Little Three Women’s Tennis Champs

Congratulations to the Wesleyan Women’s Tennis Team for securing the Little Three Championship this past weekend. The powerhouse team defeated Williams (always a tough contest) 7-2 and already won a match at Amherst. Before 2019, we’d never won the Little Three or beaten Williams. Now we’ve made it three in a row!

Please join me in congratulating this great group of Wesleyan student athletes and their coaches.

 

 

 

Go Beyond Mere Free Speech!

Like many of you, I have been deeply disturbed by reports of chilled expression, self-censorship, and ideological homogeneity on college campuses. So today I announce the WES FREE SPEECH INITIATIVE.

We want this not to just be a reduction of censorship but a liberation of language.  And this should be a community-based project in which all students can be involved. In the spirit of inclusion, we will give every student a megaphone for five minutes of preaching to the choir in front of Usdan University Center. We also will offer free soap boxes to anyone who wants to set up their own free speech zone on Main Street in Middletown. Free speech must go beyond the university!

On the academic side, we will continue to support incomprehensible public lectures with opaque titles, but we will not be restricted to this grand tradition! Henceforth, will begin rotating faculty members from one department to another. We need less expertise and more creativity!  I have also informed the Provost that for now on we will ban faculty from assigning specific research topics in their classes. Students should be able to write what they FEEL! We will also ban any correction of grammar. NO MORE will professors be able to tell students what to write or how to write.  In that spirit, we will encourage creative missepllling.

We want folks to broaden their approach to free expression so that it includes diverse communication channels beyond the verbal. “Bizarre” gestures will be encouraged to break the regime of repressive, neo-liberal normativity. For starters, in consultation with the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts, we are putting together a workshop on expressive slapping.

Wesleyans of the world unite. We have nothing to lose but our self-cenosrhip.

Senior Performances and Exhibitions!

Spring is here, and one of the sure signs is that it’s the beginning of the senior exhibition/performance season. Students, guided by creative faculty and supported by the inventive staff, have been working all year to bring their work to audiences on campus. This week and for the next month, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery will host visual artists displaying their work in a variety of media. We start Wednesday, March 23 at 4 pm with Daniela Sweet-Coll, Jiayao Zhu, Karen Xu, Jared Christopher, Romina Beltrán Lazo, and Nina Creswell. A schedule for the rest of the exhibitions can be found here.

Seniors in dance will be performing this weekend. Beginning Friday, March 25 at 7 pm, Gabrielle Baba-Conn, Christian Denny, Annie Kidwell, Natasha Marder, Zoe McCracken, Spenser Stroud, and Maren Westgard will present the result of their choreographic practice. You can reserve seats here.

It’s always fascinating to see what Wesleyan artists are making. Check it out and congratulate these fabulous students!

Don’t Attack Minorities at Home While Defending Democracy in Ukraine

Supporters of democracy have been appalled by the brutality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and inspired by the courageous resistance against it. From Helsinki to Bologna, from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, ordinary people and the politicians who represent them have been voicing their outrage at Putin’s vicious assault and have been watching President Zelensky with awe and admiration.  In the United States, even white-supremacist Putin apologists like Tucker Carlson or cynical would-be populists like J.D. Vance have changed their tune recently. Although President Trump’s minions might be confused by the weird comments about his favorite strongman, in Congress, there is finally a consensus that democracy should be defended in Ukraine.

But while the world is rightly focused on the possibilities for freedom in Ukraine, in the United States the steady erosion of minority rights continues, rights that are fundamental to representative democracy. Terror has long been used to keep African Americans from pursuing their educational goals, and it has also been used to limit voting rights. Since the beginning of the year, several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have subject to bomb threats. The FBI is trying to discover those responsible, but efforts to keep blacks from voting are happening in plain sight. Recently, the Supreme Court ensured that Alabama could solidify its long-standing marginalization of black voters through blatantly racist gerrymandering. Of course, politicians from both parties seek political advantage by redrawing voting districts. This is just a sad fact of American history. But racist efforts to limit the franchise has an especially egregious history, and it is happening again as state legislators pass laws to make it harder for African Americans to vote.

While states work to curtail black voting power, the Trump-packed Supreme Court seems poised to bring affirmative action to an end. Today, colleges and universities are still free to develop admissions policies that take race into account in relation to other factors in their efforts to create a diverse educational environment. Promoting access to a high-quality education has been key to turning American rhetoric of equality into genuine opportunity. And throughout our history, elites threatened by equality, or just by social mobility, have joined together to block access for groups striving to improve their prospects in life. Today, higher-ed institutions need more diversity ― including intellectual diversity ― and we should enhance our efforts to make them inclusive, dynamic places of learning through difference. A retreat from affirmative action will result in more “opportunity hoarding,” and return us to the orchestrated parochialism of the past. Such filtering is often defended as meritocratic, but the efforts of elites to shore up their status by excluding others has little to do with merit. It has everything to do with guarding privileges that are antithetical to democracy.

The culture wars aimed at eroding the democratic rights of minorities aren’t just about race. Politicians have found it expedient to punch down whenever they can – finding scapegoats to attack in order to energize the base emotions of their constituents. Texas may win the prize in this regard for its recent efforts to hunt down those who care for transgender youth. Gov. Greg Abbott told state health agencies near the end of February that standard medical treatments for transgender youth would be considered child abuse. This was a clear effort to frighten parents of transgender young people and the doctors that might be helpful to them. It was also Abbot’s appeal to right wing Texans by showing he will be tough on trans. Politicians in Arkansas and Tennessee and several other states have also proposed laws that move in the same direction. Although a Texas court has recently delayed implementation of the law, the result is sure to be more suffering for young trans people, while politicians who prosecute parents preen about protecting the traditional family and “normal children.” Whether it’s in athletics or in the classroom, young trans people and their families are now being investigated in several states so that politicians can shore up support among people who need someone, preferably someone vulnerable, to attack. Scapegoating.

Not to be outdone in cruelty or stupidity, the Florida state legislature recently passed what has come to be called the “Don’t Say Gay” law. As Kara Swisher has noted the bill’s “vague but menacing language is clearly focused on chilling any mention of L.G.B.T.Q.+ lives. It’s overreach in search of an actual problem.” The overreach is in the service of fear and loathing: fear that parents are somehow losing control of their children’s education, and loathing against people who are seen as different from the norm. Scapegoating again.

Last week I attended a rally in support of Ukraine’s resistance against Russian aggression. I also met with a trans student with whom I’m working on how the media represents this beleaguered minority. He was avoiding the domestic news, he told me, because hearing about the gleeful persecution of people like him in states across the country was ”just bad for my mental health.” The persecution of minorities is also bad for our collective political health, for our democratic well-being.

A society should be judged not by the speeches given by leaders about distant struggles but by how it is treating its most vulnerable members. While I am proud to stand with supporters of Ukraine eager to defend democracy in Europe, I am ashamed of the erosion of minority rights here in the United States. The persecution of scapegoats is a deep tradition in Europe and in the US, and we see efforts to activate it every day. While we should continue to take the now popular path of standing with the Ukrainians against the Russian invasion, we must reject the populist path of cruelty and stand with vulnerable minorities here in our own country.

 

Stand With Ukraine!

I attended a rally yesterday in support of Ukraine. Organized by a group of Wesleyan students from the region, we were able to voice our support for the resistance against the brutal invasion by the Russian army. Faculty, staff, students and other supporters gathered on a cold winter’s afternoon to offer prayers, poems and donations. Heartbreaking accounts of atrocities were mingled descriptions of great courage in the face of brutality. Putin’s war must end, we chanted, and in the meanwhile, we must support those who defend themselves and their country.

As noted in a previous blog, you can donate support here and find a list of organizations to support here.

Student organizer of rally

 

Senator Blumenthal at Rally

 

Stand With Ukraine!

 

 

Black History Month Has Ended and The Past Continues to Haunt Us

As Black History Month ends this year, education has been playing a larger than usual role in the national conversation about race. Take the fear and trembling provoked by Critical Race Theory.  When I first started teaching, I was amused by the anxieties aroused by Postmodern Theory in people who really cared little about philosophy and literature, but that was nothing compared to the reactions to CRT. Around the country people have been convinced that they must protect their children from a body of scholarship that they know almost nothing about. And they’ve demanded their representatives in government or on school boards do something about it. What’s going on here? It seems that efforts to block CRT are meant to forbid discussion of any scholarship about anti-black racism that doesn’t see it as a wild aberration from the norms of American history. Some of the bills making their way through statehouses or school districts forbid “divisive concepts” that might make a group of people feel uncomfortable or guilty.

Historians know that our understanding of the past is always subject to revision, either because we discover new facts (which rarely happens), or because we have new interpretive frameworks with which to make sense of the facts already familiar to us. This doesn’t mean anything goes, or that inquiry is divorced from reality; it just means that history is a product of interpretations that resonate at a particular place and time. These interpretations are subject to criticism, and through this process our sense of the past evolves in relation to our present. It’s hard to think of a reframing of American history in the last hundred years that has been more resonant — and more subject to criticism —  than Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project. Debates about its framing of the American Revolution, and hence, of the American experiment, will go on for some time, as they should. But the vehemence and nastiness of much of the criticism has little to do with her treatment of sources or her understanding of events. For many, the 1619 Project is a narcissistic blow – a shock to the self-image of the nation. Efforts to ban the work or to marginalize those associated with it are a reminder of how difficult it is to change thinking about one’s national identity. The repression of the Project and the vilification of Hannah-Jones is a sad reminder this month of how far we have yet to go to integrate Black History into the dominant narratives of American history.

In higher education, there is a great deal of worry that the Trump-packed Supreme Court will bring affirmative action to an end. Today, colleges and universities are still free to develop admissions policies that take race into account in relation to a number of other factors in their efforts to create a diverse educational environment. Promoting access to a high-quality education has been key to turning American rhetoric of equality into genuine opportunity. And throughout our history, elites threatened by equality, or just by social mobility, have joined together to block access for groups striving to improve their prospects in life. In the 20th century, policies were enacted to keep immigrants out of colleges and universities and to limit the number of Jews who enrolled. In more recent decades, referenda and legislators in states red and blue have attempted to block consideration of race in admissions at public universities, undermining opportunity for minorities, especially African Americans. Today, higher-ed institutions need more (not less) diversity broadly conceived ― including intellectual diversity ― and we should enhance our efforts to make them inclusive, dynamic places of learning through difference. A retreat from affirmative action will result in more “opportunity hoarding,” and return us to the orchestrated parochialism of the past.

Watching history repeat itself has been especially troubling this month as several HBCUs were forced to evacuate buildings and suspend classes because of bomb threats. Terror has long been used to keep African Americans from pursuing their educational goals, and it has also been used to limit voting rights. The FBI is investigating the bomb threats, but efforts to keep blacks from voting are happening in plain sight. Recently, Trump’s justices ensured that Alabama could solidify its long-standing marginalization of black voters through blatantly racist gerrymandering. Of course, politicians from both parties seek political advantage by redrawing voting districts. This is just a sad fact of American history. But racist efforts to limit the franchise has an especially egregious history, and it is happening again as state legislators pass laws to make it harder for African Americans to vote. History won’t go away. At least not on its own.

We don’t have to stand by passively as forces of racism and oppression emerge from the past.  As Black History Month comes to a close, let us stand in solidarity to defend the right to vote by supporting voter registration efforts across the country. Colleges and universities should inspire their students to take the field, as in the Freedom Summer of 1964, to help people participate in the electoral process. Librarians and other educators should stand shoulder-to-shoulder to stop the banning of books just because they cause discomfort. Professors and administrators should make common cause to defend the right to discuss uncomfortable subjects and to explore new visions of American history and Black history. As we leave Black History month behind, it is vital to remember that how we imagine the past affects how we build the future.

 

 

Support Ukraine Against the Brutal Invasion

Yesterday Professors Katja Kolcio and Barry Chernoff hosted a virtual meeting with students in Ukraine. It was very powerful to hear their feelings of shock and dismay in the face of the brutal invasion by the Russian army, and it was inspiring to hear their courage and determination to fight back. During the conversation several participants suggested these action items:

Send emails and thoughts in support of Ukraine to:

CT senator Chris Murphy is on the National Security and Foreign Policy committee and speaking out on this issue.          www.murphy.senate.gov/contact

 Rosa de Lauro, House Appropriations Committee has been an advocate https://delauro.house.gov/contact/email

 Charitable donations can go to:

A US based organization: https://razomforukraine.org/donate/

List of charities, listed in Fortune: https://fortune.com/2022/02/25/how-to-help-ukraine/

Here’s a link to reputable charities provided by  Melaniya, from Lviv. It provides a number of options of charities,  ranging from medical support, to military support, to support of children, elderly and those infirm. It is in Ukrainian, but otherwise very user friendly. Prof Kolcio has offered to help with translation.

In my previous blog, I listed the plans for the next conversations scheduled with journalists and civic leaders. Ukrainians are facing a dire emergency with courage and determination. People who care about democracy and peace should stand with them. We must not accept the vicious Russian aggression as a normal part of geopolitics.

 

Some Campus Events on Invasion of Ukraine

Cross-posted with the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life

 

Ukraine-Russia Crisis: A Series of International Livestream Conversations

The Wesleyan community is invited to meet in-person and on Zoom for a series of international livestream conversations with students, journalists & civic leaders in Ukraine.

The first event in the series is a student panel that will include students from Taras Shevchenko Institute for International Relations, together with students Melaniya Podolyak, a civic activist and communications expert from Lviv, Ukraine, currently studying at the master’s program at the School of Public Management and Oleksii Diatlov, a QA engineer in the state company Prozorro, Kiev, and veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war, both currently studying at the master’s program at the School of Public Management in Ukrainian Catholic University.

Remote access link:

bit.ly/ukraineseries

Student Panel
Friday, February 25

noon to 1 pm
Fisk 201 (Global Studies Commons)
Grab-and-go lunch will be provided.

Additional series events:

* Journalist Panel: Friday, March 4, noon to 1 pm, Fisk 201

* Civic Leaders Panel, Friday, March 11, noon to 1 pm, Fisk 201

The series is sponsored by the College of the Environment, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Fries Center for Global Studies and the Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies Program.

All attendees must follow Wesleyan’s most current covid guidelines found at https://www.wesleyan.edu/keep-wes-safe/.

 

 

 

 

Basketball Greats

Have you heard about the latest Wesleyan athletic blockbuster? The men’s basketball team has finished the regular season atop the standings in NESCAC for the first time in school history. This represents a great effort by Joe Reilly and the team. Some of the highlights were massive road wins against Williams and Bowdoin as we came down the stretch. Sam Peeks ’22, who has had an amazing season, was named Player-of-the-Week in this period.

https://twitter.com/JPPierson/status/1491634819108847619?s=20&t=WevkGJTpRo3Jg1ssEsn0wQ

This coming weekend we will be hosting the NESCAC tournament at Wesleyan, and we are looking forward to this next phase of the season. The women’s basketball team closed out the season with a big road win against Bowdoin (Caleigh Ryan was smokin!), and they host Hamilton in the first round of the NESCAC tournament this week.

Wish our basketball players all the best as they enter their championship tournaments!

 

UPDATE:

Both men’s and women’s teams won their first round games this weekend. Go Wes!

 

Black History Month

 

This week I heard some wonderful talks as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy at Wesleyan. From incisive investigations of power and race to conversations about inclusion and design, the first events of Black History Month were challenging and powerful. Here are some of the upcoming events from Ujamaa, the Wesleyan Black Student Union:

In preparation for a full and fun black history month, your Wesleyan Black Student Union (Ujamaa), has planned a month with activities for you all to participate in! This year we want to honor Black Joy, so our theme this year is adequately named “Joy: Survival Beyond Healing”

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE ACTIVITIES, WHO WE ARE, AND HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE visit our WesNest Page  and attend our first event on February 8th, 6pm at Malcom X House: “Black History Month Kickback.”

The RESOURCE CENTER is also sponsoring events this month. Here are two:

  • Restorying Our World: The Narrative Act for Collective Healing and Liberation / Tuesday, Feb. 8th from 4:30pm-6pm (Zoom Meeting ID: 926 1947 7396, Passcode: 970976)
    • This workshop/webinar series explores how stories have shaped our world, and how we can use them to identify and transform conflicts. It helps us see the power of stories in our day to day lives, as well as the dominant narratives and myths that define our societies. We will practice new storytelling methods to imagine new narratives. This is what we call re-storying our world: the narrative act for collective healing and liberation.
  • Combatting Anti-Blackness and Fatphobia with Da’Shaun Harrison / Thursday, Feb. 17th from 5:30pm-7pm (Zoom Meeting ID: 993 4804 6118, Passcode: 314930)
    • To live in a body both fat and Black is to exist at the margins of a society that creates the conditions for anti-fatness as anti-Blackness. Hyper-policed by state and society, passed over for housing and jobs, and derided and misdiagnosed by medical professionals, fat Black people in the United States are subject to sociopolitically sanctioned discrimination, abuse, condescension, and trauma.  In this workshop, Da’Shaun Harrison–a fat, Black, disabled, and nonbinary trans writer– will offer an incisive, fresh, and precise exploration of anti-fatness as anti-Blackness, foregrounding the state-sanctioned murders of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people in historical analysis.