E2020 — Supporting Student Engagement in Elections

Rob Rosenthal, Clifton Watson and I sent out this message to the campus last week.

Wesleyan has a long history of supporting student engagement in the public sphere, and our Civic Action Plan sets goals for building civic preparedness among students, faculty and staff and for enhancing the University’s role in public life.

The 2020 election cycle represents a crucial opportunity for civic engagement and liberal learning through engagement with the public sphere. We launch the Wesleyan Election 2020 initiative (E2020) with the goal of encouraging and supporting thoughtful participation of students, faculty and staff in the public sphere. Wesleyan will support electoral participation regardless of political affiliation, and we encourage work across the political spectrum.

The first stage of E2020 will make funds available to students who wish to engage in political campaigns, voter registration efforts, and issues advocacy at the local, state or national level. This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational richness that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship, learn about themselves and how to engage productively with others with whom they disagree, and gain organizational skills.

E2020 welcomes all ideas for student work, though we will prioritize applications that seek financial or academic support:

work on campaigns, advocacy, or voter registration that will take place during school breaks (winter, spring, or summer)

work of large groups of students in the electoral process

work on local or national elections and issues that are especially contested

Since winter break will be here before we know it, we encourage students interested in financial support for this kind of work to consult this webpage and submit an application by Friday, December 13.

In the coming weeks, we will announce additional programs aligned with E2020, including service-learning courses and other credit opportunities as well as public programs and additional on-campus activities. In the interim, we welcome your suggestions for programs and other campus activities aligned with the mission of the Wesleyan Election 2020 Initiative.

Here’s a one-page version, suitable for sharing:

Wesleyan Election 2020 Initiative (E2020)

The Wesleyan Election 2020 Initiative (E2020) was created with the goal of encouraging and supporting thoughtful participation of students, faculty, and staff in the public sphere during the 2020 election cycle. The E2020 Fund will award Wesleyan students grants to support work on political campaigns, voter registration efforts, and issues advocacy at the local, state, or national level—across the political spectrum.

All ideas are welcome, though we will prioritize applications that seek support for:

  • Work to take place during winter, spring, summer, or fall break.
  • Organizing groups of students for impact in areas in which local or national elections and issues are more contested.

To apply:

  • Complete the E2020 Initiative Fund Application found at http://bit.ly/WesE2020. Let us know where and how you plan to engage.
  • Provide an estimated budget for your project, including travel, supplies, and/or lost wages for students on financial aid who will miss paid work for this opportunity.

Program requirements:

  • Upon completion of your project, submit a report accounting for expenses, along with a work verification sheet signed by a campaign manager or supervisor.
  • All grantees will be expected to submit a public report for Wesleyan’s ENGAGE blog, which should include photos or other media and a reflection on the experience.

While not required, there will be opportunities to share your stories with University Communications and participate in on-campus sharing sessions. You may also be invited to speak on panels regarding civic engagement, and /or participate in relevant Allbritton Center events.

 

Application deadlines:

  • For Winter Break support: Friday, December 13, 2019
  • For Spring Break support: Friday, February 7, 2020

 

Application deadlines for Summer and Fall Breaks will be announced in the coming months.

For more information, please visit http://bit.ly/WesE2020. Please email engage@wesleyan.edu with questions about the application process, or for assistance in connecting with campaigns or local advocacy groups.

 

It’s Almost #GivingTuesday

There is still turkey in my fridge, even though our guests are long gone. Mathilde seems to like the broth on her dog food, and I’ll be enjoying turkey soup for quite some time. I don’t do much shopping online, but I can’t avoid all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads. Tomorrow brings a different kind of post-Thanksgiving online transaction: Giving Tuesday.

There are so many ways to express gratitude, and I find a powerful one to be showing generosity toward organizations and people one cares about. A few years ago, my friend Henry Timms (now the president of Lincoln Center in New York) came up with the idea of a “giving day” to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And so #GivingTuesday was born. It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to act philanthropically. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Generosity is contagious! Be a part of a national celebration of our great tradition of philanthropy.

#GivingTuesday has become internationally recognized as a time to show one’s support for the values and missions one cares about. People all over the world use the occasion to support their favorite causes. This is Wesleyan’s sixth year participating. During that time, thousands of Wesleyan alumni, parents, students and friends have chosen to make donations. Together, we have unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for financial aid.

Every gift made through Tuesday, December 3, 2019 will be matched with a dollar-for-dollar contribution to Financial Aid, up to $100,000, thanks to the generosity of Stuart Ellman ’88 and Susan Berger Ellman ’90.

I hope you will be giving to your favorite causes tomorrow, and I am especially hopeful that Wesleyan will be among them. Don’t forget about WESUFM, and other university initiatives. There are many worthy causes out there, and this university is very grateful for any and all gifts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we prepare to welcome family, students, and alumni to Thanksgiving here in Middletown, I send out my best wishes for all of you celebrating the day. I am so grateful for this Wesleyan community of ours—cantankerous and compassionate, exuberant and empathic.

A few years ago, I recalled John Berryman’s great poem for the holiday, and his writing: “we stand again in debt/and find ourselves in the glad position: Gratitude.” It is a glad position! Today, in honor of all those welcoming home students, let me cite Sharon Olds’ lovely “First Thanksgiving.” You can find the full poem here, and it ends like this:

As a child, I caught
bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
looked into their wild faces,
listened to them sing, then tossed them back
into the air—I remember the moment the
arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
the corrected curve of their departure.

May the “correct curve” of your departures be safe and lovely.

Student Striving — From Theater to Volleyball

On Friday, Kari and I went to see the Theater Department’s production of The Laramie Project. It’s a painful, powerful account of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a queer student who was viciously beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence. The town wrestled with how to make sense of the event, and of itself, and the writers used ethnographic techniques to present a wide range of responses to this trauma. The brave student cast performed with sensitivity and intelligence, and the whole production was animated by the striving of all those who worked on it to make great theater. It’s so much work to put on a show like this at such a high level–emotional, physical, intellectual, work. And, led by the director Edward Torres, assistant professor of the practice in theater, they succeeded admirably.

Over the weekend I also got to see another form of student striving, though this time at a distance. The Wesleyan volleyball team was playing in the NCAA tournament — contests that bring the best of the best in a sport from around the country. The Wes women had handily dispatched their first opponent, but then they faced an excellent team (and recent rival) in Ithaca College. It was a terrific match, and although our team came out on the losing end in the 5th set, I was so proud of their efforts. Led by coach Ben Somera, they were striving to go beyond any expectations others had for them. Having worked so much, they were playing at the highest level.

Performances at Wesleyan come in many forms–in science and music, in film and poetry. I continue to be proud of and impressed by the ways that Wesleyan students go beyond what had been their personal bests to create new standards of courageous excellence. Bravo!

Football Wins Little Three and Caps Off Great Season

Just a quick shout out to Coach Dan DiCenzo and the Wesleyan football team, who this weekend beat Trinity in Hartford for the first time since 1997. The win capped off an extraordinary season for the Cardinals, who went 8-1 and won the Little Three Championship. The overtime victories against Amherst and Williams were especially exciting.

So much hard work went into making this season such a great success. Go Wes!

 

Come Home to Wesleyan!

Homecoming/Family Weekend is just around the corner, and there are plenty of programs planned for those returning to campus. The football team comes off an ultra-exciting victory vs. Amherst College last week, to take on Williams on Andrus Field at 1 p.m. After that game, Matt Simco ’22 was named offensive player-of-the-week, to join Daniel Banks ’22, named defensive player-of-the-week. There will be plenty of tailgating, and, depending on the NESCAC playoff schedule, potentially more games to watch.

Speaking of watching games, last weekend I caught a couple of sets in the volleyball team’s victory over Hamilton. The evening before, the Cardinals secured their third consecutive Little Three Championship with a victory over Williams. The team has SO many strong players (several of whom I’ve had in class), and is led by the multiple player-of-the-week winner Nicole Hilton ’20. They take on volleyball powerhouse Ithaca College this weekend. Stay tuned for the playoffs!

Homecoming/Family weekend sponsors several WESeminars and other programs. There are exciting presentations on subjects as varied as environmental science, dance, politics and creative writing. You can find a complete listing here.

Go Wes!

Fall Break in Asia

Each fall for the last several years, I’ve visited with Wesleyan alumni, parents and prospective students in Asia. I’m just back from Korea, China and Taiwan, where we held receptions and, in Beijing, a forum on liberal arts education and sustainable economic development. In a time of rising nationalism and chauvinism disguised with ethical posturing, it was good to have conversations with folks with a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Although my Fall Break trips go by very quickly, I always learn a lot from listening to our extraordinarily diverse Wesleyan family in Asia.

During my visit to China, I also met with those involved in a potential joint venture to open a film-centered school in the country. Following those meetings, Wesleyan has come to a decision not to proceed with such a project. As I explained in an email to campus today:

..in considering this possible campus in China, we needed to be sure that the academic work would be in line with the distinctive pragmatic liberal education at the core of Wesleyan’s mission. Further conversations with those who proposed the partnership have made it clear that our respective goals could not be sufficiently aligned—not to mention the questions we had around issues of academic freedom and the implications for our home campus.

While we will not move forward with this particular project, we remain interested in exploring collaborations in accordance with our Beyond 2020 strategic plan.

We have learned much from this process, and we will continue to seek ways to enhance the value of a Wesleyan diploma by expanding the reach of our academic programs, and by empowering our students, faculty, staff and alumni to do meaningful work on our campus and beyond.

Photos from the visit follow:

Reception in Seoul
Admissions Forum

Talking with students in Taipei

 

 

Wesleyan Beyond Middletown?

Recently, many Wesleyans have been discussing the news that the University has been invited to explore the possibility of opening a college in China. Our conversations have been very preliminary — should it be a film academy, a liberal arts college, some form of hybrid? Wesleyan has been running programs in China for many years, mostly in the form of lectures for prospective students or for our many alumni who live and work there. Should we explore doing something more substantial?

The University has looked into a variety of locations for Wesleyanish programing. Most of these are of the study-abroad variety with which many are familiar. We have also experimented with programs in Los Angeles for people entering the film industry, and investigated coordinated internship opportunities in public service in Washington. Giving students options for programs beyond our core campus can expand educational opportunities and increase the value of a Wesleyan diploma. In considering these possibilities, we want to be sure that the academic work is in line with the distinctive pragmatic liberal education at the core of Wesleyan’s mission. We also want the programs to be economically sustainable and contribute to positive recognition of the University.

I should say that most of these conversations don’t lead to actual programs. We set the bar very high for new initiatives, and most of the ideas we consider don’t meet our high expectations. Our conversations about a possible campus in China are still in the very early stages. Obviously, there are serious concerns about academic freedom and a host of related issues. At the same time, Wesleyan has had a very positive history of working with students and faculty from China, and so we are considering this possibility very carefully. The only decision that is imminent is whether we should do more research on this possibility.

Since many have questions about these topics, we will hold a  faculty and staff discussion on Wednesday, October 30, 4:30–5:30pm, and one with students from 6–7 pm. These conversations will surely help inform our considerations about a variety of possible Wesleyan initiatives that build on the great things that happen on our Middletown campus.

Women’s Soccer Little Three Champs!

Yesterday, the Wesleyan women’s soccer team battled rival Amherst to a 0-0 tie. Given our earlier victory against Williams, the result is this team’s first Little Three Championship in more than 30 years!

Congratulations to this great team.”Winning on the road in our conference is never easy,” stated head coach Eva Meredith. “We played hard and smart against a quality Amherst team. With a tie, we got to celebrate the program’s first Little Three victory since 1982. I could not be more proud of our team’s work ethic and mental toughness today.”

You can cheer them on this afternoon on Jackson field as we take on the Tufts squad.

Congratulations to this great team! Go Wes!!

There’s Plenty to Worry about — but not Political Correctness

The following is cross-posted with the Yale University Press blog. Some it is drawn from “Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech and Political Correctness”

 

Over the last month, I’ve been talking with reporters, podcasters, and pundits about the quality of campus culture in the US today. I was surprised when one reporter asked, almost plaintively, “President Roth, are the kids alright?” He had been reading various reports of free speech crises, illiberal liberals, coddled minds, and assaults on excellence.

Where does all the worry come from? No doubt, disturbing things happen on campuses, and older folks can react with eye rolls or, when commentators fear a trend, alarmed criticism. A template of sorts was created by Allan Bloom in the 1980s and Richard Bernstein in the following decade. Bloom and Bernstein had different political positions on many topics, but they shared the notion that multiculturalism on American university campuses had become a sterile orthodoxy. The Closing of the American Mind (1987) didn’t use the term “politically correct,” but Bloom’s diagnosis of what was ailing American higher education echoed (and echoes to this day) in complaints about PC culture. With his surprise bestseller, Bloom transformed himself from isolated, mandarin professor to bestselling conservative scold by excoriating students for their addiction to rock music and deafness to the higher pleasures of Straussian contemplation. Bloom was interested not in the average college student but in students who wound up at America’s very best colleges and universities. As he saw it, the 1960s and 1970s had turned college campuses into bastions of prejudice that made serious learning all but impossible. The prejudice with which these students had been inculcated since they were schoolchildren, he asserted, is that tolerance is the greatest virtue and that everyone should have their own truth (or later, their own passion). We don’t argue that only some beliefs are respectable; we assume that since we don’t know which beliefs are true, we must respect them all. Nobody can be wrong, because nobody can be right.

Well before Bloom’s book, among activists on the left, the use of the term “politically incorrect” was meant to signal that their radicalism was more outlaw than doctrinaire. Claiming oneself to be “politically incorrect” or accusing a sanctimonious comrade of political correctness was not atypical banter. The Closing of the American Mind seemed to open the floodgates, and by the 1990s, accusations of “political correctness” would become a theatricalized staple of conservative discourse. It was especially popular among critics who regarded the diversity and multiculturalism on American university campuses as sterile orthodoxy. In the last twenty-five years, it has become common knowledge that you could attract a crowd of supporters by attacking political correctness, and recently we have seen that anyone with access to a keyboard or a microphone can find an audience by complaining about it.

Bernstein’s Dictatorship of Virtue appeared at the height of the 1990s PC frenzy, when the multiculturalism Bloom derided seemed to have become an enforceable dogma. Bernstein saw a commitment to inclusivity and equality as having become a demand for moral purity. He was dismayed that the doctrine of assimilation, in which his own forebears had trusted when they came to this country, had been replaced by a celebration of difference. Almost thirty years ago, Bernstein argued that we no longer needed strong programs to remove barriers to integration for those who had been discriminated against or marginalized in earlier times. He seemed to believe that his own family’s assimilationist success story meant that “strident anti-immigration sentiments” and “organized nativism” were things of the past. Today, the rise of neo-fascist policies and rhetoric at the highest levels of government makes Bernstein’s claims seem naïve, but his prediction that excessive efforts to expose the negative dimensions of American history would produce a backlash to “make America great again” turned out to be uncannily accurate.

Today the label “politically correct” is used to mock those with whom one disagrees, or merely to deflect criticism about one’s own position. If you are doing something other people find objectionable, especially if it’s on moral grounds, labeling your critics “politically correct” is meant to return one to the side of the angels (or at least the victims).

Many who complain bitterly about a monolithic PC culture on college campuses are themselves, paradoxically, working within universities and their adjacent institutions. Some of these well-meaning folks believed they were themselves liberal, and now they claim (loudly, as it so happens) that they are afraid to speak at all. Accusing those with whom you disagree of being PC has become a rhetorical reflex. Just moan to your friends and colleagues (your in-group) about somebody else being censorious or oversensitive, all the while censoring that person and complaining about being hurt yourself.

But how do you tell which complaints are to be taken seriously? Are some African Americans oversensitive about stop and frisk, or only about cultural appropriation? Are transgender people thin-skinned if they are concerned with bans against their participation in public life, or only if they call out misgendering? Where does one draw the line, or rather, who gets to draw the line? As conversations and actions can be observed by broader groups of people, how does one know to whom one is speaking (and who is listening)? In the absence of an in-group constituted by affection or tradition, even liberals may discover that, despite their good intentions, they are being criticized from the left, or at least from the young or other people new to the debate. As one encounters differently diverse groups of people, it doesn’t feel good to be outflanked, and so we see a tendency to respond by calling the newcomers politically correct.

Name-calling or assuming the status of the victimized is among the least productive forms of disagreement. Outrage may lead to feelings of solidarity, but it insulates us from the possibility of changing our minds, from opening our thinking. And that’s why I argue that students, faculty, and citizens must avoid falling into the tired tropes of both callout culture and accusations of political correctness. This requires staying engaged with those with whom one disagrees, and not just about abstract issues like whether we have become unconscious relativists. Conversations about race and about the economy, about bias and about sexual assault, about jobs and about the shrinking middle class . . . all tend to involve strong emotions, intense language, and, sometimes, bruised feelings. People do get “called out” for their supposed racism or general privilege, and this can seem to them unfair or just painful. As a result, some people will complain that they don’t want to speak up because they fear being “criticized” or “stigmatized.” These people should recognize that their fear isn’t a sign of the environment’s political correctness or hostility toward free expression; it’s just a sign that they need more courage—for it requires courage to stay engaged with difference. Staying engaged with difference, including intellectual diversity, is the best “on the ground” refutation of the “PC” charge.

Are the kids on campus alright? Well, some of them are just fine, and others are struggling with a combination of their own personal issues along with those presented by a world riven by inequality and faced by dangers (from climate change to resurgent ethno-nationalism) that should concern us all. The folks on campuses across the land are wonderfully diverse, and it will be through acknowledging their differences that we can provide them all with a more empowering education. I ask that we stay engaged with difference, and I do hope it reminds those who care about higher education to find the courage to build intellectual communities with different forms of diversity that lead to learning that is bold and rigorous, practical and aspirational.