Wesleyan Volleyball in Elite 8

The remarkable Wesleyan Volleyball team has just won its regional NCAA tournament, the best results (so far) in program history. This young squad, led by Coach Ben Somera and senior captains Madeleine Lundberg and Emma Robin, has been formidable all year long and now is reaching its peak.

You can catch the Cardinals playing in the Elite Eight on Thursday, November 15 at 8 p.m.. You’ll find the live stream here.


Remembering John Maguire (1932-2018)

Recently I received a notice from Claremont Graduate University of the passing of John David Maguire, who served as President there. You can find that notice here.  John was President at CGU when I was teaching there and at Scripps College in the 1980s and 90s, and I remember him well. He was my boss, I suppose, but I remember him more as my neighbor. Among the things we had in common was a love of Wesleyan, where he began his own academic career in the Religion Department in 1960. Six years later he was Associate Professor of Religion and a year after that served for a time as Associate Provost. In 1970 he left to become President of SUNY College at Old Westbury. You can find that college’s honoring of his passing here.

John was at Wesleyan for the whole of the 1960s. He arrived here already a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he arranged for King to speak on campus multiple times. You can find a photo of one such occasion below. John was considered in those days as a “radical” and a “firebrand” for putting pressure on Wesleyan to become more diverse. He and his colleague David Swift made a huge impression on campus in 1961 when they joined the Freedom Ride to Montgomery, Alabama; and when they were arrested there, Wesleyan colleagues raised money to pay his fines and legal costs (until the process ended at the United States Supreme Court). John returned to campus a hero to many but by no means to all. Many alumni in particular disapproved of faculty engaging in such public actions. But momentum for such engagement was growing, and John was at the heart of it. “Moral-based activism,” to use the term of historian of Wesleyan David Potts, was not new to campus, but now, thanks to John, among others, it was being applied in earnest to race relations. Other Wesleyan faculty and staff began participating in civil rights demonstrations in the South, and the campus became civically engaged – in civil rights, in social justice, in the anti-Vietnam war movement – as never before. John was also instrumental in opening the gates to Wesleyan to African American students, setting it on the path to becoming a diverse campus.

Shortly after my appointment as president of Wesleyan, I returned to Claremont for an event celebrating the founding of the Scripps College Humanities Institute. As I crossed the street, a car screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. Out jumped John Maguire, long retired from his post but still living in the college town. He grabbed me in bear hug and expressed his joy that I would be returning to Wesleyan, a university that had formed each of us in indelible ways.

John’s life-long, exuberant dedication to the combination of moral activism and liberal learning (and in this his wife Billie was a powerful partner) is stamped upon the memory of all who knew him. At this time in America, such dedication is needed more than ever. May the recollection of John’s life strengthen our own combinations of moral activism and liberal learning. On behalf of the Wesleyan community, I express gratitude for John’s many contributions and condolences to Billie and their daughters Catherine (Wesleyan class of ’83), Mary and Anne.

Maguire with Martin Luther King, Jr. in January 1963
Maguire with Martin Luther King, Jr. in January 1963

Campus Message On Pittsburgh Shooting

Yesterday I sent the following message to faculty, students and staff at Wesleyan.

Dear friends,

As I’ve done too many times before, I write to the campus now to express grief and anger in the wake of a terrorist attack. Yesterday in Pittsburgh, a well-armed anti-Semite shattered the lives of individuals, families and a community. The number of anti-Semitic acts has been increasing across the country, and, like many Jews, I’ve observed with alarm the mounting use of hate-filled rhetoric. In a country with such easy access to weapons of mass killing, this kind of talk can ignite murderous acts. This is, apparently, what happened in Pittsburgh.

I learned of the attack yesterday when I returned from a study group on the Hebrew Bible. We were wrestling with the relation of hospitality and innocence, with welcoming strangers and making arguments for justice. In Pittsburgh, Jews were gathered to celebrate the naming of a baby when the murderer began shooting, crying out anti-Semitic slurs. Slurs, we are used to. The killer, according to reports in the press, had 21 guns legally registered under his name. He used more than one of them in the killing spree.

Our Middletown synagogue, Temple Adath Israel, is organizing a vigil and candle lighting tonight on the South Green (the park across from Mondo Pizza) at 7pm. Please consider attending to stand together against hate crimes.

Now is a time for grieving, for attentiveness and care. It is also a time to work for hospitality and justice. May we find them in our own lives, and, in remembrance of those murdered in Pittsburgh, work in solidarity to create a more hospitable and just country, and a more hospitable and just world. As we say in my tradition, this would help make their memory a blessing.

Yours always,


This week the Washington Post published my reflections on this sad event:

Whenever I’m not busy with campus duties, I go to my shul on Saturday mornings to study Torah. About 15 or so of us gather to work our way through the Hebrew Bible, week by week, from the story of creation in Genesis, to the death of Moses in Deuteronomy. We are now early in Genesis, Vayeira, the chapters that describe a crucial part of Abraham and Sarah’s journey, including the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fates of Ishmael and Isaac.

Ever since I was a child, I have had to deal with people who just didn’t like Jews, and some who were consumed with distrust and malice. Today one finds these views often disguised with more palatable ideologies. But like many Jews, I’ve gotten used to this ordinary nastiness.

The problem for me has never been the “hate” from some other people. Jews have long had to deal with that. The problem was their potential for violence, their access to weapons that could destroy lives. This was the deadly, combustible combination that erupted in Pittsburgh.

In the section of the Torah we studied this past Saturday, Abraham sees travelers approaching and prepares to greet them with kindness and generosity. They might, we are told, be angels. Later in the text, he is wary when journeying among strangers in the desert, unsure of their moral codes and whether he would be safe among them. Throughout these chapters of Genesis, we are asked to consider the relation of hospitality and foreignness, of moral codes and the wilderness. Who can one count on, and whom should one be afraid of?

The killer in Pittsburgh appears to have been particularly enraged by Jewish help for immigrants, especially the group HIAS, with its mission to “welcome the stranger [and] protect the refugee.” This is rage stoked by President Trump and his allies when they talk of the “globalist forces” behind the caravan of Latin American refugees heading north toward the United States. The demonization of outsiders has been normalized at the highest levels of government and a popular news outlet in the country, and it is sometimes flavored with anti-Semitic ingredients.

This demonization was on our minds this week in our study group as we “wrestled” with the relation of hospitality and innocence, with welcoming strangers and making arguments for justice. In Pittsburgh, Jews were gathered to celebrate the birth of a child when the murderer began shooting, crying out his anti-Semitic slurs. We are used to slurs. The killer, according to reports in the media, had 21 guns legally registered under his name. He used more than one of them in the killing spree.

We must do our part to create this peace, reaching across our everyday political and cultural divisions. Professors and administrators, students and staff, must join to push back against bigotry and violence, no matter what its source.

Now, to be sure, is a time for grieving, for attentiveness and care. But it is also a time to work, to work with compassionate solidarity, for hospitality and justice. A meaningful education helps us find these qualities in our own lives, and, in remembrance of those murdered in Pittsburgh, it should empower us to create a more hospitable and just country.

As we say in my tradition, this would help make their memory a blessing.

Standing By Our Trans Friends and Colleagues

Can we still be startled by the cruelties of the Trump administration? Can we still find room for outrage after the separation of immigrant children from the parents, after the denial of climate change, after the mocking of sexual assault survivors? We must. The capacity for outrage is essential in order to stand up to further abuses of power and the insidious pollution of our public life. And outrage is what I feel as I read in the New York Times that the administration “is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a government-wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.”

This would be a cruel decision, part of the effort erase transgender people by eliminating their civil rights protections. Recognition is essential to identity and to the protection of rights. The plans currently being considered by the Trump administration would be a huge setback for the broad pursuit of equity and inclusion.

As my friend, Wesleyan alumna and transgender activist, Jenny Boylan wrote:

I admit that I’m reluctant to react to this latest cruelty, which is obviously just one more cynical move clearly designed to stir the pot ahead of the election. Trans people are the latest conservative whipping girl, like African-Americans in the 1950s, or gay people in the 1990s and 2000s. Nothing is more dependable now than the passion the heartless display when trans people’s humanity is offered up for mockery […]

I have news for Donald Trump. I do exist. Trans men and women exist. Genderqueer people exist. We have been part of this country for hundreds of years — since before the Revolution, in fact. Redefining us won’t make us go away. It won’t restore your world to its precious, boring binary — which, I hate to tell you, never existed in the first place.

All it will do is make people suffer.

Can any good come out of this miserable moment? Well, I can hope that this will inspire people, more than ever, to fight back — not just trans people — but our spouses, and our children, and our allies, too. Their numbers will include people not unlike my late mother — conservative Republican women who just can’t stand to see their children bullied by the one person in the country who ought to be most concerned with keeping us all safe.

At Wesleyan we will fight back against any attempt to erase transgender people. We will stand by our transgender friends and colleagues, we will recognize them, acknowledge their struggles, and join with them to fight for equality. The stakes are high for all of us.



Welcome Home to Wesleyan!

Although I am traveling for Wesleyan this week, I want to welcome back to campus alumni from far and wide who will be coming home to alma mater. The vagaries of the athletic and academic calendar being what they are (we will change this!), Homecoming this year falls during our Fall Break. That’s a time when I traditionally make a big trip to visit our far flung Wesleyan family, and this year is no exception.

I left after class on Monday for Los Angeles where we welcome a couple of hundred alumni to a spectacular reception at Sophia Nardin’s [’91] and Luke Wood’s [’91] home in Los Feliz. This John Lautner designed modernist gem was the perfect gathering place for prospective students, parents and alumni. I had the opportunity to make new friends, and see some of my old students who are now tearing it up in LA. More than 200 guests got to visit with one another and hear about the exciting new things happening back in Middletown.

The next day I was off to Shanghai, from where I write this blog. We are hosting a one day symposium on Liberal Education + Film, and I am joined by Professor Scott Higgins, and alumni film leaders Jon Hoeber ’93, Jon Turteltaub ’85, and Julia Zhu ’91. We will be discussing global cinema and how “Hollywood films” today are made with global audiences in mind. We expect alumni, families of current students and prospective Wes folks from all over China.

Sha Ye MA ’96 hosted a dinner of Wes folks at the Shanghai Telecom Museum Building, followed by a film screening of The Meg. Appearing in the front row below, left to right, are Scott Higgins, Jon Hoeber, Jon Turteltaub, myself, Sha Ye, and Julia Zhu.

I’m grateful to this group of Wes volunteers for helping with the forum!

(Top row (left to right): Ying Wang, Zijia Guo, Jian Hua, Hong Hu
Bottom row (left to right): Hannah Chen, Huiping Zhao, Lina Li, Bijun Pan)

After a short stay in Shanghai, I’m off with a couple of colleagues to Mumbai, where we’ll host another reception – this time for the Wesleyan world in India. I’ll have a public conversation with Viral Doshi, an educational consultant for South Asian students looking to study in the United States and elsewhere. We will be talking about how liberal education today is more vital than ever.

After some visits in India, I’ll make my way back to Middletown, worn but ready for the second half of the semester. I trust that in my absence, the Wesleyan athletic teams will make us all proud (I’ll be watching on video), and that the returning alums will find the campus as welcoming and exciting as ever.

Wesleyan Not-for-Profit Leaders in New York

We’re so proud to see six great Wesleyan alumni on the “2018 Nonprofit Power 50” list recently announced by the website City & State New York!

The website strives to:

recognize 50 top nonprofit leaders who are key players in the world of New York politics and government. Since we cover politicians on a day-to-day basis, we limited this list to those who are not strictly in government but instead work on the outside as collaborators – or critics.

We reached out to insiders and experts to compile this list of nonprofit leaders, ranking each individual based on their accomplishments, their sway in political and policy matters, their ties to powerful politicians, and their ability to deliver for the diverse populations they serve.

The Wesleyan alumni recognized on this year’s list are:

Phoebe Boyer ’89, P’19, CEO, Children’s Aid Society

Sharon Greenberger ’88, CEO, YMCA-NYC

David Jones ’70, CEO, Community Service Society

Alan Mucatel ’84, Exec Dir, Rising Ground

Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87, CEO & President, Bowery Residents’ Committee (also named one of the 50 most influential nonprofit leaders in America by The NonProfit Times in 2017)

Dave Rivel ’83, CEO, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services



Wes Social Psychology Back on Coursera

Beloved Wesleyan professor Scott Plous’ Social Psychology course has just re-launched on Coursera and is available to anyone who would like to enroll. This course initially launched in 2013, then ran a second time in 2014, and became the world’s largest synchronous course, with over 700,000 enrollments from learners around the globe! Please take a look at Professor Plous’ description of the course, and click the link below to enroll if you’re interested in learning more about human behavior.

Social Psychology

Each of us is dealt a different hand in life, but we all face similar questions when it comes to human behavior: What leads us to like one person and dislike another? How do conflicts and prejudices develop, and how can they be reduced? Can psychological research help protect the environment, and if so, how? This course offers a brief introduction to classic and contemporary social psychology, covering topics such as decision making, persuasion, group behavior, personal attraction, and factors that promote health and well-being. Our focus will be on surprising, entertaining, and intriguing research findings that are easy to apply in daily life. The course will also draw from the websites of Social Psychology Network, the world’s largest online community devoted to social psychology.

Anyone can enroll for free to access video lectures. To access all of the course content and/or earn a Certificate by submitting assignments for a grade, you can enroll and pay the course fee of $49 (financial aid is also available by application to Coursera).

For more information or to enroll: https://www.coursera.org/learn/social-psychology.  You can find other Wesleyan courses on Coursera here.


Celebrating Ahmed Badr and International Leadership

Ahmed Badr ’20 (front right)

Ahmed Badr ’20 has been selected by the United Nations as one of 17 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), class of 2018.

The UN Young Leaders Initiative is a flagship initiative led by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. The Young Leaders have been recognized for their leadership and contribution to a more sustainable world. They will come together as a community to support efforts to engage other young people in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals through strategic opportunities with the UN and through their existing initiatives, platforms and networks. Specifically, they will advocate publicly for the goals in ways that are relatable to young people; promote innovative ways of engaging audiences in the advocacy and realization of the goals; and contribute to a brain trust of young leaders supporting the UN and partners for key moments and initiatives related to the goals.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty; zero hunger; quality education; gender quality; affordable and clean energy; climate action; and peace, justice and strong institutions, among others.

Ahmed was invited to attend the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, which took place Sept. 21–27 in New York. The Young Leaders class of 2018 was officially announced on the sidelines of the High-Level General Debate during the General Assembly.

Ahmed is part of the second class of Young Leaders chosen by the UN. This year, over 8,046 young people from 184 countries applied to the program. The selection was based on the candidates’ records of “demonstrated achievements and impact to sustainable development” as well as their “proven leadership and ability to inspire others.”

Ahmed is a junior at Wesleyan, studying anthropology and pursuing independent projects as an Allbritton Fellow and Patricelli Center Fellow. He was born in Iraq and in 2008 came to the United States as a refugee, after his family’s home in Baghdad was bombed by militia troops. While adjusting to life in the U.S., he started a personal blog to write about his journey—an experience he found “incredibly empowering.” Determined to empower others, he created Narratio to publish written work by young people around the globe. Badr leads creative storytelling workshops for youth around the country, including one with high school students in Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science program. Narratio has been recognized by the UN, We are Family Foundation, and featured on NPR and Instagram.

Please join me in congratulating Ahmed Badr!


Volleyball and Tennis Champs!

The mighty Wesleyan Volleyball team beat Amherst this weekend to repeat as Little Three Champs. This squad has played at the highest level for some time now, but let’s not allow this new title to go uncelebrated. Congratulations to a great squad!

Also over the weekend Wesleyan’s tennis teams were hard at work in regional tournaments. Victoria Yu ’19 joins up with a new doubles partner this year, but a player very familiar to her — her sister Kristina Yu ’22! They won the ITA Regional Doubles Championship. Double YU!

Go Wes!