Wes Faculty: Scholars, Scientists, Artists…Mentors All!

As our semester winds to a close, and as students prepare experiments, performances, papers and presentations, I often see my faculty colleagues literally running across campus. They are racing to  lectures and seminars, committee meetings on the curriculum or the budget, or advisory meetings  with students. This last activity is often the most rewarding part of what they do as faculty at Wesleyan.

On Tuesday I taught my penultimate class for The Past On Film. We talked about a British film, Distant Voices, Still Lives, and I suggested to my rather skeptical group of undergraduates that this film offers a serious perspective on the painful construction of desire inside the modern family. After class,  I ran to the faculty meeting  where there were at least 100 professors eager to take part in a serious discussion of a possible summer session at Wesleyan for 2010. I marveled at their energy. The chemists, fresh from their labs, were focused on the educational and financial issues, as were the historians who had just finished their seminars. The artists and the social scientists, after working with students throughout the day, were eager to lend a hand in crafting an approach to a new program that would have educational integrity and be economically sustainable.

Recently I blogged about a poster session in which undergraduate science majors presented research that was sophisticated and professional. Last night I attended part of an event at the College of Letters where students presented brief summaries of their theses to their teachers and to sophomores and juniors. I’ll mention just a few examples to give a sense of the diversity of subjects. Chris Patalano wrote a novella and Benjamin Sachs-Hamilton translated and directed a play – both projects were grounded in premodern texts. Sofia Warner examined changing modes of psychiatric worldviews from the patient’s perspective.  Russell Perkins, whom I had gotten to know because of his important work on bringing classes into prisons, had his thesis on art and philosophy described to the audience by another senior, Jason Kavett (recent winner of Fulbright and DAAD scholarships). Russell returned the favor by providing an account of Jason’s thesis on romanticism.

As I walked home with Sophie, I marveled at how wonderful these projects were. And then I thought that each and every one of them – like all thesis projects at Wesleyan — – had been supervised individually by a faculty member. In conversation and in their presentations, students show that their theses are often labors of love as well as of worldly investigation and self-discovery. In each case they are guided by a faculty member who takes the time and care to help them along the way. Truly, these are labors of love!

There is a long tradition of this kind of faculty devotion at Wesleyan. While individual professional rewards are often given for other kinds of “production,” our entire community is the beneficiary of this ongoing, thoughtful generosity.  As we come to the end of the spring term, it is such a joyous experience to see our graduating students exemplify the creative intellectual virtues that their teachers also embody.

I still remember my feelings of anxiety and pride as I finished my own thesis here. As a student, I was profoundly grateful for the mentoring (and editing!) I received. As a teacher, I know how gratifying it is see these strong examples of mature, independent work. BRAVO!

[tags] The Past on Film, summer session, College of Letters, theses, Chris Patalano, Benjamin Sachs-Hamilton, Sofia Warner, Russell Perkins, Jason Kavett [/tags]

2 thoughts on “Wes Faculty: Scholars, Scientists, Artists…Mentors All!”

  1. As a recent graduate, I have appreciated the many roles that the faculty at Wesleyan can play in one’s life beyond the classroom and I believe that my experience at Wesleyan has allowed me to have a certain level of expectation for my faculty in graduate school. Yet, the one thing Wesleyan was not able to provide me with was an educational experience with faculty that not only looked like me but could actually relate to the experience of being a person of color in the United States and academia. Since I was a CSS major and discussions of race and plight of people of color both domestically and globally were somewhat absent in the major’s expansive and interdisciplinary focus and my opportunities to take outside classes were somewhat limited by the set curriculum, I often found myself taking courses within the AFAM department or classes with a particular focus to gain that perspective or even have the opportunity to take a class with the limited amount of faculty of color available. I do not think that teaching should be valued by only professors identity; however, I do find it troubling that in my lifetime I can count the teachers I’ve had that are persons of color or more specifically are Black or Latino on one hand. This is a privilege that I think most student and faculty do not really contemplate, and is another reason why student of color are hesitant to pursuing further education or a career in higher education.
    My comments are generally a result from my overall disgust of wesleyan student’s comments regarding diversity amongst faculty as a result of Prof. Price, not receiving tenure. I was not lucky enough to have Prof. Price as a professor. She was however, one of my thesis readers and both from that experience and going to her to help with research on my topic throughout my senior year(even though she was not my advisor), I truly valued her as a faculty member at the school and by senior spring was jealous of all my friends that were able to have her as a professor and/or mentor. I find it troubling when Wesleyan is constantly pushing a “Diversity Agenda”(e.g.-projecting statistics of diversity and making suggestive comments about “its diverse community”) and it does nothing to create a safe space for students of color, maintain and promote a diverse faculty, and actively contradicts most of the propaganda in admissions booklets. I look forward to seeing how you address the current chasm in the Wesleyan community regarding the lack of diversity amongst faculty, and how this institution deals with upholding its mission statement/goals in the coming years.

  2. In response to Rashida’s thoughtful commentary above I find myself emphatically differing in opinion in terms of my outlook in leaving Wesleyan. In contrast to Rashida’s remarks, I feel like Wesleyan may have erred too much on the side of creating a place of safety for studenty such as myself. I know only too well what lurks beyond these hallowed grounds and it is not equality, nor will a “Diversity Agenda” be in place. I am in turn perhaps glad for Prof. Price to be able to connect with a broader audience as someone of her aptitude and ability surely will. There is something to the “Ivory Tower” which is not altogether savory nor altogether to be desired…

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