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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.

Woodcarver Yorburg ’77 to Speak on Jewish Immigrant Carvers

In his workshop, he carves a new leg and hoof for an antique carousel horse. (Photo by Melissa Rocha)

In his workshop, Bob Yorburg ’77 carves a new leg and hoof for an antique carousel horse. Yorburg will be speaking on “Coney Island Jewish Immigrant Carvers” at the Bushnell Park Carousel on April 28. (Photo by Melissa Rocha)

Bob Yorburg ’77, a master woodcarver renowned for his antique restorations of turn-of-the-20th-century carousels and calliopes, notes that the Jewish immigrant carvers of that era “raised the art of carousel carving to a new level.”

“Their realism and extraordinary ornamentation defined the Coney Island style of carousel carving,” he writes.

Additionally, these brilliant carvers translated their secular art into ornamentation that graced the historic synagogues of Brooklyn.

Offering a photographic journey into the workshops of some of these artists—Marcus Charles Illions, Charles Carmel, along with Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein—Yorburg will be speaking on “Coney Island Jewish Immigrant Carvers” at the Bushnell Park Carousel in Hartford, Conn., at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 28. Tickets are $10 by reservation only and may be purchased by calling 860-585-5411.

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 Middletown Press“Wesleyan Students Helping Former Prisoners to Gain Job Skills”

Wesleyan Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI) is a group of students working to help formerly incarcerated individuals acclimate back into society by providing them with job skills. The goal, according to member Asiyah Herrero ’22, is “making re-entry into the workforce a little bit easier. There are usually a lack of resources when people get out of prison, and starting to look for work, especially because there are a lot of jobs that do discriminate or have discriminatory ideas about people who have been in prison.”

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

In the first of a 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 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.

In 2004, Susan Lanzoni ’85 read an O Magazine interview of then U.S. Senator Barack Obama, in which he said that, more than America’s budget or trade deficit, he was concerned about an “empathy deficit” in our country. The use of the word “empathy” has only increased over the past 15 years, and many would say for good reason. In Empathy: A History (Yale University Press, 2018), Lanzoni explores empathy as a tool, a technique, a practice, and an aspiration, involving the body, the mind, and the imagination. She tracks the word from its early conception as a translation of the German word Einfühlung (“in-feeling”)—a psychological term used to describe how spectators projected their own feelings into objects of art and nature—to its current usage, which more closely resembles the opposite of projection. In addition to her discussion of the etymology of empathy, Lanzoni investigates the limits and possibilities of empathy in art, science, psychology, popular culture, and politics to present an all-encompassing look at the evolution of how we understand what it means to place ourselves in the world around us.

Who Are the Great Americans? Paintings by Lahav ’00 Spark Conversations

This portrait of George Washington by Jac Lahav ’00 is part of the project, The Great Americans, now on exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, Conn., until May 12. (Photo by Tammi Flynn)

The paintings: Oprah is elegantly coiffed, gowned in a long blue dress, into which a portrait of her in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has been etched. Lincoln, his sad visage rising above the American flag that envelops him, stands in front of a reproduction of a painting by Henry Ogden, “The Battle of Spotsylvania.” Afong Moy, the first woman from China to arrive in the United States, is clad in a culturally traditional red wedding dress, hands primly—or nervously?—clasped at her waist; her head entirely concealed by a veil. We’ll never see her face—which the artist hopes might prod us to consider: Would we have remembered it anyway?

These are just three from The Great Americans, a show by artist Jac Lahav ’00, on exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, Conn., until May 12. The work is attracting interest from both critics and schoolchildren alike, sparking dialogues among patrons responding to an implicit question behind the title: What makes someone “great”? Do the Americans shown here fit these criteria? 

While he was still in grad school, that question was the starting point for Lahav. He’d been watching a Discovery Channel miniseries, Greatest American, and his attention was captured by the debates that arose around naming a top-10 group. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln easily made the list. But the audience was divided between Jonas Salk or Oprah Winfrey, illustrating the difficulty: What is the definition of “great.” While Salk is the creator of the polio vaccine and might initially be a shoo-in, his legacy is more complicated, notes Lahav: His vaccine is no longer the one in use today, and his collaborators felt that Salk had ignored their contributions in favor of personal celebrity.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The GlobePost: “Trump’s Foreign Trade Policy and the Art of the Deal”

In this op-ed, Giulio Gallarotti, professor of government, co-chair of the College of Social Studies, argues that Donald Trump’s approach to U.S. trade policy is shaped by his career as a real estate mogul and businessman.

2. The Hartford Courant: “Don’t Let the ‘Green New Deal’ Hijack the Climate’s Future”

This op-ed coauthored by Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe expresses concern that the broad, aspirational goals contained in the “Green New Deal” proposal from Democrats in Congress “will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.”

3. The Tyee: “Lessons in Democracy from Haida Gwaii”

This review calls Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joseph Weiss a “remarkable book” that explores “the whole relationship of ‘settler’ Canada to the peoples whose lands we’ve occupied.”

4. Hartford Courant: “Middletown to Host LGBTQ Pride Parade in June”

Wesleyan, together with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, will coordinate Middletown’s inaugural LGBTQ pride parade on June 15. The event, which will also feature a festival on the South Green, will celebrate and affirm respect for members of the local queer community. Its timing coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement in June 1969.

5. South Dakota Public Broadcasting: “Fishbacks’ Gift Opens SDPB Basinger Studio at SDSU”

A satellite broadcast studio at South Dakota State University has been named in honor of Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, special advisor to the president, and an alumna of SDSU. “We are pleased to recognize SDSU Distinguished Alumni and world-renowned film educator and author Jeanine Basinger with the new SDPB Basinger Studio on SDSU’s campus in Brookings,” said Barb and Van Fishback, the donors who made the gift possible.

Recent Alumni News

  1. SXSW.com: “Bozoma Saint John [’99]: How Marketing Can Spur Social Change”

Bozoma Saint John ’99 was the Convergence Keynote Speaker for SXSWORLD, March 8-17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Writes Doyin Oyeniyi for the official website: “Bozoma Saint John thinks and talks about empathy quite a bit. For the marketing executive and SXSW 2019 Convergence Keynote speaker, this is integral to the work that she does currently as chief marketing officer for Endeavor, and it’s been an important feature of her previous work with companies such as PepsiCo, Apple and Uber. As she explains, empathy is what makes the difference in actually being able to establish impactful connections through storytelling and marketing.”

2. New York Times Book Review: “Growing Up With Murder All Around,” by Eric Klinenberg

The March 4, 2019, issue of The New York Times Book Review features Eric Klinenberg’s review of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, by Alex Kotlowitz ’77 on its front page. “Like Kotlowitz’s now classic 1991 book, There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a Chicago housing project, An American Summer forgoes analysis and instead probes the human damage that stems from exposure to violence. What he finds is important,” writes Klinenberg. He calls Kotlowitz’s latest work “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain.”

3. International Documentary Awards: “Reflections on Andrew Berends [’94],” by James Longley ’94

An editor’s note begins the piece: “Documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Andrew Berends passed away—just a week after Free Solo, on which he was one of the cinematographers, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary…. We thank Longley for sharing his reflections with us.”

Longley recalls meeting Berends in 1991, when they both entered Wesleyan as transfer students and became film majors. “I was the DP on his thesis film, and I could see his determination and commitment to filmmaking taking shape,” writes Longley. “After college we were off finding our parallel paths; I made a film about the Gaza Strip and he made a film about North Sea fishermen in the Netherlands. We reconnected in Iraq. I arrived before him; he was looking for advice and contacts. He wanted to know how he should dress for the place. Maybe grow a beard, I suggested. Andy showed up in Baghdad looking like a werewolf with mange. Lose the beard, I suggested.” Tracing their “parallel paths” with warmth, admiration, and deep sorrow, Longley—himself the director of award-winning documentary films including Iraq in Fragments and Sari’s Mother—notes that “Andy was my friend, he was my brother, he was as strong a person as I’ll likely ever know.”

4. Boston Globe: “Grad Schools Lag in Promoting Diversity,” by Syed Ali [’13]

The author, a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University, responded to an earlier article in the newspaper that called for Harvard to increase its commitment to diversity across its graduate school hirings and admissions. “This semester, I am enrolled in five classes at five different graduate schools (three at Harvard, two at MIT), and I believe that my peers and I would benefit from additional perspectives in each case. This extends to the faculty. Of the 15 courses I shopped across three Harvard graduate schools, 11 were taught by white men, four by white women,” he writes. Ali was an English and government double major at Wesleyan.