by Olivia Drake •
In response to an exhibit focusing on the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, presented a commissioned work on March 16 at the British Museum.
The exhibit, titled “A revolutionary legacy: Haiti and Toussaint Louverture,” featured a selection of objects, artworks, and poetry from the 18th century to the present. Objects explored the legacy of the Haitian Revolution and its leader Toussaint Louverture. Louverture was one of the leading figures in the Haitian Revolution, which began in 1791 as an uprising of enslaved men and women in what was then a French sugar colony. It culminated with the outlawing of slavery there and the establishment of the Republic of Haiti.
Ulysse, a Haitian-born artist-anthropologist, presented a multivocal remix of words (archival and oral history, poetry, personal narrative) titled “Remixed ode to rebel’s spirit: lyrical meditations on Haiti and Toussaint Louverture.” Her response is online here.
Ulysse’s audio accompaniment also includes a contemporary juxtaposition of Vodou chant with words of anti-imperial protest. While the U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, a religion practiced by people in the African diaspora was suppressed. During the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Vodou helped unite communities and helped enslaved people to organize themselves against injustice.
by Olivia Drake •
In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure to three faculty members, effective July 1: Roger Grant, associate professor of music; Clara Wilkins, associate professor of psychology; and Marcela Oteíza, associate professor of theater. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.
In addition, eight faculty members are being promoted: Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice in earth and environmental sciences; Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history; Katherine Kuenzli, professor of art history; Joyce Ann Powzyk, associate professor of the practice in biology; Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, professor of psychology; Charles Sanislow, professor of psychology; Patrick Tynan, adjunct professor of physical education; and Tiphanie Yanique, professor of English.
Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:
Diver is an expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) whose research focuses on island biogeography. She promotes the use of GIS and other geospatial data analysis and visualization across the curriculum by providing GIS consulting to faculty, as well as a WesGIS workshop series. She has partnered with many local community groups to offer a GIS Service-Learning Laboratory course that allows students to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve tangible problems in the surrounding community. In addition to this service-learning lab, she offers courses on Introduction to (Geo)Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization; Introduction to GIS; and Advanced GIS and Spatial Analysis.
by Olivia Drake •
“16 Shades of Red,” a full-length choreography created by Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance, premiered at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis, on May 12 and 13. Krishnan is a member of inDANCE, one of Canada’s most progressive dance companies. “16 Shades of Red,” presented in two chapters, integrates original courtesan dance from South India, complex choreography, and live music.
Watch a video of his performance below:
At Wesleyan, Krishnan teaches Bharata Natyam, or South Indian classical dance.
“BN1 and BN3 students had performed material this semester at Wesleyan so incredibly well, and it was a crucial layer to building this new work,” Krishnan said. “I truly appreciate my job at Wesleyan where pedagogy and choreography are inextricably intertwined.”
In addition, Krishnan served as a Pillow Scholar-in-Residence June 20–24 at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass. On June 22, he debuted his solo choreography “Black Box 3,” which showcases virtuosic Bharatanatyam technique. The work features complex footwork, intricate gestures, architectural design, and a pulsating sound design of Indian, global percussion, and vocalized drum syllables.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
This spring, Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, has delivered several notable invited talks in different parts of the world.
In February, she presented the annual Darwin Day talk at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Sultan was the first woman scientist to present this prestigious lecture, in which a prominent evolutionary biologist shares their research and its broader implications. Sultan spoke on “Eco-Devo Insights to Evolutionary Questions,” using results from her Wesleyan lab’s plant research to address basic questions about individual development, inheritance, and adaptation. She was also interviewed about her contributions to current evolutionary biology for the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine podcast, Naturally Speaking.
In April, Sultan also gave a research seminar in Mexico City at the National University of Mexico’s Institute for Ecology, and in March, she presented her work to philosophers of biology at a European Union–sponsored conference in London.
Finally, on May 10, Sultan delivered the Harrison Keynote Lecture at Cornell’s annual “Evo Day” evolutionary biology symposium. The lecture is named in honor of Rick Harrison, an influential and much admired evolutionary biologist who served on the Cornell faculty until his death in 2016. Sultan’s next speaking event will be to give the closing lecture at a September meeting on “Advances in Evolutionary Biology” at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany.
by Olivia Drake •
During Wesleyan’s 186th commencement ceremony on May 27, Wesleyan presented outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.
Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.
This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:
Lisa Dombrowski ’92, associate professor of film studies, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 2001. She teaches in the College of Film and the Moving Image and is a core member of the College of East Asian Studies. She earned her BA in film studies and American studies at Wesleyan in 1992 and went on to receive an MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dombrowski is the author of The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I’ll Kill You! and the editor of Kazan Revisited. She has written for The New York Times, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Film History, and the Criterion Collection, among others. Her research is concerned with the art and business of cinema, especially post-WWII film form and modes of production. Her teaching focuses on film history, the industry, and aesthetics in international art cinema, East Asian cinema, American independent cinema, and melodrama and the woman’s picture. Dombrowski is currently completing a book on director, screenwriter, and producer Robert Altman and American independent cinema in the 1990s and 2000s.
Iddrisu Saaka (unable to attend the ceremony)
Iddrisu “Iddi” Saaka, artist-in-residence in dance, has taught at Wesleyan since 2008. He earned a diploma in dance from the University of Ghana and an MFA in dance from UCLA. A dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer from Ghana, West Africa, Saaka has choreographed and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music, the International Festival of Masks, the Skirball Center, Royce Hall, the Fowler Museum, Dance Arts Academy, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, El Portal Forum Theatre, and the Music Center in Los Angeles. At Wesleyan, he teaches courses in West African dance and also directs the West African Drumming and Dance Concert at the end of each semester. He has served as a visiting instructor of dance at UCLA, University of California San Diego, and the University of Ghana.
Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, environmental studies, and integrative sciences, joined the Wesleyan faculty in 2007. She holds a BS in chemistry with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was also a postdoctoral research associate at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Throughout her career, Taylor has worked at the interface of chemistry and biology where she strives to find ways to exploit enzymes found in nature to perform chemistry that can help advance the fields of chemistry and medicine. She also employs chemical synthesis to help answer questions of both biological and medical interest. At Wesleyan, her research has focused on the identification and characterization of enzymes that are important for the development of antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections—particularly bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli and V. cholerae. She also studies enzymes that can improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion, particularly the breakdown and bacterial utilization of lignin. She teaches courses in the areas of organic chemistry, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, and biomedicinal chemistry, among others.
View previous Binswanger recipients online here.
by Bill Holder •
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which operates the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and other major astronomical research facilities in the United States, has elected the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC)—led by Wesleyan University—as a new member. This historic development represents the first time that liberal arts institutions have been invited to join the association and serves as an important recognition of the value of such programs, not just to education, but also to frontier research in astronomy.
“This is a tremendous recognition of the important impact that the Keck Consortium and our individual institutions have on the astronomy research landscape, and it literally gives us a seat at the table in terms of influencing the future of astronomy in the United States,” says Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy at Wesleyan. “This is a validation of our impact in research and preparing future generations of astronomers (many of whom go on to PhD programs or postdocs or faculty positions at the large research institutions already on the board of AURA),” Redfield adds. “We are thrilled to have a voice from smaller institutions in shaping the future of our field.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Recent Wesleyan News
Joyce Jacobsen, the Andrews Professor of Economics, is interviewed about how unpaid labor—such as childcare and housework—can be measured, and the potential impact on GDP. Jacobsen is also provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Masami Imai, professor and chair of economics, professor of East Asian studies, and Richard Grossman, professor of economics, are the authors of an op-ed in support of the proposed Postal Banking Act. The law would mandate that the U.S. Postal Service offer low-cost retail banking services, which, if properly implemented, would expand banking access to many low-income and rural families, improving their financial well-being, while also helping to shore up the USPS’s finances.
3. Connecticut Jewish Ledger: “Conversation with Vera Schwarcz”
Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, Emerita, discusses her new book, In the Crook of the Rock: Jewish Refuge in a World Gone Mad—The Chaya Leah Walkin Story.
4. The Washington Post: “On the Subject of Evolution, a Way to Hang on to Both Science and Religion”
President Michael S. Roth reviews The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness and Free Will, a new book by Kenneth R. Miller.
5. One Green Planet: “10 Colleges with Plenty of Vegan Options!”
Wesleyan is featured among the best colleges for vegans thanks to well-known vegan chef Stephanie Zinowski and her “to-die-for vegan apple crisp.”
Recent Alumni News
- Town and County: “How Lin-Manuel Miranda [’02] and His Family Made Giving Back Their Tradition” by Oprah Winfey and Quiara Alegria Hudes
In a Q&A with the Miranda family (Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, father Luis Miranda, brother-in-law Luis Crespo, wife Vanessa Nadal, mother Luz Towns-Miranda, and sister Luz Miranda-Crespo), Winfrey and In The Heights collaborator Hudes (Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater) ask the clan to explore the roots of their familial commitment to philanthropy.
National Public Radio Morning Edition host Rachel Martin asks U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb ’94 about the agency’s new enforcement actions against those who sell vape pens and other non-burning nicotine devices—such as JUUL—to children and teens.
3. Courant.com: “Senators Hail Ted Kennedy, Jr. [’83 P’16, ’20] After 4 Years in Chamber”
Kennedy, who is not seeking re-election this fall, is lauded as a “down-to-earth, gracious, hard-working lawmaker” in the Connecticut Senate.
4. The Wellesley News: “Professor Kate Gilhuly [’86] Pursues Interest in Literature Through Research in Classics”
From a childhood where her mother read Homer and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology aloud, to becoming a classics major at Wesleyan, Gilhuly traces her path to Wellesley, where she is a professor in the Classics Department.
“The Ciambra, directed by Jonas Carpignano [’06] and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, is a gritty penetrating story of adolescence to adulthood set in Southern Italy featuring Romani actors and extras.” Carpignano was the assistant director of Benh Zeitlin’s [’04] Beasts of the Southern Wild.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
On May 9, a group of students, faculty, and Middletown friends joined Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 and Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 in a spiritual commemoration ceremony to honor a woman, Silva Storms, who died in 1820 and was buried in the cemetery on Vine Street, across from the Beman Triangle. Research indicates she had been born in Africa and was brought to Middletown as an enslaved person. The event was part of McDuffie-Thurmond’s research project for Black Middletown Lives, the service-learning course taught by Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies.
Nasta notes that McDuffie-Thurmond, who had been documenting the African American burials in the cemetery as part of his final project in the class, “completely took it upon himself to take that 10 steps beyond the assignment, to envision this ceremony. Jumoke is not just documenting the gravesites, but honoring the people who were enslaved here in Middletown.”
For his part, McDuffie-Thurmond remembers the first time Nasta took the class to the cemetery as a significant experience. “I’d never been to the section of the graveyard that was designated for Black Middletown residents, and Silva Storms’s gravesite—her tombstone stood almost alone in an open space—resonated with me. Professor Nasta told us it was the oldest tombstone in the African American section. I sat down there and listened to what was around me, what I felt, and I thought, I have to do something that tends to the spirit. We have a legacy of slavery in this land that constantly informs the space we live in—and it is unresolved. I wanted to do something that would resonate with those of us who live here now. It was a very intuitive decision.”
by Olivia Drake •
In this issue, we speak to Noah Baerman, director of the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble. Baerman is a teacher, jazz pianist, composer, and author. He is also founder and artistic director of the nonprofit Resonant Motion, Inc. (RMI).
Q: You’ve directed the Jazz Ensemble at Wesleyan for 11 years. Was there an ensemble before you?
A: Wesleyan’s history of jazz is intense, and perhaps its most significant architect was the great Bill Barron, which I’ve always found kind of cosmic given that his “little” brother Kenny (now 74 and an NEA Jazz Master) was my own mentor. The group I direct runs parallel to the Jazz Orchestra, directed for years by my colleague Jay Hoggard. The Jazz Ensemble was previously directed by several different musicians, including current faculty Pheeroan akLaff and Tony Lombardozzi, as well as the legendary Ed Blackwell.
Q: Do students need to audition for the class? What are the requirements? How many musicians do you accept?
A: It is an audition-based group—there is some diversity of skills and experience, but it is not the setting for those with no prior jazz training. We generally have 6–7 musicians (occasionally more), and in true Wesleyan fashion the instrumentation varies widely from each semester to the next, which is fine since a) I write my own arrangements and b) I want to work with the most serious and motivated students, not necessarily those who just happen to play certain instruments.
Q: What is unique about performing jazz as opposed to classical music? What about it appeals to you? When did you realize that you wanted to be a jazz musician?
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Dean of the Social Sciences Marc Eisner was selected to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), a program hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It is the oldest and most prestigious public liaison program in the Department of Defense, and has been held since the 1940s.
On April 22–25, Eisner joined other college and university deans, provosts, and presidents at military installations in Virginia, where he engaged with senior military officers and U.S. service members. He participated in a variety of tactical training exercises and, through conversations and experiences, gained a better understanding of the roles and mission of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as their skills, capabilities, and equipment.
According to Eisner, the goal of the program is to help bridge the civilian-military divide. Leaders in the fields of education, business, and religion are invited to gain a better understanding of the military in order to help them better serve veterans.
“Unlike past periods in our country’s history, we have an all-volunteer Armed Forces now. The vast majority of students at Wesleyan would likely never know anyone who has served in the Armed Forces or been deployed to one of our recent wars,” said Eisner. “There’s a lack of understanding as to the nature of the wars and the people fighting in them.”
Bringing veterans to campus—as students, such as through the Posse Veteran Scholars program, or as faculty, such as through the Retired Officer Teaching Fellowship (ROTF)—is an important way to introduce students to new and different viewpoints. According to Eisner, Wesleyan’s first retired officer teaching fellow, Col. Bob Cassidy, just signed on for a second year at Wesleyan. His course on “Policy and Strategy in War and Peace” has been extremely popular, with students being wait-listed, and he has also guest lectured in other courses and given presentations on campus.
At the same time, said Eisner, many people in the military lack understanding of college campuses. It was interesting for him to speak to service members and learn why they decided not to pursue college, or left college early to join the military. He also observed that many service members were now taking classes online or at nearby institutions.
Eisner also is the Henry Merritt Wriston Chair in Public Policy, professor of government, professor of environmental studies.
East Asian Studies’ Aalgaard Aims to Amplify Voices That Challenge, Reshape Our Own Stances upon the World
by Cynthia Rockwell •
In this Q&A, we speak with Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Scott Aalgaard. Originally a native of British Columbia, he joined Wesleyan after completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago. Affiliated with Wesleyan’s College of East Asian Studies, his courses this year included Pop Music Revolutionaries, Japanese Women’s Writing, and The Everyday in Modern Japan.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background.
A: I’ve been on the move for most of my life. I grew up in a small resource town on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada; we had a sister city in northern Japan, and it was through that relationship that I got to visit Japan for the first time when I was 12. I was just a kid at the time, and in all honesty, it was more my mother’s idea that I should go to Japan and see the world beyond our little town than it was mine. But being able to see and experience a different part of the world and different ways of life had a real impact on me, and made me ask different questions, both of myself, and of what I was experiencing. I guess now I’d call that a thirst for knowledge, but I didn’t understand it in those terms at the time—I just felt that I needed to keep going back, keep talking to people, listening, learning.
I went back to Japan when I was 15, again when I graduated from high school, and that set the pattern—I’ve been living somewhere in between Canada, Japan, and now the United States for more than 30 years now. I’ve been fortunate to have a wide range of experiences in Japan—I’ve been a student, a farm worker, a local government employee; I’ve even worked in the music industry in Tokyo. I can’t say that any of this has brought me closer to any answers, but I hope that I’ve been able to refine the questions. How do individuals in Japan and elsewhere make sense of their lives? Why? How does this get expressed in things like literature and music? What are some of the consequences of that? These are some of the questions that drive me, and Wesleyan is an ideal place to pursue them.
Q: What drew you to Wesleyan?
A: Wes is renowned for attracting sharp, inquisitive, critically-minded students, and being able to think through these questions with them is a real treat for me. Rather than trying to offer up some stock answer to the question of what “Japan” is all about, in other words, I see my role as helping students to formulate and articulate different sorts of questions, in a way that not only addresses Japan and its cultures and contexts, but students’ own circumstances, contexts, and historical moments, as well.
Q: In your faculty bio, you say that your scholarship “aims to hear and amplify voices that can challenge and reshape our own stances upon the world.” Can you talk about how/where/if you’ve seen that happening today? How do you emphasize that in your work?
A: I’m really interested in questions of collectivity, and in how different social actors and cultural producers deal with those questions. Collectivity is something that we all need, but when that gets reduced to exclusionary, reactionary forms of nationalism, or questions of nation-state power and prestige, then we’ve got a problem. People grapple with this question of collectivity in different ways.