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Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors

In the second of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

Sarah C. Townsend ’90 writes with an urgency that comes not from the saltwater of her tears, but directly from her pen. In Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Psychosis, which was released from The Lettered Street Press earlier this month, Townsend guides her readers through a raw and visceral recollection of her experience with postpartum psychosis. Townsend, who majored in the College of Letters at Wesleyan before receiving both an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology, explores the fragmentation of memory through pulsating vignettes that parse nuances of loss, grief, motherhood, and sanity. Bursts of sharp and vulnerable detail presented in lyrical prose display Townsend’s fearlessness as she evaluates the ways in which her own body and others’ bodies handle and inform emotion. Through its discussion of losing and finding wholeness, Townsend’s succinct and striking writing implores readers to reckon with the power and limitation of physical reflections in representing mental illness.

Study by Herbst, Greenwood Presents New Theory on How Meteorites Formed

A paper by John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy William Herbst and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood will be published in the September 2019 issue of Icarus, published by Elsevier. The paper is available online.

The paper, titled “Radiative Heating Model for Chondrule and Chondrite Formation,” presents a new theory of how chondrules and chondrites (the most common meteorites) formed. It suggests a new approach to thinking about these rocks that populate the meteorite collections on Earth. It includes both theory and experiments (completed in Greenwood’s lab in Exley Science Center).

These laboratory experiments demonstrate that porphyritic olivine chondrules, the most voluminous type of chondrule, can be made using heating and cooling curves predicted by the “flyby” model. View a schematic diagram here.

“The problem of how chondrules and chondrites formed has been around for decades—more than a century, really. We cannot yet claim to have solved the problem but we have provided a new idea about the solution that passes many tests,” Herbst explained.

The basic idea, Herbst said, involves heating of small fluffy “rocks” in space as they fly past molten lava eruptions on larger asteroids, during the first few million years of the solar system’s existence.

Herbst, Greenwood, and Postdoctoral Research Associate Keniche Abe, will present this research at meetings this summer in Europe and Japan.

MacLowry ’86, Strain to Launch Wesleyan Documentary Project on Campus

Beginning this fall, the Wesleyan Documentary Project will be led by Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry ’86, the duo behind the Boston-based documentary film company The Film Posse.

Beginning this fall, the Wesleyan Documentary Project will be led by Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry ’86, the duo behind the Boston-based documentary film company, The Film Posse. (Photo by Eric Levin.)

Wesleyan’s College of Film and the Moving Image (CFILM) is launching the Wesleyan Documentary Project, an initiative to teach, support, and produce nonfiction film and video.

Beginning this fall, the Wesleyan Documentary Project will be led by Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry ’86, the duo behind the Boston-based documentary film company, The Film Posse. They will join Wesleyan’s faculty as professors of the practice, teaching courses in documentary creation and studies.

MacLowry and Strain will also relocate their production company to Middletown, where they will continue to produce films for PBS and other outlets. Together, The Film Posse and the Wesleyan Documentary Project will support filmmaking on campus.

Psychology Department Hosts Research Poster Session

More than 120 students presented 65 posters during the Department of Psychology's Research Poster Presentation April 25 in Beckham Hall. 

More than 120 students presented 65 posters during the Department of Psychology’s Research Poster Presentation April 25 in Beckham Hall.

Will Ratner '22 shared his poster titled "Relationship between Coping Strategies and Self-Esteem." Ratner's advisor is Sarah Kamens, the David Scott Williams Visiting Professor of Psychology

Will Ratner ’22 shared his poster titled “Relationship between Coping Strategies and Self-Esteem.” Ratner’s advisor is Sarah Kamens, the David Scott Williams Visiting Professor of Psychology.

Sammi Diep ’20 and Helena Sanchez ’21 presented their poster titled “What’s Sexual Orientation and Race Got to Do With It? Examining Multiple Domains of Psychosocial Adjustment at University.” Their advisor is Royette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology.

Versey Authors Paper on the Impact of Gentrification, Moderates Panel

shellae versey

H. Shellae Versey

H. Shellae Versey, assistant professor of psychology, is the author of “A tale of two Harlems: Gentrification, social capital, and implications for aging in place,” published in Social Science & Medicine, Volume 214, October 2018.

In this paper, Versey discusses the impact of gentrification on features of the social and cultural environment.

“While research generally describes gentrification as a phenomenon of housing shifts and neighborhood migration, I argue that gentrification is more so a process of slow violence that increases housing scarcity and social isolation, disrupts neighborhood social capital, and decreases a sense of belongingness, particularly among older adults and communities of color,” she said.

Versey examined several neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, including Harlem and Brooklyn, N.Y., which revealed a more complicated narrative about changing neighborhood dynamics and the implementation of new norms as a consequence of gentrification.

At Wesleyan, Versey leads the Critical Health + Social Ecology (CH+SE) Lab. There, Versey and her students explore social ecologies and the context of neighborhoods, work, health, and gender by using surveys, epidemiological data, geospatial analytics, and community engagement to examine questions related to these themes.

At 5 p.m. on May 2, Versey will moderate an American Studies panel discussion on gentrification titled “Interrogating the Wesleyan to New York City Pipeline.”

Students Receive Undergraduate Research Prizes from Friends of the Wesleyan Library

Two Wesleyan students are the recipients of the Friends of the Wesleyan Library’s third annual Undergraduate Research Prize.

Emma Leuchten '19

Emma Leuchten ’19

Isaac Klimasmith ’20

Isaac Klimasmith ’20

Emma Leuchten ’19, an anthropology and religion double major, received the first place prize for her senior essay, “Anthropology Beyond Belief: Navigating Dreams and Reality in the Burmese Weikza Tradition.” Leuchten based the paper on fieldwork she conducted in Myanmar during a semester abroad. Her advisor was Elizabeth Traube, professor of anthropology.

The essay explores quests for power and knowledge in a contemporary Burmese wizardry tradition. Drawing from personal interviews with weikza (wizard-saints), devotees, and skeptics, Leuchten examines the tensions that have arisen between this tradition and orthodox Buddhist institutions in the post-colonial religious and political landscapes of Myanmar.

“I write against the anthropological impulse to study the symbolic or cultural value of religious figures and experiences—the tendency to explain ‘what’s really going on’ beneath a spiritual event,” Leuchten said. “Beginning with the premise that what I’m studying is real, I propose that a rigorous but open exploration of alternate ontologies can work to destabilize the dominant ontological assumptions that sociocultural discourse takes for granted.”

Isaac Klimasmith ’20, a biology major, received the second place prize for his essay, “Waters in the Wilderness and Rivers in the Desert: Irrigation Myths in the History of Early Mormon Agriculture.” Klimasmith wrote this paper while taking the class ENVS 307: The Economy of Nature and Nations, taught by Paul Erickson, associate professor of history; associate professor, environmental studies.

Bobrick in The Conversation: What the Greek Tragedy Antigone Can Teach Us About the Dangers of Extremism

Elizabeth Bobrick

Elizabeth Bobrick

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth Bobrick, visiting scholar in classical studies and visiting assistant professor in liberal studies, writes about lessons from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone, a play which, she writes, “mirrors the state of America’s current disunion.”

What the Greek tragedy Antigone can teach us about the dangers of extremism

In a Greek tragedy written in the middle of the fifth century B.C., three teenagers struggle with a question that could be asked now: What happens when a ruler declares that those who resist his dictates are enemies of the state, and that ruler has as many supporters as he has detractors?

The story of Sophocles’ Antigone and the accursed royal family of Thebes belongs to the mythical pre-history of Greece.

Greek tragedy portrays in broad strokes the cruelties that take place within families and cities, but keeps them in the safe distance of the mythical past. The mythical past provided a safe space to present contemporary problems without outright political affiliation.

The play, named after its young heroine, mirrors the state of America’s current disunion: Political and moral views are framed in terms of a fight between patriot and traitor, defenders of civic order and its enemies, and law and conscience.

Wesleyan Mock Trial Team Takes 8th Place in National Competition

Mock Trial

Wesleyan Mock Trial club competitors gather after their eighth-place finish in their division of a National Championship Tournament.

This year, approximately 740 teams from more than 350 universities across the country competed in tournaments hosted by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). And of those 740 teams, Wesleyan’s Mock Trial Team A placed eighth in the country in the Temple Law Division during the National Championship Tournament on April 7.

The AMTA hosted three rounds of competition for the 5,300 participating college students: Regionals, the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS), and the National Championship. 

Wesleyan’s three teams—A, B, and C—qualified for the ORCS tournament leading up to Nationals. And for the first time in Wesleyan’s history, teams A and B both earned a bid in the National competition.

Book by Odede ’12, Posner ’09 Chosen for First Year Matters Program’s Common Reading

Find Me Unafraid

Kennedy Odede ’12

Kennedy Odede ’12

A book coauthored by Wesleyan alumni Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner ’09 was unanimously chosen as the Common Reading selection for the Class of 2023.

The Common Reading is part of Wesleyan’s First Year Matters Program, which serves as an introduction to intellectual life at Wesleyan.

All Class of 2023 students will receive an electronic copy of the book, Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum (2016). As their first Wesleyan “homework assignment,” the students are expected to read it prior to New Student Orientation. The book will serve as a tool for spearheading discussions throughout the Class of 2023’s first year.

Odede also plans to speak to the Class of 2023 during orientation.

Find Me Unafraid tells the story of two young people whose collaboration sparked a successful movement to transform the lives of vulnerable girls and the urban poor.

The book explores how Kennedy, a native of Kibera (the largest urban slum in Africa) first confronted his environment by creating Shining Hope for Communities, a group to empower urban youth and women. Soon thereafter, he met Jessica, who was working in community theater in Kibera during her semester abroad. The two fell in love, bringing their worlds and community commitment together. Kennedy exchanged the escalating violence of Kibera for the world of higher education, attending Wesleyan with a full scholarship. After graduation, Kennedy and Jessica returned to Kenya to start the Kibera School for Girls. Find Me Unafraid provides a compelling account of how these two people became agents of the kind of change that embodies the pragmatic idealism that is core to Wesleyan’s mission.

Whitney ’19 Wins DAAD Scholarship to Support Graduate Study in Germany

Lizzie Whitney ’19

Lizzie Whitney ’19

Lizzie Whitney ’19, a College of Letters and German studies double major from California, is the recipient of a 2019 DAAD scholarship for study/research in Germany.

The Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, or German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) supports the internationalization of German universities and promotes German studies and the German language abroad. The study scholarship is presented to graduating seniors at the top of their class.

Whitney, who is applying to the University of Konstanz for graduate school, will use her DAAD scholarship to support her studies in comparative literature. The study scholarship also provides students with a monthly stipend plus funds for health insurance and travel costs.

“I’d also like to focus on the creation of a concept of German national identity through literature and literary confrontation with the Other, in whatever form that might be over the past few centuries,” she explained.

Since 1925, more than 1.9 million scholars in Germany and abroad have received DAAD funding.