Community Partnerships

Last week I met with the superintendents from school districts close to campus to discuss ways we might create a more mutually beneficial network of relationships. I was joined by Sonia Manjon, Wesleyan’s new Vice-President for Diversity and Strategic Partnerships. Although Sonia just began her tenure here in Middletown, we know one another well from our work at CCA’s Center for Art and Public Life. Sonia was largely responsible for building up a wide array of community partnerships that linked California College of the Arts with community organizations, schools and artists’ groups around the Bay Area. She helped the faculty create many service learning courses and developed new undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Community Arts. At the same time, she has been an active participant nationally in the emerging field of community arts. I am delighted that the Wesleyan community will benefit from Sonia’s leadership and collaborative abilities. For more about Sonia, see:

Our meeting with the superintendents surveyed some of the projects on which Wesleyan students have been working for many years. For example, Community and University Services for Education (CAUSE) has benefited thousands of high school students from the surrounding area who come to campus for lectures, seminars, films and art exhibitions. The High School Scholars Programs offer academically well-prepared juniors and seniors from local schools the opportunity to enroll in Wesleyan courses. We waive tuition for students for one course per semester, enabling them to get a head start on their college work.

Since 1966 the Upward Bound Program at Wesleyan has helped place high school students on the path toward a successful college education. From specific classes, to more general financial aid and career counseling, our Upward Bound Program has made a positive difference in the lives of teenagers in Middletown, Meriden and Portland.

Although I didn’t know the term “community service” in 1975, in my first year at Wesleyan I volunteered in the psychiatry ward at Middlesex Hospital and tutored an elementary school student in reading. I was joining a team that is still going strong today. Through the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism Wes students are lending a hand in schools, medical centers, community housing, music centers and in prisons – just to name a few of the places where they can be found.

In addition to our work with young people making their way to college, we are also interested in helping students discover how they can continue their education at an advanced level. Professor Laurel Appel is leading Wesleyan’s McNair Program, which assists students from underrepresented groups in preparing for post-graduate education. The program provides guidance, research opportunities, and academic and financial support to students planning to go on to Ph.Ds. We hope our McNair participants will one day be encouraging their own students to participate in university-community partnerships.

Not all our community programs are classroom based. Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center offers a wide array of activities, including dance, filmmaking, poetry and music. Check out the website at:

With the support and cooperation of local and state organizations, Wesleyan has been offering a free film series on Ingrid Bergman and her leading men. We have collected Ms. Bergman’s personal and professional materials at our Film Archive, and we have played some of her great films to full houses. This week I will introduce Gaslight, Bergman’s 1944 classic with Charles Boyer. It’s a pleasure to welcome our friends and neighbors to the glorious new Center for Film Studies. In a small way with this film series we help build better town gown relations while reminding all of us of the gems in our archival holdings. Gaslight will be shown at 8:00 pm on Wed., July 23. The following week the series concludes with The Bells of Saint Mary’s. For more information:

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Independence Day, Middletown

Middletown’s Independence Day festivities were held down by the Connecticut River, but the Wesleyan campus offered great views. In the early evening the sky was threatening, and we weren’t sure if there would be thunder or firecrackers. As darkness fell a small crowd gathered on the lawn in front of College Row, and other groups were spreading their blankets on Foss Hill. We were all hoping for good site lines of the fireworks show over the river, and there were also plenty of smaller displays from friends and families on campus. The rain fell for only a few moments, and the sky lit up in glorious display. Mathilde tried to find a place to hide.

This July 4 weekend I found myself missing our old haunts in Berkeley, where each year there was a parade and celebration that wonderfully combined patriotic tradition and the radical energies for which the city is famous. There was an old time brass band that led us all in American songs, and young and old listened attentively as some celebrated resident gave a short speech to commemorate the day. Usually the speeches reminded us all of where we as a nation were falling short of our ideals.

In this election year we have already heard a lot about patriotism or the supposed lack of it. How do we measure allegiance to or love of country during a time when very few are satisfied with the direction in which our nation is heading? Elvin Lim, Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan and author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, recently wrote about this on his blog, Out on a Lim:

Of course, thoughtful criticism of any particular representatives may be a strong sign of patriotism – of the thoughtful commitment to see one’s country realize its finest, most admirable aspirations. An even stronger sign of patriotism is participation, engaging in the political process — not just commenting on it from the outside. In this vital election year, I hope to see vigorous, informed political debate at Wesleyan. More importantly, I hope to see Wesleyan students finding ways to participate in the political process in relation to the issues and candidates they care about the most.

My neighbors in Berkeley affirmed our local community as we expressed our desire to see our country reflect the values of freedom and equality that are an essential part of the rhetoric of July 4 celebrations. I bet that in this regard our new neighbors in Middletown feel much the same way.

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