In the Media

Jenkins Writes About “Eye-Opening” Performance of Indonesian Dancers

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins wrote in The Jakarta Post about recent performances of Rateb Meuseukat, a form of Acehnese dance from Indonesia, at Wesleyan and a few other New England colleges, which gave American audiences “an eye-opening introduction to an aspect of the Muslim world that is rarely seen in the West.”

The group “Tari Aceh” performed at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall on Feb. 27. The day after the performance, some audience members returned for a workshop in which they learned how to do the movements they had seen onstage.

Jenkins writes:

Images of Muslim women in Western media often focus on the restrictive nature of head scarves and other customary clothing, but the dancers of Aceh shattered these naïve stereotypes through the liberating power of their performances.

The women’s colorful woven headscarves accentuated the sassy energy of their movements. Their modest costumes used traditional textiles to heighten the dynamic quality of their choreography.

The hooting, stomping, finger snapping and body slapping that punctuated their dances gave the performance an unstoppable sense of momentum that erased all notions of female passivity.

The women dancers of the “Tari Aceh” tour were clearly the masters of the remarkable universe they created onstage.

Gruen Discusses Chimpanzees Used in Research on Canadian Nature Show

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen speaks about the ethics of using chimps in research in a Canadian show The Nature of Things.

On March 12, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired an episode of The Nature of Things called “Safe Haven for Chimps” in which host David Suzuki and his crew follow the efforts of the staff at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. The compound is a place where chimps, who have been used in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are retired and allowed to live our their lives in a sanctuary.

Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist gender and sexuality studies, first appears about 10 minutes into the episode. She speaks about her website,, which tracks the remaining chimps being used in American biomedical and behavioral research.

“The idea of the ‘LAST 1000′ was a way of taking abstract notion of ‘there are chimpanzees being used in laboratories’ and maybe we should end chimpanzee research and retire them,” asserts Gruen.

On her website, Gruen tracks the chimps by name. The names of chimps that are retired to a sanctuary like Chimp Haven are turned green on the site. Gruen explains, “The hope is to turn as many of the names on the ‘LAST 1000′ site green, which means they have been retired from the laboratory.”

“I think it’s important to identify the chimpanzees by name, both to honor and represent them as individuals, and oftentimes to be able to identify and empathize with another is a central part of what moves people to action.”

Near the end of the episode, Gruen summarizes her thoughts.

“When I first started working on topics related to captive chimpanzees something like 20 years ago, I had really no idea that by this point in time we would be discussing the retirement of chimpanzees…”

The video can be seen here.

Ulysse Writes Tribute to Anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brown

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, wrote a tribute on the Tikkun Daily Blog to Karen McCarthy Brown, professor emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion at Drew University, who passed away earlier this month.

“Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her,” Ulysses posted on Facebook after hearing news of Brown’s death.

She goes on to explain, “Mama Lola was published by the University of California Press in 1991. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted over a decade, Brown became an initiate of her subject, as a condition to deeper research and writing her life history. The resulting ethnography with its radical crossings blurred methodological and scriptive lines. Brown took creative liberties fictionalizing various strands of Lola’s familial and spiritual genealogies.”

Though highly celebrated, the book was not without its critics. Haitian anthropologist Michel-Ralph Trouillot questioned tensions between Brown’s ethnographic authority and totalizing narrative.

Ulysses writes, “Indeed, in many ways, Mama Lola was something of an insider ethnography. In retrospect, I formed an attachment to it precisely because I had some knowledge to discern fact from fiction, to fill in the silences and to decipher practices layered in an opacity that was part of a historically damaging trope. Simultaneously, it expanded my lexicon as I learned so much about religious practices in my birth country that to this day remain trapped in obscurity, familial and otherwise. In that sense, the book had done for me exactly what anthropology is supposed to do, make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It also sensitized me to the restrictions of genres, fieldwork dynamics and negotiations among so many other things. I knew there would never be an ethnography of my family’s story. Performance, maybe? Memoir, definitely. Some stories are not mine to tell.”

Rudensky Discusses Her Latest Project with Jewish Daily Forward, Rubin ’13

Sasha Rudensky

Sasha Rudensky

The Jewish Daily Forward has published an in-depth interview with Assistant Professor of Art Sasha Rudensky ’01. The conversation ranges from her immigration to the U.S. from Moscow at age 9 to her start as an artist to her latest photography project, Eastern Eve.

Hannah Rubin ’13, a former student of Rudensky, wrote the story as part of a larger series she’s working on that spotlights Jewish female artists.

Rubin describes Rudensky’s work: “She uses her photography as a means of personally investigating the contradictions and continuities of contemporary Russian culture. Though her work defies being labeled as ‘feminine,’ it culls from a sensibility that is distinctly gentle and yet perverse, that seeks to make photographs that are repellent and attractive. They trade in generalities, but their details establish her voice — a statue of Stalin in a hallway, a wall of faded shampoo advertisements, the surprisingly limber legs of an eleven-year old rhythmic gymnast. Each picture becomes a question, a statement, a kind of rhythmic curiosity of light, color, and form that points to a history and a future that both feel unknown.”

Asked about her latest project, Eastern Eve, Rudensky said:

I’ve been working on it this series of portraits for the past five years or so, kind of as a side project. The youngest model in the group is twelve and her name is Sasha and I think maybe it was when I photographed her that the idea gelled and came together. There is a kind of fetishistic fascination of Eastern European women: a very specific kind of prototype is conjured up. And in many ways, it isn’t completely mistaken. But in the reality, of course, it is so much more diverse. So I wanted to play with both of these ideas, and make pictures of women that are very confrontational, and contradictory to the stereotype, but not always. The title Eastern Eve plays on the generic woman notion: something that denotes a kind of every day, or a kind of Jane version of the Russian woman. But then that generality gets broken down by the specificity in each image. The specific skin, specific body type, specific haircut.

On a more personal level, this series is, in many ways, a projection of myself onto these women — looking at these women, at these lives that perhaps I was meant to lead. There is always this idea for me of what would have happened if I had stayed in Russia and grown up there. So, ultimately, it feels like a self-portraiture project.

Photographs from Eastern Eve can be seen here.



Weil on Respect and Our Relationships with Thinking Animals

Kari Weil is director of the College of Letters and the University Professor of Letters.

Kari Weil is director of the College of Letters and the University Professor of Letters.

Kari Weil, the University Professor of Letters, was a guest on WNPR’s “The Faith Middleton Show” to discuss how our evolving understanding of animals should affect how we treat them personally and professionally.

They began by discussing the announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would stop using elephants in their circus performances within three years.

“I think there is a fine line between use and abuse,” said Weil.”I don’t think all use is abuse. I think animals depend on us, we depend on them. We can use certain animals for certain things, but when we’re down to exploitive techniques like bull hooks and fear tactics, I think we’ve gone the wrong way.”

Middleton asked about the root of Weil’s interest in animal studies.

Oddly, she said, it started with an interest in the relationship between women and horses in 19th century France. Women had to get special dispensation to cross-dress so they could straddle horses, Weil explained.

“That interest slowly took me to other questions of training techniques, of how horses were used, of how they were regarded. Of why, when horses were the most popular animal, they were also legalized for human consumption,” she said.

Hear the complete interview here. Weil also is director of the College of Letters.

President Roth Reviews The End of College

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael Roth reviewed The End of College by Kevin Carey for The Atlantic. Though it might be tempting to dismiss the book as just another doomsday declaration about higher education, writes Roth, Carey’s “call for more accessible student-centered universities is a powerful response to some of the real problems that beset these institutions today.”

Carey visits a handful of colleges and universities, including some–Harvard, Stanford, MIT–that admit fewer than 10 percent of applicants. “This dynamic of exclusivity is, Carey contends, about to change. Big time,” writes Roth.

Carey signs up for an online biology class from MIT, and proudly reports his test scores. “The online class that the Cambridge institution makes available and free to anyone in the world through its ‘MITx’ program is good enough for teaching something as advanced as complex genomics. You don’t have to get admitted to MIT to learn this stuff.”

Roth writes, “Carey contrasts the pedagogical sophistication of the best MOOCs, like his MIT biology class, with what he imagines to be the careless, untrained in-person teaching of research-oriented professors. He is quite sure that students get little out of sitting in lectures…But he presents no data or arguments on why some teachers are better than others, or about why in-person education might have some benefits. He wants to convince the reader that universities are merely defending the velvet ropes of exclusivity. He writes that the current system of getting into college ‘is a lot like being invited onto a yacht … where you get to sip cocktails served by attractive young women.’ Really? For whom is this true?”

Read the full review here.

Gruen Writes “Let Elephants Be Elephants” in Al Jazeera

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, writes in Al Jazeera about the announcement this month by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that it would phase out the use of elephants in circus shows by 2018 in response to a “mood shift among our consumers.”

Gruen explores how this public change in attitudes came to be. She credits, in part, “the tireless animal activists who appear regularly, rain or shine, to protest when the circus comes to town.” These activists highlight the cruel and unhealthy living conditions imposed upon the elephants, such as having their legs chained, lacking adequate exercise, and withstanding painful training techniques including electric shock, whipping and physical force.

Gruen writes:

Part of the mood shift, then, is a result of consumers’ unwillingness to support the cruelty involved in using elephants for entertainment purposes. Ending its elephant acts now rather than waiting three years would respect the mood of its consumers and respect the elephants.

There is also a growing aversion to the indignity of displaying these magnificent, endangered creatures in circus spectacles.

Gruen also recently spoke to The Christian Science Monitor about elephants in the circus. She is also professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of environmental studies.

Unger ’15 Writes about “Coexistence and its Discontents” in Israel, Palestine

Rachel Unger '15 in Nazareth, Israel.

Rachel Unger ’15 in Nazareth, Israel.

Writing in Tikkun Magazine, government major Rachel Unger ’15 offers a first-hand account of Israeli-Palestinian relations she witnessed during her two trips to the region, and how these experiences shaped her views of a “two-state solution” to the ongoing conflict.

Unger describes watching “religious Jews marching through the Muslim quarter of the Old City celebrating the ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem while the authorities blocked Palestinians from the streets with barricades and prevented an old man from taking the bus to his home. I witnessed police knocking a Palestinian man to the ground while hordes of young Yeshiva boys cheered and sang ‘Am Yisrael Chai!'”

She writes, “This incident felt like a culmination of the nationalism, racism, and contradicting narratives that drive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forward.” It was, she writes, a side of Israel from which most American Jews are shielded when the tour the country.

Visiting the region and hearing a broad range of Israeli and Palestinian perspectives showed Unger that many on both sides of the conflict gave up long ago on the possibility of a two-state solution. Read more about her thoughts on this here.

Gruen Discusses Her New Book Entangled Empathy

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, discussed her new book, Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animalswith University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Mark Bekoff in The Huffington Post. Bekoff calls the book “a wonderful addition to a growing literature in the transdisciplinary field called anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships.”

Gruen defines “entangled empathy” as “a process whereby we first acknowledge that we are already in relationships with all sorts of other animals (humans and non-humans) and these relationships are, for the most part, not very good ones. We then work to figure out how to make them better and that almost always means trying to promote well-being and flourishing.”

She adds, “One thing I think is crucial in our process of thinking differently about our relationships is to recognize that making those relationships better requires practice. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We need to continually learn more about ourselves and others to improve the lives of everyone. We will make mistakes, so we should always engage with a fair dose of humility, but also be hopeful that we can fix our mistakes and hone our empathetic skills.”

Read the full interview here.

Gruen also recently penned an op-ed titled, “Ban Greyhound Racing Now,” published on Al Jazeera America’s website. She relates her personal experience adopting a rescued greyhound who was a former racing dog, and more generally describes the “grotesque cruelty in the racing industry.”

Gruen also is professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Tucker Explores Photography’s Powerful Role in Our Legal System

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

An essay by Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is included in The Five Photographs that (You Didn’t Know) Changed Everything, a five-part BBC radio series focusing on historically important yet little-known photographs.

In her segment, The Tichborne Claimant, Tucker tells the story of how an 1866 photograph of a butcher in Wagga Wagga, Australia, played a central role in a case that gripped Victorian Britain and had an enormous impact on our legal system, raising questions about what photography is for and how it should be used. Says Tucker:

“Sometimes even a mundane photograph can have a powerful and lasting historical impact. This is the story of one such photograph—a picture that not only changed the life of the man it showed, but also set in motion the longest and most expensive trial in British legal history, and sparked a national debate over the role of photography as evidence in a court of law.”

Tucker also is 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.


Roth Writes in WSJ on Religion’s Role in the History of Ideas

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael S. Roth writes in The Wall Street Journal about the importance of exploring religious feelings and experiences in humanities education, and why these topics make students so uncomfortable.

He writes: “Why is it so hard for my very smart students to make this leap—not the leap of faith but the leap of historical imagination? I’m not trying to make a religious believer out of anybody, but I do want my students to have a nuanced sense of how ideas of knowledge, politics and ethics have been intertwined with religious faith and practice.”

“Given my reading list, I often ask these questions about Christian traditions, inviting students to step into the shoes of thinkers who were trying to walk with Jesus. I realize that more than a few of my undergraduates are Christians who might readily speak to this experience in another setting. But in the classroom, they are uncomfortable speaking out. So I carry on awkwardly as best I can: a secular Jew trying to get his students to empathize with Christian sensibilities.”

Rutland Assesses the Threat from Russia in U.K. Mirror

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thoughts, writes in the Mirror (U.K.) about the threat to the West by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He considers the comparison made by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon to the Islamic State. While “Putin’s people are not beheading Christians or burning captives alive,” writes Rutland, Russia has nuclear weapons — lots of them. “And is willing to use them if necessary,” he writes.

“Deterrence only works if both sides see each other as unwilling to risk war. And [Putin] believes the West will not risk nuclear conflict over where to draw Ukraine’s borders, or the language rights of people in breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk,” Rutland writes. “He has shown in words and deeds that he is willing to risk war to stop Ukraine from joining NATO.”

Rutland also is professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, and tutor in the College of Social Studies.