Diversity Conversations and Programs Continue

Today I had lunch with a group of students whom our chief diversity officer Sonia Mañjon invited to my office for sandwiches and conversation. I learned a lot from the students’ candid comments about some of the barriers to inclusion that still exist on campus. We spoke about ways in which students can sometimes feel a lack of respect in the classroom, and how they can feel that the campus climate might prevent those from under-represented groups from getting the most out of their Wesleyan experience. We talked about ways of improving our recruiting and retention of students in the sciences, and I also heard about a plan to recognize those on campus who go the extra mile to help others succeed at Wesleyan. This was just one in a series of conversations I will have with student groups. These will help us develop policies to make our university a more equitable and welcoming place for all.

Developing a campus climate that makes excellence inclusive is the subject of our MLK celebration tomorrow, Friday, February 1. “Diversity University: From Theory to Practice,” is the theme of this year’s daylong commemoration.

Diversity University: Moving from Theory to Practice

Friday, February 1, 2013

Schedule of Events

10 a.m. – 12 noon: Session Block I
1 p.m. – 3 p.m: Session Block II

Film Screening & Discussion: Cracking the Code: The system of Racial Inequity
Facilitators: Dr. Shakti Butler & Dr. Sonia Mañjon
Location: Usdan 108 (Session I); PAC 001 (Session II)

 Film Screening & Discussion: Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible
Facilitator: Professor Sarah Mahurin & Professor Lois Brown
Location: Usdan Multi-Purpose Room (Session I); PAC 002 (Session II)

Exploring Privilege by Examining Socialization
The messages we grew up with have implications for how we perceive ourselves and others. The power and privilege associated with our group identities often account for how we experience life. By reviewing the Cycle of Socialization and taking the Privilege Walk it will illuminate dynamics that impact the situations we find ourselves in on Wesleyan’s campus.
Facilitators: Tanya Bowers & WesDEF’s
Location: Fayerweather 106 – Theater Rehearsal Room (Session I & II)

Inside-Out & Outside-In: A Creative Identity & Ally Workshop
This workshop will use the arts to explore the perception and reality of our own identities. The impact of examining what we perceive from others and who we really are will inform an understanding of our own bias. We will then use that information to explore key concepts in allyship.
Facilitators: Elisa Cardona & Joanne Rafferty
Location: Usdan 110 (Session I & II)

I’m especially looking forward to the keynote address. You can learn more about the programs here.


3:15pm, Memorial Chapel

Keynote Address by:

Dr. Shakti Butler


Make Art (and Intelligent Policy) Not Violence

Lucy+Jorge Orta: Food-Water-Life

The new exhibition at the Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan gets pretty elemental. The Ortas are in the tradition of “social sculpture,” creating works of art that are meant to function, and, most importantly are meant to change the way we think about functionality. This exhibition is co-sponsored by the College of the Environment, and its themes include biodiversity and climate change. A cool feature of the exhibit is the short essay about the art written by Wesleyan faculty: Stewart Gillmor, Doug Charles, Dana Royer, Michael Singer, Gillian Goslinga, Barry Chernoff, Clement Loo, Courtney Fullilove and Bill Stowe have written pieces that you can see here.

The opening celebration for the exhibition is on Tuesday, January 29 from 4:30-6:30pm (gallery talk at 5pm). It’s a show that will repay attention and reflection!


Guns and Gun Violence

Attention and reflection must be devoted to current debates about guns and violence in the United States. And that’s exactly what the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life is doing. On Wednesday evening, Feb. 6 at 7.30 p.m., the Allbritton Center will host a panel and public discussion, “Guns and Gun Violence: Crisis, Policy and Politics” in the CFA Hall on the Wesleyan campus. The event will shine a spotlight on the rich scholarship on guns and gun violence, and the need for public debate informed by research from different domains, including the social sciences, public policy and public health.

The panel will be chaired by Leah Wright, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at Wesleyan.  Following the panelist presentations, the audience discussion will be moderated by John Dankosky, WNPR News Director and host of “Where We Live.”

The three panelists for this event include:
Saul Cornell (Paul and Diane Guenther Chair in American History at Fordham University, and a resident of Connecticut) is one of the nation’s leading authorities on American legal history and a specialist on the history of the 2nd Amendment. Prof. Cornell’s books include ‘A Well Regulated Militia’: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control (2006) and Whose Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect? (2000).
Kristin A. Goss (Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University) specializes in public agenda-setting and the politics of gun control.  The author of Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America (2006, 2009), she has published several articles about women and gun control and gun ownership and the institutional origins of the gun war.
Matthew Miller (Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health) is a physician with training in health policy and the author of several articles on the effects of firearm legislation on rates of suicide and homicide.

Two events in the CFA that encourage us to think about (and deal with) some of the most pressing problems confronting us today.

Liberal Arts and Wesleyan in Asia

Over this last week of break I have been traveling in Asia to visit with alumni, students, parents and prospective students. We started out in Seoul, where a group of Wes alums (WesKo, led by Sam Paik ’90 P’16, Jung-Ho Kim ’85 P’17) have been keeping the Cardinal spirit going for many years now. There were more than 40 people at our reception, and I had the opportunity to talk with them about many of the great things our students and faculty are doing on campus. This included current students and some potential pre-frosh who are anxiously awaiting word about their applications.

Great group of friends in Korea

Among the attendees was Injae Lee ’10, who has recently acted on his entrepreneurial passion and set up a Pedal Taxi company. He says he’s inspired by Wes.

Injae Lee ’10 ready to roll!

I think he’ll have many drivers around the city before long!

After just a couple of days in Seoul, I left for Hong Kong with Asian Studies alumnus Andrew Stuerzel ’05, now working in University Relations. There we fought through some airplane food poisoning to participate in a boisterous reception of more than 50 Wes friends at the China Club. Steve Young ’73, the US Consul General and Steve Barg ’84 welcomed us warmly, and we had great visits with alumni and parents. In Hong Kong, Simon Au ’07 asked about the changes to our financial aid policies, and that was a subject I talked a lot about on this trip. We receive generous support from our alumni overseas, and there is nothing more important to our fundraising than increasing endowment support for scholarships. That was, after all, a major reason for my trip. Financial Aid — now more than ever!

Wesleyan Reception in Hong Kong







After just a day, we were off to Beijing, where Ted Plafker ’86 P’15 and Roberta Lipson P’15 hosted a lively reception in their home. Again, there were many prospective students, all of whom seemed eager to hear more about what in their eyes seemed to be a very magical campus environment. There were also undergraduates home for winter break, and they were able to cut some of my propaganda with their personal insights into student life at Wes. Alumni seemed just delighted to see this much Wesleyan energy in China!

Wesleyan Reception in Beijing





The next day I gave a lecture on liberal arts education at Peking University. It was very moving to hear my distinguished host, Prof. Tu Weiming, sing the praises of Wesleyan faculty Vera Schwartz and Stephen Angle. After teaching at Berkeley and Harvard, Prof. Tu is the Director of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at PKU, and he is very committed to developing partnerships that deepen liberal learning for all participants. I spoke to an audience of about 200 mostly graduate students and faculty about the genealogy of Pragmatic Liberal Learning in American intellectual history.


Liberal Arts Talk at PKU










I was especially delighted that Professor Ying Wang P’16 came up from Shanghai for the talk with her daughter Yangjun Chen ’16.  Prof. Wang is spearheading the development of a liberal arts college at Fudan University.

Our last stop was Bangkok, where Tos ’85 P’14 P’17 and Sookta Chirathivat P’14 P’17 hosted our final reception on this trip.

We expected a smaller crowd in Thailand, but once again we had almost 50 attendees. There was a COL grad from more than 40 years ago (Alan Feinstein ’70), and high school students eager to hear about the university.







Parents of these applicants grilled current students about whether they really got as much out of their college experience as this president claimed. Our students said it all by showing how eager they were to get back home to Middletown. As I finish writing this post waiting for my final plane, that’s a sentiment I very much share!

A “Break” for Getting Work Done

Every year around this time I hear comments from parents and students about the length of winter break. Like most of our peer institutions, Wesleyan begins classes for the second semester around the time of Martin Luther King Day. This year, we start up on the Thursday following the holiday weekend. By that time, many students will be eager to be back on campus, and their parents will be more than ready to help them pack.

But for those on campus, there is anything but a “January break.” As I mentioned in a previous post, Wes athletes are already in stiff competition. On Monday, for example, swimmers were battling Hamilton in the water while the rest of us were side-stepping the melting snow outside. Over the next weeks, staff in Middletown are meeting to plan the rest of the year: developing ideas for new programs, for enhancements to the campus, and for greater efficiencies. It’s a time to make repairs and to dream big. This morning, I met with the whole crew for a second semester “kick-off,” and tomorrow I head out to maintain our fundraising momentum to support our highest priorities: financial aid and academic program endowment. It’s a privilege to ask for support knowing the dedication of the staff and faculty to providing the very best liberal arts education.

I see faculty members in the library, studios, labs and departmental offices busily trying to finish some of their research and their class preparation. Many of our professors have been at professional meetings sharing their scholarship, visiting archives, or just writing one more paper. Others are going over their syllabi to ensure that their students next semester will have access to the best work concerning whatever topic is at hand. Scott Higgins and I are scrambling to finish our Coursera classes, which launch on February 4. We are the first out of the gate in this new venture for Wesleyan. You can check out all the Wes offerings here.

So, there isn’t much of a “break” for faculty and staff at this time of year, and yet we are thinking now about new January programs that would be compelling for students. We’ll be consulting with student groups, faculty and others to figure out how to make future Januaries at Wesleyan even more lively!




Professor Lois Brown and THE ABOLITIONISTS

I was so pleased this fall when Wesleyan trustees approved an enthusiastic recommendation to grant tenure to Lois Brown, a distinguished literary critic and biographer who has contributed so much to our understanding of American cultural history and African-American Studies. Lois, who recently joined the Wesleyan faculty after teaching for years at Mount Holyoke College, is now Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor in the African American Studies Program and the Department of English.

Lois has been working with PBS as a scholarly contributor and series advisor for a three-part American Experience documentary series entitled The Abolitionists.  The first of the three installments airs on Tuesday, January 8 at 9pm.  The second and third segments will air on January 15 and 22 at 9pm. The series documents the abolitionist movement through the stories of five of the key participants: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown. I’m told it is a compelling piece—gorgeously crafted—and it presents some especially stirring moments of American history.

Here are some web links to the PBS site and to the American Experience pages:

Short preview of The Abolitionists. Extended preview of The Abolitionists. Link to several PBS items on the series and supporting materials. A short promo piece that includes a clip from an interview Lois did about the overall project.

Next semester Lois is teaching courses on Slavery and the Literary Imagination and on Race, Romance, and Reform in 19th Century African American Women’s Writing. It’s great to have her at Wesleyan!

Wesleyan Athletes at Work

Baby, it’s cold outside. Here in Middletown the snow and ice make it a good time to head to the gym to see some hot action.

Andrus Field with Snow


Tonight (Friday) the men’s and women’s basketball teams match up against Amherst. The men start at 6 pm, and the women get underway at 8pm. Just in the middle of these contests, the men’s hockey team will face off against Middlebury (at 7 pm). Women’s ice hockey is on the road at Middlebury, coming off a win against New England College on Tuesday night.

Tomorrow all the teams are back in action. Trinity dribbles to the gym for more b-ball, while Williams will skate into the rink for a mid-afternoon match. You can see complete schedules here.

This is a winter break for many, but Wes athletes are working hard! Go Wes!!

Hallucinations and Art: Two Book Reviews

From Sunday’s Washington Post:

HALLUCINATIONS By Oliver Sacks. Knopf. 326 pp. $26.95

As a young professor, I traveled to Vienna to visit a friend. Knowing that I’d written my first book on psychoanalysis and history, he sent me off to Freud’s old apartment and office, which had been converted to a museum. One rang a doorbell to be admitted, and I was shocked when the museum attendant greeted me by name. Surely, I thought, my old friend had called ahead to play a little joke on me. Again, the attendant spoke to me by name in German, calling me “Professor Doktor Roth” — or so I thought. My wife was right beside me, and she later told me that nothing of the kind had happened. The museum employee had merely told me the price of admission.

I was befuddled by this, and later as I searched in the museum’s library to see if it had a copy of my book, I realized that what I’d heard so clearly was probably an auditory hallucination. I so very much wanted to be recognized in the house of Freud that I’d perceived something that wasn’t there at all.

Most of the examples of hallucinations in Oliver Sacks’s graceful and informative new book do not have the transparent motivations of my episode in the Freud museum. Indeed, most of his examples don’t seem “motivated” at all; they have causes rather than meanings. That is, most of the occurrences seem to be products of neurological misfirings that can be traced to disease, drugs or various changes in neurochemistry. With some important exceptions, hallucinations don’t seem to reveal desires or intentions — the kinds of things that create meaning; they do reflect workings of the brain that cause us to see or hear things that are not really there. Parkinsonian disorders, epilepsy, Charles Bonnet syndrome, migraines and narcolepsy — drawing upon descriptions of these and other conditions by patients and doctors, Sacks explores the surprising ways in which our brains call up simulated realities that are almost indistinguishable from normal perceptions.

As is usually the case with the good doctor Sacks, we are prescribed no overarching theory or even a central argument to unite his various observations. Instead, we are the beneficiaries of his keen observational sense, deep clinical practice and wide-ranging reading in the history of neurology. This doctor cares deeply about his patients’ experiences — about their lives, not just about their diseases. Through his accounts we can imagine what it is like to find that our perceptions don’t hook on to reality — that our brains are constructing a world that nobody else can see, hear or touch.

Sacks has been fascinated by neurology since his student days (he is now almost 80), and he recounts his personal experiences with neurochemistry. He started experimenting with LSD in the 1950s, and when he was a medical resident living in Southern California’s Topanga Canyon in the 1960s, his drug use combined recreation with investigation. Opiates later upped the ante, and Sacks describes his interest and pleasure in altered states of consciousness. He recalls his hallucinations that drew heavily on Froissart and Shakespeare with neither pride nor shame. His perceptions weren’t based in reality, but could he still learn from them?

Sacks has long been an avid reader of the history of medicine, and he beautifully describes his intense, amphetamine-inflected readings of such 19th-century medical texts as the English physician Edward Liveing’s work on migraines. Drugs made reading seem more powerful, but as he came down from his high, Sacks realized that while under the influence of drugs he would never be able to write with the kind of sustained attention and care evident in the texts he admired. His epiphany was that he should follow his creative muse not through more powerful hallucinations but through the work of medicine and writing. “The joy I got from doing this was real — infinitely more substantial than the vapid mania of amphetamines.”

Over the past decades we have learned much more about how we see and hear with our brains — not just with our eyes and ears. Sacks describes how neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield was able to induce “experiential seizures” by tracking electrodes over the surface of an exposed temporal cortex during surgery. His patients seemed to experience vivid flashbacks, as if the electrical charge had catalyzed a memory into a perception. Vivid though they were, these recollections seemed to lack personal significance. More recent work has explored how the brain creates networks of recollection that allow us to access memories, even as we reshape the past while bringing it into consciousness.

Some hallucinations, Sacks writes, do seem connected to highly significant, emotionally charged memories. When deep in grief, for example, we are more likely to perceive our loved one, even though we know that person has died. Bereavement “causes a sudden hole in one’s life,” and a hallucination evinces a “painful longing for reality to be otherwise.”

At the end of “Hallucinations,” Sacks returns to phantom limbs, a subject he wrote about at length in “A Leg to Stand On.” Amputees report pain in limbs they no longer physically possess, the brain seeming to retain an image of the body that trumps physical reality. Physicians today help patients learn to use their phantom limbs, fitting them into prostheses so that they can use their hallucination of a body part to maneuver what no longer seems like an artificial limb.

Turning a phantom limb from something strange and painful into something one integrates with one’s sense of self is a medical and human triumph. Sacks has turned hallucinations from something bizarre and frightening into something that seems part of what it means to be a person. His book, too, is a medical and human triumph.


From Sunday’s Los Angeles Times

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars. By Camille Paglia. Pantheon: 202 pp., $30

In the 1990s Camille Paglia established herself as a cultural critic to be reckoned with. Her daring “Sexual Personae” enraged feminists, even as it presented a view of culture, sexuality and control that offered little comfort to conservatives hoping to convert even more Americans to the cult of conventionality. Chaos, Paglia emphasized, might be contained for a while, but it would always find its way back into our lives. And that wasn’t something to be lamented.

Paglia was a radical libertarian eager to puncture sanctimony wherever she found it — either in the progressive pieties of political correctness or in the hypocrisy of fundamentalist hucksters hacking away at other people’s pleasures.

She enjoyed a fight, or at least she recognized that fights made good copy and pumped up sales. She liked to throw around the word “Stalinist” and was herself compared to both a Nazi and to Phyllis Schlafly by prominent feminist authors. Paglia particularly enjoyed polemics against pretentious academics, reserving some of her nastiest and most amusing tirades for the followers of highfalutin French theory. This too was a guaranteed audience pleaser.

In the last decade we have seen a kinder and gentler Camille Paglia as she has moved from critical polemic to cultural appreciation. In “Break, Blow, Burn” she turned her attention to what she considered great poetry in English — from Shakespeare to Joni Mitchell. Taking a page (and perhaps a business plan) from her mentor Harold Bloom, Paglia wrote in that book that in “this time of foreboding about the future of Western culture, it is crucial to identify and preserve our finest artifacts.” She collected 43 mostly canonical poems and wrote a little about each in the hope the inspiration she found in them would be contagious.

“Glittering Images” continues this project — this time with brief discussions of 29 works of visual art. Whereas “Break, Blow, Burn” sought to help us hear again the strongest poetic voices, this volume wants to help readers “find focus” amid the “torrential stream of flickering images.”

Paglia’s goal is straightforward: By offering images of great artworks and helping us to give them sustained attention, she hopes that readers will “relearn how to see” with sustained pleasure and insight. Protesting against the intense animosity toward the arts she sees in American popular culture, Paglia wants her readers to recognize the deep feeling, craft and originality that went into the works she has chosen.

The range of art discussed is enormous, though there are few surprises in the Paglia canon. She begins with Nefertari’s tomb and offers a few pages on religion and politics in ancient Egypt and on Egyptology since Napoleon. The anonymous artisans who built the tomb “were faithful messengers of the cultural code,” linking profound cultural truths to elegant visual representation. Paglia’s sympathy for the intersection of religion and art serves her well in the early chapters of the book, as she discusses objects that were venerated for more than their aesthetic power.

Given her penchant for polemic, it was odd to discover that “Glittering Images” has no argument. Her brief discussions of the objects have the flavor of the textbook or Wikipedia, with occasional anachronistic comments linking them to present concerns. It’s probably a good thing that Paglia makes no attempt to sustain a narrative about art over the ages; instead she offers reflections on why she finds, say, Donatello’s Mary Magdalene so powerfully enigmatic, or why Bronzino’s mannerism has “a polished theatricality but an unsettling stasis.”

It would be silly to complain about the particular works that Paglia has chosen. They all repay vision and reflection, and that, after all, is her point. The critic sometimes seems to believe, with George Grosz, that “great art must be discernible to everyone,” and I suppose that’s why she concludes her survey with the limited imagination but visual virtuosity of George Lucas.

In her final chapter she writes as if popularity is a key sign of artistic greatness, though she knows that many of the artists she most admires were not at all part of the popular culture of their times. They often struggled to be seen, but that doesn’t mean that fame was their ultimate artistic goal.

I’m not sure why Paglia worries so that the fine arts today have lost touch with the masses, that they “are shrinking and receding everywhere in the world.” Sure, her favorite AM talk radio shows often make fun of artists. But people have been making fun of artists for a very long time. Meanwhile, contemporary photographers, painters, sculptors and videographers pursue their practice with intensity and patience, with craft and concept.

Toward the end of “Glittering Images,” Paglia writes with appropriate and infectious admiration about Eleanor Antin’s mail art project 100 Boots. Paglia notes that the “boots, like their creator, are outsiders, eternal migrants questing for knowledge and experience.”

Artists, questing outsiders, are still with us, still finding their way, making their way. Perhaps some of them will be inspired by the glittering images Camille Paglia offers here.