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Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn 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 Morning Call: “Allen Student Wins ‘Hamilton’ Scholarship, Congrats from Lin-Manuel Miranda”

Anna Tjeltveit of Allentown, Penn., winner of the 2019 Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity, is profiled. She shares how her winning submission, a one-act play titled, “Five Steps,” came together at the last minute, and discusses her early career in theater as well as her plans for her time at Wesleyan.

2. WJLA: “Arlington Teen Wins ‘Hamilton’ Prize Gets a Shout Out from Lin-Manuel Miranda”

Cole Goco of Arlington, Va., who received an honorable mention in the 2019 Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity, is interviewed. He discusses his years-long work on his winning web comic strip, “Billy the Pop,” and what it felt like to have Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 congratulate him by name on Twitter.

President Emeritus Bennet ’59, P’87, ’94, Hon. ’94, Remembered at Memorial Chapel Service

After President Bennet’s memorial service on May 25, 2019, Joe Fins ’82, MD, captured this image, which he thought represented three important areas of commitment in Bennet’s life. (Photo by Joseph J. Fins ’82, MD)

On the Saturday of Reunion & Commencement Weekend, May 25, 2019, the family of President Emeritus Douglas J. Bennet Jr. ’59, P’87, ’94, Hon. ’94 welcomed extended family and a host of friends from the Class of ’59 and other alumni, as well as Wesleyan faculty and staff to gather in Memorial Chapel to remember the life of their husband, father, brother, and grandfather. Bennet died on June 10, 2018, at the age of 79, which was noted in Wesleyan magazine last summer. As this was the Reunion year for his class, the setting provided an opportunity for those who had known him 64 years ago, as a Wesleyan first-year student, to assemble with his family in the chapel, where they had installed a plaque to their “classmate, friend, inspired leader of the College on the Hill“ on the occasion of their 60th Reunion.

Bennet, whose distinguished career prior to the Wesleyan presidency had included service as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under President Clinton, chief executive officer and president of National Public Radio, and head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was noted for his commitment to public service. He was also known for his dedication to family and his love for sailing. All three facets were well represented in Saturday’s program.

Speakers at the service included President Michael Roth ’78; Alan Dachs ’70, P’98, Hon. ’07, who had chaired Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees during a segment of Bennet’s presidency; Bennet’s brother John; and his son Michael ’87, Hon. ’12, who offered remembrances on behalf of his siblings, Holly ’94 and James, as well. Dachs noted that Bennet “took joy in working for the greater good. He had ambition for Wesleyan, not himself. We could, and would, follow him with confidence and a sense of purpose.” The Wesleyan Spirits provided their a cappella “Amazing Grace,” and four of Bennet’s grandchildren delivered a poem by Philip Booth: “Chart 1203: Penobscot Bay and Approaches.”

Alumni Honored for Distinguished Achievements, Outstanding Service at Annual Assembly, Meeting

The award winners stand on stage in two rows.

President Roth, far left, and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee joined the alumni receiving awards on the stage of Crowell Concert Hall before the Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association. Front row (l. to r.): Secretary of the Alumni Association Cecilia Pohorille McCall ’91; Distinguished Alumni Bozoma “Boz” Saint John ’99, Rob King ’84, and Jeffrey Deitch ’74; Outstanding Service Award recipient Daphne Kwok ’84; and Distinguished Alumnus Gordon Crawford ’69. Top row (l. to r.): Chair of the Alumni Association Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87, Distinguished Alumna Jenno Topping ’89; Outstanding Service Award recipients Bert Edwards ’59 and Edward Murphy ’59; James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award recipient Alexander Chee ’89; Distinguished Alumnus Scott Gottlieb ’94; and Distinguished Alumnus Thomas Kail ’99, who spoke on how “Finding Your People Matters the Most.”  (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

At the Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Wesleyan Alumni Association on May 25, seven alumni received Distinguished Alumnus Awards. Three Outstanding Service Awards were presented, along with the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award, which is given to a member of the community whose writing conveys “unusual insights and understanding of current and past events.” Thomas Kail ’99, renowned and award-winning director and producer for theater, film, and television, delivered the keynote, “Finding Your People Matters the Most,” tracing the path that led him to his current position through a dedication to service and surrounding himself with others who shared his vision.

Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87, chair of the Alumni Association, delivered the citations honoring the alumni.

The award recipients are:

THOMAS MICHAEL KAIL ’99: Thomas Kail is a director and producer for theater, film, and television. The winner of two Emmys for producing and directing Grease: Live for Fox television, he won a Tony for directing Hamilton in 2016. His latest project is the limited series Fosse/Verdon, on which he served as executive producer for the series and as director of five episodes. He serves as honorary co-chair of the University’s Hamilton Prize Selection Committee.

GORDON CRAWFORD ’69: Gordy Crawford retired at the end of 2012 after a 41-year career with the Capital Group’s Capital Research and Management Company. He is the chairman of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, as well as a lifetime active trustee and past chairman of the board of Southern California Public Radio.

JEFFREY W. DEITCH ’74: In the art world, Jeffrey Deitch has performed nearly every role: artist, art critic, curator, museum director, and art dealer. Now operating galleries in New York and Los Angeles, he is the author of a new book on figurative painting, Unrealism, which will be published by Rizzoli in the fall of 2019.

President Roth (left) and Distinguished Alumnus Rob King ’84 listen as Muzzy Rosenblatt ’87 cites King’s accomplishments at the ceremony.

ROBERT F. KING ’84: As senior vice president at ESPN, Rob King is an influential multimedia architect at the biggest brand in sports, directly overseeing ESPN’s entire portfolio of storytelling assets. A six-time Sports Emmy award-winner and a past Pulitzer judge, King is a member of the Associated Press board of directors, the Center for Investigative Reporting board, and the Poynter Institute’s board of trustees.

JENNO TOPPING ’89: As current president of Film and Television at Chernin Entertainment, Jenno Topping oversees all of the company’s development and production, including the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures (2016). This past year, Ms. Topping spearheaded “Who’s in the Room,” Time’s Up Entertainment’s mentorship program designed to increase the presence of individuals from underrepresented groups in the producer and executive ranks.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB ’94: Scott Gottlieb is a physician and health policy expert who served as the 23rd commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from May 2017 to April 2019, during which he focused on a wide variety of issues, including drug pricing, medical product innovation, and vaccination promotion. Currently, he has returned to his role as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Alumni Celebrate with Old Classmates at 2019 Reunion


Alumni—especially those whose class years ended in 4 or 9—joined the families of graduating Class of 2019 seniors for a campus-wide series of celebrations, WESeminars, thesis exhibitions, and festivities.

Wesleyan’s Class of 1969, celebrating their 50th Reunion, began with a dinner on Thursday to gather the group and kick off the weekend.

View photos below or on Wesleyan Tumblr.

Class of 1989

The Vanguard Class of 1969 Offers Reflections After 50 Years

Steve Pfeiffer ’69, Bernard Freamon ’69, and Barry Checkoway ’69 addressed a standing-room-only seminar on May 25.

On Feb. 21, 1969, black students, faculty, and staff staged a historic takeover of Fisk Hall, Wesleyan’s main academic building at the time, to protest racism and advocate for increased administrative support for people of color at the University. Dubbed the “Vanguard Class” for their place at the forefront of that movement, several members of the Class of 1969 reconvened at Fisk Hall on Saturday, May 25, 2019, to reflect on what being a part of that momentous event 50 years earlier has meant for them and for Wesleyan since.

Speaking to more than 100 attendees in a standing-room-only crowd, the panel included moderator Alford Young ’88, Howard Brown ’69, Barry Checkoway ’69, Bernard Freamon ’69, Steve Pfeiffer ’69, and Rev. Edwin Sanders ’69 and featured each panelist’s personal recollection of the watershed moment, as well as a brief discussion of how life at the University for students and people of color—both on and off campus—continues to evolve today. That evolution has included Wesleyan faculty voting African American Studies into full departmental status in December 2018.

“At most 50th reunions, you are celebrating and remembering football games, or the glee club,” said President Michael Roth ’78 during his introduction. “Not at Wesleyan. We’re unusual in that we celebrate the takeover of a building and waking up administrations to get them to do the right thing . . . and the Vanguard Class marks that important turning point in Wesleyan’s history.”

Q&A: Sienkiewicz ’03 on Dual Interests: Comedy and Global Media Studies

Visiting assistant professor Swapnil Rai stands beside her colleague from Boston College, alumnus Matt Sienkiewicz, who gave a guest lecture

Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Swapnil Rai invited Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, associate professor of communication at Boston College, to speak to her class about broadcast media in the Middle East. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

Earlier this semester Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Swapnil Rai invited Matt Sienkiewicz ’03 to be a guest lecturer in her class, FILM 328: Beyond the West. The course “examines the role that film…and other media play in shaping our sense of global, national, and local cultures and identities.”

Sienkiewicz, associate professor of communication and chair of the department at Boston College, teaches courses in global media cultures and media theory. One of his eclectic areas of research looks at the West’s investment in Middle Eastern broadcasting initiatives. In 2011 he produced a peer-reviewed documentary film, Live: From Bethlehem, which explored this topic, based on work that included six months of on-location research.

For Rai’s class, Sienkiewicz discussed his book The Other Air Force

Matt Sienkiewicz is teaching at the front of the class

Sienkiewicz spoke about his research on the West’s involvement in broadcast initiatives in the Middle East.

(Rutgers University Press, 2016), which looks at American influence on radio and television programming in the Middle East. He explained how he evaluates programming by using a scale, placing on one end U.S. influence as “soft power” (money supporting the programming but little attention given to oversight of the message), and on the other, “Psy-Ops” programming (marked by a more invasive interest in psychologically influencing the viewer toward adopting a pro-American point of view).

Additionally, Sienkiewicz also studies and teaches classes in the politics of contemporary American comedy. He is coeditor (with Nick Marx) of The Comedy Studies Reader (University of Texas Press, 2018).

He spoke to the Connection about his seemingly unlikely dual academic interests.

Q: When did you get interested in comedy?
A: I’ve always loved comedies. When I was 10 years old, my sister and I would perform Roger Rabbit routines on video. Alf was a must-see appointment each week.

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. Inside Higher Ed: “The Need for a Recovery of the Humanities”

In this essay, President Michael S. Roth responds to the “flood of negativity” in public discourse about higher education, in general, and the humanities, in particular. He suggests that “in order to recover the trust of students and their families, we must overcome our cultivated insularity.”

2. NBC News: “Carbon Dioxide Hits a Level Not Seen for 3 Million Years. Here’s What That Means for Climate Change — And Humanity.”

Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, comments on new evidence that the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has climbed to a level last seen more than 3 million years ago. According to the article, shorter term impacts include loss of vegetation and sea-ice coverage, while other things, like the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, will occur more slowly. “But these impacts are going to persist for a very long time,” said Royer. “Once that happens, we can’t really reverse it.”

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

In the third 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.

the cover for An American Summer: A boy stands with his back to us with his shirt off.Alex Kotlowitz ’77: An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago (Penguin Random House, 2019)

“Let me tell you what this book is,” Alex Kotlowitz ’77 writes. “It’s not a policy map or a critique. It’s not about what works or doesn’t work.” But it is about the stories and it is about the numbers. Over the past 20 years, 14,033 people have been killed and another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. In this vivid collection of profiles in Chicago’s most turbulent neighborhoods, acclaimed journalist and filmmaker Kotlowitz writes portraits that reflect the daily violence faced by too many Americans.

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago disrupts the categories of criminals and victims to explore violence through empathic and unyielding reportage on the ones left standing. While this book is not a policy map, it is a must-read to understand the amount and impact of violence that does not regularly make national headlines but is nonetheless tragic. Kotlowitz approaches this tragedy with an emphasis on the humanity of his subjects, amplifying the positions of the people who, if not on either side of the gun, are witnesses to something that has become unforgivably American.

“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.

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.

Dreier ’08 of ProPublica Wins Pulitzer for Feature Writing

Hannah Dreier ’08, a journalist with ProPublica reporting on immigration issues, received a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. (Photo by Carlos Becerra)

Hannah Dreier ’08, a journalist with ProPublica, was announced the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing on April 15.

The New York Times reported: “Ms. Dreier’s detailed portraits of Salvadoran immigrants were cited for exposing how their lives had been destroyed ‘by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.’ After Ms. Dreier, 32, heard President Trump tie immigration to gang violence, her reporting revealed that immigrants were often victims of the crime groups. ‘What was so cruel was that this population was being preyed upon,’ she said. The series was published jointly with The New York Times Magazine, Newsday, and New York magazine.” ProPublica calls itself “a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.”

Dreier, who was awarded the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award at Reunion last year for writing that conveys “unusual insights and understanding of current and past events,” also spoke on a WESeminar panel about journalism today, highlighted in Wesleyan magazine. Dreier had worked in Venezuela several years ago and spoke about the polarized atmosphere in that country, comparing it to our current political climate.

She told the WESeminar attendees, “My approach has been to try to focus on telling concrete personal stories and trying to just pile enough detail that people can decide for themselves what they think is happening and how they feel about it.” As an undergraduate, she majored in the College of Letters.

Read a Q&A with Dreier in this Wesleyan Argus article.