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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.

Altman ’17 Promotes 88.1 WESU Radio Activity, Hosts Punk Girl Band Show

Tess Altman '17 is the public relations director at 88.1 WESU.

Tess Altman ’17 is the public relations director at 88.1 WESU. She also hosts a radio show called Feminist Power Hour. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY

In this Q&A meet Tess Altman from the Class of 2017.

Q: Tess, where are you from and why did you choose Wesleyan?

A: I am from the suburbs of Chicago. I was interested in going to a liberal arts school and getting out the Midwest — so I started looking around at a few schools in the NESCAC. As far as why I chose Wesleyan, it seemed like a place where people were excited about many different things, and the prospect of being around those people excited me.

Tess Altman hopes to major in creative writing and FGSS.

Tess Altman hopes to major in creative writing and FGSS.

Q: How did you become involved in Wesleyan’s radio station, 88.1 WESU?

A: I first got involved with the station last year. I’d never done anything in radio before, but I decided to sign up for training on a whim. I ended up really loving being on air. I also think that the community down there is really great — I’ve gotten to know so many non-students that have made my experience at Wesleyan so much richer.

Q: You’re currently the public relations director for the station. What is involved in this position?

A: Most of what I do as public relations director is all about outreach and getting people more involved, whether that’s through Facebook, Twitter,

Gridiron Club Honors Assistant Coach DiCenzo, Bussani ’14

Dan DiCenzo and Jake Bussani '14

Dan DiCenzo and Jake Bussani ’14

In November, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston named Associate Head Football Coach Dan DiCenzo the Division III assistant coach of the year.

In addition, NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Jake Bussani ’14 received a Joe Zabilski Award for being the top Division III defensive player in New England. The honor is annually awarded to New England’s best collegiate players in Divisions II and III. Bussani was one of four NESCAC players chosen for the New England Football Writers Division II/III all-star team. The last Cardinal to grace the NEFW all-star squad was Shea Dwyer ’10 during the 2010 season.

Bussani is currently enrolled in Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Studies program.

Founded in 1932, the Gridiron Club promotes the game of football at all levels and nurtures the ideals of citizenship, sportsmanship, leadership and athletic and academic achievement. The club carries on its tradition of honoring exemplary players, coaches and officials at all levels of sport.

(Photos courtesy of SteveMcLaughlinPhotography.com)

Neuroscience Major Russell ’15 an A Cappella Singer, Organic Chemistry TA

Colin Russell '15 sings with two a cappella groups on campus and works as a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. "My goal is to personalize a student’s application as much as possible, and it has been a joy to meet so many accomplished high school seniors," he said. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Colin Russell ’15 sings with two a cappella groups on campus and works as a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. “My goal is to personalize a student’s application as much as possible, and it has been a joy to meet so many accomplished high school seniors,” he said. Colin plans on applying to medical school next spring. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
In this Q&A meet Colin Russell from the Class of 2015.

Q: Colin, what are you majoring in? What have been your most instrumental courses so far?

A: I am majoring in neuroscience and behavior while also on the pre-medical path. Two of the most instrumental courses in my journey through Wes have been Organic Chemistry and the Organic Chemistry Lab that is paired with the lecture course. The reputation of Organic Chemistry was extremely intimidating prior to taking the course, and I was nervous that I would not like this subject that is the basis for so much of the biological world. However, I soon learned that I enjoyed the structure of subject, not just in the way it was taught, but in the way that my brain began to process information. The concurrent lab course, while extremely difficult, also allowed for hands-on application of the processes and reactions that we were learning in the lecture class. I enjoyed the course so much that I became a Teacher’s Assistant for the lab, and I will be starting my fourth semester as a TA for the lab in the spring. Not only has the information from these two courses been crucial for my studies, but the process of meeting the challenges of these two classes has also been extremely important in my academic journey.

Q: You’re currently a Senior Interviewer in the Office of Admission. Please describe that role.

A: Joining the Office of Admission team has critically shaped my senior year and outlook on Wesleyan. I have learned much not only about the admissions process, but also a ton about Wesleyan and her students. As Senior Interviewers, we are expected to know about the various corners of campus life, and so I found myself seeking out ways to soak up random tidbits,

Wang ’16 Advocates for Asian American Civil Rights

Alton Wang '16 is a sociology and government double major who plans to enter public service after graduation, advocating for the rights of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Alton Wang ’16 is a sociology and government double major who plans to enter public service after graduation, advocating for the rights of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. He’s currently a member of the Asian American Student Collective. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
In this Q&A, meet Alton Wang from the Class of 2016. 

Q: Hi Alton! Please tell us about where you grew up and your high school experience.

A: I grew up in Arcadia, Calif., which is about 40 minutes outside of downtown Los Angeles. The community in my high school was predominantly Asian and Asian American, so most people looked like me. I personally wanted to break out from that mold and try something completely different for college. So not only was Wesleyan was far away from home, it was not a place I’d ever previously considered going to college.

Q: So how did you wind up coming to Wesleyan?

A: I discovered it by chance. A guidance counselor suggested that I might be interested in Wesleyan, so I said, “Sure, I’ll add it to my list.” I didn’t give it another thought until the acceptances were in and I had to choose a school. When I visited Wesleyan in the spring of my senior year of high school, I fell in love with the campus. I just felt really comfortable here.

Hadley, Stegmaier Honored with Cardinal Achievement Awards

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The Office of Human Resources awarded two Cardinal Achievement Awards in November 2014.

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Library assistant Jennifer Hadley received a Cardinal Achievement Award for her volunteer work as coordinator of the Friends of Olin Library. Over time, Hadley has become the primary organizer for the activities of the Friends that include a semi-annual book sale, two or three annual issues of the library’s newsletter, Check it Out, and the sponsoring of an annual Constitution Day lecture by an invited scholar.

For the recent book sale this fall, Hadley coordinated the sorting of books, publicized the sale on campus and in the community, arranged the setup of Olin’s lobby and clean up after the event, and reconciled and deposited the money collected from the event in the Friends account and reported this to the Friends Board.

“Jennifer’s primary motivation for all of this, as a member of the library staff since 1991, is simply a love of the library itself and a willingness to step in and take responsibility for what she feels needs to be done. She has earned the appreciation of three library directors and the rest of the library staff for this work,” said Alec McLane, music librarian and director of Olin’s World Music Archives.

Heather Stegmaier

Heather Stegmaier

Heather Stegmaier, assistant director for stewardship in the Office of University Relations, was presented with a Cardinal Achievement Award for her efforts during Homecoming Weekend in organizing and managing a special luncheon to celebrate the life of Rabbi George Sobleman, Wesleyan’s first rabbi.

Grossman Keynote Speaker at Chief Risk Officer Assembly

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, delivered a keynote speech at the 10th Chief Risk Officer Assembly in Munich, Germany on Nov. 19. The speech was based on his book, WRONG: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them (Oxford University Press), and focused the consequences of government policy for economic risk.

The CRO Assembly is organized by Geneva Association, an insurance industry think-tank, and the CRO Forum, which is made up of chief risk officers from large (primarily European) multi-national insurance and re-insurance companies. The conference took place at the headquarters of Munich RE, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. The program seeks to understand the nature of emerging and key strategic risks, and to understand how and where they relate to insurance.

Read more about Grossman in these past News @ Wesleyan articles.

As University Protestant Chaplain, Mehr-Muska Mentors, Offers Confidential Support

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others.

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, meet Tracy Mehr-Muska, Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain. 

Q: Rev. Mehr-Muska, how long have you been Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain, and what did you do before this?

A: This is my third year as a university chaplain at Wesleyan. Like many, my professional journey was not a direct route. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, I served as a Deck Watch Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. My love of the sea and my degree in Marine/Environmental Science led me to subsequently work as a marine scientist, conducting oceanographic surveys and engineering subsea cable routes for a company that installed transoceanic fiberoptic telecommunications cable. although I loved my job, I felt most deeply fulfilled when attending church, visiting sick or homebound parishioners, or volunteering with the church’s youth. I then transitioned to Princeton Theological Seminary, and after graduating, became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I served as a chaplain for a hospice program in Boston, where I ministered to people approaching death and to their families. Although I loved hospice chaplaincy, it has been thrilling and fun to now work with people at the other end of their lives—students newly emerging into adulthood who are working to discern their vocational identity and establish their priorities, distinctiveness and values.

Q: Coming from such a different background, what made you want to become a university chaplain?

A: My years at the Coast Guard Academy were immensely challenging personally, physically, and spiritually. The two caring and patient military chaplains who served as my chaplains were not only instrumental in my surviving, thriving, and graduating, but they were also influential in helping me find joy and deepen my faith.

Lily Herman ’16 Active in Online Media, Journalism

Lily Herman '16 co-founded The Prospect, a culture/lifestyle magazine and college admissions/college life website. Two years later, the site features about five new articles a day and staffs 140 contributing writers. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Lily Herman ’16 co-founded The Prospect, a website focused on college admissions and college life. Two years later, the site features about five new articles a day written by a team of about 140 contributing writers, all high school and college students. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
In this Q&A, meet Lily Herman from the Class of 2016.

Q:
 Lily, what are you majoring in and why did you choose Wesleyan?

A: I’m a junior double majoring in government and sociology, and I hail from the semi-boonies of Jacksonville, Fla. I ended up at Wesleyan after my mom checked it off in a Fiske Guide to Colleges when I was a high school sophomore and I read all about it. After visiting Wes on a clear, sunny September day during my senior year of high school, I was 100 percent sold and applied Early Decision. Despite the fact that no one went to Wesleyan, my entire family now consists of diehard Wes fans, and my dad owns more Wesleyan merchandise than I do.

Q: You are extremely active in the world of online media. How did your interest in writing and digital media develop?

A: I really started getting into writing (blogging, more specifically) during my junior and senior years of high school when I, like every other angsty teenager, started a Tumblr account. It was my first foray into online content and having an audience, and it was really the first time I saw the power and impact that words and images can have.

Lily Herman is a peer advisor for the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship; a verbal coach for a nonprofit that provides free SAT tutoring and college admissions assistance to underserved high school students; and a contributing editor for Wesleying.

Lily Herman is a peer advisor for the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship; a verbal coach for a nonprofit that provides free SAT tutoring and college admissions assistance to underserved high school students; and a contributing editor for Wesleying.

It wasn’t until I got to campus and joined Wesleying that I started putting the pieces together and researching the digital media sphere. My first semester of Wesleyan was really spent poking around trying to figure out how to write and be a journalist. I hadn’t even considered it as a possible career option in high school. I was convinced I was going to be POTUS [President of the United States], so it was a really enlightening and absolutely terrifying first couple months of college.

Q: In 2013, you co-founded The Prospect, which describes itself as part culture/lifestyle magazine and part resourceful college admissions/college life website (but all parts awesome). Tell us how The Prospect came to be.

A: The inspiration for The Prospect comes from a lot of places.

Gambell, O’Neill Receive Cardinal Achievement Awards

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Lynne Gambell of the Finance Department and Krystal Gayle O’Neill of Residential Life each received a Cardinal Achievement Award in November.

Gambell, accounting specialist provided assistance to the Physical Plant-Facilities Department by processing more than 100 vouchers in one day. If the vouchers were not processed on time there were concerns that it would negatively impact Wesleyan’s local contractors.

“Lynne demonstrated extraordinary initiative in helping Wesleyan ensure that our contractors were paid in a timely fashion,” said Joyce Topshe, associate vice president for facilities.

Krystal Gayle O’Neill

Krystal Gayle O’Neill

O’Neill, area coordinator, was honored for taking the initiative to create a women’s group on campus. The women’s group has sponsored a number of events over the past several months, including two book club discussions, workshops on self-defense and on investing, as well as “meet and greet” lunches at local restaurants.

“Krystal has created a forum for women at Wesleyan to come together as a community of support and resources,” said Marina Melendez, dean for the Class of 2018.

“She selflessly has given of her time and energy so that we may all benefit, not only through personal and professional development, but also through forming connections with other women at Wesleyan,” said Fran Koerting, director of the Office of Residential Life.

This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for those extra efforts. Award recipients are nominated by department chairs and supervisors. Nominations can be made anytime throughout the year. For more information or to nominate a staff member for the award, visit the Cardinal Achievement Award website.

Recipients will continue to be recognized in News @ Wesleyan.

See past Cardinal Achievement Award recipients here.

Stemler’s New Study Finds Educational Interventions Cannot Be “Scaled Up”

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

It turns out that teaching language arts, math and science to fourth graders is not the same as manufacturing cars on an assembly line. That is, the microeconomics principle of economies of scale—or the cost advantages that businesses get by increasing the scale of production—do not always apply to educational interventions.

Put another way, an intervention that works great in one specific educational setting cannot necessarily be “scaled up” to work in many other settings.

This is the finding of a major new study funded by the National Science Foundation, on which Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler collaborated with colleagues at a number of other universities including Yale, Cornell and the University of Sydney. The study, carried out in 223 classrooms across the country in the early- to mid-2000s, was published in the American Psychology Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology in August. The paper is titled “Testing the Theory of Successful Intelligence in Teaching Grade 4 Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.”

FGSS Chair Pitts-Taylor Explores How Bodies are Symbolically, Politically, Socially Meaningful

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Victoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is interested in studying bodies from a cross-disciplinary perspective.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, joined the faculty this fall. 

Q:
Welcome to Wesleyan, Professor Pitts-Taylor! What attracted you to Wesleyan?

A: Wesleyan has a great tradition of progressive liberal arts education, including a long tradition of feminist/gender/sexuality studies. Like most programs, it began as women’s studies, more than three decades ago, evolving into its current form as times and perspectives changed. Wesleyan has a reputation for having really smart, socially engaged students, for fostering interest in and commitment to social justice, and for investing in interdisciplinary modes of scholarship and teaching. It’s also full of incredibly accomplished professors, people whom I’d like to read, talk to and learn from.

Q: You came to Wesleyan from the City University of New York. What did your position at CUNY entail?

A: I was at the City University of New York for 15 years – almost my whole academic career since getting my Ph.D. at Brandeis University. I started as an assistant professor in the sociology program at Queens College (part of CUNY) in 1999, and after I received tenure I also began teaching in the doctoral program at the Graduate Center. In 2009, I was promoted to full professor – that was a big deal for me at the age of 36, and I thought back then that I’d probably stay at CUNY forever. But that year, I also became director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Doctoral Certificate Program at the Graduate Center. I served two terms as head of those programs. I am a sociologist by training and orientation, but over the years I became more deeply involved in gender and sexuality studies. In addition to heading the women’s studies program, I also served as co-editor of the journal Women’s Studies Quarterly (WSQ) for three years. That experience, along with getting involved in the Feminist Press (which publishes WSQ), team-teaching a feminist theory course with a Victorianist, and getting interested in feminist science studies, convinced me that I wanted to be part of a gender studies program.

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This year, Pitts-Taylor is teaching courses on Biofeminisms, and Sex and Gender in Critical Perspective.

Q: What has been your impression of the university, and the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program in particular, so far? How is it different from CUNY?

A: When I walked into my Biofeminisms course, I expected to see a group of juniors and seniors majoring in FGSS. Instead, I got a class filled with biologists, economists and neuroscientists, most of whom had never taken an FGSS class before. Two things strike me about this. First, at most places, the science majors (not to mention the econ majors) wouldn’t often find their way to a gender studies course.