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Many years ago I used to teach the introductory course in European history every spring. We began with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and worked our way up to the present. Invariably, it seemed, current events would offer powerful reminders that the historical issues such as war and peace, poverty and prosperity, had deep contemporary resonance. When does isolationism become the callous disregard of the suffering of others? When does intervention on behalf of human rights become a new form of oppression? How can war be avoided, and when is military action necessary to create conditions for long term peace and justice? Each year, my students and I would see how the issues from the past weren’t “merely historical.”

This week I had a similar experience in my spring course, “The Modern and the Postmodern.”  I had added an essay by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw to the syllabus this year on the evolution of critical race theory in law schools and the courts. We are currently discussing “postmodern identities,” the issues of performativity, and the complexities of recognizing one another if no one has an essential character to acknowledge. How does race enter in this mix of issues of who we can be and how we can be recognized? How can we pay attention to race without falling into racialist or racist positions? Professor Crenshaw makes the point that contemporary appeals to “color blindness” neglect the ways in which white supremacy is built into our institutions, our educational systems, even our ways of seeing and thinking.

As we began, it seemed obvious that we should talk about the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations and the problematic efforts to jump to “All Lives Matter” as a universal gesture. But Crenshaw asks how we can talk about performing identities without also talking about the way certain kinds of bodies have been subject to violence for much of American history? What are the constraints on performance, and how are gestures and actions read differently in this country depending on the color of one’s skin?

With the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police and the ensuing protest against both police violence and the conditions of hopelessness in large portions of Baltimore’s African-American community, we had plenty to talk about. The issues in the theory and history we had been discussing were being activated right before our eyes.

As a teacher, these are the moments liberal education feels most powerful to me. The issues we read about are very much part of our world, not just parts of books we assign in class. As a citizen, these are the moments when I recognize the urgency to break out of the cycles of institutionalized violence and despair that plague large portions of our country — and that reverberate on our campus. As W.E.B. DuBois emphasized so long ago, we must use the empowerment of our education to change the conditions that reproduce violence, poverty and injustice.

This is what many of us hope for when we study — that broad, contextual learning can make a difference in changing the world for the better.

UPDATE:

Just received this email about an event on campus Monday.

  On Monday, May 4th, from 11am- 1pm, the Student of Color community will be participating in #BlackoutUsdan. A movement to takeover and speak out against the injustices and trauma that persist on this campus and in the world. We are standing in solidarity with Baltimore and other marginalized communities to reiterate that Black Lives Matter. Your support and empathy for this blackout is very important to us. We want our stories to be heard, our faces to be seen, and for the Wesleyan community to move beyond “diversity university” and embody a socially conscious, just, and welcoming atmosphere.  

          We can make Wesleyan a better place for marginalized and underrepresented students. We can be the true agents of change through open dialogue and expressions of philos love that combats systematic oppression. You know they say “we are the future”, so let’s embody it for ourselves. 
       We encourage all allies to come, listen to and support  your peers.

There will be follow up conversations about how to implement change on our campus.

Please wear black on Monday! #blackoutUsdan

Kim Diver sent around the following message for those who want to lend a hand to relief efforts in Nepal.

Want to help with relief efforts in Nepal after Saturday’s Magnitude 7.8 earthquake? Or learn how to contribute to crowdsourced crisis mapping in general?

Special WesGIS/Mapping workshop:

Introduction to OpenStreetMap.org Relief Mapping for Nepal

When: Friday, May 1, 2:00-3:00 pm

Where: Allbritton 204

Who: Anyone in the Wesleyan community who is interested in helping out by tracing (digitizing) objects from aerial photos. No GIS experience required.

We’ll introduce tools that you can use to contribute toward relief efforts in Nepal through mapping. We’ll get you registered, provide a hands-on introduction to mapping using OpenStreetMap.org, and show you how to find lists of mapping tasks that need completion (following the basic outline presented a  http://mapgive.state.gov). New satellite images and tasks are being posted daily and there is still much work to be done.

Please RSVP at http://goo.gl/forms/PZwWGMAHIu. Feel free to forward this message on to colleagues and students.

Questions? Contact Kim Diver at kdiver@wesleyan.edu, Phil Resor at presor@wesleyan.edu, or Jason Simms at jsimms@wesleyan.edu.

On Monday night this week I had a meeting with a coalition of students concerned with how Wesleyan invests the funds in its endowment. This was a follow-up conversation to one started in my office the week before, when a few dozen students staged a protest to call attention to their demands that the university divest its holdings in companies that profit from (1) the prison industrial complex (2) the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and (3) fossil fuels. The claim was that these three things are inter-related.

When I asked for clarification about what counted as “the prison industrial complex,” big private prison companies were cited as important examples. I agreed with the protestors that Wesleyan shouldn’t be deriving profits from private prison companies, and that I would argue against any investments in these companies. As it turns out, I was happy to be able to report that we don’t hold any such investments. I would certainly argue against the university taking on such exposure in the future. Some people have a much more general sense of the “prison industrial complex,” which would include major financial, juridical and governmental institutions, and here I’ve not been aware of any divestment argument that successfully navigates such byzantine connections.

I was asked about my view of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I despair of current conditions and the policies that make for a relentless, tragic grind of human lives. There is intricate political, military and economic work to be done to create the grounds for an equitable settlement for Palestinians that meets the legitimate security needs of Israelis. But I don’t see Wesleyan’s selling stock as being at all relevant to the creation of conditions for peace in the Middle East. Indeed, I think that the call for selling stock is a distraction from the essential policy and diplomatic challenges ahead.

Try as I might, I have a hard time understanding how Wesleyan (and even all universities) selling stock in fossil fuel companies would have any impact on climate change. I have little doubt that climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, but the idea that we would divorce ourselves from energy companies through divestment seems inappropriate given our use of power from these companies every day. Selling our shares of an energy company to another institution or individual will not have a meaningful impact on climate change. Changing the nation’s demand for non-renewable energy would have such an impact. Taxing carbon use and pricing oil and gas in such a way as to account for externalities would have such an impact. Again, divestment seems to me a distraction from the hard work of changing governmental policies, reducing institutional and personal energy use, and developing deep commitments to research on alternative energy sources.

Wesleyan invests its endowment so as to strengthen its economic foundation. This foundation allows us to offer financial aid and to subsidize programs that would not otherwise pay for themselves. While the integrity of every investment professional we work with is crucial for us, we don’t choose investment managers as a vote of confidence in their moral, political or aesthetic views. We choose them because we believe they can prudently and consistently increase the value of the funds we entrust to them. On rare occasions we may say to managers that this university does not want to make money from x. This is not because we think we can disrupt x but because we don’t want to profit from an enterprise creating massive social harm. I wrote about this some weeks ago in regard to the Committee on Investor Responsibility’s report on coal. The students with whom I met in the past week feel strongly that large energy companies are indeed creating massive social harm, and they have interesting arguments. I very much respect their views. We must also recognize, however, that the energy sector is absolutely necessary for our current institutional needs. That’s why I don’t support the posture of separating ourselves from the sector — divesting from our connection to fossil fuels. Instead, I want us to focus on making Wesleyan more sustainable, increasing our use of solar power and reducing our carbon footprint. Arguing in the public sphere for the development of cleaner, renewable forms of energy is also important, and I’m pleased to see so many faculty and students do that so powerfully.

The students with whom I met expressed general concerns about transparency in regard to the endowment. There is actually much information on the investment office’s website, including annual letters summarizing the work of the previous 12 months and the target asset allocation. In addition, the Committee for Investor Responsibility periodically raises issues with the Board’s Investment Committee as it did recently in regard to coal. The CIR website also has important information.

I am sure conversations with various Wesleyan constituencies will continue. They are most productive when organized through the CIR. In the fall, this committee will sponsor a talk by Chief Investment Officer Anne Martin on Wesleyan’s investment policy and operations.

I have learned much from our engaged students, especially when we don’t start off sharing the same view. I know I will be hearing more from them. I will be listening.

 

 

So many things happening on campus during these last weeks of the semester. Conferences, lectures, musical and theatrical performances…. Faculty, staff and students are getting in whatever they can before the end of term. And all this while finals loom in just a few weeks!

On those chilly days when we’re all running for shelter, and on those lovely Foss Hill afternoons when we try to catch some rays, the Wesleyan baseball team is out there on Dresser Diamond taking batting practice, chasing down fly balls, acting as if it really were a warm spring day. Well, this past weekend the team shut out the Amherst squad in consecutive games, winning the Little Three Championship for the third year in a row! The guys were undefeated against Williams and Amherst, the first time that’s happened in over thirty years! Coach Mark Woodworth and the team have added yet another accomplishment to their great track record, and there are still more games to be played this year!

Speaking of track records, we should all be proud of LaDarius Drew ’15 for yet another strong season. At the NESCAC championships he bested the field in the 100 meters, and also earned first place in the long jump. His jump was almost a foot longer than the 2nd place finisher! Speaking of dominating wins, Evan Bieder ’15 was triumphant in the 5k NESCAC championship race. His closest competitor was more than 30 seconds behind! UPDATE: Ellie Martin ’16 won the conference crown in the 400m race.  Ellie also was part of Wesleyan’s 4x400m relay, joined by Melissa Luning ’15, Ananya Subrahmanian ’18 and Sarah Swenson ’18, for a second-place finish in a Wesleyan-record time of 3:53.64, about three seconds under the previous program record.

There has been no shortage of dominating performances in tennis this year. Let’s just mention Eudice Chong ’18 who is now 10-0 in singles play and combined with Helen Klass-Warch ’18, has amassed a 9-2 doubles mark. Eudice and Helen are leading a superb tennis squad — and the men’s team is similarly on a roll.

I’ve focused on athletic achievements here, but there were plenty of other stand out performances I’ve heard about this weekend.  A group of talented professors gathered together to discuss issues in “queer/art/poetics.” A highlight, I’ve heard, was Wesleyan English professor Christina Crosby’s reading from her new book, Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain. Meanwhile, the Theater Department’s production of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano brought out the best in the students’ understanding of the theater of the absurd. A great group of Wes actors went a more traditional route in bringing Shakespeare to the campus with their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Just before the weekend began, Kari, Sophie and I were treated to a spectacular production of Into the Woods at the Patricelli ’92 Theater. This complex, wonderful musical was executed with panache by a dedicated, talented group of students. It was a joy.

And April continues!

Horrible, horrible images from Nepal after the devastating earthquake that has killed more than 2,000. Katmandu and the surrounding area is struggling with dead and wounded, and with terrifying aftershocks.

Those of you who want to donate to relief and rescue efforts will find many possibilities: CARE, UNICEF, OXFAM, the Red Cross. And here is some information about fundraising possibilities for relief efforts. And today (Monday, April 27th) the New York Times lists some relief organizations already active in the area.

Our hearts go out to those dealing with this tragedy.

 

 

Cathy Lechowicz Day!

Cathy Lechowicz, right, displaying her award with William Dyson, chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service, and Jane Ciarleglio, executive director of the commission.

Cathy Lechowicz, right, displaying her award with William Dyson, chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service, and Jane Ciarleglio, executive director of the commission.

Mayor Dan Drew proclaimed Tuesday, April 28 Cathy Lechowicz Day in Middletown! Many Wesleyan students, staff and faculty make enormous contributions to Middletown, and so it’s wonderful to see one of our colleagues recognized for her profound dedication to the community. Recently, the Connecticut Commission on Community Service and the Office of Higher Education announced the recipients of the 2015 Community Service Awards, and Cathy Lechowicz was singled out for her great work.

In a letter nominating Lechowicz for the honor, Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, pointed to her work with the Center for Prison Education and the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Under Cathy’s direction, the Center for Prison education “has flourished,” he wrote.

“The Center now provides a program in the women’s prison at York as well as the men’s prison at Cheshire. In the 2013-14 school year, 54 students were taking classes. Over 20 professors (mainly Wesleyan, but others as well) have taught classes ranging from Molecular Biology to Political Philosophy, and always at the same level as they teach these classes to their undergraduate students. Additionally, over 130 Wesleyan undergraduates have served as teaching assistants, writing tutors, research interns, and workshop facilitators. Finally, the Center has been extremely successful securing funding.”

Rob also wrote of Lechowicz’ achievements at Green Street.

“In three years, Cathy has achieved incredible results: Wesleyan’s financial contribution has been cut almost in half, total visitors have more than doubled, student involvement has more than doubled, and faculty involvement has tripled.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which should serve as a reminder that we have a year-round duty to strive to eradicate these heinous occurrences that erode the foundations of our community. Wesleyan has been working with groups on and off campus to be better prepared to prevent sexual assault and to deal with its aftermath.  We have partnered with Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), and that organization’s website has a wealth of educational material to complement what you can find on the Wesleyan site.  April should remind all faculty and staff to sign up for the ongoing Title VII/Title IX 2-hour workshops.

We’re fortunate that student activism around the issue is both courageous and thoughtful. The academic year began with the Memory Quilt and a visit by the Senator Blumenthal group looking into how we can better respond to sexual violence. As the semester draws to a close, there will be a screening of The Hunting Ground on April 28 in Goldsmith Family Cinema at 8 p.m.  Students will also be holding a Take Back the Night event on April 23.

We have four standing Title IX committees – comprised of students, staff, and faculty from across the campus – working with the greater Connecticut advocacy community on continuously improving our policies and educational practices as well as the efficacy of our interventions. If we are to transform our culture, here and around the world, we must all do our parts by educating ourselves on the myths and realities of sexual violence.

WesFest is underway, and over the next days hundreds of visitors will be ambling the paths of Wesleyan, attending stimulating classes, hearing great music, enjoying beautiful spring afternoons on Foss Hill, and trying to pick up the vibe of student culture here at Wesleyan. I remember well the first visits I made to campus. My parents hadn’t gone to college, and I found the whole picture of college life here incredibly exciting and more than a little scary. I had attended a big public high school that didn’t put a great premium on academics (to put it gently), and I had never encountered the kind of folks who had had a real preparation for college level work and for the subtleties of campus life. I didn’t know if I belonged at Wesleyan (or anywhere else like it) for at least the first semester, and I found myself working all the time.

An important percentage of our student body today is part of the first generation of their families to attend college – and/or low-income. The entry of these students into the Wesleyan community often involves translation, culture shock, and a fair amount of confusion. Just to get here, most overcome obstacles far greater than the ones I faced. I respect them so much!  Here to help them acclimate are a number of Wesleyan programs, including out First Gen Task Force comprised of students, staff, and faculty.

Wesleyan has long worked with community based organizations to recruit students who might otherwise not find their way to our university. We have important partnerships with a number of programs, including Questbridge, A Better Chance, Gates Millennial Scholars, and the Posse Foundation, which brings military veterans to campus. One of our long standing partnerships has been with Prep for Prep, an organization that recruits highly talented students and works with them from middle school through graduation from the university.  Just yesterday I received notice that, even though we are a relatively small school, we have been Prep for Prep’s largest partner over the years:

 

Prep for Prep - Bloomberg Business

 

We are proud to offer a great education – one characterized by  “boldness, rigor and practical idealism” – to a remarkable student body, one made all the stronger by the many different paths our students have taken to get here.

 

A year ago many of us were outraged at the kidnapping assault on more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. Boko Haram aimed to destroy the education of girls and women through ferocious violence. There have been more attacks since then, but a year ago there was hope that a global campaign might increase pressure on the Nigerian government, perhaps in concert with other countries, to find a way to rescue the girls and put an end to Boko Haram’s terror. Nothing remotely like this has happened.

I wish I had an idea about what we might do to increase the likelihood of rescue, or at least to decrease the likelihood of further attacks. I don’t. But I do know it’s important to remember those who have been victimized by violence. I do know that we must keep alive the memory of these girls, and their dream of an education. And so I mark this day.

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The happy emails and web links have gone out (replacing those thick envelopes of yesteryear), and all those fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: picking the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? As I do each spring, I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on choosing a college, with a few revisions.

Of course, for many the decision will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to raise tuition only in sync with inflation in the future. We also offer a three year program that allows families to save about 20% of their total expenses, while still earning the same number of credits.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, have become increasingly popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. But if one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Pomona?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, to get a feel for the chemistry of the place — to gauge whether they will be happy there. That’s why hundreds of visitors come to Wesleyan each week and why there will be the great surge for WesFest. They go to classes and athletic contests, musical performances and parties. And they ask themselves: Would I be happy at Wesleyan?

I hope our visitors get a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk:

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We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into. But even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody. We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping the fields in which they work. The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we are seeing right now on campus.  We know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 30 years. I bet the magic will enchant many of our visitors, too.

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