me recognized that many at Wesleyan would roll their eyes at concerns about bias against Jews, who many regard as privileged. At the same time, they were cognizant of the fact that over a very long time (and in some of the most learned places), Jews have periodically become objects of discrimination, public scorn, and violence. As Sigmund Freud ironically put it about a century ago, Jews, by being objects of aggression, “have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows.”

I’ve written before about the scapegoating in America of queer and trans people, and about the pernicious, deep-seated effects of anti-Black racism. That these remain top of mind for many of us at Wesleyan is no reason not to be alert to the despicable and dangerous nature of antisemitism when it rears its ugly head.

Please Support #GivingTuesday at Wesleyan!

Tomorrow, November 29, is Giving Tuesday, a chance to support organizations around the world doing important work to alleviate suffering and create opportunity. This is Wesleyan’s ninth year of participating in #GivingTuesday. Over the years, thousands of alumni, parents, students, and friends have chosen to support their alma mater on this day. By giving to Wesleyan, donors have together unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for Financial Aid. This is the power of collective action. By joining others to help those with need, we all grow stronger.

In this year’s challenge, Wesleyan Chair of the Board John Frank ’78, P’12 and Diann Kim P’12 will make a $100,000 gift when we reach 1,000 donors. WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER!

The collective action of alumni to support students has enormous power. Won’t you join us by using this link?

Two Fall Athletes Score Big!

Before we move on completely to the winter sports seasons, I just want to note a couple of great late season accomplishments and honors our students received. Sophia Lindus ’26 was named both Rookie of the Year and Player-Of-the-Year. A second team All-American, she was also named to the first team all conference squad (along with teammate Bella Ahearn ’23). Sophia had a remarkable year with a great team, and there is no telling how many awards she’ll rack up as a Cardinal over the years.

I’ve known Nick Helbig ’23 since he was a first-year student, and he shines in the classroom and on the football field. This year may have been his finest. He was singled out by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston as the Defensive Player-of-the-Year for Divisions II-III in college football. NESCAC awarded him once again as the best defensive player in the conference, and he was named to the first team all conference squad, where he is joined by Logan Tomlinson ’22.

Congratulations to all our student/athletes. On to the winter seasons!

Happy Thanksgiving!

At Thanksgiving I like to express my gratitude to all those who make Wesleyan such an intense, innovative and joyful place. There is so much here to be thankful for this year—beginning with our ability to remain safely together on campus. With common sense precautions, we have been able to accomplish so much: from the Common Moment with the Class of 2026 to celebrating family and friends during Homecoming and Family Weekend, to theater and music productions. We look forward to ending the semester on a high note.

I am always grateful for our faculty and staff contributions. They keep the campus humming with creative energy and contribute to the world around us. Their achievements are plentiful. Recent highlights that come to mind include the work of Alison O’Neil on Alzheimer’s disease, the efforts of Erika Franklin Fowler’s team at the Wesleyan Media Project, Roberto Saba’s award-winning American Mirror and the interdisciplinary efforts of the Carceral Connecticut Project.

I have been heartened, too, to see so many of our students taking an active role in the midterm elections by casting their ballots. As Gloria Steinem told us this summer during Commencement, “Diversity and democracy are like a tree, they grow not from the top down, but from the bottom up. And they are growing, and you are a part of that growing.” I am proud of how we keep diversity and democracy growing at Wesleyan!

Thank you to our students, faculty, and staff, all of whom allow Wesleyan to continue thriving. And thanks to our extended family around the world whose affection and support are vital to the university’s heath. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Hate, Words, Violence

The shooting at Club Q this weekend brings to mind other acts of terror against minority communities in recent years. Although we don’t yet know much about the motive of the gunman, we do know that the nightclub he attacked was a haven for the LBGTQ community in the Colorado Springs area. The sense of safety and community that such places provide has been deeply shaken. The enormous courage of customers and workers at the club prevented the massacre from being worse than it already was.

The investigation will continue of this latest mass shooting. Family and friends will tend to the injured and mourn those who perished. May their memory be a blessing.

The recent intensification of the scapegoating of the LBGTQ community, like the rise of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-refugee rhetoric, puts all these communities – it puts all of us – at greater risk when weapons of extraordinary lethality are so easily available. Basic acknowledgement and respect for the traditionally marginalized, even when combined with common sense gun safety laws, won’t protect everyone from senseless violence. But they would make such violent events less frequent and virulent.

As we head into Thanksgiving week, let’s try harder to create communities that don’t have to attack those perceived as different, and let’s work together to remind our lawmakers that we don’t have to live in a world where hate can be so easily connected to weapons of mass destruction. Lives depend on it.

 

Acknowledging Veterans at Wesleyan

Veterans Day at Wesleyan will once again mean many visitors to campus, as high school students making their way through the college selection process come back to Middletown to try to get a feel for our culture. For a long time, veterans have played an important role in shaping who we are. In World War II and through the Korean war, many former (and even some current) servicemen enrolled as students, and they helped shape the modern Wesleyan. David Potts notes, for example, that just after the conflict veterans on campus urged campus leaders to make changes to the fraternities that dominated campus life. They helped dismantle the discriminatory practices that had long been taken for granted.

Last week we held a breakfast with some of our current student vets along with members of the veterans community in the Middletown area. We were able to talk about our recent partnership with “Service to School,” and the Warriors & Scholars project. Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez ’96, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid,  has discussed our new efforts to recruit vets by meeting them where they are and introducing them to our style of pragmatic liberal education.

Wesleyan is also lucky to have veterans on the faculty and staff, where they contribute to making this university run everyday. We are grateful for their service in so many ways!

Today’s the Day! Please Vote!!

Kari and I got to the voting station on campus early this morning. It’s Election Day — time to cast your vote!

Whether your concerns are immigration or inflation, reproductive rights or human rights, democracy or public health…. Whatever your concerns, please make your voice heard today!