Campus News & Events

Students Pitch Social Benefit Business Ideas

Be Better

Blake Northrop ’22, won the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition on May 5 with his venture, Be Better, a clothing brand focused on producing sustainable products.

A clothing brand that promotes education and discussion of mental health and wellness is the winner of the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition sponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Created by Blake Northrop ’22, Be Better consists of the clothing brand itself—which highly values customer participation and artist collaboration—as well as an online community forum for followers and members to connect, discuss, and share their stories about mental health.

On May 5, Northrop and more than dozen other aspiring student entrepreneurs pitched their social benefit business ideas. Watch a recording of the Pitch Night online here.

Wesleyan to Hold Virtual Commencement Ceremony on May 24

monogramWesleyan’s 188th Commencement Ceremony, honoring the graduating Class of 2020, will be held through a virtual setting at noon on May 24.

(View the Commencement website here.)

The commencement address, honorary degree recipients, and the senior class address will be pre-recorded and offered for viewing on Commencement Sunday. The conferral of degrees and remarks made by Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 will be presented live. The Binswanger Awards for Teaching will be presented on a future occasion.

The Class of 2020 will be invited back to campus next year for an in-person ceremony.

“We will miss the marching, the music, and the mortarboards in the air,” President Roth wrote in a campus-wide email on May 6. “Nonetheless, there will be much to celebrate: primarily, the resiliency of our seniors and our graduate students who managed to hold the course in the face of unforeseen difficulties and disappointments.”

A formal e-invitation to graduating students and their families and the Wes community is forthcoming.

“Normally at Commencement, celebrants sit close together on Andrus Field, or up behind the podium on Denison Terrace or over on Foss Hill,” Roth said. “May 24 will be different, but even if we sit far apart from one another, the power of togetherness will be strong.”

Traveler’s Lab Creates Map of COVID-19 Cases in the NYC Commuting Region

COVID-19 map

Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab released a time-enabled regional map of COVID-19 cases in the tri-state area surrounding New York City.

In late March, as New York City’s coronavirus infection rate skyrocketed to five times higher than the rest of the country, members of Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab explored a movement-focused approach to the rapid spread of the disease.

Rather than focusing on political borders, lab members depicted major freeways, highways, and commuter rail lines out of New York City, and examined counties within a 2.5-hour drive from the City.

“While New York City may be the center, it is the travel region immediately surrounding the city that provides the true context of how COVID-19 has spread and is spreading to, and from, the City,” said Traveler’s Lab manager Jesse Torgerson, assistant professor of letters. “Informed by geographic and historical methods, this approach provides a truer context for human interactions.”

Wesleyan Announces 2020 Honorary Degree Recipients

At the University’s 188th Commencement on May 24, Wesleyan will present honorary degrees to three recipients whose work exemplifies inclusive engagement.

Jacqueline Woodson, an award-winning and best-selling author, is this year’s speaker. Actor and political activist Bradley Whitford ’81 and William Joseph Barber II, a social justice advocate and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, will also be honored. The recipients were chosen on the basis of their significant contributions to civic life in the United States, including the example they set in bringing new voices into the public sphere and spurring others to productive dialogue and action.

“I am honored to celebrate at Commencement three remarkable individuals whose work has educated people across the country,” President Michael Roth ’78 said. “Through their creative and inspiring contributions, they empower and encourage us to work toward creating a better world.”

Rich Honored Posthumously with the 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize

brooke rich

Bon Appétit cashier Brooke Rich, center, pictured here with her three children, is the posthumous recipient of Wesleyan’s 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize. Rich died March 4.

Brooke Rich, a former employee of Wesleyan’s food service provider Bon Appétit Management Co., was honored posthumously with Wesleyan’s 2020 Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Employee Prize.

The award was created in 2009 in memory of Peter Morgenstern-Clarren ‘03, who pursued social justice while a student at Wesleyan. Morgenstern-Clarren’s activism included securing benefits for Wesleyan custodial staff, participating in the United Student and Labor Action Committee, and contributing his leadership to the campus chapter of Amnesty International.

Sumarsam Participates in “Reflections from Quarantine” Conversation

Sumarsam

Sumarsam demonstrated how to use a Wayang Kulit puppet during his “Reflections from Quarantine” interview with the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale.

sumarsam song

Sumarsam concluded his reflection by singing the Indonesian songs “Guardian at Night” and “The Song of Disposal.”

Sumarsam, Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music at Wesleyan and a Fellow at Yale Institute of Sacred Music, is an expert on the history, theory, and practice of Indonesian music and theater, and a performer of Javanese gamelan and puppetry.

Sumarsam’s presentation was part of ISM’s “Reflections from Quarantine” series. He was interviewed live through the Zoom platform by ISM Fellows Program Director Eben Graves.

Sumarsam explained that his current research focuses on how “people—commoners—use performing art, and life of passage rituals for practicing their religion in their everyday lives.” From that angle, he looks at the early existence of performing arts during the period of Hinduized Java from the 9th to 15th centuries, and then proceeds to Islamized Java from around the 15th century onward.

In his reflection, Sumarsam explained the characters in a Wayang Kulit shadow puppet play: The demon is a sensual image of raw nature; the prince and princess are elements of traditional Java; gods and goddesses show a cosmological element of power; and clowns are used as a modern pragmatic element of survival. Sumarsam ended his interview with prayer incantation through song poetry.

Varekamp Plots Pandemic, Measures Growth Curves in US, Italy

varekamp map

In this linear graph, Professor Joop Varekamp shows logged plots of coronavirus time versus death data in Italy (green) and the United States (blue). The straight-line segments represent exponential growth, and the curved arrays occur after social distancing rules and lockdowns were imposed. Extrapolation of the straight line for the United States (deep blue line) would have reached 1 million casualties (black circle) around April 21 if the U.S. had not imposed social distancing rules, according to Varekamp.

Last March, Johan (Joop) C. Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, intended to teach an ore deposit and formation class in Italy; however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused him to stay near campus.

Nevertheless, Varekamp kept a keen watch on Italy. With a fascination with the pandemic’s wildfire spread, Varekamp began plotting coronavirus data from both the United States and Italy to see how their growth curves compared.

“Infectious diseases follow initially exponential growth patterns until measures are taken to limit transmission or a vaccine becomes available,” Varekamp said. “I wanted to know how disease propagation compares to population growth, which I teach in some detail in my classes.”

On May 7, Varekamp shared his ongoing Coronavirus Plot Maps with the campus community through Wesleyan’s Community Forum. His study features some of the differences in the progression of the disease in the two countries that may provide some insights “and possibly some dark thoughts about our future.”

Varekamp suggested that if social distancing rules are weakened too early, the disease will pick up where it left off at the exponential end. “This will all be repeated until about 60–70% of the population has been infected with the disease,” he said. “Only then the virus burns itself out, to some degree as a result of lack of non-immune individuals, and transmission rates will decrease to values below one.”

He also stated that if no social distancing had been ordered in the U.S. in late March, the U.S. would have stuck to its exponential growth pattern, and close to 1 million people would have died by the end of April.

If he’s able to safely fly internationally next year, Varekamp hopes to have another attempt at teaching the EU-coordinated ore deposit class at the University of Bologna.

“It is hard to see how all of this evolves,” he said.

Kuenzel’s Paper on WTO Tariff Commitments Published in European Economic Review

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, is the author of a paper titled “WTO Tariff Commitments and Temporary Protection: Complements or Substitutes?” The paper was published in the January issue of the European Economic Review.

In the paper, Kuenzel investigates the link between traditional tariff instruments and temporary protection measures (antidumping, safeguard, and countervailing duties). There is a long-held notion in the trade policy community that most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs and temporary protection measures are substitutes. Despite this prediction, there is only mixed empirical evidence for a link between MFN tariff reductions and the usage pattern of antidumping, safeguard, and countervailing duties.

Theater Department Produces, Livestreams The Method Gun

method gun

The cast and crew of the Theater Department’s production of The Method Gun answered questions from the public following their livestreamed performance on May 2. Speaking (highlighted in yellow) is the show’s director Katie Pearl, assistant director of theater.

The shows must go on.

Rather than allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to force a final curtain call on theatrical productions, Wesleyan’s Theater Department pivoted to an online format. On May 1, and again on May 2, the department offered livestreamed performances of The Method Gun, featuring 10 student-actors.

A replay of the Saturday performance is available for viewing on The Method Gun @ Wes website.

After countless hours of line rehearsals, overcoming technical frustrations, and learning how to act and teach theater in a virtual world, show director and Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl breathed a sigh of relief during the Thursday night dress rehearsal.

“I almost can’t believe what we pulled off,” Pearl said. “It was super down-to-the-wire. We were cutting and rewriting scenes up until the last minute and wrestling with livestreaming software, but it all came together on Thursday. For the first time, it really worked. And all of us just wept afterwards. Because we’d made a thing. We’d transcended what felt like an impossible situation, and stayed committed to each other and the process to create something that really meant what we wanted it to mean.”

SC&A Launches New Collection of Pandemic-Related Reflections

amanda nelson

Amanda Nelson

On April 13, Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives launched a new project asking the Wesleyan community for personal reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. University Archivist Amanda Nelson introduced the project by saying, “It’s clear that we are all living and making history right now. As an archivist, I am always interested in recording these efforts so that . . . later, with the benefit of hindsight, [they can] give us and future generations of Wesleyan the ability to reflect on and learn from them.” Here, Nelson provides more insight into how the project came about and how the Wesleyan community can help.

What gave you the idea to do this project?

Amanda Nelson: As an archivist, I am sort of the steward of Wesleyan’s history. It’s my job to keep and make available what’s happened in the past. That’s not just maintaining the records that we already have, but also collecting what’s going on right now, so that future generations will have access to it and get a feel for what [was] going on at Wesleyan.

Portraiture Photography Class Shifts Focus During COVID-19 Pandemic

This spring, Graduate Liberal Studies student Kristen Cardona enrolled in her first-ever photography course, ARTS 613: Studies in Portraiture and Self-Portraiture. While learning how to better use a camera, she practiced taking images of herself, family, friends, and neighbors.

Heading into early March, the assignment was to photograph strangers.

And then the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation. All Wesleyan courses moved to an online format.

“This threw a huge curve ball! Obviously we couldn’t finish photographing strangers,” said Cardona, who is the program coordinator for continuing studies at Wesleyan. “People are scared. Simple requests to take a photo seem to be more pressure than many people are comfortable with during these trying times of quarantine. That shift was obvious during the semester.”

Consequentially, Cardona and many of her classmates shifted their efforts back to self-portraits. And in-person classes were rescheduled via Zoom on Wednesday evenings.

The course instructor, Marion Belanger, visiting assistant professor in liberal studies, encouraged the class to push their own boundaries and make pictures that reflected their own reality, including documenting life in quarantine.

“I told them to disregard the syllabus, and to just photograph their everyday,” Belanger said. “Documenting the everyday is also useful when photographers feel like they are in a creative limbo, or blocked in some way. I thought this could be a way to move through the fear and disruptions. How could something so dire and devasting be ignored?”

Belanger expected that each student would end the class with a cohesive body of photographs.

“Sometimes creativity thrives under restrictive requirements, and I am very impressed that each student has continued to push their photographic boundaries despite such confinement,” she said. “Some work is very much about the transition to the epidemic and I’ve seen themes of loneliness, fantasy, family portraits at home, portraits at a distance, and masked portraits.”

cardona 2

In Cardona’s self-portrait, “Unmasking Dismay,” left, the mask symbolizes “better days when masks were used for masquerade, simple playful disguises—and not for personal protection,” she says. Cardona surrounded herself with blue: “the blue room, the blue mask, my blue eyes, my blue feelings—me, enveloped in blue. [Being] dressed in black reflects how I feel isolated in quarantine. Yet there’s still an aspect of whimsy to my nature and a glimmer of hope. The sun coming through the window reminds me of hope; the cross behind my head, although blurred, reminds me of my wavering, yet ever-present faith. The wispiness of my hair reminds me that life can still be playful even during quarantine.”