The Other Pandemic Returns: Gun Violence

In the last week, we have been reminded again what “normal” looks like in America—18 people gunned down in two incidents separated by many miles but linked by the all-too-familiar presence of weapons of mass killing in the hands of angry young men. A policeman and a masseuse, a small business owner and a young worker are among the many people who left home one morning to go about their business and then encountered deadly violence unleashed on them without reason.

Atlanta and Boulder are cities to add to the sad list of places where ordinary Americans paid the price for the cowardice of politicians in the pocket of a gun lobby that sees any restrictions on access to lethal weapons as an infringement on….its business interests and the Second Amendment with which they shield those interests. We need sensible gun safety legislation, and most Americans support this. As Wesleyan historian Jennifer Tucker has been showing for many years now, basic gun regulations have been seen as fundamental to a healthy society at least since the founding of the republic. As Prof. Tucker argued in a 2015 op-ed with Matt Miller:  “Firearm violence is a public health crisis no less serious than those associated with automobiles. Our experience with autos and pollution shows that, along with other measures, sensible gun regulations could save lives.

Many societies have angry young men, and many have been plagued by combinations of hatred and mental illness that seem to afflict too many Americans. But the United States fuels a pandemic of violence with the business of gun access, creating a pandemic which shows no sign of abating. We could slow it down, however. All we have to do is pass gun safety regulations that would make it more challenging for those filled with rage to inflict harm on innocent people trying to go about their lives.


Stop the Violence Against Asian-Americans!

We learned with horror of the killing of eight people in the Atlanta area, and we are now once again moved to wonder at how hate and guns are combined in mass killing. The facts in this case are still being sorted out, but it is clear that six of the victims were Asian-American women. It is also clear that there has been a horrific increase in violence against Asian-Americans, especially seniors, in various part of the United States. Racism has many forms in this country, we know. When it turns so deadly, we must renew our efforts to stand together to combat it.

Wesleyan stands in solidarity with those who reject the politics of fear and hatred that fuels this latest form of racist violence. Let us defend our Asian and Asian-American brothers and sisters living in this country, let us pass sensible gun safety legislation, and let us condemn these attacks and all attempts to sow fear and division.

We must do better.



One Year In: Loss and Learning Together

Looking back at some of my blog entries in March 2020, I was struck by the rapidly increasing urgency of my communications to the campus community, and the evolving understanding of the seriousness of the situation in which we all found ourselves. On March 1st I actually posted a book review I wrote on ruins, and little did I know how apt that would seem just a short time later. On March 31st I wrote about our Design and Engineering program making face shields for first responders. In between there were many messages about how we were moving classes online and striving to protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

A year later, I am filled with sadness for all of us who have suffered losses over the last twelve months, and I am filled with gratitude for the many contributions of our students, staff, faculty and alumni as we navigated the crisis. As I say in this video message, we must remain vigilant and strive to limit opportunities for virus transmission, but we can also see in the not-so-distant future a return to campus life of supportive intimacy rather than social distancing. It isn’t here yet, but with lots of hard work, cooperation, and some good luck, we should get there.


International Women’s Day

Just a quick shout out to my women colleagues in the Wesleyan Cabinet and beyond on International Women’s Day. Anne Martin (Chief-Investment Officer); Andrea Patalano (Chair of the Faculty);  Nicole Stanton (Provost), Alison Williams (VP for Equity and Inclusion); Renell Wynn (VP for Communications). I am so fortunate to work closely with such talented women leaders.

Speaking of talented colleagues, our team in the President’s Office does whatever it takes to keep Wesleyan moving in the right direction: Heather Brooke, Dina Burghardt and Lisa Prokop.

The pandemic has placed many additional burdens on women, and I count my lucky stars that here at Wesleyan our women colleagues ensure that the university stays on track to fulfill its mission.

Thank you!



Recognizing Wesleyan Staff

It takes so many smart, caring people to make a university run well! Here at Wesleyan, we are very fortunate to have a staff that works hard to provide students and faculty with an environment in which they can thrive. Every year, they keep the campus beautiful, enhance the technology, and provide us with the foundation on which we can all learn together.

The first Friday of March is Employee Appreciation Day, and so if you see a Wesleyan staff member, give a distanced “thank you!” for all the hard work they’ve put in to making everything possible at the university.


A Sad Milestone for Remembrance

We have seen today many acknowledgments of the losses that the Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted on our country. More than 500,000 deaths in the last year–a horrific number that is so difficult to put in any reasonable perspective. So many of those deaths occurred in isolation, and for those who mourn, the disruption of our rituals of grief only compounds the pain. President Biden urged us this evening to resist becoming numb to the sorrow and to find purpose in the work we have left to do to end this pandemic. Remember and heal.

Today at Wesleyan we ended our beginning of the semester quarantine. I was so pleased to meet with my students face-to-face, and to talk with them about enduring questions concerning values and ethics, reverence and love that were as relevant a thousand years ago as they are today. We turned our attention to history, even as we thought about tomorrow.

Let us all turn our attention to the losses so many have suffered over the last year, let us find comfort and bring solace where we can. While we pay our respects with remembrance, may we remain vigilant about preventing more losses in the future. May we find common purpose and even some joy in keeping our community safe.


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.