Spring Break

Foss sunsetSpring Break at Wesleyan is unusually long – a two week vacation from classes. The campus is eerily quiet at night, and looking across Andrus Field from my office the snow is gone and the baseball field fences have gone up. It really is a break into spring!

Although the campus is quiet, it is certainly not empty. There are many international students who stay in town. Two weeks may seem long, but it is too short for students to justify a trip across the globe. I also bump into the seniors making their way to science labs or to the Olin Library to continue work on their theses. The subjects range from ideas of the French intellectual to politics and religion in Ireland; from problems in micro-economics to issues in Asian art history. Our students complete these independent research projects with close faculty supervision, but it is often the professors who learn so much from the collaboration with these young scholars, scientists and artists. Most of the work is due in about a month, so it’s getting to be crunch time.

Of course, many of our seniors are interviewing for jobs or waiting to hear from graduate schools. There are two very happy Wesleyan students who recently heard from The Thomas J Watson Foundation that their international research projects will be funded during the next year. Cedric Bien will be doing a project entitled, “Documenting the Chinese Diaspora: A Photographic Ethnography of Chinatowns” in Peru, Paraguay, Brazil, Italy, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Rebecca Littman will be investigating the plight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Guinea in her project, “Victim and Perpetrator: Reintegrating the Former Child Soldier.” Congratulations to Cedric and Rebecca!

Some of our Masters of Liberal Studies students are spending their spring break on a research trip through some of the important sites of the civil rights movement in Alabama. I have heard already that this was a deeply moving and richly educational experience that complements the work done in the classroom.

Some of our undergraduates have made their way to Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict. American college campuses today often seem to feel immune from the fact that our country is fighting a war in the Middle East. Although we don’t always agree on political tactics or foreign policy frameworks, I am grateful to these Wesleyan activists for reminding all of us that a military conflict is being waged in our name.

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Social Justice Day

Matt Ball, the president of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, sent me a message about plans for Social Justice Day. Here is some of what he said:

Social Justice Day will be a collaboration of students, student groups, faculty and staff. Students can discuss issues that they are particularly passionate about, faculty members can hold a discussion on an issue outside their specialization, and staff members can present on an area of expertise that they don’t work with every day.

Social Justice Day should help build community at Wesleyan. To be sure, Wesleyan has a sense of community, but the unfortunate truth is that serious issues can become isolated within self-selecting groups. It’s very hard to expand the reach of your message, and it’s equally difficult to be introduced to concerns and debates in which you hadn’t an initial interest. Social Justice Day should also address the gap that can exist between students and faculty; collaboration outside the classroom is more rare than it should be, and faculty members should have a chance to discuss issues that might not immediately relate to their academic research.

Anyone can apply to put on an hour session in which they have a discussion, give a lecture, or do something else creative. Because they’ll all be organized together, there will be spillover from event to event, bringing in different people into different sessions in order to foster the kind of “message outreach” that we’d like to achieve. There will also be a lunch with a directed discussion, perhaps splitting into smaller groups to discuss different issues. The WSA has some funds to bring speakers to the event.

The website to apply is (http://www.wesleyan.edu/wsa/sjd/), and the deadline is this Friday, March 7th. The event will be held on Saturday, March 29th. Please apply!

This sounds like a great occasion to bring faculty, students and staff together around important issues. Check out the website for more information, and have a great spring break!

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Big Day

BIG DAY

Today was my first day of having open office hours, and I learned a lot. I talked with a reporter from the Argus, some representatives from the WSA, and three students who wanted me to understand why they thought chalking was an important part of Wesleyan’s political culture. All the conversations were helpful to me, and the students gave me plenty to think about.

The main reason I am posting tonight is just to remind the Wesleyan community to make your voices heard in the primaries tomorrow. Also, please note that you can follow the returns Tuesday night in good company at the Usdan University Center.

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“Michael Roth, What Are You Doing About Global Warming?” Or, Politics at Wesleyan

Michael Roth, What are you doing about global warming? These were the words I saw graffitied on the sidewalk near my office this week. There were a few more global warming tags at the Usdan Center and walkways. What an important subject, but what a dumb way to articulate it! We asked physical plant workers to clear the surfaces, using even more energy resources than we already were doing. And how was I supposed to respond – with graffiti? I don’t think that would be very effective.

But it is such an important question. Michael Roth, what are you doing about global warming? I don’t think I’m doing enough. I am more conscious now of the energy I use, be it in the car, or in the office, or at home, and my family has become pretty good at recycling and composting. But we should do more, and we are working at it. But whoever scrawled the question near my office probably wanted to know what Wesleyan is doing about global warming. This is a great question, and my answer is similar. We have started to become a much greener, more sustainable campus, but we have much more to do. Recently I met with a group of students, the Environmental Organizers Network, and this group is very well informed about what steps Wesleyan can take to become a more responsible user of energy. We have appointed staff who are now responsible for ensuring that the university moves in a green direction. Our major facilities projects will all be subject to evaluation on their use of energy, and we will hold ourselves to high standards. And I will continue to meet with EON, with faculty and staff to get ideas about how we can do better as an institution to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Finally, we are developing curriculum, from the Center for the Arts to the Exley Science Center (with the Public Affairs Center as hub) to educate our community about the dynamic of climate change and how we can change it. This is not a subject for sloganeering, but it is an important topic for curriculum development and institutional change.

Last week I met with Ashley Casale ’10, who, along with Michael Israel just returned from a walk across the country for peace. I had heard about her efforts when I was in Berkeley, and I was filled with pride that a Wesleyan student was asking the country to wake up to the importance of the struggle for peace in our current political context. We had a small reception for Ashley and some of her friends in South College, and we talked about what Wesleyan is doing to call attention to the war in Iraq, and to efforts to promote peace and justice more generally. We are not doing enough, I said, but if the students have ideas as to how we can promote education about the dynamics of the current war, or about education for political engagement on issues from the war to global warming, I would do my best to support these ideas. I’ve already received some suggestions. Wesleyan should be the place where we can connect our liberal arts education to issues in public life – be they about mismanaged wars, global warming, or threats from terrorism. The connections are not simple (they can’t be reduced to graffiti), but they can be productively explored in classes, in “teach-ins,” and in a variety of co-curricular programming. We are working on it.

Let’s work together – faculty, staff, students – to use our educational resources to have a more positive impact on the culture and on the environment around us!

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