Black History Month — Black Radical Imaginations

As students return to campus in the coming days, they will have many small tasks to take care of, decisions about classes to finalize, and a wealth of events that have been scheduled for the semester ahead. I want to call everyone’s attention to the impressive programming planned by students, staff and faculty  for Black History Month. On Friday, February 12, we will hold our annual celebration of the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s speaker, Ruby Nell Sales, promises to get things off to a powerful start. You can find registration information for this event here.

Ujamaa has passed along the following information.

The theme for this year’s Black History Month is Black Radical Imaginations. Critical engagement with the present and positive imaginations for the future. With the events we have planned we not only want to honor the traditions of the past but illuminating the ways Black people (artists, comedians, activists, etc.) find moments of liberation in their daily lives.
You can find more information about what we have planned for Black History Month on WesNest AND/OR you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @ujamaawesu. We are also partnering with the Middletown Mutual Aid Fund all month so please donate using this link to give directly to Middletown residents who have been struggling during this pandemic. In addition, registration information will be continuously updated on the Ujamaa Linktree throughout the month.
Ruby Sales Workshop
Join Ruby Sales to learn about the importance of right relations in community organizing and how to reimagine justice and Black liberation! (This event is open to community members, students, alumni, and faculty)
Date: 2/10/2021
Time: 12 PM – 2 PM
Meeting information: RSVP using this link (due 02/05/2021)
White Supremacist Violence: A Dialogue
Join Ujamaa for a conversation on processing white supremacist violence in the scope of the current political climate. We will be asking ourselves questions including: how do we avoid complicity under the biden presidency? and what does white supremacy look in our other interpersonal interactions? (This event is open to community members, students, alumni, and faculty)
Date: 2/11/2021
Time: 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Meeting ID: 951 6961 2526
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration feat. Ruby Sales
This year’s annual gathering in honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights legacy will feature Ruby Sales, a nationally-recognized human-rights activist, public theologian, and social critic. She attended local segregated schools and was also educated in the community during the 1960s era of the Civil Rights Movement. Come for an amazing presentation, followed by a Q&A! (This event is open to community members, students, alumni, and faculty)
Date: 2/12/2021
Time: 12 PM – 1:25 PM
Meeting ID: 925 606 08568
Black History Month Celebration feat. Raquel Willis
Join award-winning writer, and media strategist, Raquel Willis, for the Annual Black History Month Commencement Celebration. Raquel Willis has dedicated herself to elevating the dignity of marginalized people, particularly Black transgender people. She has held ground-breaking posts throughout her career including director of communications for the Ms. Foundation, executive editor of Out magazine, and national organizer for Transgender Law Center (TLC). 
In addition to Raquel Willis, we will also have the pleasure of hearing from faculty, alumni, and students! This will be a great evening of reflection, community-building, and solidarity!
*All donations from the BHM Commencement Celebration go to the Middletown Mutual Aid Fund*
(This event is open to community members, students, alumni, and faculty)
Date: 2/13/2020
Time: 7:00 PM
Meeting Information: RSVP on Eventbrite 
Black History Month Calendar designed by Olivia Najera-Garcia

A Safe Campus Where Wesleyans Can Thrive

As we prepare for the start of the next semester, we are mindful of the hopes and anxieties of students and their families. Vaccine distribution is finally picking up speed, promising better times ahead. On the other hand, the new variants of the virus seem to be more contagious, and this means we must be ever more vigilant about social distancing, mask wearing, frequent testing, contact tracing and supportive isolation.

I recently met with the presidents of the other NESCAC schools, and we have decided that given the current public health situation we cannot yet approve intercollegiate competition for this semester. Although it seems unlikely that we will have even a truncated season, we agreed to revisit the possibility of conference contests at the end of February. The NESCAC decision will come as a disappointment to many who have worked long and hard for the chance to compete, and I understand their frustration. Be that as it may, the fact that some athletes have asked about their spring seasons should not be an occasion for others to cast aspersions or crude stereotypes. The Wesleyan community is a place for all of us to pursue activities through which we develop as individuals and as members of groups or teams. Like so many Wesleyans, I would love to watch our athletes compete, as I would be delighted to see our musicians play and our actors perform. We all will have to wait until it is safe enough to do so.

We have never believed we could eliminate all risk from campus, but we do believe we can create an environment in which students can safely thrive. That means an environment in which they can pursue their education, but also one in which they can develop lifelong friendships and engage with community. Prohibitions against large parties does not mean that students can’t socialize; social distancing does not mean that people don’t find ways to connect. We want to keep our COVID positivity rates as low as possible, but we also want to make the campus experience as vital as possible.

We want Wesleyan students to learn and to thrive, not just to test negative for COVID. We can achieve all three if we work together.


On Martin Luther King Day, Recollection

On this holiday, during this week of pandemic death and vaccine hope, the threat of domestic terrorism and the promise of new beginnings, there are many ways of marking the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.. We will hear, of course, of dreams, of anti-racism, of equality and of political struggle. In this time of easy oblivion, when it’s hard to remember what day it is, let alone what happened months or years ago (the “before times”), I’d like to pause for recollection. Saidiya Hartman ’84, Hon. ’19, writes, “In every slave society, slave owners attempted to eradicate the slave’s memory, that is, to erase all the evidence of an existence before slavery.” We don’t have to accept the triumph of amnesia. “Never did the captive choose to forget; she was always tricked or bewitched or coerced into forgetting. Amnesia, like an accident or a stroke of bad fortune, was never an act of volition.” We can choose recollection.

Memory always takes place in context; it is never neutral. Saidiya writes:

To believe, as I do, that the enslaved are our contemporaries is to understand that we share their aspirations and defeats, which isn’t to say that we are owed what they were due but rather to acknowledge that they accompany our every effort to fight against domination, to abolish the color line…To what end does one conjure the ghost of slavery, if not to incite the hopes of transforming the present.

Recollection in the service of thinking otherwise, in hopes of transforming the present. This, too, can be a way to mark this holiday and those who fought to transform their own times. Let their memory inspire us in these challenging times.

Celebrate the Vaccine and Make Time to Grieve These Horrific Losses

As I write this, vaccine shipments are being transported across the country. Soon, our health care workers will gain some basic protection, and then many of our friends and neighbors will have the opportunity to be vaccinated against this awful virus. This is certainly worth celebrating, and we should admire the scientific ingenuity and sheer hard work of those who have made this possible.

At the same time, we should acknowledge that in the coming weeks, in America alone, tens of thousands will die from the effects of Covid-19. Many already seemed to be inured to these horrific losses. Every day this country sets a new record for the number of deaths caused by the pandemic. Everyday, families and friends are dealing with loss and grief.

So, let’s celebrate the scientists, the health care workers, and those delivering the vaccines that should change the course of the pandemic. Let’s also be mindful of those around us  dealing with the losses of these last months and the losses to come.

And let us stay vigilant to get through this harsh winter. Masks, distance, hand washing.


December 1st is #GivingTuesday!

More and more we are living our lives online, and I can imagine it isn’t very inviting to face one more task on one’s computer. BUT supporting organizations one admires on a national giving day should be inviting! Tomorrow, December 1st, is Giving Tuesday, and once again Wesleyan is participating. In the wake of Black Friday’s and Cyber Monday’s shopping mania, several years ago Henry Timms, then executive director of the 92nd Street Y, came up with the idea of a national philanthropic day. Henry is now president of Lincoln Center, and #GivingTuesday is an independent organization headed by the ever creative Asha Curran. Hundreds of millions of dollars are sent to worthy organizations through this “global generosity movement.”

This is Wesleyan’s seventh year participating, and over this  time, thousands of Wesleyan alumni, parents, students and friends have chosen to make donations. Together, we have unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for financial aid.

This year Trustee Andrew Vogel ’95 will match every gift made on #GivingTuesday, December 1st, with a dollar-for-dollar contribution, up to $50,000, for Financial Aid.  When Wesleyan alumni join in collective action to support students we can accomplish so much! You can make your donation here.

I hope you will be giving to your favorite causes tomorrow, and I am especially hopeful that Wesleyan will be among them. Also, don’t forget about WESUFM, and other university initiatives. There are many worthy causes out there, and this university is very grateful for every gift we receive.

Dedicated Gratitude

As Kari, Lola and I walked around campus this weekend, we saw many students packing up. Since Wesleyan decided to transition to remote classes a few days early, and since it’s good to isolate before Thanksgiving, we were not surprised to see students preparing to leave, having, we hope, received a negative COVID test in the last day or two. Still, I felt a pang of sadness as I watched the cars fill up with suitcases and furniture. It is already quieter. Even during the pandemic, the energy students bring to campus – masked, distanced and all – has been so enlivening.

“Enlivening” is a fine word for Wesleyan – and by it I mean something more than making the campus “appealing” or “entertaining,” which the dictionary tells me are the primary meanings of the word. I mean that our students, in concert with staff and faculty, make our campus come alive. They make it sing, and I’ll miss the amplitude and resonance of that song over the coming break. Of course, there will be some students on campus over the break, and we’ll do our best to support them. I’ll listen attentively to their singing until our friends return to our chorus when the next semester begins.

Enlivening is a good word, too, because it reminds us of our responsibility to keep one another safe, to keep the most vulnerable members of our community – literally – alive. More than a quarter of a million people in this country alone have died due to COVID-19. We should never lose our ability to be shocked by this public health tragedy. We can do better.

As we remember our losses, we should also remember our achievements: how we at Wesleyan pulled together over the last months to provide a “safe enough” place for liberal education. I am so grateful for the dedication of our staff, faculty and students, because it’s that dedication that made it possible for us to have a campus on which we could navigate with confidence, make new discoveries and find joy with friends.

I feel enlivened by that dedication. Here we may be masked, but we are not anonymous to one another. We connect, despite the pandemic restrictions. With all the tumult around us, I am so thankful for the efforts, the exuberance, and the caring attentiveness of the Wesleyan community. My Thanksgiving will be smaller this year, but my heart is filled with gratitude.

Wishing you a safe and joyful holiday!

Towards a Healthy Thanksgiving and End of the Semester

For those of us on campus, we have two weeks of classes and residential life before the Thanksgiving holiday and long winter break. Kari and I have been very impressed with the mask wearing on campus. When we walk around with puppy Lola, folks are keeping their distance, though we also see people exercising, eating meals, and generally hanging out in small groups. It’s seemed safe enough, though everyone is conscious that the safety is fragile, and that we must remain vigilant against the spread of Covid.

Of course, now we are in mid-November, and the spread of the pandemic is accelerating around the country. Even Connecticut, which had been very successful in keeping the virus more or less under control, has seen an increase in the number of cases over the last month. For that reason, we have restricted our students to campus for all but essential local travel, making sure we maximize our chances to keep contagion at bay. There has been a moderate increase in positive tests over the past week, and so we want to be especially vigilant for these last 10 days. Wear your masks, maintain social distance, and keep washing your hands thoroughly—wherever you are. And of course, avoid large groups and keep your testing schedule as long as you are on campus. We want everyone to have a healthy holiday, and the Connecticut Department of Public Health has issued a holiday gathering preparation guide with good advice to reduce risk associated with holiday celebrations.

The last weeks of every semester can be stressful, and they can also be rewarding. Let’s stay healthy and get the reward of a more relaxing, healthy, holiday break.


Acknowledging Our Veterans

Today, November 11th, is Veterans Day, a great time to acknowledge the service of the many in the Wesleyan community who have served in the U.S. armed forces. In 1918, the Armistice was signed on November 11th, and after that brutal conflict that left tens of millions dead and wounded, the world hoped to put war behind us. Alas, that was not to be, and over the last hundred years we have at various times depended on servicemen and servicewomen to step into the breach.

There are now more than three million post-9/11 veterans, and many of them want to continue their education after leaving the service. About seven years ago, Wesleyan began partnering with the Posse Foundation to recruit veterans interested in a liberal education at the highest level. These students have contributed immeasurably to our campus culture, and I am very grateful for their participation in all dimensions of campus life. A few years after beginning our partnership with Posse, we began recruiting faculty members with military experience and academic expertise teach at Wesleyan. The divide between civilian and military culture does a disservice to both, and Professors Robert Cassidy and Joseph Slaughter make many contributions inside and outside the classroom.

You can read about a few of our Posse Veteran students here, and learn more about the research and teaching of Professors Cassidy and Slaughter on our website. Wishing all a good Veterans Day!