How to Choose a (Our) University?

It’s WesFest time again, and the crowds we’ll see visiting campus this week remind us that it is crunch time for many high school seniors. They are trying to envision the school at which 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. Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to maintain only moderate (very close to inflation) tuition increases. 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?

Students who are visiting campuses this month are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, 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 feel the brave 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. Our students have the courage to find new combinations of subjects to study, of people to meet, of challenges to face.

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 to admitted students a few years ago:

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We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into, especially this year (once again) with a record number of applications. 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 their disciplines. At Wesleyan, 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.

C-Film Expanding Awareness

This week the College of Film and the Moving Image is sponsoring three events as part of its AWARENESS 2018 series. This series examines the intersections of film and some of the pressing social and political issues in our culture.

MONDAY at 8 p.m.–PAPER LANTERNS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN PRISONERS IN HIROSHIMA with a discussion featuring Peter Grilli of the Japan Society of Boston

TUESDAY at 8 p.m.–THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR with a discussion featuring Crystal Feimster, associate professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies at Yale.



John E. Finn Lectures Tonight on the Constitution

John Finn taught in the Government department at Wesleyan from 1986-2017. For much of that time he taught Constitutional Law, and tonight the Wesleyan community has the opportunity to hear from him again when he delivers the Hugo Black Lecture at 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

Having received a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton and a J.D. from Georgetown, Professor Finn became an influential scholar of constitutional interpretation. He also was a beloved teacher at Wesleyan, twice winning the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. In addition to his work on the American constitution, John also has a Grande Diplôme from the French Culinary Institute. He has published widely on citizenship, political participation and the law. He is also the author of The Perfect Omlet.

A powerful advocate for an inclusive constitution, Professor Finn’s lecture tonight is titled “Gun Nuts & Speech Freaks: A Guide to the Alt-constitution.”

Susan Lourie, Teaching, Dancing!

Susan Lourie

How do you honor a great teacher? You show you’ve learned from her example—her pedagogy, her practice, her generosity. How do you honor a great dance teacher? You begin to move and to show what you’ve absorbed and processed from her pedagogy, practice, and generosity. That’s what the Dance Department is doing NEXT weekend, APRIL 7th,  in honoring Susan Lourie. Here’s the announcement:

The Dance Department honors Susan Lourie‘s 40 years of teaching at Wesleyan with this tribute performance featuring invited alumni, guests, and current faculty and students.

Wesleyan alumni that will be performing or showing videodances include Wendy Blum ’87, Molly Rabinowitz ’87, Kim Sargent-Wishart ’87, Jessica Roseman ’90, Jody Sperling ’92, SheenRu Yong ’02, Intisar Abioto ’08, Nik Owens ’12, Stellar Levy ’15, Miranda Orbach’15, Nora Thompson ’15, Eury German ’16, and Nick Daley ’17.

This performance will be preceded from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. by informal movement-based activities and performance by alumni along with Susan Lourie in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Studio, located at 247 Pine Street in Middletown. Admission to the afternoon event is free and open to the public.

The ticketed evening performance will be followed by a reception with alumni and colleagues honoring Susan Lourie with their remarks.

In the Swim…

Wesleyan’s women’s swim team just finished a tremendous season of competition with some sterling performances at the NCAA National Championships. Here’s how Athletic Director Mike Whalen put it:

Wesleyan finished the final day of the NCAA Div. III Swimming & Diving Championships with an exciting performance in the 400 Freestyle Relays. The team of Zoe Kerrich, Caroline Murphy, Hannah O’Halloran, & Grace Middleton reestablished the varsity record for the 3rd time this season!! Their time (3:26.29) was the fastest time in the Consolation Finals and the 6th fastest of all the teams in the Championship Finals as well. Once again, Zoe Kerrich’s lead-off leg re-established her own 100-yard Freestyle varsity record.

In all, 5 varsity records were established this week in the 200 Medley Relay, 400 Free Relay, 50 Backstroke, 100 Backstroke, and 100 Freestyle.  Caroline Murphy (’20) finished in 4th place this evening in the Women’s 100-yard Backstroke earning her All-American honors and a new personal best time and varsity record. Her time, 54.97 is over a full second faster than her NESCAC winning performance (55.99).

Caroline Murphy has been an outstanding student-athlete in her first two years at Wesleyan, and we look forward to cheering her on in the second half of her career. Congrats to Caroline on earning All-American status, and to Coach Peter Solomon and all her teammates for an outstanding season.

Marching for Our Lives

Across America yesterday, students and their allies marched for legislation that would provide genuine gun safety — they marched for their lives and for ours. For many years the National Rifle Association has been able to motivate voters willing to vote on the single issue of protecting the unfettered sale of firearms, and though theirs is a minority position, there wasn’t enough political will behind the efforts to create common sense legislation to promote gun safety. This is changing.

Many Wesleyan alumni, faculty and staff have been supporting these efforts. Just this year, our Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns sponsored a symposium on the history of firearms in the United States. On average, 68 percent of murders and 51 percent of suicides in the United States today involve guns, with scores of school shootings occurring each of the last several years. The Shasha seminar asked a series of important questions: What is the current state of laws regarding gun possession and use in the United States, including on college campuses? What do we know, or think we know, about the gun debate in the country? Are there any areas of agreement among those on all sides of the debate who are concerned about the scourge of gun violence? What are the lessons from history? Are there paths forward to reduce the incidence of gun-related violence and death in the United States?

There are paths forward, and young people are forging them right now. There are many future Wesleyan students out there who are learning about civic engagement by taking to the streets to make their voices heard. We need their energy and their political passion. As Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, called out from the podium during yesterday’s march in Washington:

Spread the word

All across the nation

We are
Going to be
A great generation.

 Enough is enough.

Wrestling Wesleyans

As spring was getting underway, some Wesleyan students were gearing up for the toughest work they’d face all year. Graduate student Devon Carrillo  ’17, Dominic Pirraglia ’18  and Isaiah Bellamy ’18 were off to wrestling’s national tournament in Cleveland to represent Wesleyan. They had all had stellar seasons under the guidance of coach extraordinaire Drew Black.

Dominic had a fine senior season for the Cardinals, and he wrestled hard against nationally ranked opponents. Devon and Isaiah were also matched up against the nation’s best, and they earned All-American status in their sport. This is an extraordinary achievement, and Isaiah went on to capture third place in the country in his weight class (285). Isaiah was awarded the NCAA prize for “Most Falls,” leading the country with 24 totals pins. Devon finished third in falls with 22. The dynamic duo led the country in pins for the majority of the season. You can read more about them here.

Join me in congratulating these fine student-athletes!

Isaiah Bellamy ’18

Spring Break with Snow

As students and faculty were preparing for spring break (staff at Wesleyan mostly work straight through), the New England winter reminded us all that the season wasn’t quite done blanketing our campus. It’s beautiful, but it’s slippery. It’s fun to slide down Foss Hill, but it’s cold and wet. Spring will arrive…meanwhile midterms, papers, theses and snow.


The break is upon us, and spring will eventually arrive. Meanwhile, stay safe and recharge for the second half of the semester!


International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Around the world, there are a number of events planned to showcase the achievements of women as well as the ways in which women continue to be plagued by oppression, marginalization, harassment and violence. International Women’s Day is a call for action to fight against these abuses.

At the Usdan University Center today, the Women’s of Color House and Women @ Wesleyan are sponsoring a photo shoot at noon and an open mic event later in the afternoon. Here is the information:



It’s a great time to press for progress.