Thinking About Movies in Black History Month

Wesleyan students, staff and faculty have been mounting a series of interesting events and discussions to mark Black History Month. This week the College of Film and the Moving Image continues its film series Awareness 17 with a showing of 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay on the intertwining of race and mass incarceration. I first heard about the film from Jelani Cobb, who visited Wesleyan not long ago to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, freedom of speech and campus politics. Michelle Alexander’s work has an important role in the movie — the Wes class of 2020 read her The New Jim Crow before coming to campus this year. The film is being shown Tuesday, February 21st at 8:00 pm in the Powell Family Cinema. Prof. Charles Barber will lead a talk back after the screening.

I am traveling and will be meeting with many members of our Los Angeles alumni film community early in the coming week. Unfortunately, that means I will miss the campus screening of 13th. Kari and I did manage to see another powerful documentary on race, politics and social justice recently. I Am Not Your Negro is a searing film that is inspired by the life and work of James Baldwin. Wesleyan faculty member and New York Times chief film critic A.O. Scott had this to say about it: “Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind.”

At Wesleyan, we have much rethinking to do about race —  about white supremacy and the resistance to it. Doing so will help us take concrete steps to make our campus community a more equitable and inclusive place. This would be the best outcome of Black History Month.


Welcome Back!

It’s great to see students back on campus despite the bad weather, and I’m looking forward to the start of classes – as I always do! The cold over these next days will doubtless provide an encouragement to stay indoors and get a good start on the kind of highly productive work that distinguishes faculty and students at Wesleyan.  🙂

Over the break the Wes community has surely done some celebrating, but faculty have also been preparing their classes, doing their research, and working on various educational projects. I’d like to extend a special thanks to those faculty who have been spending some time on camera to help us prepare our new Coursera class: How to Change the World.

Some students got an early start to the semester with our Winter Session and Winter on Wyllys programs. The interest shown by students augurs well for the future of these programs. And of course many of our athletes have been here competing vigorously.

Great teaching makes Wesleyan the outstanding liberal arts institution that it is, and in that regard I’m so pleased to announce that Quiara Alegría Hudes, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, will be the new Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater for three years beginning in the fall of 2014. Quiara served as a visiting playwright in 2012, and I have no doubt those of you who met her then will share my excitement about the return of this gifted artist. Also, noted New York Times film critic A.O. Scott will be teaching this semester in our brand-new College of Film and the Moving Image, a marvelous opportunity for the students selected for his criticism class.

Last week I joined leaders from 100 universities and 40 nonprofit groups at the White House to discuss improving access to higher education. There is no greater challenge facing higher education because research has shown that far too many highly capable students from lower-income families are not enrolling in selective universities and colleges. It’s essential that we do a better job of finding and enrolling these students if we’re going to make progress in addressing the growing economic divide in this country.

Wesleyan will do its part. We are committed to increasing the number of QuestBridge scholars on campus – low-income and first-generation students who receive full scholarships.

We will work to expand efforts to retain students from under-represented groups in STEM fields, including development of a summer bridge program and more introductory science courses revamped to support retention, as successfully demonstrated by the biology department. We’ve also partnered with the Posse Foundation to enroll 10 military veterans each year, and last week I celebrated with our first “posse” in New York. These students will join the class of 2018 in September, adding to the rich diversity of our student body.

As the new semester begins, Wesleyan renews its commitment to boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.  Welcome back!