Campus News & Events

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. Marketplace Tech: “Twitter Bans Political Ads, But Is That All Good?”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that the platform would no longer run political ads. Fowler says implementing this ban is likely to be more complicated than it sounds, and she is skeptical that it will help to reduce the impact of disinformation and improve political discourse. Fowler was also interviewed on Marketplace Morning Report and quoted in Quartz on the ban.

2. NPR’s Throughline: “Zombies”

On Halloween, NPR’s Throughline podcast interviewed Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister as part of a deep dive into the history of zombies. Now a global phenomenon in pop culture, the idea of zombies originated in Haiti, back when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue and many enslaved Africans were worked to death on plantations. The Haitian people ultimately rose up in revolution and defeated their colonizers. But after the revolution, many Haitians were forced back onto plantations when the French demanded reparations in exchange for recognizing their independence. “I think that the figure of the zombie is a reminder that slavery happened to people, that they freed themselves from it, that it still happens in a kind of an afterlife, and it echoes in social practices,” said McAlister. An abbreviated version of the story also aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

3. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live: “Acknowledging Middletown’s Ties to Slavery”

Demetrius Eudell, professor of history and dean of the social sciences, and Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies, were interviewed for a program examining the history of slavery in Middletown, Conn. The city was recently designated a site of memory by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as part of the international project “The Slave Route: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.”

4. American Psychological Association Monitor: “Changing the World From the Classroom”

The November issue of the American Psychological Association’s magazine features Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’s work on “action teaching,” or project-, community-, or classroom-based activities that aim to effect social change while educating students. Action teaching can be used at all levels and types of education, and Plous maintains a website, actionteaching.org, that contains an ever-growing list of sample activities, student assignments, and free resources. Read more about Plous and action teaching in this Wesleyan magazine article.

5. Kirkus: “Jeanine Basinger Talks About The Movie Musical!, Her Joyous Celebration of Singing, Dancing Hollywood”

Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita, special advisor to the president, is interviewed about her new book, The Movie Musical!, published by Knopf on Nov. 5. She talks about why the movie musical blossomed in the United States, how her students have reacted to movie musicals over the decades, and her enthusiasm for the High School Musical franchise.

6. WNYC’s The Takeaway: “Panel Decides Some Chimps Won’t Be Moved to Sanctuary”

William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen talks about a recent decision not to move all chimps retired from research facilities to sanctuaries. She is among animal advocates who are concerned about what keeping chimps in labs could mean for their well-being.

7. Research Outreach: “Climate Change: 40 Years on the Front Lines of the Climate Change Wars”

Research Outreach profiles Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, and his influential work over the past four decades on climate change risk management, adaptation, mitigation, detection, and attribution. Reflecting on his long career, Yohe says, “William Nordhaus’s invitation to participate in an early National Academy of Sciences report on Changing Climate changed my life. It opened my eyes to an enormous frontier of unexplored but fundamentally critical questions that were ripe for exploration from a rigorous economic perspective. Nobody in the early 1980s knew what those questions might be.”

8. Hebrew Union College’s College Commons: “Michael S. Roth: ‘Safe’ Spaces?”

President Michael S. Roth ’78 discusses the place of religious faith in education, sharing some of his personal experiences from the classroom and beyond. He also speaks about the notion of “safe enough spaces” on college campuses as described in his recent book of the same name.

9. WSHU Public Radio: “Hat City, USA!”

Johan Varekamp, professor of earth and environmental sciences, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, discusses the dark underbelly of Danbury, Connecticut’s booming hatting industry in the 19th century: devastating mercury poisoning suffered by factory workers. “There are a whole range of medical observations that are typical for mercury exposure. And the hatmakers in Danbury had ’em all, and so it was known as the Danbury shakes,” Varekamp said. In 2002, he studied a river into which workers would dump the dirty water from the hatmaking process, and found levels of mercury higher than anywhere else in the state. “Of course, [those] 150 years of hatmaking have left a legacy of polluted uplands and soils and yards in Danbury that is pretty amazing,” he said.

Alumni in the News:

1. NPR.org: “Examining What Leader’s Death Means to ISIS’ Future”

NPR’S Steve Inskeep talks to Nicholas Rasmussen ’87, ex-director of the National Counterterrorism Center, about the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (See also “Threat Assessments,” the 2017 Wesleyan magazine article by Gabriel Popkin ’03 on Rasmussen.)

2. The Atlantic: “The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump”

Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, recounts the history of his musicals, placing them in the current political climate. He writes: “My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story … ” He details the shift in the narrative after college, when it became a story focused on a community undergoing gentrification. He noted: “[I]f we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them.”

3. New York Times: Gerald Baliles [’63, Hon. ’88], Virginia Democratic Governor in ’80s, Dies at 79

“Serving from 1986 to 1990, Mr. Baliles (his slogan was ‘Baliles. The name rhymes with smiles’) was seen as one in a tide of ambitious, moderate governors who rose to prominence in the 1980s, among them Bill Clinton in Arkansas and Thomas H. Kean in New Jersey. The New York Times called Mr. Baliles ‘a tough, intelligent, shrewd politician and manager with an intellectual bent.’”

4. University of Arkansas News: “Pryor Center Presents Kevin Strait [’97]: ‘Curating African American History and Culture’”

Kevin Strait, museum curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, “began working in 2010 in the Office of Curatorial Affairs on the research, development and acquisition of objects for several of the museum’s permanent exhibitions including the interpretive spaces of the Sweet Home Café, Musical Crossroads and the Power of Place. Strait oversees collections related to segregation, 20th century political and social history and popular culture.”

5. Vineyard Gazette: “Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds Is a Successful Combo”

“For as long as he can remember, Dan Wolf [’79] has been a tinkerer — a fidgeter, a fixer and a figure-outer, happy to futz with anything he could get his hands on. When he was young, it was gas-powered model planes, connected to his fingers with a string as they puttered through the air. His dream was to fly one.” A former state senator, Wolf is CEO of Cape Air.

6. CNBC: “5 Things To Know About Smarties, The Women-Led And Family-Run Candy Company Celebrating 70 Years In Business”

“Here are five things you might not know about the maker behind one of the most iconic Halloween treats. Smarties is currently led by Dee’s granddaughters: sisters Liz Dee ’06 and Jessica Dee Sawyer, and their cousin Sarah Dee. In an interview with Inc., the three co-presidents say it wasn’t clear they would all go into the family business.”

7. Women and Hollywood: “DOC NYC 2019 Women Directors: Meet Martha Shane [’05] Narrowsburg”

In a Q&A with Martha Shane ’05, writer Sophie Willard asks probing questions, beginning with a description of the film in Shane’s own words (a “darkly comic story of a French film producer and her mafioso-turned-actor husband”), and including what inspired her to take up filmmaking, advice for other female directors, and her thoughts on the industry since the launching of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

 

 

Thomas: Carbon Impact—Not Volcanism—Key in Driving the Cretaceous Mass Extinction

Thomas

Ellen Thomas

(By Kayleigh Schweiker ’22)

As scientific study regarding the mass extinction of marine life during the Cretaceous era has progressed, theories including extraterrestrial impact and intense volcanism have surfaced. However, a recent study co-authored by Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, suggests that carbon impact—not volcanism—was key in driving the Cretaceous mass extinction.

In a paper titled “Rapid ocean acidification and protracted Earth system recovery followed the end-Cretaceous Chicxulub impact,” which was published in the Oct. 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Thomas and her colleagues discuss how increases in ocean acidity played a driving force in the mass extinction of marine organisms. This mass extinction, labeled the “Crustaceous-Palogene die-off,” or the K-Pg event, led approximately 75% of plant and animal life on Earth to extinction. Though scientists have suggested that the presence of sulphuric acid proceeding the crash may have caused ocean pH levels to drop, Thomas and her team’s research on this topic reveals a different possibility.

Derry and Puffin D’Oench ’73 Film Award Open to Submissions

Community Health Center logo

The Community Health Center of Middletown is a sponsor of the film contest.

A new annual contest for budding filmmakers is now welcoming submissions. The Derry and Puffin D’Oench Film Award, sponsored by Community Health Center, Inc. (CHC), of Middletown, is open to Wesleyan University and Middlesex Community College students and alumni.

The contest’s name honors Derry and Ellen “Puffin” D’Oench ’73, community members who contributed to the local arts and cultural community. At Wesleyan, Puffin served as curator of the Davison Art Center, adjunct professor of art history, and a trustee. Russell “Derry” D’Oench was editor-in-chief of the Middletown Press from 1959 to 1991. The couple was involved in many organizations, including the Middlesex County Community Foundation, Middlesex Hospital, Community Health Center, and the NAACP.

The film contest, accepting submissions from Nov. 1, 2019, until May 1, 2020, seeks “to find talented, emerging filmmakers who are getting their start or have roots in our Middletown community,” said Mark Masselli, Hon. ’09, P’16, CHC’s founder and president/CEO. “We’re looking forward to screening the submissions, and giving a new generation of filmmakers a launching pad.”

Psychology Faculty, Students, Alumni Present Research at CDS Meeting

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Kerry Brew BA '18, MA '19 were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 CDS Biennial meeting.

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, right, and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19, left, were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting.

Numerous students, alumni, and faculty from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs recently presented their research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting, held Oct. 17–19 in Louisville, Ky. The labs are led by Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman.

Barth and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19 presented their poster, “Do Demand Characteristics Contribute to Minimal Ingroup Bias?” The work was done in collaboration with lab alumni Taylar Clark ’19 and Jordan Feingold-Link ’18.

Sophie Charles '20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on "The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds' numerical estimates."

Sophie Charles ’20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.”

Sophie Charles ’20, lab coordinator Katherine Williams, and former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax presented their poster, “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.” Barth also contributed to this work.

In addition, many alumni of the Cognitive Development Labs presented at the conference, including Vivian Liu ’18 (now at New York University); Dominic Gibson ’10 (now at University of Chicago); Rebecca Peretz-Lange ’13 (now at Tufts University); Andrew Ribner ’14 (now at University of Pittsburgh); Julia Leonard ’11 (now at University of Pennsylvania); and Ariel Starr ’07 (now at University of Washington). Former lab coordinators Jessica Taggart, Talia Berkowitz, Ilona Bass, and Sona Kumar, and former postdoc Emily Slusser also presented work.

 

 

Annual Liberal Arts + Forum Highlight of Recent Trip to Asia

At the second annual Liberal Arts + forum in Beijing on Oct. 19, from left, Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, and Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, spoke on a panel moderated by Julia Zhu '91 about Wesleyan's unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching economics and environmental studies.

At the second annual Liberal Arts + forum in Beijing on Oct. 19, Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, left, and Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, center, spoke on a panel moderated by Julia Zhu ’91, right, about Wesleyan’s unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching economics and environmental studies.

In October, President Michael Roth and other Wesleyan faculty and staff traveled to Asia to meet with alumni, parents, prospective families, and others. The trip included visits to Seoul, Beijing, and Taipei.

A highlight of the trip was Wesleyan’s second annual Liberal Arts + Sustainable Economic Development Forum, which took place in Beijing on Oct. 19. Last year, Wesleyan held the inaugural Liberal Arts + Forum in Shanghai, which highlighted film education and US-China collaborations. (Read the story here.)

Over 100 people attended this year’s forum, including prospective students and families, current parents, counselors, and alumni. The day started with an “admission 101” workshop by Associate Dean of Admission James Huerta that provided invaluable insights for prospective families preparing for the college admission process.

Attendees regrouped in the afternoon for Roth’s opening remarks, which highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary learning and how a liberal arts education equips students with a lifetime of important skills. This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Julia Zhu ’91, entrepreneur and CEO of Phoenix TV Culture and Live Entertainment Company, Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, and Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies. The speakers discussed Wesleyan’s unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching economics and environmental studies. Later, Tian Ai ’06 and Yinghai Xie ’97, alumni working in the financial services industry, shared their insights into the value of a liberal arts education in personal growth and careers in the second panel, moderated by Ted Plafker ’86, P’17, ’18.

Forum attendee and volunteer Tianhua Shao P’21 commented, “It’s such a privilege to serve as a parent volunteer. Although the forum took a day, I had the valuable opportunity to talk with President Roth, professors, and alumni, and enhance my understanding of liberal arts education and Wesleyan. As a transfer, my daughter is taking full advantage of Wesleyan’s open curriculum and thrives at Wesleyan each and every day!”

NASA Funds Study of Gilmore’s Venus Mission Concept

Martha Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes we have a lot to learn from studying Venus—yet the United States has not sent a mission to the Earth-sized planet since the early 1990s. That’s why Gilmore has proposed a major flagship mission concept study to assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by looking at its rocks and atmosphere.

In October, NASA agreed to fund the planetary mission concept on Venus submitted by Gilmore, a planetary geologist, and colleagues at several other institutions, who come from varied disciplines. Gilmore, who is the principal investigator, said NASA received 54 proposals and selected 10 to feed into the next Planetary Decadal Survey. Theirs was the only proposal on Venus to receive funding.

In 2020, the National Academy of Science will convene a panel of scientists and engineers to determine the scientific priorities for Planetary Science over the period 2023–2032. This Planetary Decadal Survey is conducted every 10 years and is tasked with recommending a portfolio of missions to NASA. The mission concepts that were funded will be developed for consideration by the Decadal Survey. In the coming months, Gilmore will be meeting and communicating regularly with her science team and conducting mission design runs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Final reports are due to the Decadal Survey in June 2020, and will describe mission architecture, cost, and how the mission will address the scientific priorities of the Decadal Survey and NASA.

Gilmore’s expertise is on the surface morphology and composition of Venus, Mars, and Earth, and her PhD focused on Venus during the United States’ Magellan mission. She explained that all three planets are rocky, and there is evidence that they all had oceans early in solar system history. Scientists believe that Mars’s ocean dried up first—within about one billion years—and that Venus’s ocean may have lasted for two or three billion years.

“Thus, for most of solar system history, there were two Earth-sized planets with oceans,” said Gilmore. “Was Venus habitable like the Earth and if so, what changed?”

Football Victory Highlight of Homecoming/Family Weekend

Wesleyan celebrated Homecoming/Family Weekend Nov. 1–3. The Wesleyan Cardinals won their 2019 Homecoming game 27 to 21 against Williams College on Nov. 2.

Attendees attended WESeminars, tailgating festivities, music and art events, multiple athletic contests, the 27th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium, the annual parents’ assembly, and much more.

View the entire Homecoming/Family Weekend photo album online here.

View video highlights below:


Gift of Beckett Letters by Levy ’60 Inspires Homage Symposium

A symposium, "Homage to Samuel Beckett," highlighted letters and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan. 

A symposium, “Homage to Samuel Beckett,” highlighted books, letters, and memorabilia gifted by noted AIDS researcher Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon, from their decades-long friendship with the playwright, which began when Jay was living in Paris after his graduation from Wesleyan.

Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives is now home to a robust collection of novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett’s letters and books.

The memorabilia was donated to Wesleyan by Beckett’s longtime friend Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, and his wife, Sharon.

On Oct. 24, Levy joined Samuel Beckett scholar Lois More Overbeck; President Michael Roth ’78; Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian at Wesleyan Andrew White; Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins; and Assistant Professor of French Michael Meere for a symposium titled “Homage to Samuel Beckett.” The event, held in Olin Library’s Smith Reading Room and attended by students, faculty, friends, and scholars honored Levy’s recent gift to the library: his personal correspondence with Samuel Beckett over nearly 30 years.

According to Levy, his decades-long friendship with Beckett was sparked by a conversation he had as an undergraduate awaiting the arrival of his date at Bradley Airport for Spring Weekend in 1959.

“The arrival board and announcements kept reporting delays, but assurances that the plane would arrive,” Levy recalled. “After some hours a Wes student near me said, ‘This is like waiting for Godot.’ I was curious enough (lucky for me!) to inquire, ‘What is Waiting for Godot?’ and was informed that it was a play by an Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, living in France. More detail indicated that it had been performed in French six years before and fit into the Theater of the Absurd.” Coincidentally Levy had just begun a French literature course on just that topic.

A few days later, Levy spoke with French professor Alex Szogyi, about Waiting for Godot, and subsequently wrote a paper on the play for the course. While Szogyi didn’t agree with Levy’s thesis—which noted religious references suggesting that “Godot” was meant to be God—he “apparently considered it sufficiently noteworthy to suggest my sharing it with Professor Mayoux at the Sorbonne (who knew Beckett) when I went to Paris to conduct biological research after graduation,” Levy said.

Jay levy

Jay Levy, Samuel Beckett, and Stuart Levy gathered in Paris.

Levy did, in fact, share his paper with Mayoux, who then passed it along to Beckett. The playwright invited the young American scholar to his apartment. A friendship was formed, which grew to include Levy’s twin brother, the late Stuart Levy Hon. ’98.

“It is really a delight and an honor to give my correspondence, books, and gifts from Samuel Beckett and a variety of letters and articles about him to Wesleyan,” concluded Levy. ”After all, my introduction to Samuel Beckett began with that fateful day at Bradley Airport in 1959, when I was a junior in college. Now look at what an incredible adventure this school gave me through its education and through its excellent teachers—a reputation I’m pleased to say still remains.”

Matthew Winn ’92, vice chair of the Alumni Association and a cousin of Levy, concurred: “This event is the very essence of Wesleyan. Jay found a passion for something outside his field and pursued it with the same energy he approached his career. It was also touching to see his friends and classmates. The fact that they came is a testament to the deep and enduring relationships the University fosters.”

In her talk, Overbeck recalled Beckett’s gentle charge to “go round” to meet the people with whom he corresponded, which made “all the difference,” she said, adding an additional depth to her research. “Letters are a two-dimensional trace of relationships, written in very specific time and place, to a very specific audience,” she said. “Letters are written in an attempt to bridge time and distance, or to mediate a disjunction of feeling…. As such, each one constitutes a living moment.”

Photos of the symposium and accompanying exhibit are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake and Cynthia Rockwell)

Director of Special Collections Suzy Taraba ’77 MALS ’10 addresses those in Smith Reading Room from the podium

Director of Special Collections and Archives Suzy Taraba ’77, MALS ’10 welcomed the attendees to the Beckett Symposium, noting her pleasure at the gift and its value to the University’s students and other scholars. Matthew Winn ’92, who attended the event, said that he found Taraba and University Librarian Andrew White’s interest in primary sources to be noteworthy. “The University’s emphasis on primary research and object-based learning stands out in an increasingly digital world and reminds us that nothing replaces hard work and source materials,” Winn remarked.

Alumnus Jay Leve at the podium addresses the audience

Dr. Jay Levy ’60, Hon. ’96, thanked Taraba, who worked closely with him on his gift to Wesleyan. Levy also noted the importance of the University’s dedication to wide-ranging scholarship. A biology major as an undergraduate and at that time already preparing for a career in medicine, he notes: “My enjoyment of the arts, my enjoyment of the humanities is typical of Wesleyan’s commitment to liberal arts.”

A screen next to Levy (at the podium) shows an archival photo (circa 1961) of the young Levy in Paris, as well as his twin brother Stuart, flanking Samuel Beckett.

“During our last meeting in Paris in 1986, I spoke to Sam . . . and expressed the optimism I drew from his experiences—particularly the problem faced in publishing Waiting for Godot,” noted Levy, speaking next to a projection of an early photo of himself and twin brother Stuart with Beckett. “I often share this story with my students and scientific colleagues who have grants, letters, articles, or books rejected. Samuel Beckett . . . sent Waiting for Godot to many editors and theater directors. Finally Roger Blinn, after four years, recognized its merit and staged the play that has since had such a great influence on the theater, literature, and other fields.”

Details of a few letters; Levy's are typewritten, Becketts are scrawled.

Included in the display cases outside Special Collections and Archives are a number of letters from Beckett to Levy, and from Levy to Beckett. During his talk, Levy shared moments of connection and conversation with the playwright, adding “This little capsule of my interactions with this really wonderful genuine man, whom I first met when I was 22, opened up incredible vistas in my life—meeting wonderful Beckettophiles like Lois Overbeck and her colleagues at Emory….” Levy noted that one of his letters was included in Overbeck’s four-volume collection of Beckett’s correspondence.

Paper on Bacteria Adhesion Named “Editor’s Pick” by Journal of Biological Chemistry

Rich Olson

Rich Olson

Katherine Kaus PhD '18

Katherine Kaus

A paper written by Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Rich Olson and his former students was designated as an “Editor’s Pick” by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Only 2% of the approximately 6,600 papers published each year in the journal receive this designation.

Titled “The 1.9 Å crystal structure of the extracellular matrix protein Bap1 from Vibrio cholerae provides insights into bacterial biofilm adhesion,” the paper, published on Oct. 4, explores how bacteria “glues” itself to surfaces in the environment. The co-authors include Alison Biester ’19, Ethan Chupp ’18, Jianyi Lu ’17, Charlie Visudharomn ’17 and Katherine Kaus PhD ’18. Kaus, who is first author on the paper, is featured in a special profile on the JBC website.

Bacteria commonly form structures called biofilms, which are communities of living cells encapsulated by a three-dimensional matrix of secreted proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates. Biofilms are a defense mechanism against environmental challenges and play a role in many pathogenic diseases.

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. CT Post: “Former Wesleyan Provost is First Woman President at Hobart and William Smith Colleges”

Joyce Jacobsen, formerly Wesleyan’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and the Andrews Professor of Economics, was inaugurated Oct. 18 as the first woman president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. At the ceremony, the chairman of the HWS Board of Trustees said: “Dr. Jacobsen enters the presidency of Hobart and William Smith at a time of increasing complexity in higher education both here on campus and nationally. It is my belief, and the unanimous belief of the Board of Trustees, that there is no one better to help us navigate this future than Dr. Joyce Jacobsen.” Read more coverage of the inauguration in Finger Lake Times.

2. Wilson Center Blog: “Victoria Smolkin: A History of Soviet Atheism”

In this Q&A, Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin discusses her book, A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism. She explains how religion in the former Soviet states has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and offers a preview of her second book project. Smolkin was a Title VIII Research Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in 2014–15.

Taylor ’21 Speaks to Choate Juniors on the Importance of Mindfulness

Tyla Taylor '21 She joined Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; coach and Chaplain James Davidson; Yale student Abigail Grimes, and Mindfulness Instructor Amanda Votto,

Tyla Taylor ’21, pictured second from left, served as a panelist for a discussion on “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress” at Choate Rosemary Hall. Other panelists included, from left, Chaplain James Davidson, Yale student Abigail Grimes, Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; and mindfulness instructor Amanda Votto.

Tyla Taylor '21

Tyla Taylor ’21

By grounding oneself in the present moment, mindfulness can help create a free, calm, and content space without any judgment.

Tyla Taylor ’21, the mindfulness intern for Wesleyan’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, is working to share the practice of mindfulness with the campus community and beyond.

“Our minds are often going at full speed planning the next move, and the one after that,” Taylor said. “For me, mindfulness is paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, with compassion and non-judgment. From my own practice, I’ve seen how it’s made me a kinder friend, a more attentive student, and better able to handle situations that are thrown at me that are out of my control.”

On Oct. 15, Taylor was invited to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., to speak on a panel titled “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress.” Taylor shared her experience and knowledge of mindfulness with more than 150 high school juniors.

“I brought up how mindfulness has helped me feel more engaged with whatever I’m doing in my life—my school work, spending time with friends, extracurriculars—and helps me navigate and feel like I have power and agency when something comes up in my life that makes me feel out of control,” she explained.

Having attended an independent college prep day school for her own high school education, Taylor hoped to connect with the students on a personal level. She spoke about the stressors students face on a daily basis.

“Mindfulness was a practice that I dabbled with in high school but didn’t take seriously until college, and I tried to let them know why it is important, and how I wish I had had this tool in high school as well,” she said. “For example, when you get a bad grade in high school, it’s easy to catastrophize and think, ‘This is so bad. I’m not smart. I’ll never get into that great college, etc.’ Mindfulness can help them detach from this thought that is creating a negative emotion, and understand how that unpleasant emotion isn’t who they are, but rather a temporary state that will pass.”

Taylor, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in education studies, also is a residential advisor for West College Residence Hall. As part of her mindfulness intern responsibilities, Taylor leads Mindful Wes, a group that meets weekly for mindfulness-based meditation sessions.

She also brings different speakers to campus and hosts events related to mindfulness. Last spring, Mindful Wes ran an “Unplugging Event” and challenged students to give up their phones for one day.

“My favorite testimony after the event was that one student reduced—and maintained afterward—her phone usage from eight hours a day to two hours a day,” Taylor said.

Additionally, as a volunteer component to the job, Taylor started an initiative at Middletown’s Farm Hill Elementary School, where she leads mindfulness exercises twice a week for two different classes. She recently taught a lesson on recognizing emotions. After that class, a fourth-grade student reported back to Taylor that when his sister had made him angry by taking his toy, instead of hitting her back like he usually would have, he took three mindful breaths and then walked away.

“It’s never too young for children to start mindfulness meditation,” she said. “It can help with their academic achievement, concentration, emotional control, and overall resilience towards stress.”

For more information, contact Mindful Wes.

Grossman Discusses Latest Unemployment Trends on WTIC Radio

Grossman

Richard Grossman

On Oct. 16, Richard Grossman, chair and professor of economics, discussed the latest unemployment numbers and current state of the economy with Todd Feinburg at WTIC in Hartford. This month, the national unemployment rate has fallen to a new low—3.5%.

“Historically, and certainly for the last 10 years, the number peaked at 10% after the financial crisis, and it’s been working its way down ever since,” Grossman said. “That doesn’t mean all is wonderful if you’re in the labor force. There’s a lot of other things going on … people working part-time who would like to be working full-time … people who are doing contract work that would like to be having full-time jobs with benefits.”

Economists generally see an uptick in wages when unemployment goes down.

“Last month, the wage rate went up, but it went up by less than it had gone up in the previous month, so it suggests that even though the employment rate is low, that still hasn’t had an effect on wage. Normally we’d expect a really strong labor market to have some positive impact on wages.”

Grossman is an expert on economic history and current policy issues in macroeconomics, banking, and finance.