Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Michael Roth is “An Unusual President”

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a major profile on President Michael S. Roth, highlighting the “unusual” ways in which he uses his post to engage in public debates on the problems facing higher education, and what he sees as its future.

“He seems to revel in the debates about the future of education, speaking especially sharply against what he sees as ill-considered technological fixes that, as he said to me in an interview, ‘aim at conformity over thinking.’ Now he’s published a book [Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters] that examined the history of debates on the nature of higher education, and found that, while the details vary, we’ve been arguing about much the same thing for centuries,” writes David Perry ’95, an alumnus who had grown distant from Wesleyan before being drawn back by an alumni event featuring Roth on the topic “How to Destroy Higher Education.”

Perry writes, “In his writing, Roth seems to be trying to reshape the narrative of crisis and disruption in American higher education.” And while others have spoken out with similar views, “Roth has the power to actually effect change at one of America’s elite universities.”

Roth tells Perry about some of the changes coming to Wesleyan, including encouraging students to create a portfolio of work to show what they can do with their education, and making Wesleyan more accessible to a diverse population of students.


Wesleyan, Chinese Social Science Group Enter Into Scholarly Partnership

Scholars from Wesleyan and the Social Sciences in China Press gathered Dec. 10 to sign a memorandum of understanding. Pictured are, front row from left, Daimei Feng, Changbao Wei, Limin Wang, Michael Roth, Joyce Jacobsen, and Jennifer Tucker. Back row, from left, Guofei Chu, Bing Jiao, Qun Zhou, Gary Shaw, and Peter Rutland.

Scholars from Wesleyan and the Social Sciences in China Press gathered Dec. 10 to sign a memorandum of understanding. Pictured are, front row from left, Daimei Feng, Changbao Wei, Limin Wang, Michael Roth, Joyce Jacobsen, and Jennifer Tucker. Back row, from left, Guofei Chu, Bing Jiao, Qun Zhou, Gary Shaw, and Peter Rutland.

This month, Wesleyan signed a memorandum of understanding with the Social Sciences in China Press (SSCP), the publishing arm of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which formalizes an ongoing partnership between the two institutions. The agreement calls for a biennial scholarly forum involving representatives from Wesleyan and SSCP; mutual advertising to help each gain recognition in the other’s home country; exchange visitors; and cross-publishing of content between Wesleyan’s international journal History and Theory and SSCP’s Historical Research.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is by far the most important center in China for studies in philosophy and the social sciences.

The relationship between Wesleyan and SSCP has been developing since 2010 when a delegation from SSCP first visited Wesleyan. President Michael Roth and the editors of History and Theory spent much of a day with the delegation discussing opportunities for scholarly interaction. As a result, the parties committed to hold two conferences—one in Beijing in 2011 focused around the topic of “Tradition,” and one at Wesleyan in 2013 to discuss “Comparative Enlightenments.” At the most recent conference, Gao Xiang, vice secretary of CASS and editor-in-chief of SSCP, spoke of the partnership with Wesleyan as “a golden example of what exchange should be between academic communities in the United States and China.”

Limin Wang and Michael Roth shake hands.

SSCP Editor-in-Chief Limin Wang and President Michael Roth shake hands.

This year, the two sides decided to formalize their cooperation with the memorandum of understanding. It was signed at a ceremony in the President’s office Dec. 10. Representing Wesleyan were President Michael Roth; Joyce Jacobsen, dean of the social sciences and director of global initiatives; Gary Shaw, associate editor of History and Theory; Peter Rutland, Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought; and Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history.

“I’m delighted to forge an even stronger partnership with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Social Sciences in China Press,” said Roth. “The first two forums sparked dialogues that advanced the thinking of all who attended, and I look forward to many more productive discussions in the future.”

The parties will next convene at a forum in China in May 2015 on the theme of “Modernization.” Roth, Wesleyan faculty members, and other scholars from North America, Europe and China will attend.

Stephen Angle, chair of the College of East Asian Studies, has been integral in developing the relationship with the Chinese scholars.

“Our bi-annual, jointly-hosted forums have been sites of open, sophisticated dialogue across cultural and disciplinary borders,” he said. “They have also been opportunities for Wesleyan faculty and students to engage with leading Chinese scholars. It is exciting to have an agreement ensuring that these stimulating conversations will continue into the future.”

Ethan Kleinberg, executive editor of History and Theory, commented, “For History and Theory in particular, the partnership extends the reach of our journal into China through the scholar exchanges and also the publication of the Chinese translation of each H&T issue’s table of contents and article abstracts in SSCP’s journal. It is an opportunity for us to exchange ideas with leading Chinese scholars interested in the theory and philosophy of history through editor exchanges, joint conferences, and international workshops.”

Tucker: Can Culture Transcend Russia-West Conflict?

In an op-ed in The Moscow TimesJennifer Tucker and Aria Danaparamita ’13 write about the recent controversy over the British Museum’s decision to lend Russia the Parthenon marbles, “one of the most esteemed vestiges of Western art and civilization.”

According to the op-ed:

Controversy has followed the marbles since Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, claimed in 1811 to have obtained a permit to remove the classical Greek marble sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens. They were purchased by the British government and passed to the British Museum. Greece has long lobbied for the restoration of the country’s monuments, and this year UNESCO agreed to mediate the dispute between Britain and Greece.The controversy was revived after the artwork was flown to St. Petersburg.

The authors contend, “Yet whatever one thinks of the morality or legality of the British Museum’s decision, it is a mistake to minimize the potential for art to play a role in cross-cultural negotiations and political dialogue.”

Danaparamita was a history major at Wesleyan, and received high honors for her thesis, titled, “British Borobudur Buddha: Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Orientalist Antiquarianism, and a Material Historiography of Java (1811-1816).”

Tucker is associate professor of history, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor in the environmental studies program, associate professor of science in society, and faculty fellow in the College of the Environment.

Hughes Discusses the Latest in Space Research

Assistant Professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes participated in a discussion on WNPR’s “Where We Live” with other astronomers about all the latest exciting research on space.

“This big ultimate question that we’re all interested in is: What kinds of planets form around other stars, how frequently do planets form around other stars, and ultimately are there environments that are friendly to life and how common are those around the galaxy,” said Hughes.

She discussed her research looking at the regions where planets are forming, and the very youngest solar systems that are just starting to emerge from their birth cocoons of gas and dust.


The Timely Sculpture of Rachel Harrison ’89 Featured

The New Yorker has a lengthy profile of Rachel Harrison ’89, a sculptor whose work is “both the zestiest and the least digestible in contemporary art. It may also be the most important, owing to an originality that breaks a prevalent spell in an art world of recycled genres, styles, and ideas.” Ann Temkin, the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, is quoted as saying, “When I first saw work by Rachel, I actively disliked it. I thought, Uh-uh! Then I couldn’t get enough of it.”

According to the article, Harrison enrolled at Wesleyan in 1984 and declared a major in comparative religions, but left after her sophomore year. She then traveled and took odd jobs, and completed a disappointing semester at another school, before returning to Wesleyan in 1987, where “she was strongly influenced by two teachers: [Chair and Professor of Art] Jeffrey Schiff, a sculptor, and [John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus] Alvin Lucier, a composer who makes sound installations. Another teacher introduced her to the poetry of William Carlos Williams, who appealed to her partly because, in his other career, as a family doctor, he delivered the artist Robert Smithson in 1938, in New Jersey. A line from Williams’s epic ‘Paterson’ became a watchword for her: ‘No ideas but in things.’”

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo ’01 Teaches Latino Studies, Queer Studies

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Q: Welcome back to Wesleyan, Professor Grappo! Can you please fill us in on what you’ve done since graduating from Wes?

A: After graduating from Wesleyan in 2001, I worked a fifth grade teacher at a Catholic school in the Bronx. Then I went to grad school at Yale and got my Ph.D. in American Studies. I took a job for a couple years as an assistant professor of American studies at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Last year, I came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor, and this year I began as a full-time, tenure-track professor.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Wesleyan?

A: I’m excited to be back. I had a wonderful experience here as an undergrad. It was really formative for me as a scholar and I made good friends and enjoyed many of the resources Wesleyan offers. When I saw there was a position open here, it seemed like a terrific opportunity, as not only is Wesleyan an incredible institution, but it’s also in a great area of the country, with so many excellent resources—other universities, libraries, museums, cities—located nearby. I really like the Wesleyan community, and all the smart and interesting people who are here.

Q: Please describe your research interests.

A: The two main fields I work in are Latino studies and queer studies. I feel like my work is guided by ethical and theoretical parameters, and I try to think through conceptual ideas within specific cultural and political moments and texts.

I’m currently working on a book manuscript called “Home and Other Myths: A Lexicon of Queer Inhabitation,” which is about the concept of “home” in the context of minoritarian politics and culture. The decision to use the concept of home as a structural theme was partly inspired by the work of Jean Amery, who is well know for his writings on surviving the Holocaust. In his book At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, he defines home not as a place, but as a state of innocence— a way of being in the world where you trust in the laws and customs of the land in which you live, a state in which you trust in the basic moral goodness of other people. Amery writes eloquently and convincingly about how the Holocaust shattered that state for Jews. Extrapolating from this idea, I argue that this conception of home offers a rich and productive way of thinking about contemporary queer life in the U.S., as queer people are often cast outside of the figurative boundaries of national and cultural homelands.

Q: What courses did you teach this semester, and what do you plan to teach in the future?

A: This semester, I taught an introductory Latino studies class and an upper-level class called Diaspora Border Migration. The Introduction of Latino Studies course introduced students—mostly first-years and sophomores, interested in a variety of different fields—to the history, politics, and culture of Latinos in the U.S. Although the class focuses on Latino identities, we considered the ways in which studying latinidad resonates with the larger field of American studies as well. With all my classes, I hope to encourage students’ curiosity and encourage them to think more carefully and deeply about the issues at hand. And with introductory courses in particular, I also hope that the concepts we discuss will pique their interest and guide them toward taking more American studies courses and considering the major. This semester, my upper-level seminar had a number of American studies majors, but also included students majoring in government, history, theater, and Latin American studies. In addition to a more theoretical dense syllabus, the course also asked students to reflect on important current events, such as the President’s speech on immigration, the various debates and actions concerning “securing the border,” and the concept of “illegality.”

Next semester I am teaching a junior colloquium called Cultural Theory and Analysis, which explores influential political theories and cultural concepts in the Western canon. I‘ll also be teaching a seminar titled Queer of Color Critique, which focuses on the ways in which people of color have critiqued queer political and scholarly work through the lens of racial and ethnic differentiation. Next year I’ll be teaching two introductory courses, one on Latino studies and one on queer studies, and two upper-level seminars in the same fields.

Q: I understand the Queer Studies cluster was established at Wesleyan after you were hired. Can you please tell us a little about the cluster, and how it will change the academic experience for students interested in this field?

A: The Queer Studies cluster has been in the works for a long time, but was formally established this year under the leadership of my American studies colleague Margot Weiss, [associate professor of American studies, associate professor of anthropology]. There are a number of professors who contribute classes to the cluster, including some recently arrived scholars. I believe the cluster will give students who are interested in queer studies an accessible academic path to follow, as they’ll be able to easily look online and see all the classes available, allowing them to cumulatively build a course of study that is nuanced, diverse, and thorough.

I’ve observed a lot of interest from students in exploring the field of queer studies—both in a scholarly way and a political way. I think that queer studies as a field has become central to understanding American studies. It’s important to note that queer studies is an expansive discipline – that is to say, it’s not just talking about gay people (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Rather, queer studies as a discipline asks us to think about the world from a minority point of view. What does it mean to negotiate difference? How do we think about minorities in a majority culture, and how are their rights and care determined?

Q: As a student at Wesleyan, you majored in “Women’s Studies.” Can you talk about how the field has changed since that time? The major is now “Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.”

A: I think it’s gone from being primarily an analysis of gender—which is, of course, important—to a broader way of thinking about how gender and sexuality, which are closely and inextricably tied together, work to construct experiential and political life. People often think of “women’s studies” or “feminist, gender and sexuality studies” as niche fields. But women are half the world. And thinking about gender and sexuality is not just important for people who identify as women, it’s for everyone: how we identify as humans–it’s one of the most basic ways in which we negotiate difference, and it has far reaching implications for everything from the creation of human life to the workings of global politics.

Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching here so far?

A: The students at Wesleyan are outstanding: They’re smart, creative, dedicated to learning, and very interested in the world around them, both culturally and politically. I find the vast majority of my students to be really interesting, intelligent people. I love our class discussions, and hearing what students think about ideas and texts. It can be fascinating for me to interact with students as they lay fresh eyes on material I know well, and very rewarding when a student comes up with an angle I hadn’t considered.

Q: What do you like to do outside of work?

A: I have two-year-old twins, who take up a lot of my time. We have two dogs and a cat, all rescue animals, who are also integral parts of our family. And, as we live in the forest, we spend a lot of time outside, hiking, spending time with family and friends, and working hard in our vegetable garden.

Lipton on Thinking Machines

James Lipton, professor of computer science, vice-chair of mathematics and computer science, spoke to the website Kill Switch about the “Turing Test.” Almost 65 years ago, Alan Turning, perhaps the first computer scientist, posed the question, “Can machines think?” and developed a test to answer this question. Given all the computing advances that have allowed machines to act more and more human, Lipton considered relevance of the Turing Test today.

Robinson Pinpoints Addiction Center in Brain

Mike Robinson recently published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience about the center of the brain that triggers addiction.

Mike Robinson recently published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience about the center of the brain that triggers addiction.

Having trouble resisting another glass of wine or a decadent slice of chocolate cake? In a new study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, pinpoints the part of the brain that triggers addiction. It’s in the brain’s amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that processes emotions, reports the news site Medical Xpress.

These findings were published Dec. 10 in the Journal of Neuroscience (read the full story here). Robinson is the lead author, and co-wrote the paper with two colleagues from the University of Michigan.

The study was done using a technique called optogenetics with rats. Whenever the rats pressed a lever to earn a sugary treat, a laser light painlessly activated the amygdala in their brains for a few seconds, making neurons in it fire more excitedly. When the rats pressed a separate lever to earn a treat, their amygdala was not activated. When the rats were then faced with a choice over which lever to press, they focused exclusively on getting the reward that previously excited their amygdala and ignored the other. They were also willing to work much harder to earn the first reward.

Robinson told Medical XPress that the results suggest a role for the amygdala in generating focused and almost exclusive desire as seen in addiction.

“Understanding the pathways involved in addictive-like behavior could provide new therapeutic avenues for treating addiction and other compulsive disorders,” he said.

Somoroff ’18 is Making Documentary Film on Holocaust Survivor, Woman Who Saved Him

Sofie Somoroff '18 traveled to Poland over Thanksgiving break to document on film the reunification of a Holocaust survivor and the "righteous gentile" who saved his life.

Sofie Somoroff ’18 traveled to Poland over Thanksgiving break to document on film the reunification of a Holocaust survivor and the “righteous gentile” who saved his life.

A prospective film major, Sofie Somoroff ’18 is interested in how filmmakers can foster a connection between the past and the present. Over Thanksgiving recess, she traveled to Poland to document the reuniting of Karl Schapiro—the grandfather of Somoroff’s close friend and working partner, Rachel Kastner—with a “righteous gentile” who saved his life during the Holocaust.

Sofie Somoroff filmed in Auschwitz.

Sofie Somoroff filmed in Auschwitz.

Schapiro has not returned to Eastern Europe since the war, and while he has corresponded with Paulina Plotskaj, the woman who saved him, they have not seen one another in many decades. Now 90 years old, Plotskaj and her parents, who were Christians, hid 15 people in an underground bunker for approximately three years during World War II. They were recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad VaShem, the world center for Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration. Plotskaj, who had no children and whose husband passed away 25 years ago, now lives alone in Krakow.

Somoroff’s connection to Plotskaj came through her friend Kastner, who visited Poland last spring on a trip retracing the steps of Eastern European Jewry during the Holocaust. Plotskaj unexpectedly spoke to Kastner’s tour group briefly during the trip. When Kastner came home, she and Somoroff “felt compelled to return to Poland and capture this fleeting reunion,” said Somoroff.

Scott: Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism A.O. Scott writes in The New York Times that ever since the financial crisis of 2008, he’s been on the lookout for the next great piece of art–a new “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Death of a Salesman.”

“The originals are all still around, available for revival and rediscovery and part of a robust artistic record of hard times past,” he writes. “But we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.”

Scott explains, “Serious art and popular entertainment, in their diverse ways, offer refuge and distraction. Their pleasures and comforts are not trivial, but essential. Art is the domain of solved problems, even if the problems are formal and the solutions artificial.”

Grossman: Madoff Pales Next to “Forex” Scandal

Though Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme shocked the nation and grabbed headlines in the months following the subprime crisis, in his latest post on OUPblog, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman draws readers’ attention to two far more economically significant scandals: Libor and forex (foreign exchange). He writes:

 The Libor and forex scandals have several especially troubling aspects in common. First, unlike Madoff, they did not require asset booms in order to succeed: profits could be made on days when a particular currency rose or fell. That is, no prolonged asset bubble was required for forex manipulation to succeed—nor would the scheme collapse if an asset bubble collapsed. In theory, forex manipulation could have continued indefinitely.

Second, unlike Madoff, who only required his own wits and the gullibility of investors to succeed, the forex scandal was a conspiracy—or rather a series of conspiracies. [...]

Finally, the forex scandal is especially troubling because it persisted for more than two years after the Libor scandal was exposed.

Wang ’16 Advocates for Asian American Civil Rights

Alton Wang '16 is a sociology and government double major who plans to enter public service after graduation, advocating for the rights of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Alton Wang ’16 is a sociology and government double major who plans to enter public service after graduation, advocating for the rights of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. He’s currently a member of the Asian American Student Collective. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, meet Alton Wang from the Class of 2016. 

Q: Hi Alton! Please tell us about where you grew up and your high school experience.

A: I grew up in Arcadia, Calif., which is about 40 minutes outside of downtown Los Angeles. The community in my high school was predominantly Asian and Asian American, so most people looked like me. I personally wanted to break out from that mold and try something completely different for college. So not only was Wesleyan was far away from home, it was not a place I’d ever previously considered going to college.

Q: So how did you wind up coming to Wesleyan?

A: I discovered it by chance. A guidance counselor suggested that I might be interested in Wesleyan, so I said, “Sure, I’ll add it to my list.” I didn’t give it another thought until the acceptances were in and I had to choose a school. When I visited Wesleyan in the spring of my senior year of high school, I fell in love with the campus. I just felt really comfortable here.