Weekend Warriors (and actors, singers, dancers)

Wesleyan opens its home football season tomorrow. I hope to see a big crowd at Corwin Stadium as the Cardinals match up against Hamilton. Last week, the Wes squad started the season with a big 35-14 win over Tufts. Quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 had an outstanding day, as did the running attack behind fellow-sophomores LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson. Jake Bussani ’14 had a great game on defense, earning NESCAC defensive player of the week honors. Come on out to Andrus Field tomorrow for a 1 o’clock kickoff.

Both women’s and men’s soccer are home tomorrow against Middlebury, with the women starting off at 11 am, and the men taking the field at 2:30 pm. Both teams have been superb on defense, with the goalies being particularly strong. Jessica Tollman ’15 and Rachel Hobert ’16 are impressive — not to mention intimidating — in net. Adam Purdy ’13 continues to add to his storied career this year, having already notched four shutouts this season. The mighty field hockey team plays Middlebury at noon, having just been victorious against Williams and Mount Holyoke. Tori Redding ’13 has been outstanding in goal for Wesleyan!

After all the excitement on the playing fields, there will be plenty more in the theaters and concert halls. Zach Libresco ’13 presents Sam Shepard’s True West at 8 pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. And Voices of Afghanistan will be at Crowell. Dance, you ask? Do you really have to ask? Go to Westco, or just twirl, just twirl.

Artful Weekend, Artful Weeks Ahead (don’t forget to THINK BIG!)

It’s the season for senior thesis writers to be burning the midnight oil. In a couple of weeks these projects will be handed in to advisors and multiple readers, and then it will be the faculty burning the oil as we carefully read through the arguments, stories, proofs, and poems on which  students have been working for the last several months.

Many students preparing recitals, plays and exhibitions have already had to complete their work so that it can be scheduled for performance and display. Yesterday I checked out the student senior exhibitions in the Zilkha Gallery, and boy was I impressed! My first impression was of Sienna Perro’s subtle yet disturbing photographs of funeral homes. Her sober approach to the material only heightened the emotional power of the work. I had a chance to chat with Kuan-lin Huang about his wonderful installation. Kuan-lin used sculpture, sound and projected images to call to mind the tension between individuality and submergence in the group. I didn’t meet the other artists, but I was mightily impressed by the architectural installation (Gil Sunshine), the magically realist painting of family correspondences (Elizabeth Chabot), and the minimalist cartography installation (Johnny Tan). I think the work will be up for a short part of Sunday afternoon (April 1). The next wave of senior exhibitions opens on Tuesday.

My afternoon on Saturday was enriched by a marvelous concert that was part of Sam Long’s senior thesis in music and environmental studies. Sam’s band, The Honey and the Sting, played original music composed in response to the Connecticut River Valley.

The music was gorgeous, and the lyrics were smart, funny and evocative. Jess Best 12, Mel Hsu ’13, Howe Pearson ’12 and Gemma Smith ’12 gave heartfelt and compelling performances. Although I know the band members had originally wanted to perform outside (with bike-generator powered amplification), the vibe in the Chapel was just right.

Some mighty vibes these days in Memorial Chapel. Last week’s Think Big lectures featuring an all-star faculty line-up was exciting, provocative and fun. Joshua Levine ’12 and his comrades Hannah Vogel ’13, Jack Hoskins ’12, Max Nussenbaum ’12 and Maxwell Hellmann ’13 did a fabulous job organizing the event.

Don’t they look like they are thinking BIG? Pictured here are Leah Wright, Rich Adelstein, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Matt Kurtz, Jeanine Basinger and John Finn. In their 9 minute talks, the profs talked about what engages them most as researchers and teachers. I had a great time moderating the event. There will be more pics and videos posted soon.

Taiko drumming seems to be happening at various places on campus this weekend. And last night I also got to hear a staggering performance by Dylan Griffin ’12 of Schubert’s Impromptus and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Listening to Dylan play, I was so happy to be at a university at which student performance is so seriously accomplished and so highly valued!


Break? What Break? Research Continues…(Part One)

In early January each year, many students (and more than a few parents) start wondering about the length of the Wesleyan winter break. The holidays are over, and yet the semester won’t start for another few weeks. Although the campus is quiet (and just now, very cold), there are students in the library, the gym and the science labs already hard at work. The winter sports teams have been playing and practicing as they get ready for intense conference competition, and science research continues regardless of whether classes are in session.

And then there is that special class of students busily working on their senior theses and essays. Though most of these won’t be due until April, the winter break is a crucial time to make significant progress on challenging research topics. I’ve asked around for some examples of theses and essays in various sectors of the curriculum, and here is a sampling. I’ll be adding more later in the week.

In Theater, Sarah Wolfe is working on a thesis project entitled “The Role of Women in the War Play: Euripides The Trojan Women.”  In her essay, Sarah explores how adaptations of The Trojan Women have been used as anti-war plays in America, and she did her own adaptation with the play Lift Your Head, which was staged in December.  Emily Steck examines “the world’s oldest profession” by focusing on female transgression and agency through the lens of the whore in the performances of Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes, Mae West, and Annie Sprinkle.

In Literature, Laura Bliss is writing about Wallace Stevens’s late poems, especially those collected in Transport to Summer. Laura combines creative non-fiction with more traditional literary critical analysis to explore the way Stevens treats the idea and experience of summer. This sounds particularly good right now!  Brianna van Kan is writing a thesis about the underground culture of jazz in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s.  She will bring together all three of her majors (Russian, COL and Music) for this project. Christopher Wade is doing a poetry thesis that involves translation, literary analysis, and poetry writing, focusing on two major Russian poets. Matthew Alexander is translating Lost Modern Love, a postmodern play by Lord Schadt that he will also direct in a spring production.

In Music, Alan Rodi has written (that’s right, it’s finished) an opera about Mao Tse Tung. The characters are Mao, his wife, and a peasant couple who are trying to be good revolutionaries. Sean Curtice is  composing a piano concerto in the style of Mozart, and writing a paper about the Mozart piano concerti. Lana Lana is writing a big paper on Amir Pasaribu, the first modern composer of Indonesia, in the sense of writing a distinctive music that combines European techniques and instruments with Indonesian techniques and instruments.

In philosophy Sid Issar is writing a comparative study of Spinoza and Bhagavad Gita. In Science in Society, Kelsey Vela is doing an empirical study of the ways that experimental psychologists report on the race of their subjects. Erin Kelly is using case studies to examine the evolution of federal drug regulations in mid-twentieth century America and the influence of these regulations on contemporary medicine. Chris Russell is examining the standards of justification applied to the evidential uses of forensic technologies in criminal and civil trials.  Charlie Hanna is examining the introduction and reception of the most recent class of sleep medications, given FDA approval in 2001. He is charting the FDA approval process, the subsequent experimental and empirical reports on the medication, patients’ responses and media coverage.

As I said, this is just a sampling of some of the impressive work our students are doing for their capstone projects. I’ll be adding more examples that the Deans collected later in the week.

Theater Dept Presents THE GREAT GOD BROWN

This week Wesleyan’s Theater Department presents The Great God Brown by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Yuriy Kordonskiy. The expressionistic play explores the intersections of art, identity, desire and public meaning. Check out the preview:


I know the week before Thanksgiving is crunch time for many Wes students, but you shouldn’t miss this production in the CFA Theater. It runs from Wednesday night through the weekend. Tickets are available by phone (860-685-3355) or online at http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=24317.


Writers Among Us!

There are so many extraordinary writers coming through campus these days that I find it hard to keep up. James Kaplan ’73 came back to campus last week to talk about his new Frank Sinatra biography The Voice. Kaplan was an art major at Wes and has gone on to a distinguished writing career. Alas, I was out of town visiting with alumni, but I hear it was a wonderful reading. Sarah Ruhl, a MacArthur genius award winner whose Vibrator Play shook up Broadway last year, talked to a large crowd in the Chapel. She also met with students who are currently rehearsing her Melancholy Play, directed by Michael Rau ’05. Performances are scheduled for February 24, 25, 26th. How exciting it must have been for the performers to talk with the writer about their interpretation of her work!

The feast continued this week with Liz Lerman reading from her new Wesleyan Press Book, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer. Liz has been working with Wesleyan students and faculty for years, and it was great to hear from her “notes.” Liz’s artistic practice is predicated on breaking down the boundaries between media and between disciplines. At Wesleyan, she has worked closely with scientists on embodied learning, and this work has resulted in some remarkable dance pieces. Be on the lookout for the performances from her group later this semester.

Tonight, February 16 at 8 in the Chapel, Michael Cunningham will be on campus as the Annie Sonnenblick Lecturer. Cunningham, the author of several novels, including The Hours and the recent By Nightfall, will read from his work and then be on campus for a couple of days to offer master classes for Wesleyan students. It will be thrilling for our young writers to talk with Cunningham about his fiction and his work for film.

These events are just a sample of the creative writing energy that is percolating on campus. The English Department and the Writing Certificate Program, the Koeppel Visiting Professor in Journalism and the Kim-Frank University Writer in Residence are all catalysts for new student writing. On top of it all, Amy Bloom offers regular opportunities in the Shapiro Creative Writing Center to meet together to discuss how to get that sentence just right. Now there’s something I should be attending!

Inspiration Not Contamination

This weekend the College of the Environment is co-hosting an important conference on Carbon Pricing. We are welcoming scientists, public policy experts, and elected officials (including 4 representatives from Congress) who will be discussing a broad range of topics. Wesleyan students will also be participating with the more than 500 registrants. It’s inspiring to see the COE already participating at a level that will advance our understanding and our capacity for action.

This weekend the Theater Department is mounting Shakespeare’s  The Tragedy of Richard III, directed by David Jaffe, and I had the great pleasure of seeing it last night. As part of their honors theses in Theater, Emma Sherr-Ziarko and Ben Vigus both played the diabolical Richard. They were marvelous, as was the rest of the cast. The play is dipped in blood and paranoia, and part of its tragedy is the failure of almost all the characters to see the murderous rage that has contaminated their lives. The rage is self-consuming in Richard, as paranoia must be. The paranoia is Richard’s but so is the murderous intent. He must be defeated.

I’m not sure I should draw any connections between the conference and the play except to say that they both represent work at the highest level. Some people I respect see fear about climate change as paranoia or worse. Others I admire see murderous intent or lethal apathy in our failure to confront looming environmental disaster. In any case, it’s my hope that this weekend at Wes you can find inspiration not contamination, whether you spend your time with Shakespeare’s villain or with friends in search of ecological understanding and responsible action.

Coming Home to Wesleyan

I returned to Middletown late Tuesday night after my annual fall break trip out West. This year I spent a couple of days in Denver visiting with alumni before heading to my old stomping grounds in the Bay Area. In Colorado I saw some happy Wes parents and our two candidates for state-wide office, Michael Bennet ’87 and John Hickenlooper ’74. They both have serious races on their hands, and I was impressed with the fervor and the organization of their teams. I met some recent graduates who are committed to public service as well as alumni from decades ago who have combined very successful careers with deep civic engagement. Colorado is Wesleyan country.

In San Francisco Jack Mitchell ’61 hosted a Wes gathering in his store, Wilkes Bashford, in the Union Square district. About 100 local Cardinals came out to hear what’s happening on campus. They are eager to learn more about what faculty and students are up to — eager to understand how what made Wesleyan such a special place in their day is continuing now in new and exciting ways. As I returned to campus, I was busy re-reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I had assigned my students for The Modern and the Post-Modern. Going to class Wednesday morning to talk about knowledge and intimacy, consciousness and gender, dynamic change and aesthetic contemplation, I was so grateful to be back on a campus where literature, ideas and history could be expected to prompt intelligent, sustained engagement from a large group of students.  At a time when one reads a lot about the crisis in the humanities, I am always encouraged by my encounters with Wes students.

In just a day or so there will be a few thousand folks coming home to campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend. Here are just a few of the events we have planned: the opening celebration for our new College of Environment that includes a Friday reception and two seminars on Saturday; an evening with Bill Cosby to support the Green Street Arts Center (Sold Out); The Dwight L. Green Symposium “Media Innovation and Democracy” featuring Alberto Ibarguen ’66;  Athletics Hall of Fame induction/dinner on Saturday night (Sold Out); and 17 Wes Seminars on Friday and Saturday on subjects ranging from music to war, from food to archaeology in Middletown. Broadway star Lin Manuel Miranda brings his  Freestyle Love Supreme on Saturday for a sold out hip-hop, improv, rap, concert. The complete schedule is online.

On Friday I have the pleasure of welcoming Trustees Emeriti back to campus for a reunion and a series of discussions. In addition to getting their advice on a number of the important issues facing Wesleyan, I’m sure we will catch some of the action as our Wes athletes take part in a great weekend of competition. Things get underway in the Silloway Gymnasium Friday night as the volleyball squad takes the court against Trinity. Runners, field hockey, soccer and football players will all be fighting for the Red&Black, while the crew teams are busy this weekend at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

If you can’t make it back to campus this weekend, look for clips of the various events online in the coming weeks. We’ll use the Wesleyan YouTube channel and iTunes University to share the excitement!


Recognition, Acknowledgment and Celebration

Today I attended the luncheon to acknowledge the winners of the Roger Maynard Scholar-Athlete Award. Beth Kenworthy (Soccer – Neuroscience & Behavior), Clare Smith (Lacrosse – Science in Society), Jory Kahan (Soccer – Neuroscience & Behavior), and Keisuke Yamashita (Soccer — Math/Economics) were this year’s winners. Their stellar academic work and extraordinary athletic performance were described by their coaches and academic advisors. Congratulations to these wonderful Wes students and their families!

This weekend I’m sorry to miss The Mystery of Irma Veep, directed by Professor Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento. The comedy is part of actor Mark McCloughan’s senior thesis, and I’ve heard great things about it. The show is in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Speaking of theses, I know that many will be burning the midnight oil over the weekend. Good luck to you, as well as to those giving recitals (like Vicki Cheng, who will be singing German Lieder and Jazz Saturday afternoon in Russell House).

Staying with the theme of recognition and acknowledgment, Kari and I will join in the celebration of the wedding of my esteemed assistant, Joan Adams, to her long-time partner Mary Rustico. Joan has been part of the Wesleyan family for years, and we are delighted to join with her and Mary as they make their vows (and dance up a storm!).

[tags]Roger Maynard Scholar-Athlete Award, Clare Smith, Beth Kenworthy, Jory Kahan, Keisuke Yamashita, Mark McCloughan, Vicki Cheng, Joan Adams, Mary Rustico, senior theses, The Mystery of Irma Veep, German Lieder[/tags]

Home Games, Great Performances

This is the first weekend in more than a month that I’ve been able to be on campus. I thought it would be pretty quiet, but it was anything but. The excitement came through the great performances of our lacrosse, baseball and softball teams, all of which turned in outstanding efforts here at home.

The baseball team looked extremely impressive in taking a double-header from Amherst. Pitchers Brett Yarusi ’12 and Derek Lukin ’13 kept a lid on the powerful team from the north, and Chris Bonti ’13 smashed a three-run homer. The game ended with a perfect double-play to snuff out an Amherst rally.

Great endings also ruled in men’s lacrosse and women’s softball. The lacrosse team had an improbable come-from-behind win over Bates, with three goals in the final minutes. When Teddy Citrin ’12 scooped in the game-winner with just over 3 seconds left, we all went wild.

We did the same on the frozen field as the Wes Women beat Bates in extra-innings in game 1 of a double-header. Each time Bates went ahead, the Cardinals came up with our own great plays. Meaghan Dendy ’10, who always comes through in the clutch, scampered home on a wild pitch. In the second game, Wes erased a 12 run deficit and Dana Levy ’12 punched in the winning run in the 7th inning.

From athletics to the arts, this has been an exciting couple of days. But no rest for the weary. Kari and I are looking forward to hearing Hansel Tan ’10 and the Wesleyan Ensemble Singers tomorrow at 8 pm in Memorial Chapel. It should be a great evening of adventurous music. There are sure to be more great endings!

[tags]Meaghan Dendy ’10, Dana Levy ’12, Brett Yarusi ’12, Derek Lukin ’13, Chris Bonti ’13, Teddy Citrin ’12, Hansel Tan ’10, Wesleyan Ensemble Singers[/tags]

Winter’s Spring Attractions

Although the temperature was below 20 degrees this morning when I walked to my office, what we call the spring semester is now fully underway. The campus is still blanketed in white, but the icy New England weather makes the snowy landscape deceptively slippery.

One of the most exciting bits of news we had over break was the extraordinary number of applications we’ve received for next year. More than 10,000 students have asked for a place in the class of 2013, a surge of well over 20% from last year. As many of you know, our Early Decision Applications were up over 30%, and we’ve now learned than most of our peer institutions are not seeing anything like this spike in interest. It’s a lot more work for the tireless group in the Admissions Office, but the fact that more and more people are hearing about the great things going on at Wesleyan is very good news indeed.

As I look around at the amazing array of courses offered this term, I can well understand why so many want a crack at a Wesleyan education. Here are just a few examples I’ve taken from the catalogue:

The 60s: Henry Abelove
This course will focus on the 1960’s in the United States. Topics to be considered will include: the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the Goldwater conservative movement, gay liberation, second-wave feminism, pop art, the New York School poets, Judson School dance, the new journalism, tendencies and developments within American Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, student movements, the Black Power movement, the rise of Asian American and Latino/a cultural nationalisms, electoral politics, environmentalism, Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum, the Cuban missile crisis, the counter-culture.

Developmental Neurobiology: Jan Naegele
Near the top of the list of unsolved mysteries in biology is the enigma of how the brain constructs itself. Here is an organ that can make us feel happy, sad, amused, and in love. It responds to light, touch, and sound; it learns; it organizes movements; it controls bodily functions. An understanding of how this structure is constructed during embryonic and postnatal development has begun to emerge from molecular-genetic, cellular, and physiological studies. In this course, we will discuss some of the important events in building the brain and explore the role of genes and the environment in shaping the brain. With each topic in this journey, we will ask what the roles of genes and the environment are in forming the nervous system. We will also discuss developmental disorders resulting from developmental processes that have gone astray.

Zombies as Other from Haiti to Hollywood: Liza McAlister
The Afro-Creole religion of the Haitian majority is a complex system of inherited roles and rituals that Afro-Creole people remembered and created during and after plantation slavery. Called “serving the spirits,” or “Vodou,” this religion and cultural system continues as a spiritual method and family obligation in Haiti and its diaspora, and draws constantly on new symbols and ideas. A small part of Vodou mythology involves the zonbi: a part of the soul captured and forced to work. Vodou, and especially the zonbi, has also captured the imagination of Hollywood and television, and the entertainment industry has produced numerous films and television episodes, and now computer games, with “Zombie” themes. …What constitutes the thought and practice of Haitian zonbi? How is the Zombie represented in American media?…

Of course, I could list dozens of other classes from various parts of the curriculum that I would love to take, or others that are rather intimidating.  From the most traditional to the most experimental, you can find it all. I make my own small contribution to this list. After giving a seminar on photography and philosophy in the fall, this term I have my large class, The Past on Film.

A small selection of classes and lectures from Wesleyan can now be found on iTunes. If you look at the iTunes University section of the store, you can search for Wesleyan and see our first group of lectures (all free downloads). We are adding more regularly, so please check back often.

Before long on iTunes and on Wesleyan’s YouTube site you will also be able to find many student performances featured along with faculty presentations. There are auditions going on almost every night on campus at the beginning of the semester. Dance, music and theater are gearing up for performances that will be perfected before finals week. Much to look forward to as winter turns to spring!

[tags] Admissions Office, classes, The 60s, Henry Abelove, Developmental Neurobiology, Jan Naegle, Zombies as Other from Haiti to Hollywood, Liza McAlister, The Past on Film, Wesleyan’s YouTube[/tags]