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Horrible, horrible images from Nepal after the devastating earthquake that has killed more than 2,000. Katmandu and the surrounding area is struggling with dead and wounded, and with terrifying aftershocks.

Those of you who want to donate to relief and rescue efforts will find many possibilities: CARE, UNICEF, OXFAM, the Red Cross. And here is some information about fundraising possibilities for relief efforts. And today (Monday, April 27th) the New York Times lists some relief organizations already active in the area.

Our hearts go out to those dealing with this tragedy.

 

 

Cathy Lechowicz Day!

Cathy Lechowicz, right, displaying her award with William Dyson, chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service, and Jane Ciarleglio, executive director of the commission.

Cathy Lechowicz, right, displaying her award with William Dyson, chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service, and Jane Ciarleglio, executive director of the commission.

Mayor Dan Drew proclaimed Tuesday, April 28 Cathy Lechowicz Day in Middletown! Many Wesleyan students, staff and faculty make enormous contributions to Middletown, and so it’s wonderful to see one of our colleagues recognized for her profound dedication to the community. Recently, the Connecticut Commission on Community Service and the Office of Higher Education announced the recipients of the 2015 Community Service Awards, and Cathy Lechowicz was singled out for her great work.

In a letter nominating Lechowicz for the honor, Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, pointed to her work with the Center for Prison Education and the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Under Cathy’s direction, the Center for Prison education “has flourished,” he wrote.

“The Center now provides a program in the women’s prison at York as well as the men’s prison at Cheshire. In the 2013-14 school year, 54 students were taking classes. Over 20 professors (mainly Wesleyan, but others as well) have taught classes ranging from Molecular Biology to Political Philosophy, and always at the same level as they teach these classes to their undergraduate students. Additionally, over 130 Wesleyan undergraduates have served as teaching assistants, writing tutors, research interns, and workshop facilitators. Finally, the Center has been extremely successful securing funding.”

Rob also wrote of Lechowicz’ achievements at Green Street.

“In three years, Cathy has achieved incredible results: Wesleyan’s financial contribution has been cut almost in half, total visitors have more than doubled, student involvement has more than doubled, and faculty involvement has tripled.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which should serve as a reminder that we have a year-round duty to strive to eradicate these heinous occurrences that erode the foundations of our community. Wesleyan has been working with groups on and off campus to be better prepared to prevent sexual assault and to deal with its aftermath.  We have partnered with Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), and that organization’s website has a wealth of educational material to complement what you can find on the Wesleyan site.  April should remind all faculty and staff to sign up for the ongoing Title VII/Title IX 2-hour workshops.

We’re fortunate that student activism around the issue is both courageous and thoughtful. The academic year began with the Memory Quilt and a visit by the Senator Blumenthal group looking into how we can better respond to sexual violence. As the semester draws to a close, there will be a screening of The Hunting Ground on April 28 in Goldsmith Family Cinema at 8 p.m.  Students will also be holding a Take Back the Night event on April 23.

We have four standing Title IX committees – comprised of students, staff, and faculty from across the campus – working with the greater Connecticut advocacy community on continuously improving our policies and educational practices as well as the efficacy of our interventions. If we are to transform our culture, here and around the world, we must all do our parts by educating ourselves on the myths and realities of sexual violence.

WesFest is underway, and over the next days hundreds of visitors will be ambling the paths of Wesleyan, attending stimulating classes, hearing great music, enjoying beautiful spring afternoons on Foss Hill, and trying to pick up the vibe of student culture here at Wesleyan. I remember well the first visits I made to campus. My parents hadn’t gone to college, and I found the whole picture of college life here incredibly exciting and more than a little scary. I had attended a big public high school that didn’t put a great premium on academics (to put it gently), and I had never encountered the kind of folks who had had a real preparation for college level work and for the subtleties of campus life. I didn’t know if I belonged at Wesleyan (or anywhere else like it) for at least the first semester, and I found myself working all the time.

An important percentage of our student body today is part of the first generation of their families to attend college – and/or low-income. The entry of these students into the Wesleyan community often involves translation, culture shock, and a fair amount of confusion. Just to get here, most overcome obstacles far greater than the ones I faced. I respect them so much!  Here to help them acclimate are a number of Wesleyan programs, including out First Gen Task Force comprised of students, staff, and faculty.

Wesleyan has long worked with community based organizations to recruit students who might otherwise not find their way to our university. We have important partnerships with a number of programs, including Questbridge, A Better Chance, Gates Millennial Scholars, and the Posse Foundation, which brings military veterans to campus. One of our long standing partnerships has been with Prep for Prep, an organization that recruits highly talented students and works with them from middle school through graduation from the university.  Just yesterday I received notice that, even though we are a relatively small school, we have been Prep for Prep’s largest partner over the years:

 

Prep for Prep - Bloomberg Business

 

We are proud to offer a great education – one characterized by  “boldness, rigor and practical idealism” – to a remarkable student body, one made all the stronger by the many different paths our students have taken to get here.

 

A year ago many of us were outraged at the kidnapping assault on more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. Boko Haram aimed to destroy the education of girls and women through ferocious violence. There have been more attacks since then, but a year ago there was hope that a global campaign might increase pressure on the Nigerian government, perhaps in concert with other countries, to find a way to rescue the girls and put an end to Boko Haram’s terror. Nothing remotely like this has happened.

I wish I had an idea about what we might do to increase the likelihood of rescue, or at least to decrease the likelihood of further attacks. I don’t. But I do know it’s important to remember those who have been victimized by violence. I do know that we must keep alive the memory of these girls, and their dream of an education. And so I mark this day.

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The happy emails and web links have gone out (replacing those thick envelopes of yesteryear), and all those fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: picking the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where 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. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to raise tuition only in sync with inflation in the future. 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?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, 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 get a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the 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.

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:

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We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into. 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 the fields in which they work. The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we are seeing right now on campus.  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.

The attack on the students at Garrissa University College was an assault on the freedom of education, the freedom of religion and human rights. The failure of security, the targeting of Christians, the senseless carnage, and the fear that seeps into bodies and minds, will undermine freedom and security in Kenya for a long time. Many have pointed out that the gruesome, brutal event, which left 147 dead, has not gotten nearly the attention of other recent terrorist attacks.

Tonight (Thursday, April 9), Wesleyan students have planned a vigil in front of Olin Library as an expression of solidarity with the students at Garrissa. Let’s stand together.

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Tragedy, Spring, Hope

Today is Good Friday, one of the most important holidays for Christians across the globe, the start of Easter weekend. This evening marks the beginning of Passover, a time for Jews of commemoration and hope for freedom. And so the reports from Africa fall particularly hard. Religious and non-religious people alike are reeling from the news out of Kenya. Garrissa University College was the site of a horrific attack, with 147 students being murdered by Shabab, a notorious terrorist organization. There are reports of indiscriminate killings, but also of “religious tests” meant to reveal whether a person was a Christian or Muslim. If Christian, killed on the spot.

All terrorist attacks undermine the very fabric of a community — that’s their point. They seek not military advantage, but to shake confidence in our ability to live together in peace and security. Attacks on schools and universities are particularly heinous, because these are centers of hope for the future. People organize to learn because they believe through education they can create a better world. Terror at schools is meant to destroy that hope. It will not.

Education is a slow, incremental process, yet it can also be transformative. By working at learning every day, suddenly you find yourself on an entirely different trajectory. May our friends and colleagues at Garrissa find their way back to education as they deal with the deep trauma and grief of these recent days. In Kenya, there will be some measure of defiance when students, teachers and staff resume their educational project. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

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At Wesleyan, “working at learning every day” seems to be an understatement this time of year. Everyone is so busy, and there are so many exciting things happening on campus! It seems like every day there is an art opening, or a performance or a lecture that promises to be a great experience. Meanwhile, the athletes are digging out of the frozen earth and insisting on spring sports. Bravo! Check out the amazing accomplishments of the track teams, or the mighty efforts of lacrosse as it makes its way through a very tough NESCAC field. Tennis this year has had particular success, and Coach Fried and his teams are to be commended. Last I heard, the women’s team  is ranked very high in national polls. Baseball and softball are chasing away the winter blues. Support the Cardinals!

And do check out theater and music opportunities. At the Patricelli ’92, the theater department, and Greek organizations…lots of venues are getting in on the act. You can see everything from avant-garde explorations to popular musicals. Of course, students take the lead.

And what’s that little noise you hear? What’s the persistent background hum on campus? Why, it’s the thesis writers putting their finishing touches on experiments, novels, historical treatises and mighty translation projects. Be kind to them, they are expanding the frontiers of knowledge!

These are some of the everyday activities at the Wesleyan campus — activities that are only possible because of a community that values peace and respect, as well as creativity, rigor and pragmatic innovation. As many of us celebrate holidays, or just celebrate the season, let us be thankful for this community, and for the work and affection that suffuses it with positive energy.

 

 

Updated to reflect actual, horrific death count.

This week we are holding a special event to raise money to support students. Foss Hill Day reminds alumni, current students, faculty and staff of a place that is central to all of us. For some, Foss is where they heard one of the greatest concerts of their lives, for others, it’s the place where they walked in solitary circles trying to figure out what to do with their lives, while for several it’s the place where they fell in love, proposed marriage, made a leap.

When I was sick last week, I kept asking Kari, “is there still snow on Foss?” It’s my touchstone for the campus climate — and I don’t just mean the weather.

Foss at Spring Break

Foss at Spring Break

From my office window March 30

From my office window March 30

On Thursday, April 2, we will ask for gifts of whatever size in honor of our common ground, Foss Hill. Tom Kelly ’73  (who heard the Dead on the hill and hears them still) has generously offered a challenge gift. The grand total goes to support students through the Wesleyan Fund!

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Go to the hill! Make a gift!! THIS IS WHY.

No more classes, no more books, no more teachers’….. Wesleyan, which has been a pioneer in offering online classes (our Social Psychology class on Coursera is among the most popular on the internet) has decided to take the next VERY BOLD step!

As of next year all our classes will be offered online! Don’t worry about going to classes, don’t worry about labs…You can do your work at your own pace when you want to do it. If you want to see other people, just go to one of the myriad social events we are planning. These will, of course, have robust educational content, and they will build innovative capacity in our students by going beyond the classroom entirely. And think of it, we’ll be able to bring in the very best bands now that we don’t have to pay for classroom instruction. Spring Fling all year long!!

To find out more about our radical new plan (so Wesleyan!), go to the website.

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