We Don’t Have to Live this Way

The news is gut wrenching. I have been visiting my 94-year-old mother and suddenly we heard the awful bulletin of children being shot. This time Texas. This time also a teacher; this time also a grandmother.

Many commentators have underscored that the United States is alone among industrialized countries to prioritize access to guns over things like health care and public safety. As the Washington Post noted today, “since Sandy Hook, the nation has experienced more than 3,500 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks gun violence and defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured.”

But we don’t have to accept this. As Nicholas Kristof has written, if we took a public safety approach to guns, as we do, say, with cars, we have every opportunity to use common sense measures to reduce the lethal consequences of gun violence. Here’s a section of his essay:

“What would a public health approach look like for guns if it were modeled after cars? It would include:

Background checks

22 percent of guns are obtained without one

Protection orders

Keep men who are subject to domestic violence protection orders from having guns.

Ban under-21s

A ban on people under 21 purchasing firearms (this is already the case in many states).

Safe storage

These include trigger locks as well as guns and ammunition stored separately, especially when children are in the house.

Straw purchases

Tighter enforcement of laws on straw purchases of weapons, and some limits on how many guns can be purchased in a month.

Ammunition checks

Experimentation with a one-time background check for anybody buying ammunition.

End immunity

End immunity for firearm companies. That’s a subsidy to a particular industry.

Ban bump stocks

A ban on bump stocks of the kind used in Las Vegas to mimic automatic weapon fire.

Research ‘smart guns’

“Smart guns” fire only after a fingerprint or PIN is entered, or if used near a particular bracelet.”

When I look back on my blog over the years, I see how many times I have had to write about guns, killing, and our failure to enact sensible public safety regulations. Wesleyan historian Jennifer Tucker is just launching a Center for the Study of Guns and Society. Perhaps by understanding our history, we can develop sensible policies for reducing gun violence. What could be more urgent than protecting children from another school massacre?

White Supremacy, Guns, Murder

How to respond to yet another mass shooting? First, we can express sorrow and convey our sympathies to those immediately affected by the violence. The black Buffalo community that was attacked yesterday is suffering, and it will take a long time to heal. Compassion for their anguish is the least we can offer, and we do so with heavy hearts.

And we can join in condemning hate and the awful malice that lies at the core of this mass shooting — keeping in mind what happened in Buffalo yesterday was not just some generic form of hate. Given what we know about the alleged shooter’s motivations, it was politically inspired, racist violence. The ideology behind it, white supremacist replacement theory, is promulgated by important voices in the mainstream media. Its core tenets speak to the fears and resentments of contemporary neo-fascists in this country and around the world. In a country awash with the weapons of mass killing, these are murderous ideas. These are ideas that we who are committed to education must fight.

There will be a time for reflection, analysis and policy recommendations. Today is a time for mourning the lives lost, the wounds of the Buffalo community, and the persistence of violent anti-black racism in our country.

Women’s Tennis Champs!!

What a thrilling afternoon I spent yesterday watching the Women’s tennis team mount a come-from-behind victory over a very good Middlebury team! We were behind going into singles play, despite our strong doubles teams. Yet, the Cardinal women pulled it out, with a culminating win by senior Venia Yeung ’22. It was a very close third set, and the tennis was at a wonderfully high level. With both teams standing at the adjacent court and the crowd cheering, Venia served out to win the NESCAC Championship. It’s three-peat for Mike Fried’s team, and a continuation of their undefeated season. WOW!

On the the NCAA Tournament! Go Wes!!

Wesleyan Weekend

So many events — from playoff competition in lacrosse to orchestral music, dance, hip hop and theater. I’m going to see Horse Girls on Sunday (I even have a small pre-recorded part), and will catch CFA events as best I can. Sailors and rowers are on the water, runners and jumpers are at NESCAC events, and recitals are all around us. Check out these and more:


What a great weekend for the 50th reunions of the classes of 1970 and 1971. Their years on campus were marked by disruption, turbulence and more than a little uncertainty about the future. Sound familiar? I’ve enjoyed my conversations with them and look forward to more.

You can see more 50th Reunion photos here.


Little Three Champs in Baseball and Women’s Lacrosse

Now that the WesFest visits have concluded (what great groups of young people were on campus this month!), I want to use the blog to congratulate two teams that won Little Three Championships this spring. The baseball team won its first championship in six years after claiming wins against Amherst and Williams a few weeks ago.

You can catch the next game on Dresser Diamond on Friday afternoon.

The Women’s Lacrosse team is having a stellar season and is ranked 11th in the country. This spring they beat Amherst and Williams handily. As our athletics website reminds us: Wesleyan’s third Little Three title in the past four seasons signals the massive evolution of the program in recent years. Prior to 2017, the Cardinals had won the Little Three just three times and went without one for 34 straight seasons (1983-2016).  

The women head to Connecticut College for their final game of the regular season. Watch for them in the playoffs!

These spring season Little Three Champs join the championship women’s tennis team — which remains undefeated! All Wes teams are a joy to watch and make us proud!

How to Choose A (Our) University

Throughout the spring, high school seniors with the acceptance letters in hand are once again visiting campuses as they try to decide where to attend college. They are trying to envision the school at which they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? As I do each spring, I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on choosing a college. We have been hosting many campus visitors, and tomorrow we begin three WesFest FridaysI invite you to visit our Admitted Students website to learn more about Wesleyan.

In the wake of the pandemic, many students today are wondering what campus life will be like in the fall. At Wesleyan we are planning for a normal university year. Sure, we expect to continue to take health precautions, including ensuring that all students are vaccinated and boosted before they begin the semester. Of course, we will monitor the pandemic’s course throughout the coming months.

For many, the decision about where to attend college will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low, and we have replaced them with grants for high need families. We also offer a three-year program that allows families to save about 20 percent of their total expenses, while still earning the same number of credits.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, are popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. If one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Pomona?

As students scan the Wesleyan website, go to chatrooms and listen to current students talk about their experiences, I hope they feel the brave exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I would like prospective students to get a sense of our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life. Our students have the courage to find new combinations of subjects to study, of people to meet, of challenges to face.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out of their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk to admitted students a few years ago:

We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into, but even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody. We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping their disciplines. At Wesleyan, we know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 40 years. I’ll bet the magic will appeal to many of those who are still in the process of getting to know our extraordinary university.

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.