In the Media

Wesleyan Class Studies ‘Lost Tribe’ of Lower Connecticut River

The Hartford Courant reported on a study of the Wangunks, the indigenous people of Middletown and Portland, Conn., by members of a Wesleyan course taught by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of environmental studies. Eleven students spent a semester in the archives of the Middlesex County Historical Society studying the Wangunks as part of a course on local Native Americans: “Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown: Native Histories of the Wangunk Indian People.” Four of those students presented their research at a March seminar at Russell Library.

According to the story:

The Wesleyan students made use of a number of sources to piece together a comprehensive history of the Wangunk peoples, from their contact in the mid-1600s with the first English settlers of Middletown to the tribe’s gradual disappearance.

Through [Gary] O’Neal — a descendant of Jonathan Palmer, a Wangunk Indian who lived in East Hampton in the early 1800s — the students were able to learn about the tribe’s persistence in the area.

“We wanted to understand who the Wangunk were and what happened to them,” said [Maia] Neumann-Moore [’18], who looked at Wangunk migration patterns after the settling of Mattabessett, or Middletown, by the English in 1650. “It was as if the Wangunk disappeared into the woods. But they were here all along.”

The students found that the settlers were increasingly casual in their references to these Native Americans over time, especially their actual numbers. They said the word Wangunk appears often in 17th century records but far less frequently a century later, when a small band was living across the river on a reservation in Portland, known as Wangunk meadows.

Read the full story here.

Fox ’19 Writes on Wesleyan’s Jewish Community, Campus Political Climate

Anna Fox ’19 wrote an essay in The Forward about Wesleyan’s Jewish community and the campus political climate surrounding the Israel Palestinian conflict. Though, as a Zionist, she was anxious about coming to a campus with a pro-Palestine reputation, she was met with a pluralistic community, “diverse opinions” and “students exchanging ideas thoughtfully—though rarely in agreement—and leaving the conversations with respect, compassion and nuanced approaches to their ideas.”

She writes:

The passion I see in my peers who engage with Israeli-Palestinian politics, regardless of their political affiliations, gives me so much hope about the future of the Holy Land. My voice is not just heard, but valued. My views have been challenged, certainly, and I often leave conversations grappling with the questions they provoked, but I am always met with compassion.

And this campus makes me feel closer to Israel. My community’s plurality doesn’t alienate me, but pushes me to think deeply about the conflict. When the Bayit embraces students with diverse political opinions, and when we have the opportunity to engage with the issues that we feel so deeply and passionately about, my peers and I are able to develop our opinions in an informed and responsible way. […] The openness of dialogue in this campus’s Jewish community never allows us to be blindly opinionated, or to trust that we are always right. Rather, we are constantly assessing the subtleties of our opinions, strengthening and shifting them as we continue to learn more about the world around us.

Fox concludes:

It’s tempting for adults to dismiss college students as starry-eyed idealists. But as young people, we know that at the end of the day, we have the potential to make the world a better place. When we have the spaces to explore this potentiality fully, we bring a new vitality to the conversation. We engage with one another, and we challenge both our peers’ beliefs and our own. We grow as Jews and as people. Jewish communal leaders looking to understand our generation ought to listen to us.

 

McGuire: Is Brazil Better Prepared Than the U.S. to Fight Zika?

James McGuire

James McGuire

James McGuire, professor and chair of government, professor of Latin American studies, is the author of a new op-ed titled, “Is Brazil Better Prepared than the U.S. to Fight Zika?”

Brazil is ground zero for the recent wave of Zika infections. McGuire argues that the country “is better prepared to fight Zika than many people think—and is, in some ways, better prepared to fight Zika than the United States.”

The Zika virus is difficult to fight, and Brazil faces some major obstacles, including a deep economic crisis, political turmoil, and an ongoing battle against other infectious diseases. Still, he writes, “Brazil has advantages in the struggle: a history of public disease control in the northeast dating back to World War II; a large and talented public health community; and years of experience with evidence-based public health interventions.

“It is no accident that the government knew where to send the 220,000 soldiers, because health data on the country’s 5,600 counties have become more complete, transparent and available during the last couple of decades. Most important, the Brazilian government in the mid-1990s expanded the Family Health Program (now Family Health Strategy), which by 2014 involved 39,000 health teams, each providing primary health care to about 1,000 specified households, including through home visits.”

In contrast, the United States “lacks a public health structure of the size and efficacy of Brazil’s for destroying mosquito breeding sites, educating high-risk populations, monitoring the spread of the disease and counseling expectant mothers.”

In the United States, mosquito monitoring and eradication is handled by 700 disconnected and underfunded public agencies, mostly administered at the municipal level but funded in part by the federal government. Federal funding for mosquito control fell from $24 million in 2004 to $10 million in 2012.

In February 2016 Congress denied President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika, demanding instead that he shift money earmarked for the fight against Ebola. On April 7 the Obama administration, citing a public health emergency, shifted about $500 million from Ebola to Zika.

The United States is a rich country with a temperate climate, but lacks an integrated public health service provision and disease control program like Brazil’s Family Health Strategy. Not surprisingly, then, both Mississippi and the vastly poorer Brazilian state of Espirito Santo have identical infant mortality rates: 9.6 per 1000.

Originally published on Inside Sources, the oped also appeared in Newsday.

Wesleyan Observatory Opening for 100th Anniversary Events

cam_vvo_2013-0102225113The Hartford Courant featured the 100th anniversary of Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory, which will be celebrated with an exhibit and a series of events this month and next. The “Under Connecticut Skies” exhibit, located in the observatory library, will open May 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will remain open indefinitely during the observatory’s public hours.

Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, who has been working on the exhibit since last year, said the Van Vleck Observatory and the astronomy department building are part of the exhibit, telling the story of how astronomers did their work 100 years ago.

“One of the things most interesting to me as a historian of science is that this building itself is our most important artifact we’re interpreting in this exhibit,” she said. “The way it’s organized really reflects the way astronomy happened in the early part of the 20th century. There was a period when astronomical data was not series of numbers or something electronic. The raw data was pieces of glass, negative images of the sky, and we have 40,000 in the basement.”

Williams and students have been gathering oral history accounts and making videos to document the historical significance of the artifacts and research.

“Astronomy is historical in and of itself,” Williams said. “It deals with issues of time. When you look into a telescope you’re looking back in time, and that makes the act of observing a historical act as well as a scientific one.”

Learn more about the exhibit, the 100th anniversary re-dedication on June 16, and other planned events here.

 

Wesleyan Students Partner with City Water, Sewer Workers for Unique Show

Juliana Castro '19, Michael Edwards '16, and Melissa Leung '16 are among the students who have been working with the city's Water and Sewer Department to create a performance that will debut at the Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter on May 9. (Photo courtesy of The Middletown Press).

Juliana Castro ’19, Michael Edwards ’16, and Melissa Leung ’16 are among the students who have been working with the city’s Water and Sewer Department to create a performance that will debut at the Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter on May 7. (Photo courtesy of The Middletown Press).

This spring, Allison Orr, the Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment, is leading a group of Wesleyan students in partnering with the city of Middletown’s Water and Sewer Department to develop a unique performance that will debut at the Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter on May 7. The performance starts at noon at Harbor Park.

Allison Orr

Allison Orr

According to this story in The Middletown Press, Orr has long used “her choreography talent to expose the work of those who would otherwise go unnoticed.” She is the artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, and is known for “Trash Dance,” a 2012 documentary film that explored the work of the Austin, Texas Sanitation Department.

“What I do is I embed myself within these groups of employees over a period of time,” Orr said. “I convince them to come along with me and we create together performances that educate people about the work.”

Under her direction, eight Wesleyan students “joined” the city’s water department. Since February, they have been collecting interviews, shadowing employees and studying their movements to create a performance based on the workers’ daily lives, and raise awareness about how they keep Middletown’s waterfront clean.

For Gretchen LaMotte ’18, this performance is not only a way to bridge a gap between the Wesleyan community and Middletown, but is also an opportunity for her to bring the Water and Sewer Department’s work to the forefront.

“All of this is invisible work that is supporting the infrastructure of our daily lives. I’m excited about this performance because hopefully it will make that work more visible,” LaMotte said.

In March, Orr also taught movement classes to students at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center.

Aetna Taps Sabatino ’80 and Loveman ’82 as High-Level Hires

Thomas Sabatino Jr. ’80 joins Aetna as executive vice president and general counsel.

Thomas Sabatino Jr. ’80 joins Aetna as executive vice president and general counsel.

Aetna has tapped two Wesleyan alumni for recent high-level hires. Thomas Sabatino Jr. ’80 is joining the insurance giant as executive vice president and general counsel. Sabatino worked most recently at Hertz Global Holdings as its chief lawyer, and previously in pharmaceuticals and medical products.

He joins Gary Loveman ’82, who in September became Aetna’s corporate executive vice president and president of Healthagen, the company’s consumer business. Loveman, a former management professor at Harvard Business School, had been chairman and CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Gary Loveman ’82 is Aetna’s corporate executive vice president and president of Healthagen, the company’s consumer business.

Gary Loveman ’82 is Aetna’s corporate executive vice president and president of Healthagen, the company’s consumer business.

Dan Haar ’81, business editor of the Hartford Courant, wrote that both Hertz and Caesar’s are known for tracking and managing their top customers. Loveman created a data-based customer loyalty program as well as an incentive-based health and wellness program for the company’s 70,000 employees and their families.

At two of the three big Hartford insurance companies, Wesleyan alumni hold the general counsel position – David Robinson ’87 has the post at The Hartford. Also, Tom Cowhey ’94 is head of investor relations at Aetna, and Gabriella Nawi ’90 has the same position at Travelers.

Wesleyan Leading the Way in Connecticut With Its Microgrid

Alan Rubacha, director of Physical Plant, stands near the university's microgrid engine that generates power to provide heat and electricity to the school. The engine is located in the Combined Heat and Power room at the Freeman Athletic Center. (Photo courtesy of Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant)

Alan Rubacha, director of Physical Plant, stands near the university’s microgrid engine that generates power to provide heat and electricity to the school. The engine is located in the Combined Heat and Power room at the Freeman Athletic Center. (Photo courtesy of Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant)

In a story about the spread of microgrids in Connecticut, The Hartford Courant points to Wesleyan as a leader. Wesleyan’s microgrid was the first project to come online under the inaugural round of Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation statewide microgrid pilot program.

According to the Courant, the $23 million state program to create a network of mini power generation plants across Connecticut was prompted by Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread power outages, flooding and other problems. In the case of a widespread power outage, microgrids can continue providing power to water treatment plants, emergency shelters, hospitals, police and fire stations.

In March 2014, Alan Rubacha led a tour of Wesleyan’s new generator package that delivers 4,700 mWh annually. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In March 2014, Alan Rubacha led a tour of Wesleyan’s new generator package that delivers 4,700 mWh annually. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

The Courant interviewed Alan Rubacha, director of Wesleyan’s Physical Plant, who said these mini-power plants offer advantages that go beyond providing power in emergencies. He said the university’s microgrid, which went on line in 2014, is producing enough electricity and steam to save Wesleyan an estimated $300,000 a year in energy costs.

Not only does the university’s natural gas engine produce electricity “as efficiently as a utility,” according to Rubacha, “the big thing is we use all the heat off the back end” as steam to heat the Freeman Athletic Center.

Wesleyan’s plant was one of the first Connecticut microgrids and the overall cost amounted to $4.1 million, including a $603,836 state grant. The combination of university and state funding paid for a 676 kilowatt natural gas engine that operates continuously to power the athletic center.

The center is also a designated emergency center for the area and a distribution point for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Wesleyan’s microgrid includes some solar power as well, and Rubacha said university officials calculate that the system will pay back the entire investment in a little over a decade.

Read more about Wesleyan’s microgrid here, and learn about the new solar array in the works that will supply power to the microgrid.

Ulysse’s Essay Says U.S. Foreign Food Aid Policy Undermines Farmers in Haiti

Gina Athena UlysseIn her latest essay on The Huffington PostProfessor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse takes on the matter of U.S. foreign food aid policy vis-a-vis Haiti, which she writes is undermining farmers in the Caribbean nation. She focuses on mamba, the Kreyòl word for peanut butter, which she fondly recalls being made by locals when she was growing up in Haiti.

“To me, mamba is as quintessentially Haitian as basketball is (North) American. Now, it faces risks as another charitable gift of food aid undermines Haitian autonomy by threatening to bench local farmers’ peanuts production, our cultural practices, and even our tastes,” she writes. “This is not our first time. Haiti has been tripped up by the U.S. before.”

Ulysse quotes retired Wesleyan Professor of Sociology Alex Dupuy, who puts this in historical context: “First, the U.S. destroys Haitian agriculture by compelling the then Aristide government to lower tariffs to a level lower than anywhere else in the Caribbean, and then exports its own subsidized agricultural goods (rice, cereals, chickens, etc.) to the country, as former President Clinton acknowledged with crocodile tears. Now, it is dumping its subsidized peanuts on Haiti and undermining the ability of Haitian farmers to increase peanut production. The hypocrisy never stops, and Haiti’s own sycophantic government officials are all too willing to abide them in their destructive policies for the crumbs they get in return.”

Ulysse concludes by urging President Barack Obama to “address this foul play” and “avoid another post-presidential apology that Haiti’s people and fragile economy can actually do without.”

Ulysse also is professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Southard ’78 Receives Lukas Book Prize

Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War, by Susan Southard ’78, has been awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarOne of three annual Lukas Prizes honoring the best in American nonfiction writing, the Book Prize is given to a book exemplifying “the literary grace, commitment to serious research, and the social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the award’s namesake, J. Anthony Lukas.”  The prize comes with a $10,000 award.

“I couldn’t be more honored that Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War has been included among the remarkable books of narrative journalism that have received the Lukas Book Prize since 1998,” said Southard. “And I am elated that, 70 years after the atomic bombings of Japan, the survivors’ stories have been recognized in this way.”

The judges in their citation noted, “Susan Southard’s Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War will upset you. With lean and powerful prose she describes the indescribable taking the reader almost minute by minute through the bombing of Nagasaki and then the aftermath. With thorough careful research she exposes a half-century of lies and half-truths about the reasons for the bombing and the results, even denying that radiation poisoning was real. Seventy years later, following the lives of survivors, she reaches the final chapter and at last tells the complete story. Without diatribes or polemics she leaves the reader with a resolve that such a thing must never happen again.”

Star Runner Bill Rodgers ’70 Featured in Runner’s World

In May 2009, Bill Rodgers ’70 – a decorated cross-country, and track and field athlete at Wesleyan – was featured in an article in Runner’s World magazine by Steve Rushin. Following graduation, Rodgers became one of the best-known and most popular American marathon runners ever. The feature takes a look at Rodgers’ life and his successes, which include four wins in the Boston Marathon, four consecutive wins in the New York Marathon, and twice qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. In all, Rodgers won more than 20 marathon events in a span of 11 years (1973-1983). In addition to his athletic success, Rodgers also battled back from prostate cancer and now uses running as a way to raise awareness about the disease.

In the feature, titled “The Most Likely Return of Boston Billy,” the author interviews Rodgers’ college roommate and teammate, Amby Burfoot ’68. As a senior at Wesleyan, Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968 to become the first collegian to win the world’s oldest continuous marathon event. The duo are pictured in the article in their 1967 cross-country team photo.

Author Nick Weldon recently updated the story seven years after it was published. Read the full article here.

President Roth Comments in The Atlantic on College Admissions Process

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

The Atlantic education writer Alia Wong turned to President Michael S. Roth for his perspective in a three-part series on “Where the College Admissions Process Went Wrong.” One critical problem is that the intense focus on the college application process means that rather than preparing themselves for college or for life, students are preparing simply for the “moment of admission.”

“What we want is to have students who want to come and work hard because they can leverage their experience at the university and do something after they leave,” said Roth. “One of my predecessors used to say to students, ‘If these turn out to be the best four years of your life, we’ve failed you.’”

In recent years, different groups have attempted to reform the process to change this focus, and the values it promotes in students.

“I think that that’s the missing part now—this consumer mentality [of], ‘Oh, I got in and now I get to enjoy the exclusive club,’ rather than ‘I got in, and now I get to use these resources to do something after the university,’” said Roth.

One new campaign, called Turning the Tide, tries to emphasize the character-building potential of the application process by calling on selective colleges to encourage applicants to engage in “meaningful, sustained community service,” contribute to their families, and focus on the quality (versus the quantity) of extracurricular activities. Yet Roth remains skeptical of this approach.

“I do worry about trying to create a new system that will measure qualities that will supposedly make people better people. Because insofar as it becomes a new system, it will be gamed by people who already pad their resumes with all kinds of activities that supposedly show empathy, but what they really show is a desire to get into schools where empathy is a criterion for admission,” he said.

He sees the fundamental problem as being the American obsession with exclusivity.

“Part of what’s attractive [about] going to a great Ivy League institution is not so much the anticipation of a wonderful undergraduate education,” he said. “But the fact that it’s just really hard to get in—that’s just a trait of our culture.” Once “you set up another grid, people will create another profile to match the grid as long as the competition for seats remains intense.”

The third article in Wong’s series looks at the effect of the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings on colleges and universities.

They’re “highly pernicious,” said Roth. “I think they’ve had a really deleterious effect on higher education as [colleges and universities] try to meet requirements that may not be in the best educational interest of their students.”

He added that college rankings contribute to the admissions frenzy, giving the impression that the most desirable schools—irrespective of the applicant and his or her specific interests and needs—are the ones at the top of the list, the ones that are harder to get into.”

“They accentuate the race toward the wealthiest schools,” said Roth.

Read more in parts two and three of the series.

 

NPR Previewed SXSW Performers Elion ’15 and Mitchell ’15 of Overcoats

Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15 are Overcoats. Recently, the duo performed at South By Southwest Music Festival. (photo credit: Lex Voight)Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15 are Overcoats. Recently, the duo performed at South By Southwest Music Festival. (photo credit: Lex Voight)

Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15 are Overcoats. Recently, the duo performed at South By Southwest Music Festival.

NPR’s All Songs Considered featured the former Wesleyan band Overcoats in its preview of the 2016 South by Southwest Music festival in Austin Texas. Overcoats, made up of Hana Elion ’15 and JJ Mitchell ’15, have made the leap from small on-campus concerts to performances in New York City’s Mercury Lounge and the Longitude Festival in Ireland. Currently, Overcoats resides in New York City where they are performing and recording new music in studio.

Overcoats describe their style as “combining electronic backdrops with soaring, harmonic intimacy — a sort of Chet Faker meets Simon & Garfunkel.” Their songs “draw strength from vulnerability, finding uplifting beauty in simple, honest songwriting,“ the duo write.

In their preview, NPR host Bob Boilen wrote, “The charming East Coast duo Overcoats reminds me of [the Scandinavian folk duo] My bubba — the heart of what these two do is in the playfulness of their vocal performances.”