Thanksgiving Wishes

Yesterday I sent the following message to the campus community:

Dear friends,

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves of all the things for which we are grateful. This is a time of year for connection, gratitude, and compassion—all much needed in these days of brutal conflict.

I believe more than ever that it is through openness to learning that we can find common ground. On many campuses, instead of searching for connection, people seem to be honing hate and gleeful intimidation. This will not happen at Wesleyan. Instead, we will learn together, acknowledging our differences. Whether this be through the study of a classic text, current events, or historical context, we will expand, not narrow, our understanding and our sympathies. Our faculty and staff are stepping up to offer guidance. We strive to find ways to comfort one another, to learn with one another, to generate hope for peace in a time of brutal war. I can’t think of a better place to be right now than here at Wesleyan.

I wish you all a peaceful holiday with family or friends. And I look forward to seeing you back on campus as we prepare to end the semester with boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.

Warm regards,

Michael Roth

NESCAC Volleyball Champs!!

Three cheers for the Wesleyan Volleyball team’s heroic capturing of the NESCAC Championship yesterday. The Cardinals have had a magical season, staying undefeated in the very competitive conference. But we lost two key players to injuries in the semi-finals, and so the pressure was intense. Undoubtedly helped by the home crowd’s boisterous support, including the return of several members of the 2017 Wesleyan Volleyball team’s NESCAC champs, Coach Ben Somera’s athletes beat a strong Williams team in straight sets. 

Now it’s on to the NCAA’s, but for now let’s savor this great victory and sweet season.

 

Repeat Little Three and More

As the fall sports season comes to an end, let’s hear it for some stand out performances. On Saturday, our football team deflated the Williams Homecoming crowd with an inspiring comeback victory, 30-22. The guys were down 22-8 and came roaring back behind great defensive play and a powerful passing attack. I was watching the game from an airport on the west coast, cheering cross-country.

We won the Little Three in Williamstown, marking the first back-to-back Little Three crowns in football for Wesleyan since 1969-1970. Quarterback Niko Candido ’25 was NESCAC Player-of-the-Week and also won the Golden Helmet from the New England Football Foundation.

Steve McLaughlin Photography

The women’s soccer team was in the NESCAC tournament again this year, and they played the top-ranked Amherst team in Massachusetts on Saturday. It was an incredibly tight match, with the Mammoths coming out on top 1-0. Our team was valiant to the end, finishing their strong season.

Yesterday I was back in Middletown to see the super impressive Volleyball team in the NESCAC quarterfinals. It’s always a rivalry game when we play Amherst, and yesterday was no exception. After a close first set, the Cards dominated their opponent with amazing defensive play and positively scary kills from all sides of the court. Next weekend we host the tournament finals, and I know we can give our team a home court boost!

Photo by Max Forstein ’27

I don’t give enough of a boost to our CREW TEAMS. They have had a wonderful fall, with especially strong finishes at the Head-of-the-Charles and the Head-of-the-Fish. 

Congrats to all our amazing athletes who manage to excel as students while working hard to hone their considerable sports skills. 

Ady Barkan, May his memory be a blessing

Kari and I learned with great sadness this week that Ady Barkan died at 39 of complications of ALS, a disease he had lived with for many years. We’d known Ady since he was in Middle School in Claremont, California, and our hearts go out to his family. 

Ady’s extended family, friends and allies stretches across the globe. An activist for progressive causes throughout his adult life, his influence dramatically increased after he advocated for equitable health care in an encounter with a Senator that went viral. Ady used his platform to promote democracy and to argue with force, humor and intelligence for health care as a basic human right. 

At Wesleyan, we are working with schools across the country to protect democracy….May we be inspired by Ady’s words: “Struggling for democracy is a fruitful endeavor.”

 

 

 

Remember Maine, Reject Violence

I am horrified to find that when I search for the word “violence” on this blog, one finds all too many occasions on which I’ve expressed sadness and outrage at the prevalence of mass shootings in this country. Over the last days, we add Lewiston, Maine to this sad, sad, tally. Eighteen dead, and lockdowns continue as authorities search for the killer. I am reminded of Wesleyan’s own 2009 lockdown as police searched for the murderer our beloved student Johanna Justin-Jinich, gunned down by a stalker in the Wesleyan bookstore.

So much sorrow and pain in each of the many shootings by people who never should have had access to deadly weapons. Killers bent on destruction shatter lives. As I’ve written many times over the years: We don’t have to live this way. We don’t have to make death dealing so easy.

Remember Maine and work to reduce gun violence.

This weekend we will welcome back alumni and parents for our annual Homecoming celebrations. In this horrifying context, I can understand that some will hesitate. But I remain convinced that our educational mission stands against the violence all around us. I remain convinced that by pursuing our mission, we give ourselves a better change of resisting the purveyors of lethality who would have us believe that violence is the only way forward. It is not. Education, learning, is our alternative to violence.

When we choose education, we are choosing conversation against violence; when we choose education, we are choosing meaning — rejecting (and attempting to prevent) violence. When we choose to learn, to remain perpetual students, we commit to openness, to resolving our differences through consideration and not force. Sadly, what I wrote on this blog a few years back is still relevant today:

Recent events remind us of the threats against our choice, as an educational community, for uncertainty. We are reminded of the threats against our willingness to embrace ambiguity, engage with different points of view, and to seek compromise rather than certainty. Now we mourn the fallen, and we aim to help those damaged or still threatened by attacks. And we hold fast to our choice against violence—our choice for meaning and for education.

Hold fast to our choice, celebrate the power and affection of our education. And remember.

Meeting Wesleyan’s African Scholars!

What a pleasure today to meet with the inaugural cohort of Wesleyan’s new African Scholars Program. Hailing from various parts of the continent they are quickly making Wes their home. As we build this four year scholarship program going forward, this year’s group will be a foundation for all we do in the future.

Pictured here (left to right) are members of the Class of 2027: Yinka Vaughan, Lois Amponsah, Leonard Zheve, Tihitina Gebeyehu, Holiness Igiraneza, Cheruiyot Allan, Chukwudi Udechukwu, Daphine Kemigisa, and Yamani Mpofu

 

 

 

 

 

Go Wes!

 

Return to China

Last week I visited with Wesleyan folks in Beijing and Shanghai. I used to visit regularly, but this was my first time back since the pandemic. We made the trip to reinforce the connections with our Wesleyan community that had been seriously frayed by the pandemic and by international tensions.

We had a very positive trip, combining recruiting prospective students with some meaningful touch points with alumni. In Shanghai we hosted a reception at which I met some wonderful high school students already enamored with Wesleyan and eager to apply early decision. They had the chance to spend some time with our alumni. While in that city, I also gave a lecture to undergraduates at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and this university would like to do some cooperative programming with us in the humanities. In Beijing we welcomed a good turnout at our reception, and I now have the additional pleasure of greeting several former students from my own classes as alumni.

We also visited what we were told is the best international school in Beijing. Again, there were amazing students already quite knowledgeable about Wesleyan. Some even brought me copies of Beyond the University in Chinese translation to sign.

We had a spectacular meal with the parents of recent alumni and current students. What a joy to break bread together.

Although it was wonderful to connect with old friends and meet new Wesleyan folks, it was a difficult time for me to be away from campus. Many students, faculty and staff are feeling the pressure of the war in the Middle East, some very directly. The brutality of the Hamas’ terrorist attacks, and the severity of the retaliation in Gaza chills the soul. Like so many on campus, I try to imagine what an enduring peace might look like, a very hard thing to do in this time of war.

Here on campus I trust we will continue to look out for each other, to support civil discussion and our efforts to learn from one another. The alternatives are much worse.

 

Enough Suffering: Find Ways to Comfort, To Learn

How best to confront our feelings of frustration, sadness, fear and anger as events unfold in the Middle East? We see the horrors of war and the attendant suffering of civilians In Israel and Gaza in the wake of Hamas’ terrorist attacks last week. Today a rocket explosion at a hospital in Gaza….the suffering is all but unimaginable. But we try to imagine, and ask what we can do in response to what we are learning, what we are feeling.

I know that on campus Jewish and Muslim students have gathered, sometimes separately and sometimes together, to talk, to mourn. Groups from all parts of campus want to understand more about what’s happening in the region, and faculty are stepping up to offer guidance where they can. War is notoriously difficult to grasp while the fighting is going on, and yet we want to learn, we want to know.

I am grateful to the Wesleyan Chaplains and many other faculty and staff for offering guidance in this difficult time. I have heard reports that Muslim students on campus are feeling particularly vulnerable right now, and that in addition to concerns they have about what’s happening in Gaza, they feel targeted as terrorist sympathizers or anti-Semites. This compounds the pain they are already feeling as they struggle, like all of us, to make sense of the awful news reports we see every day. We must ensure that Muslim students feel they are full members of the Wesleyan community. Because they are.

Of course, people at Wesleyan have different political views about what is happening in the Middle East. But these differences should never spill over into attacks based on race, ethnicity or religious belief. Neither Islamophobia nor anti-Semitism have any place at our University.

There is enough suffering right now. We should find ways to comfort one another, to learn with one another, to generate hope for peace in a time of brutal war.

Trying to learn and to find hope in a time of sorrow

What a difference a week makes! Last week I was focused on book reviews and readings, and my blog could have highlighted the volleyball team’s Little Three Championship or the fact that Eve Shockley’s book of poems (published by Wesleyan University Press) is nominated for a National Book Award. But world events have overtaken the usual news from campus.

When last Saturday I denounced the Hamas attacks on Israel, I was not fully aware of their horrific brutality. And the news has only grown darker since then. Early in the week, Jewish students gathered in front of Usdan to recite a psalm and affirm the importance of our visible presence on campus. The three chaplains hosted a discussion with students of various denominations. I heard it was emotionally intense, as one would expect, but also civil and productive. I am grateful for that. The group Students for Justice in Palestine had an information desk in front of Usdan yesterday, I am told, and people stopped to hear this group’s perspective on the occupation and related matters. We learn from one another while we share this beautiful campus. University climates can, of course, change, but I am proud that so far our students, faculty, and staff have offered one another support. 

I have received quite a few messages from alumni and others asking that the university do more, that it stay neutral, or that it punish people who fail to express the views they hold. These are, obviously, unfolding events, and we will continue to do whatever we can to help our students find ways to learn from them. War is a terrible thing, and the news from the Middle East will likely be extremely disturbing in the weeks to come. Reactions are everywhere, and then there are responses to those reactions. Despite the noise, I am hoping to keep performative gestures to a minimum.

I know that some of you have family and friends directly impacted by these events. I do hope you and yours find peace and healing soon. 

I often attend Torah Study on Saturday mornings. Today we, like Jews around the world, are “starting over” with Bereshit, Genesis. I’m trying to find some hope in that.