Faculty

Tucker: Can Culture Transcend Russia-West Conflict?

In an op-ed in The Moscow TimesJennifer Tucker and Aria Danaparamita ’13 write about the recent controversy over the British Museum’s decision to lend Russia the Parthenon marbles, “one of the most esteemed vestiges of Western art and civilization.”

According to the op-ed:

Controversy has followed the marbles since Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, claimed in 1811 to have obtained a permit to remove the classical Greek marble sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens. They were purchased by the British government and passed to the British Museum. Greece has long lobbied for the restoration of the country’s monuments, and this year UNESCO agreed to mediate the dispute between Britain and Greece.The controversy was revived after the artwork was flown to St. Petersburg.

The authors contend, “Yet whatever one thinks of the morality or legality of the British Museum’s decision, it is a mistake to minimize the potential for art to play a role in cross-cultural negotiations and political dialogue.”

Danaparamita was a history major at Wesleyan, and received high honors for her thesis, titled, “British Borobudur Buddha: Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Orientalist Antiquarianism, and a Material Historiography of Java (1811-1816).”

Tucker is associate professor of history, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor in the environmental studies program, associate professor of science in society, and faculty fellow in the College of the Environment.

Hughes Discusses the Latest in Space Research

Assistant Professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes participated in a discussion on WNPR’s “Where We Live” with other astronomers about all the latest exciting research on space.

“This big ultimate question that we’re all interested in is: What kinds of planets form around other stars, how frequently do planets form around other stars, and ultimately are there environments that are friendly to life and how common are those around the galaxy,” said Hughes.

She discussed her research looking at the regions where planets are forming, and the very youngest solar systems that are just starting to emerge from their birth cocoons of gas and dust.

 

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo ’01 Teaches Latino Studies, Queer Studies

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Q: Welcome back to Wesleyan, Professor Grappo! Can you please fill us in on what you’ve done since graduating from Wes?

A: After graduating from Wesleyan in 2001, I worked a fifth grade teacher at a Catholic school in the Bronx. Then I went to grad school at Yale and got my Ph.D. in American Studies. I took a job for a couple years as an assistant professor of American studies at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Last year, I came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor, and this year I began as a full-time, tenure-track professor.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Wesleyan?

A: I’m excited to be back. I had a wonderful experience here as an undergrad. It was really formative for me as a scholar and I made good friends and enjoyed many of the resources Wesleyan offers. When I saw there was a position open here, it seemed like a terrific opportunity, as not only is Wesleyan an incredible institution, but it’s also in a great area of the country, with so many excellent resources—other universities, libraries, museums, cities—located nearby. I really like the Wesleyan community, and all the smart and interesting people who are here.

Q: Please describe your research interests.

A: The two main fields I work in are Latino studies and queer studies. I feel like my work is guided by ethical and theoretical parameters, and I try to think through conceptual ideas within specific cultural and political moments and texts.

I’m currently working on a book manuscript called “Home and Other Myths: A Lexicon of Queer Inhabitation,” which is about the concept of “home” in the context of minoritarian politics and culture. The decision to use the concept of home as a structural theme was partly inspired by the work of Jean Amery, who is well know for his writings on surviving the Holocaust. In his book At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, he defines home not as a place, but as a state of innocence— a way of being in the world where you trust in the laws and customs of the land in which you live, a state in which you trust in the basic moral goodness of other people. Amery writes eloquently and convincingly about how the Holocaust shattered that state for Jews. Extrapolating from this idea, I argue that this conception of home offers a rich and productive way of thinking about contemporary queer life in the U.S., as queer people are often cast outside of the figurative boundaries of national and cultural homelands.

Q: What courses did you teach this semester, and what do you plan to teach in the future?

A: This semester, I taught an introductory Latino studies class and an upper-level class called Diaspora Border Migration. The Introduction of Latino Studies course introduced students—mostly first-years and sophomores, interested in a variety of different fields—to the history, politics, and culture of Latinos in the U.S. Although the class focuses on Latino identities, we considered the ways in which studying latinidad resonates with the larger field of American studies as well. With all my classes, I hope to encourage students’ curiosity and encourage them to think more carefully and deeply about the issues at hand. And with introductory courses in particular, I also hope that the concepts we discuss will pique their interest and guide them toward taking more American studies courses and considering the major. This semester, my upper-level seminar had a number of American studies majors, but also included students majoring in government, history, theater, and Latin American studies. In addition to a more theoretical dense syllabus, the course also asked students to reflect on important current events, such as the President’s speech on immigration, the various debates and actions concerning “securing the border,” and the concept of “illegality.”

Next semester I am teaching a junior colloquium called Cultural Theory and Analysis, which explores influential political theories and cultural concepts in the Western canon. I‘ll also be teaching a seminar titled Queer of Color Critique, which focuses on the ways in which people of color have critiqued queer political and scholarly work through the lens of racial and ethnic differentiation. Next year I’ll be teaching two introductory courses, one on Latino studies and one on queer studies, and two upper-level seminars in the same fields.

Q: I understand the Queer Studies cluster was established at Wesleyan after you were hired. Can you please tell us a little about the cluster, and how it will change the academic experience for students interested in this field?

A: The Queer Studies cluster has been in the works for a long time, but was formally established this year under the leadership of my American studies colleague Margot Weiss, [associate professor of American studies, associate professor of anthropology]. There are a number of professors who contribute classes to the cluster, including some recently arrived scholars. I believe the cluster will give students who are interested in queer studies an accessible academic path to follow, as they’ll be able to easily look online and see all the classes available, allowing them to cumulatively build a course of study that is nuanced, diverse, and thorough.

I’ve observed a lot of interest from students in exploring the field of queer studies—both in a scholarly way and a political way. I think that queer studies as a field has become central to understanding American studies. It’s important to note that queer studies is an expansive discipline – that is to say, it’s not just talking about gay people (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Rather, queer studies as a discipline asks us to think about the world from a minority point of view. What does it mean to negotiate difference? How do we think about minorities in a majority culture, and how are their rights and care determined?

Q: As a student at Wesleyan, you majored in “Women’s Studies.” Can you talk about how the field has changed since that time? The major is now “Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.”

A: I think it’s gone from being primarily an analysis of gender—which is, of course, important—to a broader way of thinking about how gender and sexuality, which are closely and inextricably tied together, work to construct experiential and political life. People often think of “women’s studies” or “feminist, gender and sexuality studies” as niche fields. But women are half the world. And thinking about gender and sexuality is not just important for people who identify as women, it’s for everyone: how we identify as humans–it’s one of the most basic ways in which we negotiate difference, and it has far reaching implications for everything from the creation of human life to the workings of global politics.

Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching here so far?

A: The students at Wesleyan are outstanding: They’re smart, creative, dedicated to learning, and very interested in the world around them, both culturally and politically. I find the vast majority of my students to be really interesting, intelligent people. I love our class discussions, and hearing what students think about ideas and texts. It can be fascinating for me to interact with students as they lay fresh eyes on material I know well, and very rewarding when a student comes up with an angle I hadn’t considered.

Q: What do you like to do outside of work?

A: I have two-year-old twins, who take up a lot of my time. We have two dogs and a cat, all rescue animals, who are also integral parts of our family. And, as we live in the forest, we spend a lot of time outside, hiking, spending time with family and friends, and working hard in our vegetable garden.

Lipton on Thinking Machines

James Lipton, professor of computer science, vice-chair of mathematics and computer science, spoke to the website Kill Switch about the “Turing Test.” Almost 65 years ago, Alan Turning, perhaps the first computer scientist, posed the question, “Can machines think?” and developed a test to answer this question. Given all the computing advances that have allowed machines to act more and more human, Lipton considered relevance of the Turing Test today.

Robinson Pinpoints Addiction Center in Brain

Mike Robinson recently published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience about the center of the brain that triggers addiction.

Mike Robinson recently published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience about the center of the brain that triggers addiction.

Having trouble resisting another glass of wine or a decadent slice of chocolate cake? In a new study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, pinpoints the part of the brain that triggers addiction. It’s in the brain’s amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that processes emotions, reports the news site Medical Xpress.

These findings were published Dec. 10 in the Journal of Neuroscience (read the full story here). Robinson is the lead author, and co-wrote the paper with two colleagues from the University of Michigan.

The study was done using a technique called optogenetics with rats. Whenever the rats pressed a lever to earn a sugary treat, a laser light painlessly activated the amygdala in their brains for a few seconds, making neurons in it fire more excitedly. When the rats pressed a separate lever to earn a treat, their amygdala was not activated. When the rats were then faced with a choice over which lever to press, they focused exclusively on getting the reward that previously excited their amygdala and ignored the other. They were also willing to work much harder to earn the first reward.

Robinson told Medical XPress that the results suggest a role for the amygdala in generating focused and almost exclusive desire as seen in addiction.

“Understanding the pathways involved in addictive-like behavior could provide new therapeutic avenues for treating addiction and other compulsive disorders,” he said.

Imai’s Paper Examines the Prevalence of Attribution Error in Economic Voting

Masami Imai

Masami Imai

Masami Imai, professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies, is the co-author of an article titled “Attribution Error in Economic Voting: Evidence from Trade Shocks,” published in the January 2015 edition of Economy Inquiry, Volume 53, Issue 1, pages 258-257.

Rosa Hayes ’13, currently a research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, also is one of the paper’s co-authors.

This article exploits the international transmission of business cycles to examine the prevalence of attribution error in economic voting in a large panel of countries from 1990 to 2009. Masami and his co-authors found that voters, on average, exhibit a strong tendency to oust the incumbent governments during an economic downturn, regardless of whether the recession is home-grown or merely imported from trading partners.

The authors also found an important heterogeneity in the extent of attribution error. A split sample analysis shows that countries with more experienced voters, more educated voters, and possibly more informed voters—all conditions that have been shown to mitigate other voter agency problems—do better in distinguishing imported from domestic growth.

McGuire Authors Chapter on Democracy, Political Regimes

James McGuire and Guillermo O'Donnell in 1985.

James McGuire and Guillermo O’Donnell in 1985.

Professor of Government James McGuire is the author of a book chapter titled “Democracy, Agency and the Classification of Political Regimes,” published in Reflections on Uneven Democracies: The Legacy of Guillermo O’Donnell by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Guillermo O’Donnell (1936-2011) was widely recognized as the world’s leading scholar of Latin American politics. During his doctoral studies, McGuire worked closely with O’Donnell in both Argentina and the United States, translating from Spanish to English O’Donnell’s Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Argentina, 1966-1973, in Comparative Perspective (University of California Press, 1988).

9781421414607McGuire’s chapter in this new volume commemorating O’Donnell’s life and work argues that schemes for classifying political regimes in Latin America could be improved by defining democracy in a way that gives more priority to human agency, and thereby to the opportunity to lead a thoughtfully chosen life; by recognizing that democracy affects social and political outcomes not only through electoral competition, but also through the freedoms of expression and organization, as well as through long-term cultural changes; and by applying contemporary rather than past standards to decide whether a country meets the operational criteria for democracy.

 

 

Plous’s MOOC Student Honored by Jane Goodall for Compassionate Act

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award from the Jane Goodall Institute. Zhang was a student in Plous's Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment. 

On Dec. 6, Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist/primatologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award. Zhang was a student in Plous’s Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment.

In the summer of 2014, students from more than 200 countries enrolled in Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’s Social Psychology “MOOC” (massive open online course). The class was offered by Wesleyan, hosted by Coursera.org, and drew more than 200,000 students.

The final assignment of the course, “The Day of Compassion,” asked students to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible and to analyze the experience using social psychology.

Scott: Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism A.O. Scott writes in The New York Times that ever since the financial crisis of 2008, he’s been on the lookout for the next great piece of art–a new “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Death of a Salesman.”

“The originals are all still around, available for revival and rediscovery and part of a robust artistic record of hard times past,” he writes. “But we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.”

Scott explains, “Serious art and popular entertainment, in their diverse ways, offer refuge and distraction. Their pleasures and comforts are not trivial, but essential. Art is the domain of solved problems, even if the problems are formal and the solutions artificial.”

Grossman: Madoff Pales Next to “Forex” Scandal

Though Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme shocked the nation and grabbed headlines in the months following the subprime crisis, in his latest post on OUPblog, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman draws readers’ attention to two far more economically significant scandals: Libor and forex (foreign exchange). He writes:

 The Libor and forex scandals have several especially troubling aspects in common. First, unlike Madoff, they did not require asset booms in order to succeed: profits could be made on days when a particular currency rose or fell. That is, no prolonged asset bubble was required for forex manipulation to succeed—nor would the scheme collapse if an asset bubble collapsed. In theory, forex manipulation could have continued indefinitely.

Second, unlike Madoff, who only required his own wits and the gullibility of investors to succeed, the forex scandal was a conspiracy—or rather a series of conspiracies. [...]

Finally, the forex scandal is especially troubling because it persisted for more than two years after the Libor scandal was exposed.

Books by Roth, Bloom, Waldman ’86 Honored by Washington Post

Beyond the University

President Michael Roth’s Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

The Washington Post selected President Michael Roth‘s book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, on its list of top 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2014. A brief summary of the review states:

The president of Wesleyan University describes two distinct traditions of a liberal education–one philosophical and “skeptical,” the other rhetorical and “reverential”–and argues that both are necessary for educating autonomous individuals who can also participate with others.

Beyond the University was originally reviewed in the Post on May 23 by Christopher Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. In that review, Nelson calls the book “a substantial and lively discussion” as well as “an economical and nearly jargon-free account of liberal education in America.”

Amy Bloom's Lucky Us

Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us

Two other members of the Wesleyan community were honored in the Post‘s “Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014.” The list included Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, distinguished university writer-in-residence and director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing, and Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman ’86.

Wilkins Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins is the co-author of a paper titled “You Can Win But I Can’t Lose: Bias Against High-Status Groups Increases Their Zero-Sum Beliefs About Discrimination” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2014. The article will be published again in the in the journal’s March 2015 print edition. Wilkins co-authored the article with several other researchers including Joseph Wellman, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Wesleyan, who is now at California State University, San Barnardino, and Katherine Schad BA ’13/MA ’14.

The study considered what causes people to espouse “zero-sum beliefs”—or beliefs that gains for one social group come at a cost to another group—and what the consequences are of those beliefs. The researchers found that “high-status groups” (specifically, whites and men) held zero-sum beliefs more often when they contemplated increasing bias against their own group than when they contemplated decreasing bias against their low-status counterparts (blacks and women). Furthermore, greater endorsement of zero-sum beliefs corresponded with efforts to decrease outgroups’ ability to compete in society and efforts to increase the ingroup’s ability to compete. The researchers also discuss how this pattern may perpetuate social inequality.