Thesis Writers Working Through Break

Every year around this time, as spring break meanders through its second week, I have to express admiration for those students who have been working hard throughout. Of course, there are the athletes who have been competing and practicing. I saw some in the gym this week getting ready for track and field competitions, and I’ve watched some fine games online as our lacrosse, softball, baseball and tennis teams compete in warmer climes.

There are plenty of students on campus holding down jobs in the library, science labs and other places. Do they have a spring break? Well, they have a break from classes, at any rate. And then there are the thesis writers. With the deadline for completion fast approaching, these folks may have what feels to be the shortest breaks of all. Here are some of the projects I’ve heard about through the academic deans and faculty advisors:

There are a whole bunch of C-Film students working in teams on films and individually on criticism projects. I’ll just mention Will McGhee (screenwriting) and Russell Goldman (film making). In art history, Carolina Elices is doing a senior honors thesis for both her majors in English and art history, focusing on the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy’s career as an architect who worked on preservation and restoration of medieval English churches, in the same period that he was creating his renowned novels like Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd

In chemistry, Eric Arsenault and Prof. Stewart Novick are currently working on a paper almost certainly to be accepted in a special issue of the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy.  Eric’s research includes the investigation of ring inversion in fluorinated cycloalkenes and the study of molecules containing atoms, particularly iodine, with large nuclear quadrupole coupling tensors. Eric will be joining the Ph.D. program in Chemistry at UC Berkeley in the Fall. Helena Awad, a BA/MA student in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is trying to understand why mutations in a DNA repair protein lead to colorectal cancer. Her work with Prof. Manju Hingorani involves painstakingly isolating each mutant protein and studying its properties to discover why the mutation disrupts DNA repair and compromises the stability of the genome. 

In English, Emily Apter, is writing a creative thesis involving “blurred genre” essays about 20th century Hartford. Jack Reibstein, is working on a group of short stories and essays about addiction. Miranda Konar, is doing a critical thesis on the history of emotions in Arthurian literature. And there are more!!

I received the following notices about theses in French studies: Alex Lee is writing on his own interaction, as a reader and translator, with French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s calligrammes, and an articulation of this process in the form of new poetry. Noah Mertz‘s “Memorial” is a nonfiction thesis crosslisted in the English and French studies departments that blends personal anecdotes, literary theory, and philosophy on the subject of untimely death. Rachel Rosenman‘s thesis is in French and music. She is writing about the French woman composer Mel Bonis (1858-1937), who remains surprisingly little known, despite leaving behind a considerable oeuvre comprising over 300 works. Rachel will also present a recital of vocal and instrumental chamber works by Bonis in April.

Anna Bisikalo (government/Russian, Eastern European & Eurasian Studies) is writing about the role of women during the Maidan revolution in Ukraine, including some interesting arguments about the way they have re-discovered myths of Ukrainian warrior princesses. She locates this against the backdrop of the transition from Soviet to market economy gender roles, and pushback from Ukrainian feminists against the importation of Western liberal gender models. Jeesue Lee is writing about the selling of the COIN counter-insurgency manual in 2005 as a “new” solution to the stalemate in Iraq, based on selective use of historical analogies – out with Vietnam, in with Malaya. She analyses this policy debate through the prism of counter-factual history, and the way history is used by policy makers. 

Ethan Yaro is writing on the notion of language, its epistemological function and its location in the economy of presence and absence. He presents readings of Condillac and Rousseau, along with the response to them by Herder. Ethan argues that Herder both pre-figures some 20th-century literary theory and offers solutions to some of the problems post-structuralism identifies in Western metaphysics.

Sofi Goode, Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies/ Economics, is working on a thesis titled, “In the Name of Protection: Queerness, Biopolitics, and Carcerality.” Sofi examines the impact of American prison policies that claim to protect incarcerated LGBTQ people. She makes the argument that “by restricting relationships with other incarcerated people and confining queer people in actively dangerous spaces, these policies seek to ensure the normativity of the general population while masking the violence they commit against queer people.” 

Dinayuri Rodriguez‘s anthropology thesis is entitled Revolutionizing the Quotidian: Intersubjective Processes of Self-making in the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Diaspora. Dinayuri is investigating processes of self-making and demonstrates that Dominican artists like Josefina Báez and members of the anarchic collective Cibao Libertario build and enact a relational sense of self through quotidian acts that are not typically understood as “revolutionary” precisely because they are so ordinary.

There are many recitals, exhibitions and performances this spring that are part of senior projects (like Senior Dance Recital the first weekend of April and senior exhibitions which begin April 5th) that you can find here. For example, in theater Jessica Cummings, Constance Des Marais, Nola Werlinich, and Cheyanne Williams have conceived and created Up Your Aesthetic, “a disruptive, devised, women-only performance piece juxtaposing the rage and grief felt by modern women with the Ancient Greek myths of the Amazons.”

UPDATE:

Emma Broder’s SiSP thesis is entitled Whose Lyme Is It Anyway?: Epistemic, Culture, and Experiential Representations of Chronic Lyme Disease. Emma uses discourse analysis to investigate gender representations in the writings of scientists and doctors, patients, experts and celebrities who discuss the condition. In Lying-In to Lying Alone: The Medicalization of Reproduction in the United States, Sally Rappaport explores the emergence of obstetrics and gynecology as medical sciences that wielded expansive control over women’s bodies and reproduction. Deja Knight’s thesis in African American Studies titled Soul Food: The Plight of African American Food Sovereignty, Food Insecurity, and Resistance explains the problem of food insecurity in two Black public housing projects in Baltimore. She uses Geographical Informational Systems and detailed historical analysis to demonstrate the spatial dimensionality of food sovereignty, insecurity, and justice in these communities.

This is just the tip of the thesis iceberg. If anyone would like to add others to this list, please send them in. And good luck to all the students working hard as spring “break” comes to an end! 

 

Looking Beyond 2020

In the week before spring break, Donna Morea, Chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, announced that I had agree to extend my contract as president of the university through 2023. I am very grateful to the board for this opportunity to continue to work with faculty, students, staff and alumni on behalf of the school I care so deeply about.

Since the summer of 2016 I have been in discussion about an addendum to our 2010 strategic plan, Wesleyan 2020. At the end of the fall semester, after several discussions with various Wesleyan stakeholders, we posted a draft of that addendum. I have continued to receive good feedback on our plans, and at its March meeting the board had an opportunity to see a new draft of what we are calling Beyond 2020. The document remains organized around the three overarching goals of the strategic plan—energizing the distinctive Wesleyan education experience; building recognition of the university; maintaining a sustainable economic model. The current draft, available here, has more specificity about investments in faculty, financial aid, and facilities. Thanks to the generosity of the Wesleyan family through the THIS IS WHY campaign, we have already added significant funding to financial aid, and we are creating new faculty positions that should facilitate research and project-based work for our students. In regard to facilities planning, we are developing a priority list of projects that will improve care of our art collection, enhance the Film Studies Center, dramatically improve the Public Affairs Center and replace a good portion of our science facilities with up-to-date labs and teaching spaces.

I’ve re-written the beginning of Beyond 2020, which I am pasting in here. There is still time for input, as we hope to have this guideline for planning complete before the Annual Meeting in May.

This is a crucial time for higher education in America – full of promise but also of dangers. In some ways, the vitality of the best universities in the United States has never been more apparent. Not only do American research universities dominate the lists of the world’s best educational institutions, students from across the globe have increasingly looked to our schools as the best places to pursue post-secondary learning. At the same time, here at home colleges are often viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility. American universities are facing enormous pressures to demonstrate the cash value of their “product,” while at the same time the recreational side of college life is attracting more attention than ever. To meet enrollment goals or to climb in the rankings many colleges offer the “full spa experience,” while being sure to emphasize the value of what young consumers are learning while enjoying themselves outside the classroom. The curriculum and high-quality instruction may be tolerated but rarely celebrated. These efforts at brand promotion through everything but what happens between faculty and students may be good for short-term appeal, but in the long run it only makes the educational mission of universities more fragile.

At another crucial time in the history of higher education in America, under the leadership of President Victor Butterfield, Wesleyan redefined its role as a center of interdisciplinary learning, a reservoir of innovative research and creative scholarship, and a pioneering advocate for increased access to the empowerment of a liberal education.

When I arrived at Wesleyan for my first year in college, it was almost 10 years after Butterfield had stepped down from the university’s presidency. During his tenure of more than twenty years, Wesleyan had become known as one of the most progressive and innovative schools in America — and one of the wealthiest.  By the time I got to campus in 1975, things had already begun to change. The university was still known for its pioneering ways, its great research output from the sciences to the arts, its demanding and productive faculty, and its creative, rambunctious students. But the giddy spending of the late sixties and early seventies, the inattention to fundraising and a loss of focus on the academic mission, were already eroding the university’s foundation. Over the next decades, our spending habits changed and fundraising did increase. However, the university’s aspirations were still seriously out of sync with its economic capacity.

The beginning of my presidency overlapped with the Great Recession, and since then we have worked to overcome this disjunction. Over the last eight years we have supported the organically developing educational mission of the university while improving the three core components of its economic model: spending, investment, revenue. We did this in conjunction with our strategic plan, Wesleyan 2020, which was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2010.

The three overarching goals in Wesleyan 2020 are:

  • Energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience
  • Enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution
  • Work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values

Although economic issues were at the forefront of our concerns after 2008, the most important priority in our planning and operations has been articulating and supporting our distinctive educational mission: “providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” At the heart of this mission is the faculty’s guidance of students’ intellectual development in ways that enhance their ability to translate academic learning to the world beyond the campus. Whether one is studying mathematics or film, economics or literature, our faculty guides students toward a deeper understanding of themselves and the tools they can use to solve problems and create opportunities beyond the university.

The program for co-curricular learning in a residential setting also aims to develop in students both a greater sense of autonomy and a greater ability to participate in groups. Through their athletic, political, artistic and community engagement activities, Wesleyan students are becoming more independent while also developing life skills that will translate into resources for teamwork, for participating in their local communities, for engaging as citizens, and, most generally, for working with others toward shared goals.

Many universities today tend toward greater specialization. They have gotten really good at education as a form of narrowing, and the public is treated to the spectacle of pointy-headed specialists great at one thing but not to be trusted beyond their small subfield. Of course, advanced work in any area requires rigorous work and real technical competence. But we must not confuse being a competent technician with being an innovative scientist who can make discoveries or a teacher who can inspire students by translating complex technical issues into terms clearly relevant to pressing human concerns. Wesleyan recognizes that in today’s culture and economy we should provide students with intellectual cross-training – an education that strengthens their independence of mind and generosity of spirit in ways that make them better equipped to deal with a rapidly changing world.

Since developing Wesleyan 2020, we have increased our economic capacity so as to be able to pursue our institutional mission with renewed vigor and purpose. In December 2016, we posted a report detailing our progress and where we need to do still more.

2020 is almost upon us, and over the last several months I have been talking with various Wesleyan constituencies about how to extend our framework for strategic planning into the next decade. In this brief document, I outline some of the new investments we can make to ensure that Wesleyan remains at the forefront of pragmatic and liberal education. Through the dedicated work of faculty and staff, we will continue to provide our students with a variety of tools to explore the world, to create opportunities and to solve problems. Wesleyans have long found ways to embrace particular traditions while being open to innovation. Whatever one studies at Wesleyan, one is deepening one’s ability to translate from a campus culture of immersive learning to a life beyond the university.

Save the NEH and the NEA!

This morning President Trump released his blueprint for the budget for the coming fiscal year. Given the rhetoric of the campaign, and the selective leaks over the last several weeks, no one should be surprised by this intense militarization of federal spending, nor by its attempt to dramatically downsize aspects of government that protect the environment and care for the most vulnerable. These are subjects that one can read about elsewhere.

As the president of an educational institution, I want only to underscore how these plans undermine some of the most important resources for cultural preservation, for research and inquiry, and for the dissemination of ideas. In other words, these plans are counter-educational. The budget blueprint represents a radical abdication of governmental responsibility for our nation’s culture. It calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Non-military scientific research will also see significant cuts to funding. The combination of cuts would be a disaster for education.

Like many colleges and universities across the country, Wesleyan has benefitted greatly from federal support for innovative programing in the arts and humanities. But it’s also the broader American public that benefits from advances in arts and humanities work. Recently, the NEA “Art Works” program has helped Wesleyan University Press publish some of the best American poetry in print, and the NEH has helped fund seminars fostering interdisciplinary inquiry and research like Sumarsam‘s on Indonesian performing arts, and Andrew Curran’s and Jennifer Tucker’s separate projects connecting historical inquiry with broad public purpose. The NEH also has helped us make out-of-print publications available in free e-editions through the Humanities Open Book Program. From a government agencies point of view, these are all small grants. But from the recipients’ point of view, this support can be essential for facilitating progress on scholarly research, providing a platform for sharing ideas, or both.

The current administration calls for putting “America first,” but it seems to believe that only our military matters in this regard. We must resist government plans that make support for American culture last. Please let your representatives know that higher education depends on adventurous research and expression, and that eliminating federal support for scholarship and the arts will undermine one of the most important dimensions of our cultural ecology.

International Women’s Day – Be Bold for Change

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme this year is “Be Bold for Change,” encouraging substantial action to help create a more gender inclusive world. This is also the first week of Women’s History Month, and there are many events on campus to related to its themes. Today, March 8th, there is an event to commemorate International Women’s Day at 4:30 p.m. in the Smith Reading Room in Olin Library. It will feature Lois Brown, Madalena Henning, Laura Patey and Krishna Winston, and is organized by Womxn at Wesleyan, and co-sponsored by OEI/Academic Affairs/Student Affairs.

On Thursday, March 9th,  Ansley T. Erickson, a historian who focuses on educational inequality in U.S. and African American history, will be lecturing on “Making the Unequal Metropolis” at 4:15 p.m. in PAC 001 – the Hansel Lecture Hall.

Also on March 9th, Creative Campus Fellow in Music and dynamic composer/performer Pamela Z will be presenting a sonic and visual experience, “Correspondence,” at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall at 8 p.m.

If you get to New York, don’t miss frequent Wesleyan Visiting Artist Eiko’s ongoing performance and installation at St. John the Divine Church. Eiko has been working with historian/photographer William Johnston for years, and their current project on Fukishima is breathtaking. You can read more about it here.

After Spring Break there are more Women’s History Month related events on campus. Let me just mention a few. On Thursday, March 30th Michelle Murphy will share her feminist techno-studies scholarship at 7 p.m. in PAC 001. Her Diane Weiss ’80 Memorial lecture is titled “Chemical Exposures and Decolonial Futures.”

On Friday, March 31 at 2 pm.. in Memorial Chapel, Reina Gossett, Donna Murch and Nikhil Pal Singh will join in a conversation titled “Race, Class and Gender After the Elections: Old Conflicts, New Hegemonies.”

There are many more events on campus, and practices by Wesleyans, that boldly aim for a more gender inclusive world. That’s work for the entire year.

Wes Athletic Powerhouse!

Yesterday I received word that the men’s basketball team will be competing this weekend in the NCAA Div 3 basketball tournament. Congratulations to Coach Joe Reilly and all the guys on putting together the strong season that led to this invitation to participate in the national tournament. This is the second time in the last three years. The hoopsters play Union today (Friday, March 3) at 5:30 pm.

On Saturday, the men’s hockey team is moving on to the semi-finals of the NESCAC Championship, having gained a great upset victory over Colby College last weekend. Coach Chris Potter and his band of high flying skaters, who already have won the Little Three crown, are off to Hamilton, NY for the next NESCAC round, and we wish them all the best.

Speaking of all the best, dual-sport athlete and Middletown native, Devon Carrillo ’17, has been named Connecticut’s 2017 Male Athlete of the Year, as voted on by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance (CSWA). Carrillo is the first Wesleyan athlete to receive the prestigious award, which began in 1973. “This is a tremendous honor for Devon, Wesleyan and the city of Middletown,” said Wesleyan Director of Athletics Mike Whalen ’83. “He is an amazing athlete both on the football field and on the mat. After not wrestling for three years, Devon is now competing at a national level. This is truly a remarkable accomplishment!”

Excellence is something we see in many competitive arenas in athletics these days. Laila Samy ’18, a standout on the women’s squash team, was recently named the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year! Her athleticism and determination are amazing to behold! In 2016 she was named an All-American, and she continues to compete in the national tournament this month. She is joined at the national championships by seniors Chris Hart and David Sneed.

Speaking of athleticism and championships, our frosh swimmer Caroline Murphy has had a truly amazing year. Caroline became the first-ever member of the women’s swim team to win a NESCAC Championship (50-yard backstroke).  She, along with Hannah O’Halloran (another frosh and another backstroker), will be competing in the NCAA’s this weekend.

Spring sports are getting started, but let’s take a moment to cheer our Cardinal athletes for their fall and winter successes!

We See You. We Stand With You.

This morning the newspapers carried yet another ominous headline: the Trump administration has rescinded protections for transgender students. I am not the right person to weigh in on the legal issues here, and in any case there are plenty of thoughtful people doing so already. I do want to say that as president of a residential university, withdrawing protections from people who are vulnerable to discrimination and abuse is a failure of moral obligation, and of imagination. It is shameful and hurtful.

At Wesleyan, we will continue to ensure that our transgender students receive all the protections necessary to secure their equal participation in the life of the university.

Last summer, I sat next to transgender activist, writer and alumna Jennifer Boylan ’80 at a talk by then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Ms. Lynch underscored the importance of the civil rights issues at stake in regard to the federal government’s work with transgender Americans. Addressing the transgender community directly, she emphasized “we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

It just so happens that Ms. Boylan and Alexander Chee ‘89 will be speaking at Wesleyan next week. On Friday, March 3 at the Smith Reading Room at Olin Library, they will be reading from their recent work and discussing queer politics on campus and beyond.

Let’s make the same commitment to any vulnerable members of our community that Attorney General Lynch made to transgender people: We see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.

Queer Past Queer Future poster DRAFT

Pankaj Mishra’s “Age Of Anger”

Pankaj Mishra’s new book, Age of Anger: A History of the Presentwill be the subject of his Jacob Julien Lecture at Wesleyan on Wednesday, March 1 at 8 p.m. at the Russell House. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Guardian, Mishra is an award winning fiction writer, intellectual historian and political commentator. I reviewed his latest book recently in the San Francisco Chronicle

 

Anger is the order of the day. Around the globe — from the cold-blooded killers of the Islamic State to Polish patriots fearful of cultural contamination, from Hindu chauvinists in India to immigrant bashers in America — resentment is boiling over into rage. Populist passions naturally target scapegoats that are local, so the variety is staggering; but behind the specificities of bigotry, Pankaj Mishra sees a general phenomenon. The story of progress guiding modernity assumed that the march forward was universal. When people feel themselves left behind, when they see that progress exists but not for them, they get very, very angry.

Mishra’s new book, “Age of Anger,” is a history of the present, a diagnosis that traces the violence of today to patterns set down in 18th century France and then repeated around the world as peoples deal with modernization and the loss of tradition. The outlines of this diagnosis were sketched by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the decades just before the French Revolution. While cosmopolitan intellectuals like Voltaire were expressing faith in the inevitability of positive change, Rousseau saw a society that was fostering accelerated inequality — a society that was manufacturing vanity and resentment but no moral basis on which to build solidarity or community. Rousseau realized early on that the rich would use the power of the state to increase their own privileges, and he wrote on behalf of those who would be victimized by the new elites. “In the movement from victimhood to moral supremacy,” Mishra writes, “Rousseau enacted the dialectic of ressentiment that has become commonplace in our time.”

As modernization became a globalized phenomenon, resistance to it took the form of cultural nationalism. This began with the resistance of German-speaking Europe to Napoleon’s export of civilization at the point of a bayonet. It continued with resistance to attempts to “open markets” or to “liberate the potential” of a region that had yet to participate in the modern dispensation of inquiry, trade and communication. Those who found the pursuit of wealth empty of personal or social meaning (and those who were just not very good at the game of accumulation) often turned to their local traditions as a bulwark against modern modes of rationality. Nationalism was born from a feeling of being disrespected or simply left behind. In countries whose elites thought they had to “catch up” with the vanguard of economic or cultural change, there was often a counter-movement of people who felt they had to return to national roots in order to fend off change they found threatening.

Mishra, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London, tells the reader that he began this book after Hindu nationalists came to power in India and finished it just after the election of Donald Trump. He chillingly describes how Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin justified his crime by appealing to militant Hindu traditions betrayed by the apostle of nonviolence. Today, those traditions — embraced by the current Indian government – are leading once more to violence and scapegoating. Mishra sees the pattern occurring again and again: in late 19th century Russia, in early 20th century Italy, in late 20th century Islamic countries and in contemporary America. Large groups of people reject modernity and look backward to a time when their land was supposedly pure, when their people were supposedly great. “Nationalism,” Mishra writes, “has again become a seductive but treacherous antidote to an experience of disorder and meaninglessness.”

Modernizing societies have no antidote to this void of meaning, Mishra thinks, because they don’t have the resources to generate sentiments of solidarity for their citizens. The pursuit of democracy and equality fails to satisfy because the dynamic of historical change always produces new hierarchies and resentments. There has been no shortage of thinkers who have talked about this — from Nietzsche to Dostoevsky, from European fascists to democrats who wanted to decolonize the minds of those once dominated by the West. Mishra cites a myriad of such authors, and although the breadth of his reading is impressive, his argument is chronologically scattershot and thematically repetitive.

Still, even if the book could have been streamlined, the theme bears repeating: Our current situation is recapitulating some of the most violent and dangerous episodes in modern history. Cultural nationalism at those moments was expressed as violent anarchism of the dispossessed, something we’ve seen in our own time in the terrorism of Timothy McVeigh, al Qaeda and the Islamic State. In “Age of Anger,” we see how easily frustration can spawn religions whose only core tenet is destruction.

“Nationalism,” Mishra writes, “is, more than ever before, a mystification, if not a dangerous fraud with its promise of making a country ‘great again’ and its demonization of the ‘other.’” Noting that we need a deeper understanding of our own complicity in suffering as well as a “transformative way of thinking,” he leaves readers with a dire diagnosis — not a recommended treatment. With powerful and worrisome insights into history, Pankaj Mishra has clarified our present. The future is up to us.

Age of Anger

A History of the Present

By Pankaj Mishra

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 406 pages; $27)

Thinking About Movies in Black History Month

Wesleyan students, staff and faculty have been mounting a series of interesting events and discussions to mark Black History Month. This week the College of Film and the Moving Image continues its film series Awareness 17 with a showing of 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay on the intertwining of race and mass incarceration. I first heard about the film from Jelani Cobb, who visited Wesleyan not long ago to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, freedom of speech and campus politics. Michelle Alexander’s work has an important role in the movie — the Wes class of 2020 read her The New Jim Crow before coming to campus this year. The film is being shown Tuesday, February 21st at 8:00 pm in the Powell Family Cinema. Prof. Charles Barber will lead a talk back after the screening.

I am traveling and will be meeting with many members of our Los Angeles alumni film community early in the coming week. Unfortunately, that means I will miss the campus screening of 13th. Kari and I did manage to see another powerful documentary on race, politics and social justice recently. I Am Not Your Negro is a searing film that is inspired by the life and work of James Baldwin. Wesleyan faculty member and New York Times chief film critic A.O. Scott had this to say about it: “Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind.”

At Wesleyan, we have much rethinking to do about race —  about white supremacy and the resistance to it. Doing so will help us take concrete steps to make our campus community a more equitable and inclusive place. This would be the best outcome of Black History Month.

 

Congratulations Krishna Winston!

Prof. Krishna Winston

Krishna Winston, Wesleyan’s Marcus L. Taft Professor of German and Literature, received the order of merit today from Germany’s Consul General, Prof. Dr. Ralf Horlemann. Krishna has taught at Wesleyan for decades, and at the ceremony I sat next to one of my classmates at Wesleyan, Dr. Wolfgang Natter, who studied with her back in the 1970s. The Bundesverdienstkreuz is the “highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany pays to individuals for services to the nation or contributions to enhancing Germany’s standing abroad and its relations with other countries. The Order of Merit is awarded…for achievements in the political, economic, social, or intellectual spheres and for outstanding service to the nation in the field of social, charitable, or philanthropic work.”

In his laudatio, the Consul General emphasized Prof. Winston’s many contributions as a translator—noting especially her work with the texts of Günter Grass. We also heard about her many contributions to the Wesleyan community, from her thoughtful mentoring of students from across the curriculum to her advocacy for policies that enhance the educational mission of the university in all walks of campus life.

Congratulations, Professor Doktor Krishna Winston!!

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Rejecting Bigotry is Core to Our Mission

This morning I published this essay at Inside Higher Education

 

I was horrified reading the latest diktat on immigration from an administration blown into power by the winds of intolerance and resentment. President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States is an exercise in cynical obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.

The obfuscation begins early on with the linking of this crackdown to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when, as has been pointed out by many commentators, those responsible for those attacks had no connections to the countries targeted by this order. The bigotry of the decree closing our borders to refugees from these seven countries is most evident in the exception it makes for religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.

The hard-heartedness of the executive order is unmistakable. Desperate families who have been thoroughly vetted for months have had their dreams of a safe haven in America shattered. Students, scientists, artists and businesspeople who have played by the immigration rules to ensure that they have secure passage to and from the United States now find themselves in limbo. Colleges and universities that attract and depend on international talent will be weakened. So much for the so-called respect for law of an administration that has made a point of promising to crack down on undocumented children brought over the Mexican border by their parents.

Eighteen months ago I solicited ideas from Wesleyan alumni, faculty members, students and staff members as to what a small liberal arts institution like ours could do in the face of the momentous human tragedy unfolding around the world. We discussed the many ideas we received on our campus and with leaders of other institutions. The steps we took were small ones, appropriate to the scale of our institution. Working with the Scholars at Risk program, we welcomed a refugee scholar from Syria to participate in one of our interdisciplinary centers. We created internships for students who wanted to work at refugee sites in the Middle East or assist local effort at resettlement. We began working with the Institute of International Education to bring a Syrian student to Wesleyan. And, perhaps most important, we redoubled our efforts to educate the campus about the genesis and development of the crisis.

In the last few months, I have traveled to China and India to talk about the benefits of pragmatic liberal education, and in both countries I saw extraordinary enthusiasm for coming to America to pursue a broad, contextual education that will develop the student’s capacity to learn from diverse sets of sources. Since returning, I’ve already received questions from anxious international students and their parents about whether we will continue to welcome people from abroad who seek a first-rate education. Students outside the United States are often fleeing educational systems with constraints on inquiry and communication; they are rejecting censorship and premature specialization, and they are looking to us. Will they continue to do so?

Here at home we must resist orchestrated parochialism of all kinds. A liberal education includes deepening one’s ability to learn from people with whom one doesn’t agree, but the politics of resentment sweeping across our country is substituting demonization for curiosity. Without tolerance and open-mindedness, inquiry is just a path to self-congratulation at best, violent scapegoating at worst.

With this latest executive order, the White House has provided colleges and universities the occasion to teach our students more thoroughly about the vagaries of refugee aid from wealthy, developed countries that are themselves in political turmoil. The new administration has also unwittingly provided lessons in the tactics of scapegoating and distraction traditionally used by strongmen eager to cement their own power. There are plenty of historical examples of how in times of crisis leaders make sweeping edicts without regard to human rights or even their own legal traditions.

Our current security crisis has been manufactured by a leadership team eager to increase a state of fear and discrimination in order to bolster its own legitimacy. The fantasy of the need for “extreme vetting” is a noxious mystification created by a weak administration seeking to distract citizens from attending to important economic, political and social issues. Such issues require close examination with a patient independence of mind and a respect for inquiry that demands rejection of falsification and obfuscation.

As the press is attacked with increasing vehemence for confronting the administration with facts, universities have a vital role to play in helping students understand the importance of actual knowledge about the world — including the operations of politics. To play that role well, universities must be open to concerns and points of view from across the ideological spectrum — not just from those who share conventional professorial political perspectives. At Wesleyan, we have raised funds to bring more conservative faculty to campus so that our students benefit from a greater diversity of perspectives on matters such as international relations, economic development, the public sphere and personal freedom. Refusing bigotry should be the opposite of creating a bubble of ideological homogeneity.

As I write this op-ed, demonstrators across the country are standing up for the rights of immigrants and refugees. They recognize that being horrified is not enough, and they are standing up for the rule of law and for traditions of decency and hospitality that can be perfectly compatible with national security.

America’s new administration is clearly eager to set a new direction. As teachers and students, we must reject intimidation and cynicism and learn from these early proclamations and the frightening direction in which they point. Let us take what we learn and use it to resist becoming another historical example of a republic undermined by the corrosive forces of obfuscation, bigotry and hard-heartedness.