Faculty

Shasha Seminar Explores Suicide, Resilience through Film, Narrative, Community, Research

Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words was the topic of the 2018 Shasha Seminar, held Sept. 14-15 on campus.

Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. The educational forum provides Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends with an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small seminar environment,

The seminar was codirected by Karl Scheibe, professor of psychology, emeritus, and Jennifer D’Andrea, director of Wesleyan’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the seminar, held Sept. 14-15,

(Photos by Olivia Drake, Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19, and Caroline Kravitz ’19)

Leslie Shasha ’82, a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City., made the featured opening remarks at the Shasha Seminar. As a result of her own life experiences, she has become active in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organization and also in the Jed Foundation. Committed to working on suicide prevention as well as with the stigma surrounding the topic of suicide, she was integral in this year’s seminar. 

Lukens Remembered for Cofounding the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Lewis “Lew” N. Lukens

Lew Lukens

Lewis “Lew” Lukens, professor emeritus of molecular biology and biochemistry, passed away on Sept. 8 at the age of 91.

Lukens received his BA from Harvard University and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He came to Wesleyan in 1966, first in the Biology Department and then as one of the founding members of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, where he remained until his retirement in 1999.

Lukens’ research involved the regulation of gene expression by eukaryotic cells, specifically the genes for Type I and Type II collagen. He received many research grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture. During his years at Wesleyan, Lew served as chair of the Biology Department, on the Committee on Graduate Instruction, and as program director of the Biomedical Research Support Grant. In his retirement, he served on the advisory board of the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty.

Yohe, Siry, Sultan Awarded Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research

At left, Wesleyan President Michael Roth '78 congratulates the recipients, Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, the Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, professor of biology.

At left, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 and the recipients of the inaugural Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research: Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, Professor of Biology.

Three Wesleyan faculty were honored with the Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research on Sept. 4. The inaugural prize, presented by Joyce Jacobsen, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, is similar to the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, but is presented to members of the faculty who demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in their research, scholarship, and contributions to their field.

Each recipient received a plaque and citation as well as research funds for their award. Nominations by faculty colleagues for this new prize will be accepted through the end of April each spring, and the prize will be awarded at the first faculty meeting the following fall.

The 2018 award recipients include Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies; Joseph Siry, the Kenan Professor of the Humanities; and Sonia Sultan, professor of biology. Their award citations are below:

New Assistant Professor May ’05 Researches Suicide Risk and Prevention

Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May

Alexis May ’05

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05, who joined the Department of Psychology this fall. May will be among the speakers at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns on Sept. 14–15.

Q: Welcome (back) to Wesleyan, Professor May! You earned your BA from Wesleyan in psychology and neuroscience and behavior in 2005. Please tell us about your journey since then.

A: After gaining substantial clinical research experience in the psychology department as a project coordinator for [Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita] Ruth Striegel Weismann, I was sure of my passion for clinical science but wasn’t sure how I wanted to pursue that professionally. I took the opportunity presented by this uncertainty to move cross-country to Santa Cruz, Calif., and work some “random” jobs. I landed in a position coordinating a suicide prevention crisis line. I loved the work but was frustrated by how little empirical knowledge there was about suicide prevention. This prompted my decision to return to school to pursue a degree in clinical psychology with a focus on suicide research. I completed my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia, my clinical internship at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. Throughout my positions I’ve maintained my focus on understanding the phenomena of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the service of improving prevention and intervention efforts. Suicide is a devastating, complex, and unsolved problem. I feel very fortunate I get to spend my time working towards better solutions.

Q: How is it being back as a faculty member? Has Wesleyan changed much since your time as a student?

A: I was excited to see how much the psychology department has grown and diversified. I was also thrilled to learn about the addition of the Quantitative Analysis Center—it is a huge resource to both students and faculty. Overall, the students seem as skilled, passionate, and creative as ever!

Ponsavady’s New Book Examines the Development of French Transportation Systems

Stéphanie Ponsavady, assistant professor of French, is the author of a new book titled Cultural and Literary Representations of the Automobile in French Indochina: A Colonial Roadshow, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018.

In the book, Ponsavady aims to answer the question: How are the pleasures and thrills of the automobile linked to France’s history of conquest, colonialism, and exploitation in Southeast Asia?

Ponsavady addresses the contradictions of the “progress” of French colonialism and their consequences through the lens of the automobile. She examines the development of transportation systems in French Indochina at the turn of the 20th century, analyzing archival material and French and Vietnamese literature to critically assess French colonialism.

Tucker, Middlebrook ’20 Study the History of U.K. Alkali Workers

Mariel Middlebrook ’20 hunts for articles on the alkali industry at the British Library. As a recipient of a Student-Faculty Research Internship, Middlebrook assisted Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker this summer and searched for material in the Widnes Daily News from the 1850s.

This summer, Mariel Middlebrook ’20 gathered archival material on 19th-century alkali workers in London through a Wesleyan Student-Faculty Research Internship.

The Student-Faculty Internship program provides students with paid opportunities to work on research projects in collaboration with Wesleyan faculty.

As a recipient of the internship award, Middlebrook was able to work alongside Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who is collecting information on Widnes, an industrial town in Halton, Cheshire, Northwest England, that is known for being the birthplace of Britain’s chemical industry in the late 1840s. (Tucker’s article, “It’s No Downton Abbey, but It’s Just as Much a Part of English History” was published by the History News Network in June and highlights her current study on Widnes.)

“We examined local newspapers from the region to find out more about the lives of alkali workers. Newspapers from the late 19th century are a rich source of information about work-related injuries and deaths, the changing market for chemical products, and attempts by chemical workers to improve labor conditions,” Tucker said.

Middlebrook, an anthropology and Spanish literature double major, took Tucker’s Photography and the Law class during the spring 2018 semester and previously assisted with Tucker’s research on the relationship between guns and photography in the 1860s.

Basinger Appointed Special Advisor to the President

Jeanine Basinger

On Sept. 1, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 appointed Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, to the position of Special Advisor to the President.

As she prepares to retire from Wesleyan, Basinger will work closely with President Roth on matters relating to Wesleyan Film–cultivating partnerships with organizations like the American Film Institute; conducting master classes and workshops; and supporting fundraising for the expansion of the Center for Film Studies.

Though Basinger is stepping away from full-time teaching, she will continue her service to the Ogden and Mary Louise Reid Cinema Archives and offer support to Scott Higgins, the Charles W. Fries Professor of Film Studies and the continuing director of the College of Film and the Moving Image.

“In her time at Wesleyan, Jeanine founded and built one of the most admired film programs in the world,” wrote President Roth in an all-campus email. “She will now devote her time to helping me secure the future of her legacy.”

Wesleyan Welcomes 71 New Faculty in 2018-19

New Faculty Orientation was held on Aug. 28.

This fall, Wesleyan welcomes 71 new faculty, including 15 tenure-track faculty, 10 professors of the practice, 1 adjunct, and 45 new visiting faculty.

“Academic Affairs, in conjunction with a number of departments and centers, ran successful searches for a number of new professor of the practice positions this year in order to expand the curriculum in particular areas such as writing, education studies, physics, and others, where these faculty could be of great value,” explained Joyce Jacobsen, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Bios of the new ongoing and full-time visiting faculty are below:

Anthropology

Joseph Weiss, assistant professor of anthropology, received his BA from the University of British Columbia, and his MA and PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago. He comes to Wesleyan from a position as curator of western ethnology at the Canadian Museum of History. Weiss is a sociocultural and political anthropologist whose scholarship explores intersections between indigenous sovereignty, time, and ecology. He has conducted fieldwork with the Haida community of Old Massett, in Western Canada, since 2010. His first book, Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism (University of British Columbia Press), refutes settler colonial ideas of indigenous people as futureless by foregrounding Haida self-determination in reckoning with pressing political, social, and environmental change. Weiss is currently working on two projects: the first an oral history of the relationships between the Haida community and the Canadian Forces Station Masset, a naval radio base on Haida territory (1943–97); the second an ethnographic project tracing the category “Indigeneity” and its ecological imaginaries at the United Nations. His research has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the American Philosophical Society, among others, and he has collaborated with the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History on a project examining relationships between indigenous people and museums. Weiss’s teaching interests include global indigeneity, temporality, ecological politics, ethnographic methods, anthropological theory, research ethics, and museum anthropology. This semester, he is teaching The Anthropology of Time and Toxic Sovereignties: Life after Environmental Collapse.

Gottschalk, Greenberg ’04 Release Second Edition of Islamophobia

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, and history major Gabriel Greenberg ’04 are the coauthors of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, Second Edition, published in July 2018 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The duo released Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy in August 2007.

Islamophobia explores anxieties surrounding anti-Muslim sentiments through political cartoons and film. After providing a background on Islamic traditions and their history with America, it graphically shows how political cartoons and films reveal a casual demeaning and demonizing of Muslims and Islam from both sides of the political aisle. Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment offers both insights into American culture’s ways of “picturing the enemy” as Muslim, and ways of moving beyond antagonism.

“The new edition adds two new chapters and makes many changes to account for the rise of President Trump and mainstream white nationalism,” Gottschalk explains. The book also incorporates parts of Greenberg’s honors thesis at Wesleyan and features more than 50 images that highlight Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias from conservative and liberal media outlets alike.

Gottschalk also is director of the Office for Faculty Career Development and coordinator of the Muslim studies certificate. His books, which include American Heretics and Religion, Science, and Empire, draw on his research and experience in India, Pakistan, and the United States.

Greenberg lives with his wife and kids in New Orleans. He is the congregational rabbi of a historic synagogue, and also serves as the rabbi for Avodah: New Orleans, a local service corps that seeks to address effects and root causes of poverty in the city.

Hornstein Coauthors Article on Corporate Philanthropy Strategy

Abigail Hornstein

Abigail Hornstein

Associate Professor of Economics Abigail Hornstein, together with Minyuan Zhao of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, has coauthored an article on corporate philanthropy published in the Aug. 1 issue of Strategic Management Journal.

Corporate philanthropy has long been recognized as an important part of multinational strategy, but little is known about how it is allocated across different countries. Using data from a sample of more than 200 U.S.-based corporate foundations from 1993 to 2008, Hornstein and Zhao examined how foundation giving is associated with the funding firm’s need to navigate the local business environments.

They found that foundations give more in countries characterized by weak rule of law and high levels of corruption, as well as when funding firms have newly-established subsidiaries or a stronger need to connect with local stakeholders. Donations to countries with weak institutions are more likely to go through international intermediaries to avoid potential liabilities. The results are consistent with the view that corporate foundations support corporate diplomacy and help obtain the social license to operate in the host countries.

McAlister in The Conversation: For Some Catholics, It Is Demons That Taunt Priests with Sexual Desire

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, writes about a lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse of children uncovered in the Catholic Church: In some strands of Catholic thought, priests who abuse children have succumbed to temptation by demons. McAlister is also chair and professor of African American studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, professor of Latin American studies.

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, Wesleyan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shasha Seminar 2018: Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words

Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe and Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Jennifer D’Andrea PhD are codirectors of this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, Sept. 14–15.

This year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, “Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words,” will be held Sept. 14–15. It will begin with opening remarks by Leslie Shasha ’82, PhD, in Memorial Chapel at 4 p.m., followed by the keynote address by author and suicide loss survivor Eric Marcus on “Resilience in the Aftermath of Suicide.”

The Shasha Seminar, an annual educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends, explores issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. Last year’s seminar for example focused on Guns in American Society.

Karl Scheibe

This year’s codirector, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Karl Scheibe, spoke with the Connection about the preparation, the program, and his hopes for what this might bring to the campus.

Q: How did you come to be codirector of the Shasha Seminar this year?

A: It came to me as an invitation. It’s like a lot of things; it grows out of your history. Having been at Wesleyan a long time, I taught a lot of students, and many of them have gone on in psychology. Occasionally, one of those former students will have an assignment for me that, as a teacher, makes sense. Leslie Shasha ’82 is a psychologist, and she wanted to have a Shasha program focus on suicide: suicide awareness, suicide prevention, treatment for people who are suffering from loss, and a whole host of related problems.