Take Back the Night, Give Back to Community

Tonight (Thursday, April 7) is Take Back the Night, when members of our community gather to raise awareness about sexual violence and to create a safe, caring space for survivors to share their experiences. Just this week members of the administration participated in a conference call with White House officials and university leaders to discuss how we can reduce the most prevalent form of sexual violence on campus, attacks on women. We were helped in this conversation by the good work of the Sexual Violence Task Force, whose recommendations are currently being implemented. Come to the steps of Olin Library tonight at 7:00 to show your support!

Tomorrow night is Green Street’s Feast for the Senses auction fundraiser. The event, sponsored by Mary Beth and Stephen Daniel ’82, gets underway with a preview at 5:30. The monies raised will go to support our Summer Arts and Science Academy and the new Young Women’s Leadership Institute. Come on down to Green Street tomorrow, and be ready to bid!!

After marching with the Take Back the Night group last night I went to see Samantha Joy Pearlman’s senior thesis theater project, Devotedly, Sincerely Yours: The Story of the USO. My mother is a singer, and I grew up with the music of the 1940s featured in the show. It was such a treat! The band was great, and Samantha gave a funny, moving, FABULOUS performance. The show is at the CFA Theater tonight (Friday, 4/8) at 8 pm.

February Thoughts of Spring and Summer

Our expected snow turned out to be mostly rain, and the fact that this is a cause for a great burst of optimism tells you what kind of winter we’ve been having. Sophie said to me as we drove to school (she doesn’t want any more snow days!): “Does this mean it’s going to get warmer and warmer?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her “no.”

But it does certainly mean we can start thinking of warmer times. For example, I just noticed that the winter silent auction to raise money for the Green Street Art Center has been postponed until April 8. It’s just been too hard to get around, and the staff thought we’d be safer planning our celebration of the great work of the GSAC in the spring. But the online auction is still on for another week to raise money for Wesleyan’s wonderful civic engagement initiative in Middletown.  The online auction officially closes Sunday, February 13th! Please encourage anyone you know to check it out and help us raise money for our students! Visit our online auction.

Kari and I are auctioning off a dinner at the President’s House (she’s a great cook and a better dinner partner; I’m a pretty good dishwasher), and if people don’t bid soon my mother is likely to get it! PLEASE HELP!!!

This is also the time that students can register for Wesleyan’s Summer Session. Between now and March 31, students can sign up for these intensive classes in the first part of the summer. You can take Foreign Policy at the Movies with Douglas Foyle, or travel to the Gulf Coast with Barry Chernoff to investigate the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. You can also make progress on general education expectations or try playing Gamelan. Check out the offerings.

It’s still winter, but it helps to think of some of the good things to come in spring and summer!

Coming Home to Wesleyan

I returned to Middletown late Tuesday night after my annual fall break trip out West. This year I spent a couple of days in Denver visiting with alumni before heading to my old stomping grounds in the Bay Area. In Colorado I saw some happy Wes parents and our two candidates for state-wide office, Michael Bennet ’87 and John Hickenlooper ’74. They both have serious races on their hands, and I was impressed with the fervor and the organization of their teams. I met some recent graduates who are committed to public service as well as alumni from decades ago who have combined very successful careers with deep civic engagement. Colorado is Wesleyan country.

In San Francisco Jack Mitchell ’61 hosted a Wes gathering in his store, Wilkes Bashford, in the Union Square district. About 100 local Cardinals came out to hear what’s happening on campus. They are eager to learn more about what faculty and students are up to — eager to understand how what made Wesleyan such a special place in their day is continuing now in new and exciting ways. As I returned to campus, I was busy re-reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I had assigned my students for The Modern and the Post-Modern. Going to class Wednesday morning to talk about knowledge and intimacy, consciousness and gender, dynamic change and aesthetic contemplation, I was so grateful to be back on a campus where literature, ideas and history could be expected to prompt intelligent, sustained engagement from a large group of students.  At a time when one reads a lot about the crisis in the humanities, I am always encouraged by my encounters with Wes students.

In just a day or so there will be a few thousand folks coming home to campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend. Here are just a few of the events we have planned: the opening celebration for our new College of Environment that includes a Friday reception and two seminars on Saturday; an evening with Bill Cosby to support the Green Street Arts Center (Sold Out); The Dwight L. Green Symposium “Media Innovation and Democracy” featuring Alberto Ibarguen ’66;  Athletics Hall of Fame induction/dinner on Saturday night (Sold Out); and 17 Wes Seminars on Friday and Saturday on subjects ranging from music to war, from food to archaeology in Middletown. Broadway star Lin Manuel Miranda brings his  Freestyle Love Supreme on Saturday for a sold out hip-hop, improv, rap, concert. The complete schedule is online.

On Friday I have the pleasure of welcoming Trustees Emeriti back to campus for a reunion and a series of discussions. In addition to getting their advice on a number of the important issues facing Wesleyan, I’m sure we will catch some of the action as our Wes athletes take part in a great weekend of competition. Things get underway in the Silloway Gymnasium Friday night as the volleyball squad takes the court against Trinity. Runners, field hockey, soccer and football players will all be fighting for the Red&Black, while the crew teams are busy this weekend at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

If you can’t make it back to campus this weekend, look for clips of the various events online in the coming weeks. We’ll use the Wesleyan YouTube channel and iTunes University to share the excitement!


Fall Breezes, Turning to the Future

There is a cool breeze today and the weatherman tells me it’s a harbinger of fall.  I can see the excitement of students checking out new classes, and faculty are being re-energized by the thoughtful questions posed in seminars or in sessions with advisees. This week also marks the beginning of the fall sports schedule, and we start off by hosting Williams in men’s and women’s soccer and field hockey on Saturday. Come out and cheer the Cardinals!

But the air is also filled with mixed messages. On the faculty list-serve this week Wesleyan’s Muslim Chaplain, Marwa Aly, sent a thoughtful, heartfelt message deploring the hate speech being directed at Muslims in many parts of the country. She asks for something as basic as it is important: that we act with care and understanding toward members of our community, and that we stand up to hate when it is expressed around us. At Rosh Hashanah services yesterday Wesleyan’s Jewish Chaplain, David Teva, reminded us of some of the many intersections of Jewish and Islamic rituals. He spoke of the importance of taking care of one another, and of taking a stance against injustice. As we turned ourselves toward the gates of the new year, we also remembered the work for peace and understanding that must continue as we enter 5771.

The ideals of peace and understanding aren’t just large abstractions to which we pay lip service. They can be part of our everyday lives, part of our community. Want an example? Check out the celebration of Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center’s new North End Mural this evening at 5:30.  For new students, this will be an opportunity to get to know the great programs at GSAC. For old timers, it will be an occasion to celebrate the arts and education (and delicious food!) with friends and neighbors.

Cool fall breezes, to be sure, and they carry lots of hope for a great year.

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Helping our Community Partners

Kari and I went to two fundraisers last week for great organizations in Middletown. That’s one of the “perks” of being Wesleyan’s president: one gets invited to serve on various committees, and one gets to know a variety of organizations doing good work in the region. This year I was an “honorary chair” for the celebration and fundraiser commemorating the 35th anniversary of Oddfellows Playhouse. Oddfellows was founded by a group of Wesleyan students in the 1970s to serve young people in Middletown by providing them with the opportunity to create first-rate theater. They have an educational, social and community mission, and they have remained true to the founders’ vision over a long period of time. The Gala and auction raised significant amounts of money that will have a direct impact on the lives of young people in this area.

The day after the Oddfellows event we were headed to a fundraising dinner for The Connection, a social services and community development organization. Wesleyan philosopher Steve Angle is on their board of directors, and he explained to me that the organization has always had a philosopher there since the 1970s when Phil Hallie served this role. The Connection addresses substance abuse, crime, and community disrepair across the state, and the fundraising event seemed like a great success. Lots of money was raised (and The Shiny Lapel Trio played some great dance music!).

Wesleyan is an important part of Middletown and Middlesex County, and for many years the university has been active in promoting community development. I am one of the Chairs of the upcoming United Way Campaign, which marks the organization’s 75th anniversary. Wes faculty and staff have been consistently generous supporters of United Way, and we will do our best to raise a record amount to mark the 75th! Thanks in advance for everyone who contributes to this effort!

Even our daughter Sophie has gotten into the act. She was just called for her bat mitzvah, and she suggested that people consider a donation to Wesleyan’s Green Street Arts Center in lieu of a gift. Green Street raised some money, and we have another reason to be proud of our not-so-little girl.

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Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center Needs Your Help!

Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center is holding a benefit auction this week. On Thursday night from 6-9 pm you can enjoy good company and great food while supporting the after school programs in art and science at Green Street. That’s right, art and science. This year GSAC has developed a curriculum with some partner institutions that helps young boys and girls to improve their homework skills and find joy in learning. Wes students also discover this joy through our many volunteers. You can still buy a ticket for Thursday night, and funds go to support this work with youngsters that is so importantly educational for our tutors as well.

I was just looking at the auction list for the Green Street Art Center. You can still make bids through 2/15 on everything from tickets to Broadway shows to a dinner that Kari and I will prepare for you at the President’s House on campus. Check out all the items at the special website, and then bid.

Wesleyan’s programs at Green Street are having a powerful impact on the community and offering great learning opportunities to our students. I’m getting to know this not only from our undergraduates, but from my daughter Sophie who volunteers after school each week. I’ll let her close out this message:

sophie green st

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Promoting Access through Partnerships

Yesterday Sonia Manjon and I went to an exciting ground-breaking ceremony across the street from Wesleyan’s Green Street Arts Center. We first gathered at the GSAC to hear remarks from community organizers, bankers, businessmen, housing activists, federal, state and local officials, and the head of our Chamber of Commerce. It was a very impressive coalition of groups that has worked together with Nehemiah Housing to plan for 16 new owner-occupied units in the North End of Middletown. Access to affordable housing, all the partners agree, will enable residents to become stakeholders in their neighborhood thereby promoting the momentum for further improvements. Wesleyan has become an important part of this dynamic with our project at Green Street, and working with neighborhood groups (some of which are led by alumni) has been a great learning experience for our students, staff and faculty. Here’s a photograph of the groundbreaking from an article by recent honorary doctorate recipient Jennifer Alexander ’88 from the Middletowneye blog.

photo by Jennifer Alexander
photo by Jennifer Alexander

As we come to the end of our fiscal year this month, we are eagerly promoting the Wesleyan Fund as a way to enhance access to a great education. Be a stakeholder in our scholarship program by making a gift! We need the partnership of the extended Wesleyan family to keep our financial aid offerings strong. We  are making a big push to increase participation, so please make a contribution — no matter what size!

PLEASE GIVE BEFORE JUNE 30 TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE TRUSTEE MATCH. In another great example of partnership, the Board of Trustees will  match every gift up to $10,000 until June 30th.

Access to a Wesleyan education regardless of one’s ability to pay is key to who we are. Please become a partner in this effort! Here’s a link to make a donation on line.


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Dance, Democracy and Devoted Service

As we move into the final week or so of classes, the pace of work has picked up markedly. Among the many great performances that come toward the end of the semester, this weekend we were able to attend the faculty dance concert. Dance has always been a key part of the arts at Wesleyan, and this weekend I was reminded of why that’s the case. I was particularly struck by the boundary-crossing nature of the work presented. Nicole Stanton performed a piece, “Castle of My Skin,” in collaboration with Gina Ulysse (what a voice!), a recently tenured professor in Anthropology and African American Studies. And Katja Kolcio worked with composer Julian Kytasty to create a “living archive” of Ukrainian music and dance. Katja’s students performed the piece with dynamism and sensitivity. The creative collaboration of teachers and students is one of the most exciting aspects of a Wesleyan education.

Another exciting aspect of the Wesleyan experience is the practice of politics. Our student chapter of the Roosevelt Institution will be holding a conference on that subject on Saturday, May 3. The Roosevelt Institution challenges chapters to consider “how to restore government of the people, and for the people.” How can students play a role in creating a more effective and equitable democratic political practice? There will be a series of workshops on Saturday, and I am looking forward to hearing Richard Berke, Assistant Managing Editor at the New York Times, close out the afternoon.

On Tuesday of this week there will be a reception to honor of the service of Peter Patton to Wesleyan. Peter, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has worked in various administrative capacities for many years at Wesleyan. As I look back over the history of the last decade or so, I can see that whenever there was a strong need for a capable, sensitive leader, Wesleyan turned to Peter. Whether it was to be the Dean of the College, or, to help create the Green Street Art Center, to direct the improvements to the central part of the campus (and the construction of the Usdan University Center), or, more recently, to oversee athletics and public safety, the university was able to enlist Peter’s vision and hard work. Over the years of administrative service, Peter continued to teach his science classes, and our reception this week in no way signals his retirement. On the contrary, Peter will now devote his energies full time to teaching and research. A grateful university community will express our gratitude to Peter at reception in his honor this Tuesday, April 29, from 3:30 to 5:00 in Beckham Hall.

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Coming Home

I am finally coming down from the amazing experience of the events of the inauguration weekend. I was delighted to see how many people attended the ceremony in the Silloway Gymnasium, and I was especially grateful that my family and some of my childhood friends were able to attend. There were also some Wesleyan classmates whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Having my teacher, Carl Schorske (from my frosh year at Wes, who later supervised my dissertation), introduce me at the ceremony was intensely moving for me. Carl is now in his 90s, and his perspective on Wesleyan and on me was memorable. The combination of tradition and experimentation in the ceremony was so Wesleyan! I loved seeing the academic procession in regalia to the funky beat of Jay Hoggard’s great music.

An inauguration ceremony itself is an affirmation of both institutional legacy and new beginnings. I was privileged to have three former Wes presidents in attendance, each of whom had an investiture with many similarities to my own. The alumni, faculty, and the board of trustees are also a powerful expression of institutional continuity. On the other hand, the marking of a new presidency, combined with the students’ incredible energy, are potent symbols of the importance of change. I tried to reflect on both of these dimensions in my speech. I spoke about the ideals behind Wesleyan’s approach to the liberal arts, but also about concrete initiatives (on the environment, on financial aid) that we are getting underway now. There is a link to my speech on the Wesleyan Web site: http://www.wesleyan.edu/president/speech.html. I must have made nine speeches over the weekend to various groups, but the most nerve-wracking performance was playing “I’m Old Fashioned” in front of all those people. I was sweating bullets!!

There were so many memorable moments. The football team put up a valiant effort in very difficult conditions. The Wes seminars were incredible, and I had the treat of hearing my former student, Darcy Buerkle, and former teacher, Henry Abelove, give back-to-back seminars. Walter Mosley was a very powerful speaker as we dedicated Beckham Hall during the Dwight Greene Symposium. I was delighted with the fundraiser for the Green Street Art Center, and my old friend Andrea Marcovicci gave a lovely concert of WWII songs to benefit our work in the North End of Middletown. I thought I was going to faint when she sang to me on stage, but instead I just took it all in.

Another highlight of the weekend for me was strolling over to Psi U with my brother, sons, and nephews around midnight on Saturday night. I got to sit in for a blues number with the amazingly talented Wesleyan faculty musicians of Busted Roses. It was great fun, and the students’ enthusiasm was exhilarating. The last time I was in Psi U was probably in the 1970s. I certainly never imagined back then that I would one day become the president of Wesleyan. I would have been more likely to fantasize about being in a rock and roll band. So, this weekend I got to rock a little as the prez. Pretty cool…. at least for one song!

I want to thank the Wesleyan community for the incredible welcome of these last few months, which all seemed to be crystallized in the weekend’s festivities. On this Homecoming Weekend, I really felt as though I had come home.

On a more sober, scholarly note: On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle published my review of John Brenkman’s recent book in political theory. Here’s the link:


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