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Klaber ’67 Presents RFK Assassination Research at Dublin Festival of Politics

Klaber

William Klaber ’67, author of Shadow Play: The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, spoke at the Dublin Festival of Politics last November. (Photo by Siena Klaber)

William Klaber ’67, investigative journalist and co-author of Shadow Play: The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, was invited to speak on his research at the Dublin Festival of Politics last November. The book, originally published in 1998 and written with political scientist Philip Melanson, coordinator of the Robert F. Kennedy Archive, was revised and updated in 2018 for the 50th anniversary of the assassination. Additionally, Klaber was featured as a host on the podcast The RFK Tapes, which debuted at #1 on the iTunes chart last year. Created by the producers of Crimetown​ and Cadence13, the audio documentary series re-examines the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

The assassination, says Klaber, was initially investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department, which presented it as a clear-cut open-and-shut case, with Sirhan Sirhan as the admitted perpetrator captured at the scene, gun in hand, and now serving a life sentence. All records had been sealed for 20 years following the crime, and since the release of information in 1988, Klaber has been one of the individuals re-examining and questioning the facts as they were presented. In 1993, Klaber made an hour-long audio program called The RFK Tapes, which aired on 160 public radio stations. After the program’s release, Time magazine reviewed the questions raised in the program with a full-page article on June 7 of that year, concluding, “Alas, considering how much evidence has disappeared, it’s an open question whether … a probe would resolve old doubts—or create new ones.”

Noting the significant response to the original audio production, St. Martin’s Press invited Klaber to write a book about what he and UMass Professor Melanson had found in examining the facts of the case: the 1998 version of Shadow Play.

This fall at the Dublin Festival of Politics, John Lee, the political editor of The Irish Mail on Sunday newspaper as well as a book author, joined Klaber onstage to discuss points of contention in the investigation that Klaber raises, including ignored witness accounts, audiotapes of coerced testimony, and bullet-hole evidence, which had been destroyed but indicated that more than one gun had been fired.

“The Irish love their Kennedys and so they’re particularly interested in who killed John and who killed Bobby,“ said Klaber, explaining his invitation to the Dublin political festival. Additionally, he added that many of those who were eyewitnesses or initially interested in the Kennedy murders have passed away. “There are not a lot of us left, in terms of people who really understand the case and who have mucked around in the police files.”

Klaber, who is currently working on a podcast series that takes a new look at the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., is also the author of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell: A Novel (St. Martins Press, 2016). He was a College of Social Studies major at Wesleyan.

“People sometimes refer to me as a conspiracy guy,” said Klaber, “which serves to dismiss my work. But I’m not that. I’m an evidence guy. In Shadow Play, we talk about what we know.”

Tezén ’97 Appointed President, CEO of A Better Chance

Francisco Tezén

Francisco Tezén ’97 (Photo courtesy of A Better Chance)

On Feb. 1, Francisco Tezén II ’97 became the next president and chief executive officer of A Better Chance, a national nonprofit that places talented young people of color into the leadership pipeline through increased access to academically rigorous secondary schools.

Tezén, a first-generation Peruvian-American, will lead the nonprofit when racial equity, educational opportunity, diversity, access and inclusion are at the forefront of our nation’s collective conscience. He was formerly the chief development officer at the Food Bank For New York City.

“My parents, an immigrant father and a black mother from rural North Carolina, stressed the importance of education to climb out of poverty and realize our American dream,” Tezén said. “As an alumnus of a college preparatory program, I have experienced firsthand the transformative effect of efforts that open pathways of opportunity for people like me. I am honored to lead A Better Chance in writing the next chapter in its venerable legacy.”

Former Virginia Governor Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, Remembered

Gerald Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, who had served as the 65th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 79.

A government major at Wesleyan, he earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. After a stint in the Virginia attorney general’s office, he practiced law in Richmond, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1976, he became the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1981, and was, during his term, selected by his peers as Outstanding Attorney General of the United States.

Elected governor in 1985, he served in that capacity from 1986 through 1991. An obituary in the Richmond Times Post noted that as governor, “[h]e delivered on his promise to make transportation an economic building block, with new roads and improvements to the port and airports in Virginia. He saw education as the key to economic development, raising teachers’ salaries and fully funding school budgets. . . . His continuing leadership was recognized by the National Governors Association when he was elected as its chairman during his term.”

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 Washington Post: “How One College Is Helping Students Get Engaged in Elections—and, No, It’s Not Political”

President Michael Roth writes about Wesleyan’s initiative to engage students meaningfully in work in the public sphere ahead of the 2020 elections, and calls on other colleges and universities to do the same. He writes: “Now is the time for higher education leaders to commit their institutions to find their own paths for promoting student involvement in the 2020 elections. This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational benefit that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship; participants will gain organizational skills, learn to engage productively with others with whom they disagree and learn about themselves.”

2. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: “Nicole Stanton Will Be the Next Provost at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut”

Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will begin her new role as Wesleyan’s 12th provost and vice president for academic affairs on May 15. She joined Wesleyan in 2007 as associate professor of dance, and currently serves as dean of the Arts and Humanities.

Shasha ’50, P’82, Founder of Human Concerns Seminar, Is Remembered

James Shasha, the businessman and benefactor who founded and endowed the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan, died Oct. 21. He was 91.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1929, he emigrated to the United States when he was 15 and later attended Wesleyan, graduating in 1950 with a major in economics. In 1955 he moved to Argentina, where he pursued his business interests in the wool and carpet industries, serving as the country’s delegate to the International Wool and Textile organization. Later, at 73, he decided to delve into the hotel business without previous experience in this industry. He acquired four hotels: three in Argentina and one in Uruguay.

Always interested in education and the qualities of citizenship, he told Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution with which he was also affiliated: “After World War II there was a lot of idealism about how to build a better world and that was what made me understand and incorporate what a citizen’s responsibility should be: take responsibility for the environment, be it the community, the country, or culture in which it participates.”

He developed the Shasha Seminars first at the Hebrew University and then imported them to Wesleyan.

Sunderland ’92 and Kaplan ’20 Discuss Education

As spring semester approached, Avery Kaplan ’20 gave her former Bedford [Mass.] High School history teacher, James Sunderland ’92, a call to talk about what education means in 2020. Below is an edited portion of their conversation.

Mx. Sunderland has been teaching history at Bedford High School in Bedford, Mass., since 2003. Sunderland was elected president of the teacher’s union this year; in 2010, they received the Kidger Award for Outstanding History Teacher from the New England History Teachers’ Association. Among students, Sunderland is (in)famous for coaching 11th grade classes to compete in the very stressful—but very rewarding—National History Day competition. (Photo courtesy of Julia Sunderland)

Avery Kaplan: What do you think Wesleyan aspires to be, and what do you think education in this country aspires to be?

James Sunderland: It’s always seemed to me that Wesleyan is a place that sincerely wants to be engaged in learning; making an impact in the world in a way that’s also humble, listening to people with an open mind, the free exchange of ideas, disagreeing without being disagreeable. And that we’re all in this shared effort to make more sense of the world. The underlying idea is authenticity; an intent at no pretense.

AK: It’s interesting, that idea of authenticity. One of the worst things you can be labeled as at Wesleyan is “performative”—it’s a pejorative term. How do you think Wesleyan fosters authenticity?

JS: There’s certainly an explicit message of it at Wesleyan, but it’s something that is much easier said than done. For one thing, the professors I had were sincerely engaged in their work. Engaging with students as equals is important. At Wesleyan, I felt that my voice was respected by my professors, that they weren’t pedantic. I think that in general Wesleyan attracts a student body who wants to go someplace where you can have interesting conversations with peers. My friend group, for example, was pretty diverse in terms of interests. We weren’t all the same majors, we met by the randomness of first-year dorms, and it’s made for some really cool conversations over the last 30 years.

AK: I can definitely see how your time at Wes influenced the classroom culture you cultivate at the high school. It was also clear, when I was your student, that you were actively teaching us to become citizens. How has your strategy to teach civics and create citizens changed as you’ve been teaching?

Paintings by Schechter ’17 on Exhibit in NYC

Sarah Schechter, Walrus at Night, 2019, oil and mixed media on canvas, 36" x 48"

Sarah Schechter, Walrus at Night, 2019, oil and mixed media on canvas, 36″ x 48″

Sarah Schechter ’17 is exhibiting her first solo show, “Kasual Bagel,” at the Shrine Gallery in New York City. Her paintings will be on display through Jan. 5.

Shrine is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and is located at 179 East Broadway.

Schechter, who majored in history at Wesleyan, lives and works in Harlem, and is completing an art education certification program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Gaby Giangola ’17 Is Goth Girlfriend

Along with other musicians around the world this week, Goth Girlfriend (Gaby Giangola ’17) posted her “2019 Spotify Wrapped” overview to Instagram. Accompanied by the caption “gotta start somewhere, eh?,” the photo summarizes the number of streams and listeners who tuned in to Goth Girlfriend’s music on the streaming service this year. The caption encapsulates Goth Girlfriend’s tireless ambition.

Two years after graduation, Gaby Giangola ’17 aka Goth Girlfriend, is pursuing a career in music. (Photo by Blaise Bayno)

The up-and-coming artist’s music is self-described as banshee rap or alternative rock; her sound is raw and meticulous at the same time. The five tracks on her recent EP, Sex Sprain, mix guitar chords and hip-hop beats with punk vocals, and touch on themes of isolation, mental illness, sexism, and the hedonism of a “sympathetic nervous system surging for kicks.” By night, Goth Girlfriend is a singer-songwriter, bassist, and DJ. By day, she is Gaby Giangola, an administrative assistant at an entertainment law firm in New York City. This dichotomous identity defines not only her working week, but her artistic expression as well.

Greenhouse ’73, P’08 Lectures on the Past and Future of American Labor

Greenhouse lectures in the COL library

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08 discussed his book, Beaten Down, Worked Up, in the College of Letters Library. (Photo by Simon Duan ’23)

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, spoke in the College of Letters Library  on October 29 to a group that included Professor of History Ron Schatz’s class on American Labor History on Oct. 29, in the College Of Letters Library. His topic was “White Collar, Blue Collar and Gig Workers: What is the Future of American Labor?” The lecture was sponsored by the History Department and the College of Letters.

Greenhouse is a former New York Times labor reporter, and a review by Zephyr Teachout of Greenhouse’s book appeared in the paper on Oct. 3. Teachout called Greenhouse’s book an “engrossing, character-driven, panoramic new book on the past and present of worker organizing.” Teachout wrote: “There’s an enormous upheaval in the American workplace right now, and those who tell you they know how the next decade will pan out—for good or ill—don’t know their history. That’s one of the main lessons of Beaten Down, Worked Up … ”

Speaking to those gathered in the COL library, Greenhouse provided some of that history, drawing parallels between a piecework laborer in New York City’s garment district in the late 1800s to 20-something freelance workers putting in long hours hunched over their computers at home in today’s gig economy. He notes that some Uber drivers used to make more money per hour until upper management halved their pay rate, making it nearly impossible to support one’s family, even working 60 hours a week. He observed that Kickstarter, supposedly a labor-friendly organization, fired three out of eight people who were on a unionization committee. He further noted that Amazon now employs often inexperienced independent contractors as delivery drivers who have been involved in a number of serious auto accidents.

Alumni Speak with Students about Careers in Public Policy, Criminal Justice Reform

: James, Sarah, Nina, Aaron, Lexi

James Jeter ’16, Sarah Cassel ’13, Nina Stender ’16, Aaron Stagoff-Belfort ’18, and Lexi Jones ’17 spoke with students about careers in public policy and criminal justice reform. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

More than 50 students attended an alumni conversation on “Careers in Public Policy and Criminal Justice Reform” Nov. 13 at the Gordon Career Center.

Each of the panelists: Sarah Cassel ’13, James Jeter (who earned his degree in 2016 while incarcerated through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education), Lexi Jones ’17, Aaron Stagoff-Belfort ’18, and Nina Stender ’16 are working in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, analyzing and impacting policies dealing with inhumane jail conditions, policing, housing inequality, and issues around incarceration.

Stagoff-Belfort and Jim Kubat, associate director for job and internship development at the Gordon Career Center teamed up to assemble this dynamic panel as part of the career center’s ongoing mission to support students as they transition into the world of work.

“Three things are true,” Kubat explained. “1. There is a broad effort underway by a variety of governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations to reform our criminal justice system through shaping and changing public policy; 2. A Wesleyan education is excellent preparation for public policy work; and 3. Wesleyan alumni are demonstrating points 1 and 2 every day.”

For some students, starting a career in policy work can be daunting. The panelists provided their own perspectives.

Stagoff-Belfort explained, “At Wesleyan, I was surrounded by people passionate about politics, social change, and learning. It completely blindsided me and made me want to educate myself about the things I cared about as much as possible. Wesleyan taught me how to be more skeptical and to ask better questions, think critically and strategically, and write efficiently and effectively, all valuable skills in making and thinking about policy.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors: Otteson ’94, Stoberock ’92, Wickwire PhD ’83

In the sixth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers a 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.

book cover for ActivistKK Ottesen ’94, Activist: Portraits of Courage (Chronicle Books, Oct. 8, 2019)
Ranging in age from 12 to 94 years old, the activists photographed and recorded in Activist: Portraits of Courage will inspire you to “dissent, disrupt, and otherwise get in the way.” They are those who took action on the Senate floor, on art museum walls, and in leading marches throughout city centers. In short, they are people who made difficult choices, out of hope for and faith in a better future. In this beautifully assembled book of portraits and stories, KK Ottesen ‘94 highlights 40 of the most influential, admirable change-makers of our time, following their journeys from the beginning. While each featured activist stood out and stepped up in a way that was unique to their talents and character, they all did so with the shared vision of justice and equality. This book comes at a time where it has perhaps never felt so relevant; yet upon further consideration, it seems to have always been exactly the inspiration we needed. Striking in its images and moving in its stories of change, Activist is an homage to the people who practice courage as a way of life.

KK Otteson ’94 is an author and editor who is a regular contributor to the Washington Post magazine. A government major at Wesleyan who earned an MBA at Yale University, she is the author of Great Americans (Bloomsbury 2003), which explored what it meant to be an American through interviews with ordinary citizens who shared a name with national icons.

 

cover of the novel PIGSJohanna Stoberock ’92,  Pigs: A Novel (Red Hen Press, 2019)
On an island filled with reposited trash, four children live among pigs. In Pigs: A Novel—which has been compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Orwell’s Animal Farm—Johanna Stoberock ’92 writes a tale that is disturbingly familiar in its outlandishness. The pigs on the island are insatiable and greedy, eating any filth or wreckage that comes to the island. But when a barrel washes up on the shore of the island with a boy inside, the carefully constructed dynamic between the children and the pigs is thrown into conflict. Though the premise is absurd, Stoberock grounds the novel in a multi-faceted emotional realness that permeates the narrative with tenderness and compassion. The reader may start to see themselves not only in the children who are just trying to get by, but also in the snouted characters, as the animality of the pigs is reminiscent of humans in late-capitalism at their worst, as well as at their most vulnerable. In a meditation on consumerism, community, and culpability, Pigs portrays some of the most frightening parts of being human today, while ultimately encouraging immersive empathy as a method of response.

Johanna Stoberock ’92, who majored in English and religion at Wesleyan, earned an MFA at the University of Washington. Her honors include the James W. Hall Prize for Fiction, as well as an Artist Trust GAP award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Best of the Net anthology and other venues. She teaches at Whitman College.

 

AT the Bridge coverWendy Wickwire PhD ’83, At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging (UBC Press, 2019)
From a base of Spences Bridge, British Columbia, little-known ethnographer James Teit created a new form of participatory anthropology which allowed him to work with and advocate for Indigenous peoples in the area from 1884 to 1922. Despite his unquestionable innovation in the field of anthropology and dedication to ethical storytelling, Teit had almost disappeared from the historical record before Wendy Wickwire wrote At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging. In this impressive cobbling together of history, Wickwire crafts a stunning biographical portrait that not only secures Teit as one of the most influential anthropologists of his time, but also continues in Teit’s tradition of representing stories in their full complexity. Traversing the narrative plains of Pacific Northwest political history, the field of anthropology, the concepts of indigenous knowledge, and the hidden corners of historical archives, At the Bridge makes a compelling case for the intentional preservation of stories, while bringing the story of a very notable storyteller out of lost history.

Wendy Wickwire PhD ’83 is a professor emerita in the Department of History at the University of Victoria. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Western Ontario and her doctorate at Wesleyan in ethnomusicology. 

Swain ’90 Passes through Middletown, Honoring Children who Died in Federal Custody

Christopher Swain '90

Christopher Swain ’90 carries a torch through Middletown.

Human rights advocate Christopher Swain ’90 returned to Middletown last week, carrying an Olympic-style torch during what will be a nearly 5,000-mile journey to the spot where the US-Mexico border begins at the Gulf of Mexico, and then on through the border states to San Diego.

Swain, a parent of two, is participating in a March for the Kids, honoring the memory of the six children known to have died in federal custody.

He is hoping to bring awareness of the children who have been separated from their families and imprisoned and lost at the border; to advocate for all children to be found, freed, and reunited with family; and to share the voices and hopes of the people he meets along the way.

“I don’t know how we will find all of these kids. I don’t know how we will free all of these kids. And I don’t know how we will get them all back to their families. And I don’t know what it will take to make amends,” he said. “But I do know this—even if it takes a moon landing-level effort—we can find a way.”

Swain plans to walk, and occasionally run, 15 to 20 miles per day, five to six to days per week, stopping to refuel his torch every 45 minutes or so.

“The torch is a symbol of hope. I am keeping the flames of hope alive for these children and their families,” Swain said.

Swain invites anyone who feels strongly about the issue of the children to join him.

“If you have ideas about how to find and free these kids, I invite you to walk along with me and share those ideas. Let’s find a way, together.”

Swain graduated from Wesleyan with a double major in French literature and film studies. He stayed on to work for the Wesleyan Development Office until 1992. He also swam through Middletown in the Connecticut River as part of a Swim for Human Rights during the summer of 1996.

“I used to row crew for Wesleyan. I walked into Middletown on Friday over the Arrigoni Bridge from Portland. I used to row under that bridge. And I swam under that bridge during my Swim for Universal Human Rights in 1996. It’s not just another bridge to me,” he said. “And Middletown is not just another town.”

While in Middletown, Swain made a point of connecting with one of his favorite professors, Jeanine Basinger, as he passed the 160-mile mark of his March. “Jeanine transmitted the values of discipline, deep work, and clear thinking to her students. The values and skills she taught me shape my work every day.”

Swain’s March for the Kids is supported entirely by donations. Through a crowdfunding effort, he hopes to raise enough to cover the costs of the march, crew, equipment, and events, and eventually, a documentary film. For more information, follow Swain on Twitter @marchforthekids or email MarchForTheKids@gmail.com.