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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.

Art Books Illustrate Environmental Concerns, Lessons

From left, Sophia Ptacek '18 and Khephren Spigner '18 show their artist book to instructor Kim Diver.

From left, E&ES 197 students Sophia Ptacek ’18 and Khephren Spigner ’18 show their final project to instructor Kim Diver.

Students from Introduction to Environmental Studies (E&ES 197) presented their final projects Dec. 11 in Exley Science Center.

The Project Showcase involved 80 students informally presenting artists books, GIS story maps, children’s stories, fictional journals and other creative explorations.

“All projects are related to environmental issues in the Connecticut River,” said course instructor Kim Diver, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. The project is associated with the Center for the Arts’ Feet to the Fire initiative.

Several Wesleyan scholars and staff volunteered their time to demonstrate artist books to the students including Kate TenEyck, art studio technician and visiting assistant professor of art; Suzy Taraba, director of Special Collections and Archives; Rebecca McCallum, cataloguing librarian; and Joseph Smolinski, the Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment. Erinn Roos-Brown, program manager in the Center for the Arts, helped initiate the idea for the artist book projects.

Photos of the Project Showcase are below: (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)

Chantel Jones '17 and Tanya Mistry '17.

Chantel Jones ’17 and Tanya Mistry ’17.

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.

Fedolfi Receives Cardinal Achievement Award for Giving Tuesday Efforts

#THISISWHY

Charles Fedolfi '90

Charles Fedolfi ’90

The Office of Human Resources presented a Cardinal Achievement Award to Charles “Chuck” Fedolfi ’90 in December 2014.

Fedolfi, director of annual giving for the Office of University Relations, was honored for his work on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 2, when the Wesleyan community joined together in an unprecedented show of support for students.  Led by Fedolfi, a team of colleagues and volunteers inspired alumni, parents, faculty and staff to make 2,059 gifts totaling over $500,000 – far exceeding the original goal of 1,000 gifts for the day and setting a record for the largest number of gifts Wesleyan has ever received in one day. On Wesleyan’s first Giving Tuesday in 2013, 292 individuals contributed $54,135.

“Chuck was the driving force that made Giving Tuesday successful. He and his team developed an effective marketing plan featuring a handful of impressive Wes students and then communicated the message across media platforms with a motivating sense of urgency and excitement,” said Gemma Fontanella Ebstein, associate vice president of University Relations. “This intense campaign really got everyone talking, and giving, to their cause: Wesleyan.”

This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for those extra efforts. Award recipients are nominated by department chairs and supervisors. Nominations can be made anytime throughout the year. For more information or to nominate a staff member for the award, visit the Cardinal Achievement Award website.

Recipients will continue to be recognized in News @ Wesleyan.

See past Cardinal Achievement Award recipients here.

Imai’s Paper Examines the Prevalence of Attribution Error in Economic Voting

Masami Imai

Masami Imai

Masami Imai, professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies, is the co-author of an article titled “Attribution Error in Economic Voting: Evidence from Trade Shocks,” published in the January 2015 edition of Economy Inquiry, Volume 53, Issue 1, pages 258-257.

Rosa Hayes ’13, currently a research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, also is one of the paper’s co-authors.

This article exploits the international transmission of business cycles to examine the prevalence of attribution error in economic voting in a large panel of countries from 1990 to 2009. Masami and his co-authors found that voters, on average, exhibit a strong tendency to oust the incumbent governments during an economic downturn, regardless of whether the recession is home-grown or merely imported from trading partners.

The authors also found an important heterogeneity in the extent of attribution error. A split sample analysis shows that countries with more experienced voters, more educated voters, and possibly more informed voters—all conditions that have been shown to mitigate other voter agency problems—do better in distinguishing imported from domestic growth.

Students Showcase Art at Painting Show

Thirteen students enrolled in Professor of Art Tula Telfair’s Painting I course (ARTS 439) displayed their artwork at a Painting Show Dec. 8 at Art Studio South.

This introductory-level course in painting (oils) emphasized work from observation and stressed the fundamentals of formal structure: color, paint manipulation, composition and scale. Students addressed conceptual problems that helped them develop an understanding of the power of visual images to convey ideas and expressions. (Photos by Dat Vu ’15)

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McGuire Authors Chapter on Democracy, Political Regimes

James McGuire and Guillermo O'Donnell in 1985.

James McGuire and Guillermo O’Donnell in 1985.

Professor of Government James McGuire is the author of a book chapter titled “Democracy, Agency and the Classification of Political Regimes,” published in Reflections on Uneven Democracies: The Legacy of Guillermo O’Donnell by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Guillermo O’Donnell (1936-2011) was widely recognized as the world’s leading scholar of Latin American politics. During his doctoral studies, McGuire worked closely with O’Donnell in both Argentina and the United States, translating from Spanish to English O’Donnell’s Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Argentina, 1966-1973, in Comparative Perspective (University of California Press, 1988).

9781421414607McGuire’s chapter in this new volume commemorating O’Donnell’s life and work argues that schemes for classifying political regimes in Latin America could be improved by defining democracy in a way that gives more priority to human agency, and thereby to the opportunity to lead a thoughtfully chosen life; by recognizing that democracy affects social and political outcomes not only through electoral competition, but also through the freedoms of expression and organization, as well as through long-term cultural changes; and by applying contemporary rather than past standards to decide whether a country meets the operational criteria for democracy.

 

 

Student Athletes Collect Toys for Local Children at “Stuff the Net”

stuffthenet2014-1

For the third year, Wesleyan’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) sponsored “Stuff the Net” to benefit Macdonough School, one of eight local elementary schools in Middletown.

For one week, people visiting the Freeman Athletic Center had the opportunity to drop off unwrapped toys intended for students ages 5-11 and leave them in the hockey goal set up in the Cross Street Lobby.

The toys were wrapped by Macdonough staff, Athletic Department staff and student-athlete volunteers. The gifts were taken to Macdonough School for distribution to the students. Over the past two years, hundreds of gifts were donated, ranging from stuffed animals to bicycles.