Himeka Curiel

Himeka is an editor/writer in the Office of University Communications.

Saidiya Hartman ’84 Delivers 2019 Commencement Address

Saidiya Hartman

Saidiya Hartman ’84 gave the Commencement address during Wesleyan’s 187th Commencement ceremony on May 26.

Saidiya Hartman ’84 and Wesleyan President Michael Roth

Saidiya Hartman ’84 and Wesleyan President Michael Roth

Saidiya Hartman ’84, professor of English and comparative literature and women’s and gender studies at Columbia University, delivered the 2019 Commencement address on May 26.

A prize-winning author and 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, Hartman is renowned for her creative combinations of historical research, critical theory, and fictional narrative in exploring “the afterlife of slavery” and its negative effects on the life chances of black Americans. Her essays on film, photography, and feminism have been widely anthologized. During the ceremony, Hartman was named an Honorary Doctor of Letters for “shining a light on those whose histories have been erased and for . . . ‘crafting a love letter to all those who have been harmed.’”

Her Commencement address follows:

To the Class of 2019, to your parents to your professors . . . I congratulate you.

The commencement address, like the wedding toast or the eulogy, is a form of ritualized speech that marks a point of transition. It has its own stringent requirements and imposes its form. The speaker congratulates you for what you have done, acknowledges that you are special, avoids the uncomfortable facts and the ugly truths that have made it possible for you to sit on this lawn in your robes presenting a curated and lovely picture of what might be possible.

And I, the speaker, in acknowledgment and confirmation of this set of arrangements, the privileges and the inequalities which have allowed you to assume your seats and which have permitted me to command the stage for remarks that are not to exceed the allotted 10 minutes and directed to move, sway, inspire, confer recognition and enable all of us assembled to believe—at least for a moment—in the essential rightness of things, or at minimum to take pleasure in this moment to celebrate the day.

One is encouraged to read in this success—graduation from one of the best colleges in the U.S.—the prophetic signs of future greatness. Or one could offer admonitions about responsibilities and duty and remind you of the perilous state of the world, describe its routine and extraordinary brutalities, and the man-made disaster and everyday devastation of life on a damaged planet. Don’t worry. I don’t intend to do this, although it would meet the requirements of the genre.

You, the graduates, might listen attentively or distractedly—drifting in and out—because you are fully aware of exactly the kind of world you are stepping into and in all likelihood are as anxious as you are excited about this transition, this leave-taking from school and the parental home, this culmination that announces to you and the world your adulthood, your independence, your preparedness to do something to find your place. I won’t pretend to make any of this easier by telling you how to find happiness, or be all you can be, or advise you to practice random acts of kindness, or to live frugally and minimize your carbon footprint, or to be mindful of the damage you might do, the kind of harm that privilege affords. I will try to avoid clichés when and where possible, although be forewarned I might slip up and say something about making the world we want now or suggest the future is in your hands even as the future has been mortgaged, even as we are living at the end of the world.

I have tried to avoid saying such things or assuming the posture of wise counsel because I know you have spent the last four years dedicated to rigorous study, dedicated to developing and honing the intellect and to nurturing creativity. I know that you have studied with the best minds and encountered the great thinkers and visionaries in your seminars and exchanged and debated ideas with those students. This has prepared you for engaging and reckoning with the matters of the world.

I still remember the questions I grappled with in my seminars at Wesleyan. Is history a process not determined by human actors or a consciousness? Is there a fundamental relation between slavery and democracy? What are the responsibilities of the writer? What is the role of the organic intellectual in fomenting change? How is culture a radical tool for reconstruction? Is it possible to untether freedom from the history of slavery that secured it? Such questions changed me and I have spent the rest of my life wrestling with them.

What I understand about the world and how I imagine my place in it, has much to do with what I learned here. With my relationships with brilliant teachers like Hazel Carby, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Bill Lowe, Robert O’Meally, Richard Slotkin, and Annie Dillard. On the 50th anniversary of black studies at Wesleyan, I am confident that I don’t need to provide you with an abbreviated history of slavery and settler colonialism, of racial capitalism, white supremacy, fascism, and the long history of dispossession. I don’t need to recount the narrative of the republic and point out the obvious, the exclusions constitutive of citizenship, the liberty and equality erected on the foundation of stolen life and stolen land and the condition of rightlessness for all those not encompassed within the language of man and his inviolable entitlements and privilege.

I won’t belabor such points because I am speaking to a graduating class that has spent the last four years thinking about such issues and the historical and social forces that have made and shaped the world. A class cognizant of the intimacy of civilization and barbarism, value and predation, property and dispossession. The entanglement of the good life and the disposable one. You have been fortunate. You have enjoyed the luxury of devoting yourself to study and to the life of the mind. All that has been required of you is to write and think with impassioned teachers and committed classmates.

Now is the moment when you enter the world, and with this knowledge make a place with others. At the moment you arrive at what you wanted to be: a graduate, an educated person, a diploma-bearing debtor. You lose yourself, shift from one phase of becoming to another. Because every achievement is a culmination and a beginning. Every accomplishment points toward what has yet to be done; having arrived at the goal, you are lost again, needing to find your way to the next stage of things, forced to leave this self, this incarnation of you to enter anew.

The essence of who one is, as Hannah Arendt notes, comes into being only when life departs, leaving nothing behind but a story. Until then, this process of accumulating meaning and experience, love and loss, accomplishments and failures, victories and defeats, constitutes life. The beauty and constancy of this undoing and remaking of the self over and over again.

Today marks an auspicious culmination. I suspect many of you are preoccupied, if not anxious, about what is next, what comes after this. The gift of bare uncertainty that hurls you into adulthood. Part of me is on the lawn with you, still that young woman sitting with her class, lost in thoughts about what the future might bring, unsure, expectant, anticipating another world yet absolutely unknowing what its course or where things will turn. This is not to say that I am young. Quite the opposite. Only to underscore that I, too, am open and uncertain and not unhopeful regarding what the future might bring. It is to acknowledge that more time is behind me than ahead of me and that the opposite is true for you. We are here today to celebrate the opportunity and possibility that resides in that simple fact as much as to celebrate any degree in your hands.

So, I guess these remarks are really an elaborate ask masked as a set of reflections, as way of making a claim on you, imploring you to speculate about how the world might be otherwise. To make good the promise of another set of human arrangements no longer characterized by the brutal distribution of death and precarity, by racism, hatred, and cultivated indifference, by violence abstracted by algorithm and derivative, or embodied visceral and immediate by the extraction and monopoly of the planet’s resources, by gender and sexual violence.

I ask you this: What the world might be or how we might live in the fierce urgency of our now despite my attempts to refuse the conventions of the genre and as if being acted upon by some seemingly eternal repetition, compulsion, being directed by the collective yearning for a world better than this one, yielding to a desire . . . no, an imposition that I cannot dislodge or refuse.

So, I am asking you in anticipation of achievement and disappointment and accomplishment and failure to make another way, to trace a different path to another set of social arrangements so that we might all live.

Today, we honor you because of what you have achieved and where you have arrived, and we rejoice at the promise signaled by this graduation, which is a step in a process, a transformation, a condition, a change from one state to another, a turn in the road, a pause or rest in the process of becoming. We rejoice today in anticipation of where you might be headed and the world you might remake.

It is custom to announce the significance of such arrivals and departure with rituals and ceremony. So, Class of 2019, we celebrate you.

 

Senior Voices: Tostado, Young, Erodici Reflect on Their Years at Wes

Vanessa Tostado Senior Voices

“Senior Voices” was held at Memorial Chapel on May 25.

As part of the 2019 Commencement weekend festivities, graduating seniors reflected on their unique and transformative Wesleyan experiences during the “Senior Voices” event held May 25 in Memorial Chapel. In addition to the speeches, this year’s event also included a farewell song, “Irish Friendship Wish,” performed by Maria Rodriguez-Castro ’19, Joy Adedokun ’19, and Olivia Backal-Balik ’20.

Seniors Vanessa Tostado, Kati Young, and Matthew Erodici spoke of the changes they had undergone during their years at Wesleyan and the community and support that they found while here. Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology Margot Weiss provided the faculty address, encouraging students to embrace “growth that takes unexpected and novel forms, that moves and spreads . . . unpredictable, unruly, creative.”

Below are the speakers’ remarks as prepared:

Vanessa Tostado

Vanessa Tostado ’19

Vanessa Tostado ’19

I would like to begin by sharing part of a reflection piece I wrote in 2015 before coming to Wesleyan: The transition couldn’t come sooner. The pressure is on, the time to reflect and panic is now. My high school, I feel, has prepared me for the rigors of college work. Now that I will begin a new chapter in my life, I hope that college pushes me beyond the boundaries that I have surrounded myself with. I can’t wait to see the new person that I become. Four years later, today, I stand before you in a similar position: The pressure is still on, I’m still panicking, and tomorrow, I will begin a new chapter in my life. It seems like nothing has changed, but in reality, everything has changed.

My freshman year routine at Wesleyan was the following: eat, code, gym, get eight hours of sleep, repeat. Really, had you met me freshman year you wouldn’t say I’m exaggerating. I was a straight arrow with tunnel vision going towards my target. Now, I’m not a physics major, but I know that an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Well, I’ve had my fair share of unbalanced forces. Somewhere along my four years at Wesleyan, my friends, family, traditions, and God changed the trajectory of my life. I struggled to let go of my routine—I didn’t know how. More importantly, I was afraid of the potential chaos. But I always knew something was missing; I didn’t feel like this was the time of my life, like so many people suggested it would be. Then one day, a friend said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” That’s when I realized what had to change.

By sophomore year I was spending more time with friends outside of the library; I started attending mass and I even went on a spring break trip to the Bahamas. Junior year I went abroad to Hungary. Despite being anxious about not fitting in, my friends and mentors assured me it would be an unforgettable experience. And it was. During my last year at Wesleyan, I learned to ski, not black diamond or anything. On multiple occasions, I stayed up until 2 a.m. with my friends, not because we were studying, but because we were having fun. I took a step forward in my faith and was confirmed with my best friend as my godmother.

Without realizing it, I was slowly letting experiences outside of academia and other people enter my rigid routine. By educating my mind and my heart, my achievements reached horizons I didn’t think were possible. In fact, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come up here and share my story with you all, if it weren’t for the individuals on this campus that I’ve come to call close friends.

Tomorrow, I will begin a new chapter, a new adventure, only this time, I’m open to all of life’s unbalanced forces. Thank you.

Kati Young '19

Kati Young ’19

Kati Young ’19

You know what they say—timing is everything. As I’ve reflected on my experience these last four years, I’ve realized that this saying has truth to it—so much of my growth has happened because of experiencing two things at once, and discovering how the two interacted with and challenged one other. I’ve experienced this type of change socially, academically, and personally.

During my freshman fall, I was recovering from extensive bullying at my public high school, all the while forming my first lifelong Wesleyan friendships with my “freshman pack.” While I had learned in high school that I deserved to be ostracized, in college I was discovering what it meant to have friends who valued what I had to say and who actually showed up to support me.

During my sophomore fall, I still remember the gloomy, rainy Tuesday when our current [U.S.] president was elected. I felt overwhelmed by so many worldwide or national problems. But working with then-senior Leah Cabrera [’17], we responded by focusing on how we could change our direct community. Even Wesleyan felt too big—so we channeled our focus on just Division III: Natural Sciences and Mathematics. By forming the NSM Coalition, I learned the ups and downs and long hours it took to fight for inches of tangible change towards a more inclusive STEM community. So even though I felt hopeless about large-scale issues, I began to feel inspired by local-scale action.

During my junior fall, I was surrounded by people who loved me, enrolled in classes I was interested in, and involved with clubs I found meaningful. But it was during this season that I also struggled with severe health challenges. I found incredible strength through my Christian faith, where I read from the Holy Bible the words of Paul, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12–13).

During my medical leave, I could no longer prove my worth by As or by a laundry list of leadership positions. Who was I if I was no longer a Wesleyan student? Who was I if I was no longer a successful student? In the months of recovery, I had to find value in being myself, not in doing. This meant reconnecting with the core of my Christian faith, redefining my values, and finding a new kind of balance. I at last prioritized my health—emotional, physical, spiritual.

Balance and timing—that’s what I’m taking away as a Wesleyan graduate. Learning how to balance two significant ideas—whether it’s being treated different socially, taking classes that interplay with each other in unique ways, finding what type of change-making moves me, or somehow finding gratitude whilst struggling with illness—these are all part of my journey. And I ask all of us here tonight to embrace this appreciation of timing, to strive towards balance, but mostly, to love ourselves so we can love others.

Matthew Erodici '19

Matthew Erodici ’19

Matthew Erodici ’19

As I look back on my four years at Wesleyan, I am amazed by how much I have changed—in no small part due to the incredible people I have met. Not only have I gained self-confidence and compassion through lifelong friends, but also practical thinking and independence through impactful mentors. Through a marathon of academic challenges and chemistry research, my measurement of success has shifted more and more away from letters and numbers (albeit still important) toward being able to apply knowledge and teach others freely. Some of my most fulfilling academic moments have come while working as a peer tutor or collaborating on problem sets—witnessing others have that “a-ha” moment or breakthrough on a concept. Furthermore, as a tutoring group co-leader and ultimate frisbee captain, I have come to know both the difficulties and joys of making an organization or team function together—and the importance of having spaces away from class to decompress and cultivate my other passions.

Through all of these experiences, I emerge with a stronger conviction than ever that none of it would have been possible without my sources of inspiration—namely, my parents, my close friends, and my faith. These past four years, while being a period of immense growth, have not come without their extreme hardships. Finding a way into graduate school did not happen without dedicating long nights to writing lab reports, studying chemical reactions for exams, and parsing academic articles for independent research. I credit all my success to my parents, whose never-ending love, support, and encouragement have been the engine behind my work and the catalyst behind some of the biggest risks I have taken—such as committing to a senior thesis and applying to a PhD program. Moreover, getting through some of my toughest weeks at Wesleyan—such as coming back to projects and tests after a full weekend at a frisbee tournament—could not have happened without friends who constantly had my back, checked in with me, and provided good laughs over late-night meals. In addition, my Catholic faith—and the Catholic community at Wesleyan—have never failed to be a source of strength, love, healing, and wisdom—particularly when life seemed overwhelming or my mind had trouble decluttering. In short, all of these people have lifted me to the achievements I take pride in today, and their unwavering support will continue to push me beyond Wesleyan. I want to extend a heartfelt congratulations to the rest of the Class of 2019 and, especially, to their pillars of support along the way.

Margot Weiss

Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology Margot Weiss

Margot Weiss, associate professor and chair of anthropology; associate professor of American Studies; and associate professor, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

“A Queer Baccalaureate”

I want to start by thanking you so much for inviting me to join you in this celebration—I know this part, tonight, is just for you, and I am honored to be the faculty voice you’ve invited to this event. I am standing here now at the end of my 10th year of teaching at Wesleyan. I have only been at this particular podium twice before: once to introduce Judith Butler back in 2013, and once to interview Chelsea Manning in 2017. For this queer academic these were life highlights—but this honor tops them both.

Tomorrow is it, right? Except of course, it isn’t really. As I thought about what words to share with you, I thought about the words I’d most have wanted to hear, way back in 1995, when I found myself graduating from college with no idea what I would do next. And so this is for any of you who feel as uncertain, ambivalent, and anxious as I did—proud of all that you’ve accomplished but also certain that it isn’t enough. Those of you who feel a little ragged, and not so perfectly formed and directed.

When I taught at Duke University, the students there talked about the pressure to achieve what they called “effortless perfection”—to be academically successful, socially poised, properly gendered, practically perfect in every way, but with no visible effort, no sweat on the brow. I think those students are a little more polished and shiny and suited up for business school than you all are, but still, that effortlessness and that perfection, both, might not be entirely foreign. And that’s a lot.

Tonight is the night before your commencement, your graduation. Both words pointing to a precipice that you are standing on, about to jump, or be shoved off. Graduation marks the end—the end of your time at Wesleyan, in college, the end of the before you go out there and join the “real world.” Commencement marks the beginning—the beginning of your real life, your future you, the start of what you were meant to do and be. And that, too, is a lot.

So I thought I would speak to you a bit about uncertainty and ambivalence, about not knowing and not being sure, about something queer theorist and anthropologist Martin Manalansan calls “queer mess,” which we might oppose to that effortless perfection and bright, shining certainty. And I thought I might speak, too, against the press of straight time, a time that forces you into clean endings and brisk beginnings—and instead wallow a bit in the queer and messy middle, in the sideways and the now, where we might find ourselves together, asking, thinking, dreaming.

  1. So first, Queer Failure

In The Queer Art of Failure, his ode to the minor, the low, and the childish, Jack Halberstam celebrates “ways of being and knowing that stand outside conventional understandings of success,” measured by “reproductive maturity combined with wealth accumulation.” This is the thrust of straight time in our heteronormative, capitalist society: from A to B to C; working your way up the corporate ladder; and the marriage plot, from meet-cute to side-by-side graves. What would it mean, he asks, to turn away from these logics and instead celebrate “failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, [and] not knowing”? Might failure allow us to escape the punishing norms that discipline and manage our lives “with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods into orderly and predictable adulthoods”?

I don’t think I knew how to celebrate failure when I graduated from college. I know I felt uncertain: I thought that I wanted to become an academic, but I wasn’t sure; I knew I didn’t want to return home to the suburbs of Connecticut and join my father’s business. A year before I graduated, I had gone to the career center at the University of Chicago. I still remember sitting across the desk from the career counselor as she said to me, “Well, it’s not enough just to be good at school—in order to become a successful academic, you need to be able to create new knowledge; you need to have a unique point of view.” I was 20 years old. No one in my family had a PhD. I didn’t know if I could “make new knowledge.”

I recently read an essay about the plight of unemployed PhD students called “What Happens After You’ve Gotten All the As.” There you are, the author writes, a good student, a success. But after all the achievements, after you finish everything on the syllabus, after you’ve gotten all the As, you look up and you wonder, how do I cultivate a sense of worth when the rubric “by which you have always been able to measure and confirm your self value has suddenly…been taken away?”

Her answer is to slow down, to take time, to look inside, and, most of all, to risk failing. To risk failing at what binds and controls you, not what helps you thrive. To fail queerly is to succeed otherwise: not through rigid metrics and standards, but through other paths—winding, overgrown, circular, even—that you make for yourself.

I wish that I had said to that career counselor that I probably did not have a unique point of view, since knowledge is made with others—collaboratively, collectively. I think of what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call “study,” an unregulated, unprofessional thinking with others. In their celebration of the subversive intellectual and the renegade thinker, they turn away from excellence, productivity, and rigor; from forms of professionalization that glide along tracks already laid down, that serve institutions, not us. Study isn’t disciplined, or ready-made, they write, it “is what you do with other people. It’s talking and walking,” it is speculative, “playing in a band,” or “old men sitting on a porch, or people working together in a factory.” They urge us to treat theory as a toy box, a playground; to build places to think together; for study, as the live shape of thought, can create new relations and new ideas, ideas that might serve us, not our credentials. This matters more than individualized “success.”

In the four years that you have been at Wesleyan, you have learned so much. You have mastered courses, topics, certificates, theories. There is so much that you know. But more importantly, you have learned how to learn, how to ask and puzzle, how to reflect and worry over problems that don’t have an easy solution. How to study—in an emancipatory way—how to think with others, which is not the same as the thinking required to get that A. So tonight I first want to celebrate not only what you know, but also what you don’t know, what you are uncertain about. To celebrate not so much the bright moments of your successes, measured by the already-formed, the already-known, but also the moments of your failures: the places of imperfection, times where you risk thinking aloud, moments where your thought with others builds worlds. To celebrate you learning how to build sandcastles with others—studying, asking, wondering.

  1. Growing Sideways

Well, not to give the ending away, but I did end up becoming an academic. And I ended up back in Connecticut, too—much to my surprise and, to be frank, dismay. As some of you know, I grew up nearby, and, as a young queer angry punk rock teenager I was desperate to leave the closure of the suburbs, the relentlessly heteronormative and stifling spaces in which I’d grown up. My version of the good life was forged in the 80s, and so I imagined my future in the city where I would wear heavily shoulder-padded suit jackets and sneakers as I raced to the office from the subway. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, see the movie 9 to 5.)

As soon as I graduated from high school I went away, as far as I could get—Chicago, and then, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, New York, Durham. I never thought that I would return to Connecticut; I never wanted to. But then, after four years of precarious employment on temporary contracts, I got the call that offered me this job, a wonderful job, one of the best—I mean, they wanted to hire a queer anthropologist!—and so I came back.

And as I looked around, I was surprised to feel a new appreciation for things I had, it turned out, been missing all those years: the four full seasons, the ice storms, the farm stands, the broad central Connecticut accent. I built a new life here, in the ruins of the old, a life that—sometimes, at least, when the light catches it just right, feels open, and full of possibility—not the suffocating one I had fled, but a rich and sustaining one. It doesn’t always feel that way, to be sure, and I still hate the suburbs. But I know this place differently now, and I know myself differently now. I am not so much back here as still here or here anew.

I don’t mean this as an ode to Connecticut; many of you, I know, can’t wait to leave this little state, and I get why! I mean it as an ode to unexpected turns; paths we didn’t predict and couldn’t know. It is my own belated realization of the value of, as Donna Haraway puts it, staying with the trouble, rather than trying to find a way out or up or over it. What if the possibility of the good life isn’t over there, out there, but here, with us, already?

With us already because we don’t grow up, we grow sideways. Kathryn Bond Stockton talks this way about a queer movement that is lateral, about width and depth, rather than a unidirectional height. Growing sideways is expansive, incorporative, it refuses neat phases and stages of growth marked by beginnings and endings, in favor of lingering, sliding, lengthening, suspending. Growing sideways stretches toward the horizontal not the vertical, it is connective and comradely, rather than hierarchical and discrete.

As you ready yourself to leave Wesleyan, as you stretch that piece of packing tape over the last box, I don’t think that you are sealing off your past and starting a whole new future. What I take from Stockton is that we don’t have to grow “up” when we can, instead, grow sideways. Hold on to the connections to your friends, your lovers, your exes, the expansive communities you have made here. And know that you can’t predict the form your life will take, the circles and squiggles that make a life—a real life, not one that is ready-made, pre-ordered and focus-group tested. Growing sideways is growth that takes unexpected and novel forms, that moves and spreads. It is unpredictable, unruly, creative—it is your life, your real one, and you are already living it.

  1. And finally, Queer Mess

Maybe you haven’t quite finished packing up your room, and it is at the point now when everything—all the flotsam and jetsam of your life—is spewed all over the floor, on the bed, and hanging from the lampshades. Maybe you are here tonight seeking a brief respite from the mess, what is unfinished, what has yet to be neatly pressed and put away, stored for another day.

Martin Manalansan writes about the wild success of home improvement and make-over shows, picking especially at Marie Kondo’s “tidying up.” “I love mess,” Kondo says, but Manalansan points out that of course she really doesn’t seem to—instead, it seems like she hates mess, and everything else that is “matter out of place,” as Mary Douglas had it long ago: matter that disrupts, clogs, clutters, spoils, bogs down, rumples. Against mastery and control, against perfection and poise, Manalansan celebrates queer mess, that which “messes up” the pristine order of things, “the neat normative configurations and patterns that seek to calcify lives and experiences” into rigid, acceptable forms.

Against a smooth and shiny surface, mess is unfinished, raw—tangled, wayward, untidy. But it is also the raw material for a life lived otherwise. And as such it is hopeful: it doesn’t wait for the world we want or a better, perfect version of us—it makes do and makes the most of the ragged connections and jagged edges of our real lives today. What if we embrace the disorder, the clutter, and the chaos, and resist the “cleaning up” function of the normative? What if we live in the muck, the mess, without “preset itineraries or maps”? What if the goal is “to lose one’s way”—in order to find what really matters?

So, those of you who are uncertain, I am talking to you. You are not at the end or at the beginning; you are in the middle, you are always in the middle—the messy middle, muddling through and that is the wonder of it all. And if it is a mess, it is a queer mess, filled with potential and possibility—a colorful and rich and excessive one—it is all of the things, and too much of them all. And if it is a failure, it is your own splendid one, a life lived collectively, with each other, bent away from success measured and monitored and tracked by the growth charts of the normative order. It is your life, for you and those you love—and this life, lived sideways, the study with others, a world for everyone, is what I want and I hope for you all.

How is it that you will live otherwise? What alternatives, large and small, will you learn, make, build, dream?

I can’t wait to see.

Hazel Carby Provides Remarks at 2019 Commencement

Hazel Carby

Hazel Carby received an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan during the 187th Commencement ceremony May 26.

Hazel Carby and Michael Roth

Hazel Carby and President Michael Roth

Hazel V. Carby, who taught English at Wesleyan from 1982 to 1989, was named an Honorary Doctor of Letters during Wesleyan’s 187th Commencement Ceremony on May 26. The Charles C. and Dorothea S. Dilley Professor of African American Studies and director of the Initiative on Race, Gender and Globalization at Yale University, Carby was lauded for her decades of insightful scholarship, her activism, and her commitment to advancing African American Studies.

Carby’s remarks as prepared are below:

As a member of the faculty during the 1980s I found students at Wesleyan to be exceptionally creative, imaginative, and talented and deeply committed to movements for social justice. I was an ardent supporter of anti-apartheid protests during that decade and was inspired by the integrity and ethical stance of students who demanded that the University fully divest the $10.6 million in stocks it held with U.S. companies doing business in South Africa. I admired their spirit and determination as they marched and occupied buildings, singing and chanting as they were arrested and dragged onto buses by the Middletown police. While I am happy to celebrate with you the achievements of the past 50 years and the long continuing anti-racist struggle embodied in the field of African American and black diaspora studies, I want to temper celebration with a sober reminder that it is our actions not in the next 50 years but in the next 12 years that will determine the quality of life on earth.

The forces of white supremacy and racial capitalism have been reinvigorated and granted legitimacy by the executive, political, and legal branches of this carceral state. At the same time what we face in the future is being simultaneously denied or silenced: imminent climate catastrophe; soil poisoned with toxic herbicides and pesticides; the acidification and pollution of our oceans; the mass extinction of species and collapse of biodiversity; and billions of people dispossessed from their land by floods, droughts, fires, and crop failure. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.”

From the Amazon to the Arctic, indigenous peoples are vigorously opposing the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, they are fighting to preserve tropical and boreal forests from destruction by rapacious oil and mining corporations. Indigenous rangers continually clear tons of plastic waste from the remotest beaches in Northern Australia, plastic has even reached the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean. The Lummi Nation is feeding live salmon to starving Orca pods off San Juan Island in Washington.

Will we commit to join this struggle and instigate perhaps the largest social movement in history: a movement in solidarity to emancipate ourselves from fossil fuels, from our dependence on toxic chemicals, from the unfettered consumption of the natural resources of the earth and the voracious appetite for the profits that accrue from investments in extractive industries? Instead of being content to be passive subjects reduced to being a mere source of data for social media can we, must we, resurrect and reclaim an activist political citizenship which raises a collective voice, marches, protests, and rebels against extinction?

Morreale ’19 Delivers Senior Class Welcome

Senior Address 2019

Sam Morreale ’19 delivered the Senior Class Welcome during Commencement, May 26.

Samuel Morreale ’19, a Science in Society and theater double major, delivered the Senior Class Welcome during Wesleyan’s 187th Commencement ceremony on May 26. The text of his remarks as prepared are below:

For me, and many others, Wesleyan has been a space of refuge and respite; it has been a place of escape. My experience here has allowed movement from a place of confinement to a place of “freedom.” I’m not naive; I know I am not truly free and probably won’t ever be. Truth is that I escaped one type of confinement only to enter another. But the space afforded me by this institution offers its own type of liberation. I am a poor, queer, black/brown, first-generation student who is the son of recent immigrants. In many ways, I was not meant to end up here, nor am I welcome. My displacement at Wesleyan is and has been felt every day. Yet the opportunity Wesleyan has offered is clear. Because of this space I now have the power to name—a power that is as liberating as it is controlling. My Wesleyan education has given me the opportunity to take a critical view of myself, the labels I am given, the narratives I am ‘meant’ to live, the narratives you are ‘meant’ to live, and have the power (or at least the illusion of power) to refuse or accept any of it. Thinking with Saidiya Hartman, Wesleyan has given me the space to imagine my own realities—my own histories—by recognizing the histories before me as presented to control where my own history can go. Before Wesleyan, the course of my life was linear, unquestioning, and controlled by a greater social system I was not privy to understand. After Wesleyan, these things may all still be true! BUT now I am filled with defined questions, anger, passion, ambition, and ability to recognize where this social system mediates my life. I have a determination to use this newfound power graced by Wesleyan to make more space for myself and for others, and I hope that the Class of 2019 will offer the same space to the education we have been afforded.

As much as it might try, Wesleyan is not a bubble. Our experiences here were defined by those that came before. Those experiences gathered here, danced with one another, and then transformed into what they are now. Just as when we began, these experiences will now carry us into our future moments. My question then is how to do justice to the future we are being propelled toward? How do we do justice to the immense privilege of this education? My offering to the class of 2019 and all who have touched it—Take a moment to alienate yourself. Recognize your body as it is placed in a collective of others. Recognize the stories that have been afforded space. Then move with purpose. Hold on to the many definitions of activism that we have been taught here, and mobilize them wherever you go, remembering that activism is a daily practice in the most mundane sense. We have all been given a space on this campus that many aren’t even offered the opportunity to fathom. Let the pressure of that fact and its reality weigh on you. What I am asking for is a conscious presence in interaction and interrelation that might minimize the violence which we all perpetuate in this system. In this pursuit, I see joy and I feel placed.

 

Stein ’08 Wins 2018 Marine Corps Marathon

Stein '08 wins Marine Corps Marathon

D.C. Public Defender Jeffrey Stein ’08 won the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 28 with an official time of 2:22:49. (Photo courtesy Jeff Stein)

Jeffrey Stein ’08 had only one thing on his mind when he registered for the 43rd Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.—redemption.

After a wrong turn off-course a quarter mile into the race in 2017 landed him an 8th place finish and a trip to the hospital for heat stroke, Stein registered for the 2018 race with one overriding goal: “to reclaim a little bit of dignity.” He achieved his goal and more, surging ahead in the last 2 miles to finish first with an official time of 2 hours 22 minutes 49 seconds.

Levi ’90 Creates Meaning and Connection through “SLO” Architecture

Levi-designed Hangout space

Alex Levi ’90 designed the Vita Sports “Hangout” space using unexpected materials in functional design pieces that also reflect the organization’s mission.

There’s a certain sense of effortlessness that Alex Levi ’90 remembers from his rowing days at Wesleyan—that feeling of being perfectly in sync and in so doing achieving something better and greater than any individual effort could reach alone.

That feeling came back to inspire Levi in a recent project, designing a collective office space that serves as the administrative hub for four sports-based youth development (SBYD) nonprofits in New York City.

The 10,000-square-foot open workspace in the middle of Manhattan’s Garment District is home to the offices of VitaSports Partners, the collective umbrella under which Row New York (rowing), Play Rugby (rugby), I Challenge Myself (cycling and fitness), and Beat the Streets (wrestling) come together to share administrative resources and a common mission expressed in their tagline: Elevating humanity through sports.

Levi and his design partner and spouse, Amanda Schachter, were tasked with creating a practical space that could appropriately serve the needs of all four groups while also evoking a sense of fun, light, and airiness so that the groups didn’t feel crowded—all within the constraints of a typically anemic nonprofit budget. It was a challenge perfectly suited to Levi’s unique architectural process and his commitment to social outreach, sustainability, and meaningful design.

Campus Community Celebrates Family Weekend Sept. 28-30

More than 2,000 parents, families, friends, and alumni are attending Family Weekend, a three-day celebration of the Wesleyan experience, Sept. 28-30

Highlights include:

  • WESeminar lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and performances
  • Gordon Career Center Open House and Wesleyan Summer Grants Showcase
  • Tailgating
  • Friends of the Wesleyan Library Book Sale
  • Campus tours
  • Football, soccer, and field hockey vs. Hamilton College
  • Lunches and brunches with families and friends
  • The 26th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium presenting Black Phoenix Rising
  • Alumni and Student of Color Celebration
  • The 8th Annual Stone A Cappella Concert

For a full schedule of events, visit www.wesleyan.edu/fw2018.

View the photo gallery online here.

Wesleyan’s Inaugural Ombuds Celebrates Her First Year

Israela Adah Brill-Cass

A trained mediator, communications studies professor, licensed lawyer, and workshop leader, Israela Adah Brill-Cass has more than 20 years of experience with negotiation and conflict resolution.

Right at the edge of campus, tucked away via a nondescript parking lot side entrance in the basement of Russell House, you’ll find the on-campus home of Israela Adah Brill-Cass, Wesleyan’s first ombudsperson.

Walking through the unmarked screen door can feel a bit unnerving, like trespassing unannounced or entering through a secret back entrance, but Brill-Cass soon welcomes you into the comfort of her office. It’s a small and simply decorated space with bright textile prints on the wall and soft music offsetting the quiet that comes with being the only inhabitant on the entire floor.

The remote location and private access are by design, to help ensure the promise of confidentiality that is a crucial component of Brill-Cass’s work. “Visitors” (as Brill-Cass calls those who come to see her) schedule appointments ahead of time through her website and are staggered so that there is less chance of others seeing who stops by.

As Wesleyan’s inaugural ombuds, Brill-Cass serves as an objective, independent resource for faculty and staff, providing a safe space where individuals can talk through any workplace issues they may be experiencing without automatically triggering an investigation or required next steps.

“It’s like triage. I’m the first step where people can say, ‘Am I really perceiving it this way? Or is this something I might be feeling because _____?’” Brill-Cass explains. “I talk to them about their options. ‘If you want to address it directly, here’s how you can proceed from here. If you don’t want to address it directly, here are ways that you can manage the issue.’ People can then use the information to decide whether or not they want to take the next step. It’s completely voluntary.”

Meyer Remembered for Shaping Curriculum in History Department

Professor Emeritus of History Donald Meyer passed away on May 27 at the age of 94.

Meyer received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1947 after taking a three-year hiatus to serve in the United States Army (1943–1946), and then went on to complete his MA and PhD from Harvard University. He taught at Harvard for two years and UCLA for twelve years before arriving at Wesleyan in 1967.

Meyer was a social and intellectual historian who published three books and numerous articles over a long and productive career. According to colleague Nat Greene, “He was an expert in offering a vigorous challenge to prevailing views, especially about sectors of our society that figured much too little in our history.” He also made some lasting impressions on Wesleyan. His colleague Dick Buel said, “He was one of the founding organizers of Wesleyan’s American studies program and took a leading role in shaping the curriculum and personnel of the history department between the mid-1960s and his retirement in 1991.” The Meyer Prize was established in 1991 in his honor and has been awarded annually by the Department of History to deserving history majors for honors theses in American history.

Meyer is survived by his wife, Jean; his sister, Barbara Backstrom; and by his children and their spouses and partners—Rebecca Berwick; Sarah Berwick and Claude Dohrn; Jeffrey Berwick and Viv Kwok; Rachel Berwick and Warren Johnsen; and William and Kate Meyer—and his five grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made in Professor Meyer’s name to the Meyer Prize and sent to the care of Marcy Herlihy, University Relations, 318 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

Employees on the Move

The Office of Human Resources announces the following hires, transitions, and departures for January–April 2018.

HIRES
John Lundell, athletic facility maintenance, on Jan. 2
Johanna DeBari, director of survivor advocacy and community education, on Jan. 3
Lee Walsh, postdoctoral research associate in physics, on Jan. 17
Kara Murphy, development research analyst in University Relations, on Jan. 22
Clifton Watson, director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, on Feb. 5
Dennis Hohne, video producer in University Communications, on Feb. 12
Nafeza Kingston, facility and events manager in Usdan Campus Center, on Feb. 12
Matthew Magenheim, senior investment associate in the Investments Office, on Feb. 12
Suzanne Rivera, public safety dispatcher, on Feb. 12
Wengang Zhang, postdoctoral research associate in physics, on Feb. 12
Jacob Nite, postdoctoral research associate in chemistry, on Feb. 15
Megan Lenzzo, assistant director of Annual Giving, on Feb. 19
Rani Arbo, campus & community engagement manager in Center for the Arts, on Feb. 26
Richard Contrastano, curatorial, archival and programming assistant in Cinema Archives, on Feb. 26
Daniel McGloin, CPE program coordinator, on Feb. 26
Durga Nyame, project coordinator, Upward Bound Math-Science Program, on Feb. 26
Nathan Mealey, associate university librarian for technical and digital services, on March 1
Ashley Alvarado, public safety officer, on April 2
Benjamin Chaffee, associate director of visual arts in Zilkha Gallery, on April 2
Glenn Knight, assistant director, Graduate Liberal Studies, on April 2
Erin Strauts, associate director of institutional research, on April 16

TRANSITIONS               
Alexander Vazquez, academic tech training specialist in Information Technology Services, on Jan. 2
Claudia Wolf, library assistant/accounting specialist in Olin Library, on Feb. 5
Nancy Putnam, assessment and research services librarian in Olin Library, on March 1
Paul Turenne, systems analyst in Information Technology Services, on March 22

DEPARTURES
Zehra Abbas, study abroad advisor
Joan Adams, administrative assistant in Athletics
Allen Alonzo, director of auxiliary services in ITS
Kimberley Alonzo, administrative assistant in Center for Pedagogical Innovation
Gaylord Brown, analyst programmer in ITS
Colin Desjardins, HVAC/utility mechanic in Physical Plant
Jennifer Enxuto, administrative assistant in FGSS/SiSP
Alecia Goldfarb, business manager in Center for the Arts
Holly King, administrative assistant in chemistry
Emily Lai, web developer in University Communications
Jean Lawrence, administrative assistant in University Relations
Juan Liu, research associate in molecular biology & biochemistry
Jay Mantie, public safety supervisor
Emily Moss, senior assistant dean of admission
Sarah-Jane Ripa, associate director for student services and outreach, Continuing Studies
Kimberly Spachman, research analyst in University Relations
Roney Thomas, postdoctoral research associate in physics

Project Refresh Initiative Launches with Employee Survey

If you’ve logged into WesPortal recently you may have noticed a banner advertising “Project Refresh.” The link leads to a survey asking for feedback on programs, projects, or processes that “may no longer be necessary, or perhaps could be done more effectively” with the end goal of making working at Wesleyan “more effective, efficient, and enjoyable.”

The survey is just the first phase of Project Refresh, with plans for additional rounds of idea generation and collaboration (at all levels both within and across departments) as well as possible focus groups to further refine ideas in the fall. For now, the committee is working on gathering as much information as possible from the campus community and encourages everyone to fill out the survey. It will remain accessible through WesPortal until May 31, after which employees should contact Paul Turenne if they have additional questions or ideas they’d like to share.

The campuswide initiative is being led by a cross-departmental committee, whose members include:

Gemma Fontanella Ebstein, associate vice president for university relations
Rachael Barlow, associate director for assessment; visiting assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures
Jen Carlstrom, manager of design services
Mike Conte, director of physical plant operations
Rick Culliton, assistant vice president; dean of students
Lisa Sacks, assistant director for curricular initiatives
Lori Stethers, systems/emerging technologies librarian
Meghan Sullivan, associate director of alumni and parent relations
Paul Turenne, systems analyst
Karen Whalen, director of athletic fundraising

Other members and sub-committees may be added as the initiative progresses.

Employee Cardinal Achievement Awards Announced

Three outstanding employees were honored with Cardinal Achievement Awards during the past few months.

Smith Kidkarndee, psychotherapist, Counseling and Psychological Services; Cathy-Lee Rizza, assistant director of student accounts, Student Accounts Office; and Gladys Rodriguez, administrative assistant, Registrar’s Office were recognized for demonstrating extraordinary initiative in performing a specific task associated with their work at Wesleyan.

This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the University’s gratitude for their extra efforts.