Cynthia Rockwell

Fins ’82 on Civil Rights for Those With Brain Injuries: NYT Op-Ed

Joseph J. Fins ’82, MD, MACP, is a professor of medical ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury. He is the author of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times calling for deeper consideration of the civil rights for those with traumatic brain injury. (Photo: John Abbott, New York Academy of Medicine)

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, describes the startling case of a young woman thought to be in a vegetative state but later able to communicate through the movement of one eye.

In “Brain Injury and the Civil Right We Don’t Think About,” Fins says that many seemingly vegetative individuals are misdiagnosed and suffer a loss of personhood and civil rights when they do have some conscious awareness and are, in fact, in the minimally conscious state.

Because minimally conscious patients can feel pain while vegetative patients can not, a misdiagnosis of a patient’s brain state can lead to a lack of pain medication administered during a medical procedure, a horrifying possibility. So too, says Fins, is “segregating” these patients in “custodial care” facilities without offering them rehabilitative opportunities to foster their recoveries. He writes:

I use the verb “segregated” deliberately, to invoke a time when separate but equal was the law. In the wake of legal advances like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which call for the integration of people with disabilities into civil society, how is the pervasive segregation of this population justified?

Part of the problem is that when these laws were written, the notion of reintegration was focused on physical mobility … When we restore voice to these patients we bring them back into the room and the conversation.

I often speak to university students brought up in the era of L.G.B.T.Q. rights who can’t understand how my generation did not appreciate that people could love those they chose to love. … I caution against smugness, suggesting that their own children may well ask them how they allowed society to ignore conscious individuals and deprive them of their rights.

Fins, a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury, is the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law at Yale Law School. He spoke on these topics at Wesleyan in 2015 as the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer.  A trustee emeritus of Wesleyan, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university in 2012.

 

In Emerging Economies, Siroya ’04 Gives Credit Where It’s Due

By Jim. H. Smith

Shivani Siroya ’04 (center), CEO and founder of Tala, has assembled other Wesleyan women on her team to change the financial lives of those in developing countries—including Lauren Pruneski ’04 (left), director of global communications and public relations, and Bonnie Oliva-Porter ’04 (right), director of global operations. Also at Tala, but not pictured, is Amy Barth Sommerlatt ’04, expansion strategist.

No one has ever questioned Jenipher’s work ethic. For decades, this 65-year-old Kenyan woman has operated a food stall in the central business district of downtown Nairobi. It has given her the wherewithal to support a family of three sons, and she has paid for the vocational school education of each. She is also the leader of a local group of responsible adults who support each other in their efforts to save money.

Yet despite those facts, Jenipher had no credit rating. Like some 2.5 billion people worldwide, she lacked a financial identity, the very thing that traditional banks evaluate when deciding whether to make loans to consumers. Her capacity to borrow money in order to grow her business and improve her life was virtually nonexistent.

She did have one thing going for her, though. Like more than a billion residents of the planet’s emerging markets, she owned a Smartphone that she regularly used for a wide range of activities, from business management to communications with local friends and associates as well as family in Uganda. Three years ago, one of her adult sons encouraged her to download the “app” of a Los Angeles-based company called Tala, and it changed her life.

Sung ’90 Reflects on Fighting Injustice in New Documentary

Jill Sung ’90, center, with her sister Vera and father, the founder of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, in a still from the new documentary by Steven James, which will air on PBS Frontline Sept. 12. The film chronicles the saga of the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis.

On Sept.12 (check local listings), Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline will broadcast Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a new documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) that tells the story of the only U.S. bank to be criminally charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. That bank is Abacus Federal Savings Bank, located in New York City’s Chinatown and founded in 1984 by Thomas Sung, an immigration lawyer and an immigrant himself, who saw the need for this within the insular community. Sung and his wife are the parents of four daughters—three lawyers and one medical doctor—including two affiliated with the bank: Jill Sung ’90, president and CEO of Abacus, and her elder sister Vera, who sits on the board.

The events that are chronicled were set in motion when the Sungs discovered that one of their loan officers was taking money from borrowers in order to create false loan documents. The Sungs immediately fired him, referred the matter to their regulator, and reported the incident to the police. Yet instead of prosecuting that individual, the district attorney’s office turned their scrutiny on the bank’s officers and employees. In an unprecedented turn of events, 18 Abacus employees were placed under arrest and the press was offered a shocking photo-op: 10 of these employees were “handcuffed to a chain and paraded down the hallway in the Criminal Court building in a staged perp-walk before the national news media like a herd of slaves being led to the auction block,” as Thomas Sung later described that event in his statement to the public after Abacus was found innocent of wrongdoing.

Before that day of vindication, however, the legal proceedings, machinations, and trial sprawled over five long, intense years. James was there to film key moments and conduct interviews, including one with New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who led the prosecution.

Roberts ’77 Makes AdWeek’s ‘Most Powerful Women In Sports’ List

Michele A. Roberts ’77, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, appeared in AdWeek‘s list of its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports.”

Adweek named Michele Roberts ’77, executive director—and first female leader—of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), to its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” list, which features outstanding executives, athletes and journalists, among others.

Previously an attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Roberts began her career as a public defender in Washington, D.C. In the June 26 article, Adweek’s Tim Baysinger noted that Roberts would be negotiating across the table from league commissioner Adam Silver when the two worked on a new collective bargaining agreement—and Roberts would be trying to avoid a lockout, something her two predecessors were not able to do. A government major at Wesleyan, Roberts earned her JD from the University of California at Berkeley.

The negotiations now completed, Roberts noted, “The deal we worked out with the league contained a number of favorable provisions for our players, including a 45 percent across-the-board salary increase for those players whose salaries are pre-set. And, no lockout!”

In 2015, Roberts spoke at Wesleyan’s Dwight L. Greene Symposium about her role with the players union and her deep commitment to the men she was representing: “Maybe it is okay for a professional athlete to be as politically apathetic as anyone else; they have the right not to care,” Roberts said. “But when I saw my guys wearing those ‘I can’t breathe’ t-shirts, I could not have been more proud.… We will defend to the death the right of our players to comment on political issues as they see fit as long as they don’t violate any laws.”

Oppenheim ’02 Urges Cooperation, Preparation for Pandemic Threats

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, as well as a consulting scientist with the start-up Metabiota, writes about the importance of international collective action for pandemic preparedness.

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a consulting scientist with Metabiota, a start-up focusing on epidemiological modeling and epidemic risk preparedness, was recently invited to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Medicine. As a result, Oppenheim and his colleagues wrote an article published in Lancet Global Health titled “Financing of International Collective Action for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness,” based on these meetings. Also writing for the Brookings Institution, Oppenheim further explored the challenges of responding to global outbreaks, offering a four-point plan to protect the global poor during pandemics, with co-author Gavin Yamey.

“Post-Ebola and Zika, there’s been increasing worry—and debate—about how to prepare for epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health,” notes Oppenheim, who is also a senior fellow and visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “Cracking the problem means thinking through the ways that policy, economics, health, and other factors all intertwine. In the workshop, we were thinking about how to build incentives to improve disease surveillance and outbreak detection, as well as how to improve the legal and economic architecture to speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics. All of this demands attention to everything from epidemiology, to financing, and to politics.”

Oppenheim also discussed the economic impacts of pandemics,

Walker ’79, P’21, WNYC CEO, Named to Crain’s Most Powerful Women List

Laura Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, has been named to Crain’s list of Most Powerful Women in 2017. (Photo by Janice Yi)

Laura Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, was named to Crain’s Most Powerful Women list for 2017.

“Presiding over the largest public radio station group in the U.S., Laura Walker reaches 26 million listeners every month through the eight stations in her WNYC portfolio,” Crain’s Matthew Flamm wrote. “Dependent on grants and listener contributions—Walker has grown revenue by 68% over the past decade—WNYC has the freedom to explore sensitive issues on air and on demand.”

GLS Professor Belanger P’02 Produces Photographic Study, ‘Rift/Fault’

Photographer and author Marion Belanger P’02 explores geologic boundaries in Rift/Fault.  (Photo by Ann Burke Daly)

Graduate Liberal Studies visiting professor Marion Belanger P’02, is the author of Rift/Fault, a photographic study of the land-based edges of the North American Continental Plate. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002 supported a project in the Everglades, where Belanger turned her lens on both the landscape within the national park as well as the suburban development of the swamplands outside the protected area. Now, Rift/Fault continues her interest in natural land formations and boundaries—this one along the San Andreas Fault in California and the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland—and the influence of human society on the earth

Published by Radius Books, and with an essay by art critic and activist Lucy R. Lippard, Rift/Fault is designed to be interactive: Open the cover and two collections of images face each other, each one bound at the top. The photographs labeled “Fault” are on the left; the right side holds “Rift,” with the reader turning each page upwards to view the image that follows. While Belanger paired the photographs on each side to be complementary, she encourages the readers to make their own pairings. The structure of the book conceptually mimics the ever-shifting tectonic plate edges, and “it gives the viewer some agency to figure out how they want to view the book and, by default, how they want to see the landscape. The work itself is a cultural study,” she says.

Dubler ’97 Awarded Carnegie to Research, Write on Prison Abolition

Joshua Dubler, ’97 assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester, New York, is studying and writing about prison abolition with a Carnegie Fellowship. (University of Rochester photo by Brandon Vick.)

Joshua Dubler ’97, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester, is one of 33 national recipients of a 2016 Carnegie Award. With this fellowship, Dubler is studying prison abolition. His book manuscript, Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the End of Mass Incarceration, presents abolitionist logic to make the case. Co-authored with Vincent Lloyd, it explores the ways that religion has underwritten and sustained mass incarceration. Currently under peer review, it has an expected publication date of 2018.

While an advocate of both ending mass incarceration and offering educational programs for those imprisoned, Dubler is seeking something further than these revisions to our current system—a true revisiting of the concept of prison.

“Right now, our vision of bringing people to justice is to put them in cages,” he says “That’s a really impoverished notion of justice. It doesn’t serve the person who has been convicted of the crime, does very little for the person who is the victim of the crime, and it perpetuates the destruction of the community. Abolitionists are looking to reconceptualize how it is that we do justice.”

Wesleyan Presence Celebrates BRC Success at The Way Home Gala; Swanson ’77 Honored

Richard Swanson ’77, a board member of The Bowery Residents’ Committee, was honored at The Way Home Gala, amidst a turnout of Wesleyan alumni also affiliated with the New York organization (see more photos below)

On June 12, Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC), one of New York City’s largest providers of housing and services for homeless adults, honored longtime BRC board member Richard Swanson ’77 at the organization’s seventh annual gala. Swanson, a trustee of BRC, is managing director and the general counsel of York Capital Management, as well as a member of the firm’s executive, operating and valuation committees.

On the BRC website, Swanson explains his decision to join the board as his effort “to be able to give something back to the City of New York, which has treated me so well over my legal career.… We all have a responsibility to our fellow citizens who are less fortunate than ourselves.”

Berk ’72 Puts Rare Comic and Art Collection Up for Auction

Jon Berk ’72 holds a recreation of cover art by Bob Fujimoto, which he commissioned from the artist 2002 and originally published during World War II>

Jon Berk ’72 holds a recreation of cover art by Bob Fujitani, which Berk commissioned from the artist in 2002. Fujitani asked Berk if he could embellish on the original, which had been published during World War II—and Berk was delighted to agree. He notes that a common trope of that era was a “damsel in distress” surrounded by demonic creatures, like the one above in a Nazi uniform. (Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

This March, Jon Berk ’72 began selling off his collection of comicbooks and comic art. It is no ordinary collection: The Jon Berk Art and Comic Collection, as it is known, consists of more than 18,000  items that span the history of comics in America. And it is no ordinary sale—ComicConnect is handing the sale, with the auction preview at the  Metropolis Gallery in New York City until June 2nd, with online auctions offered in five sessions from June 12 though 16.

Asked how he began collecting comics, Berk notes that “collecting” is much different from “reading and acquiring,” which is what he did as a boy, buying DC comics from the local five-and-dime, He also notes his preference for “comicbook” as one word, much as one would write “notebook” or “casebook.”

Away at Hotchkiss for boarding school, Berk got interested in Marvel comics—new characters he’d never heard of, with stories that left the reader dangling until the next issue—from the boys who lived on the second floor of his dorm. His Wesleyan years followed, then law school at Boston University, and somewhere along the way, his parents jettisoned those childhood boxes of comicbooks.

During a law school summer in Boston, Berk saw “one of those old spinner-racks of comics”—with Spiderman books, his favorite. “They still make these?” he thought. There in the back pages, he saw an ad for collectors—an opportunity to buy vintage comicbooks. “They sell old comicbooks?” He was hooked and became a student of the genre—of the major publishing houses, the artists and their superheroes, and the social and cultural forces that shaped the stories that unfolded in those colorful pages.

He began with the urge to collect a complete set of the Marvel Comics Silver Age, in the early 1960s. “That would be the Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain American, the Hulk,” he says. “And once I collected those, I saw, that someone had a Human Torch, a comicbook from the 1940s, by Timely.

“Then I discovered Golden Age books, and even Pre-Golden Age—that was before Superman came out in June of 1938, when forces coalesced and we were given a superhero universe not known before this time.

“It opened up a whole new world for me; I was very interested in tracking down the early publishers like Everett Arnold and Harry Chesler,” he explains. “I’d always been interested in where did things come from? Where did things start? So I got into those Superheroes and looked for their predecessors. I was interested in the history of this American mythology.”

Now, however, “I just feel the timing is right to sell them,” said Berk, 67, an attorney with Gordon, Muir and Foley. “I’ve had fun, I’ve met great people, I have no regrets.”

In this new stage, divesting himself of this collection, not only is he getting reconnecting with many people he had met earlier, he is offering a whole new level of excitement to those who continue in the hobby.

Cofounders and owners of the Metropolis Comics, speak on the importance of the Berk Collection (“It’s funny to hear myself addressed in the third person,” notes Berk”) in a video.

Stephen Fischler, co-founder and CEO of Metropolis Comics says: “Jon’s collection is particularly special because of the appreciation that he had for what he was putting together. He wasn’t looking for collecting the newest trend and the hottest books. He was a sort of visionary and a comic historian who wanted to put together the history of comic books. He had a broad selection; he had super hero books, he had science fiction books, he had things that appealed to him and things that he loved.”

Vincent Zurzola, co-founder and CPP of Metropolis Comics, notes,  “Between the comic books and the art, this is one of the best collections ever assembled. What makes the Jon Berk Collection so unique… is that it has incredible depth to it. To give you an idea—we had to process this to put it into our database, and often, when we entered a book, it was he first one we’ve ever had. Metropolis Collectibles has been the largest buyer of vintage comics in the world for over 30-40 years—so we’ve had pretty much everything. When I’m seeing, ‘Does not exist in database’ over and over again…I know we have a very, very special collection. It was incredibly educational and mind-boggling to see books that I’ve never seen before.”

“I’m selling off 99.5 percent of my collection,” says Berk, whose keys hang out of his pocket on a Spiderman keychain. “But there’s always that .5 percent. Maybe everyone will see those some time in the future.”

Note: To see a video of Jon Berk ’72 discussing his collection, click here.

Bay ’86 Honored with Prints in Cement at Theater in Hollywood

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

Director Michael Bay ’86 adds his prints to those of Hollywood icons outside TCL Chinese Theatre.

On May 23, Michael Bay ’86 added his hand- and footprints to the cement outside the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, signifying his status as a film icon. Bay’s 1995 debut film, Bad Boys, was only the first of Bay’s blockbusters, which include Armageddon and The Rock  as well as five “Transformers” movies, with an upcoming release of Transformers: The Last Knight slated for June 21.

A film major at Wesleyan whose senior project, My Brother Benjamin, won the Frank Capra prize for best film when he graduated, Bay recalled for Variety that it was at this theater, when he was seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age 15, that he decided he wanted to become a director. He had had a part-time job at filing storyboards for Raiders at Lucasfilm, and he had come to the conclusion that it would be terrible. But when he saw the movie, the transformation from concept to screen captured his imagination.

Bay’s excitement about film and talent for it were clear to Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and founder and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, when he arrived on campus in 1982 and showed her some of his photographic work. She told Variety, “I was actually quite taken aback that it was the work of a high school kid because it was dynamic, had great compositions and angles, showed a real control and mastery, but the work had life and energy in it.” Basinger became his advisor.

At Wesleyan he also started collaborating with Brad Fuller ’87—now co-founder of Platinum Dunes with partners Bay and Andrew Form in 2001. With Platinum Dunes, Bay has been involved in producing a series smaller-budget hits, as well as television shows and an upcoming Amazon series, Jack Ryan.

Fuller recalled his college connection with Bay for Variety: “All I can tell you is I sat next to the right guy in film class,” he says. “I knew that guy was going to be successful; he just saw things in a way that other people didn’t.”

Basinger concurs. “Michael has consistently, over a long period of time, proved himself as a filmmaker who can get it done and whose films appeal so much they make huge amounts of money,” she told Variety. Bay added: “It’s a great industry, but it can be very cynical…So people need to remember it’s a really, really, really fun job. And I love, love, love doing it.”

Note: This weekend, Brad Fuller ’87 was on campus for Reunion/Commencement 2017 events and spoke at a WESeminar, “Wesleyan in Hollywood,” with Documentary Producer Sasha Alpert ’82; Creator/Executive Producer of Will & Grace, David Kohan ’86, P’17; and former Co-Chairman of Creative Artists Agency Rick Nicita ’67. Jeanine Basinger, who originated Wesleyan’s Film Studies Program, moderated the panel, which was held in the Goldsmith Family Cinema at the Center for Film Studies.

McAlear Visits Former Students Odede ’09, ’12, and Perel-Slater ’11 at Non-Profits in Africa

Professor Michael McAlear gathers with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Africa. 

In 2010 Professor Michael McAlear first gathered with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Kenya, offering a lecture on clean water. This year on his visit during spring break, he again gave a lecture to these students, now pre-teens and young teenagers, who filled his Q&A session with their concerns, interest, ideas, and a deep desire to learn.

In March, during Wesleyan’s spring break, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Michael McAlear took a trip to visit and catch up with three alumni whom he’d known when they were undergraduates, just beginning the nonprofits for which they are now known. McAlear doesn’t see them often: they live and work in Africa. All three had received Wesleyan’s Christopher Brodigan Award in their senior year, for research or work in Africa.

Kennedy Odede '12, Mike McAlear and Jessica ’09 Odede.

Pictured from left are Kennedy Odede ’12, Mike McAlear and Jessica Posner Odede ’09.

McAlear’s first stop was in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, and home of SHOFCO, Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede. Linking education for girls with community services, the organization has grown since McAlear had last visited in 2010 to help set up the school, when it held only two classes of girls ages 6 and 7, and the group was building a clinic was built to honor Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the student slain in the spring of 2009. At that time, McAlear offered the young students a lecture on clean water and also became a sponsor for one little girl, a responsibility and relationship that is ongoing,

“I was overwhelmed by the need in Kibera— and the optimism and fearlessness of Kennedy and Jessica; you couldn’t help being swept up by that,” McAlear recalls. “They were so young and naïve that they didn’t know what they couldn’t do—so they just kept on doing things.”