Society

Environmental Justice Topic of MLK Commemoration

On Jan. 29, the campus community attended the annual commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in Memorial Chapel. Dorceta E. Taylor, a leading voice in the environmental justice movement, delivered the keynote address, titled “Different Shades of Green or Beyond the Farm."

On Jan. 29, the campus community attended the annual commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in Memorial Chapel. Dorceta E. Taylor, a leading voice in the environmental justice movement, delivered the keynote address, titled “Different Shades of Green or Beyond the Farm.”

Allbritton Center to Host Series of Panels on the Refugee Crisis

RefugeePanel1

 

The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life will host a series of three panels in February and March on the refugee crisis. All events will take place in PAC 001.

The first panel, The Development of the Crisis and the Response in Europe, will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 3. Moderated by Professor of Economics Richard Grossman, the panel is comprised of Bruce Masters, the John E. Andrus Professor of History; Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria; and Marcie Patton, professor of politics at Fairfield University.

The second panel, The Refugee Experience, will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 17. Moderated by Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies, it will feature discussion between Steve Poellot, legal director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); Mohammed Kadalah, of the University of Connecticut Department of Literature, Cultures and Languages, who was recently granted asylum after fleeing Syria in 2011; and Baselieus Zeno, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and a Syrian refugee.

The final panel, The U.S. Response, Locally and Nationally, will be held at 7:30 p.m. March 31. Moderated by Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Emy Matesan, the panel will include Christina Pope of Welcoming America; Chris George, director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services; and Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service. It will also feature a video message from U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

For more information, contact Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center, at rrosenthal@wesleyan.edu.

Ulysse: ‘Ode to Haiti’s Neo-Comedians’

Gina Athena UlysseGina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, writes an “Ode to Haiti’s Neo-Comedians” in The Huffington Post about Haiti’s recently cancelled election runoff. The title of her essay refers to Graham Greene’s The Comedians, a book whose description read: “Set in Haiti, amid an atmosphere of brutal force and terror-ridden love, three desperate people work out their strange destinies.”

Ulysse writes:

Relevance of The Comedians is apparent in Haiti’s recently cancelled election runoff that was set for this past Sunday. Indeed, until then, the outgoing president Michel Martelly, a chap with dictatorial tendencies who leads the “Bald Headed Haitian Party”—insisted on proceeding with business as usual. His would-be successor, Jovonel Moïse the so-called leading candidate, is eager to turn Haiti into a “banana republic,” a discursive play on his plantain plantation commerce. The opposition, Jude Celestin, boycotted the event and penned an op-ed disavowing the impending masquerade as a total farce. The masses who continue to suffer were being forced once again to absorb this electoral crisis and participate in a “selection,” as they say in the local parlance. It is hard to discern which is more comic and/or tragic in these instances.

“Surely you jest,” I say to myself in a mocking tone as elders decry, “the country has lost its dignity,” knowing full well that my late grandmother would use expletives.

Roth’s Beyond the University Wins AAC&U’s Ness Book Award

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

At its annual meeting on Jan. 21, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) presented President Michael Roth with the Frederic W. Ness Book Award for his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matterspublished in 2014 by Yale University Press. The Ness Award is given annually to a book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education.

In Beyond the University, Michael S. Roth recounts the historic debates over the benefits—or drawbacks—of a liberal education. In this provocative contribution to the disputes, Roth focuses on important moments and seminal thinkers in America’s long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education.

“As I argue in the book, a liberal education is more important than ever,” said Michael S. Roth, author of Beyond the University. “In 2016, we can work toward the wider recognition that liberal learning in the American tradition isn’t only training; it’s an invitation to think for oneself—and to act in concert with others to face serious challenges and create far-reaching opportunities. I’m honored to have the book recognized by AAC&U.”

Beyond the University was selected for the award by a committee of higher education leaders including Johnnella Butler (chair), professor of comparative women’s studies at Spelman College; Sandy Ungar, distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University; Elaine Maimon, president of Governors State University; and Reza Fakhari, associate provost for academic affairs at City University of New York Kingsborough Community College.

“Michael Roth provides the historical and contemporary rationale for the pragmatic, aspirational, and innovative liberal education needed for the ongoing transformations we need to meet the changing twenty-first-century realities both within and beyond the university,” said Butler.

The Ness Book Award was established by AAC&U in 1979 to honor AAC&U’s president emeritus, Frederic W. Ness. Recent award winners include Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by José Antonio Bowen; Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession by Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, William Sullivan, and Jonathan R. Dolle; Why Choose the Liberal Arts? by Mark W. Roche; Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education by Peter Sacks; Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More by Derek Bok; Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money by James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield; Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past by Sam Wineburg; and Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education by Martha Nussbaum.

Read press coverage of Beyond the University here.

McAlister Authors New Paper on the Militarization of Prayer in America

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister is the author of a new paper, “The Militarization of Prayer in America: White and Native American Spiritual Warfare” published Jan. 4 in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice.

In the article, McAlister examines how militarism has come to be one of the generative forces of the prayer practices of millions of Christians across the globe. She focuses on the articulation between militarization and aggressive forms of prayer, especially the evangelical warfare prayer developed by North Americans since the 1980s. Against the backdrop of the rise in military spending and neoliberal economic policies, spiritual warfare evangelicals have taken on the project of defending the United States on the “spiritual” plane. They have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork at an intensive spiritual warfare boot camp organized by a group of Native Americans who have founded a training base in Oklahoma dedicated to training recruits in the theology and practical strategy of spiritual warfare.

Despite their hyper-aggressive rhetorical and ideological stance, members of this network in fact practice self-sacrificial rituals of fasting, holiness and submission to the Holy Spirit. Native prayer warriors are using spiritual warfare prayer to assert a privileged place for themselves in Christian life as heirs of God’s authority over the stewardship of North American land and as central to the project of repairing sinful pasts both on and off the reservations, reconciling present racial conflict, and defending the land in spiritual battle against new immigrant invasions by foreign, demonic forces.

McAlister also is professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Ethics of Captivity Course Creates Public Website

The Ethics of Captivity course, taught by Lori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy(pictured at far right), recently created a live blog to teach the public about a variety of ethical and political issues that captivity raises for humans and other animals.

The Ethics of Captivity course, taught by Lori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy (pictured at far right), recently created a website to teach the public about a variety of ethical and political issues that captivity raises for humans and other animals.

What started out as a class assignment has evolved into a public website.

During the fall semester, students enrolled in the Philosophy 268 course, The Ethics of Captivity, explored the various forms and conditions of captivity, including prisons, zoos, laboratories and sanctuaries.

As one of the class assignments, Lori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Philosophy Department, asked her students to work in small groups on a blog post, highlighting a variety of ethical and political issues that captivity raises for humans and other animals.

Grossman, Imai Study Effects of Prominent Directors on 19th Century British Banks

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, and Masami Imai, professor and chair of economics, professor of East Asian studies, are the authors of an article published January 2016 in Explorations in Economic History. 

The article is titled “Taking the lord’s name in vain: The impact of connected directors on 19th century British banks.” Grossman and Imai considered the appointment of prominent, well-connected individuals (former members of Parliament and lords) to the boards of directors of banks in pre-World War I Britain, and investigated whether their presence enhanced equity value for bank shareholders. Surprisingly, they found that these individuals actually had negative effects on bank equity returns.

The article is available online to read for free until February 2016.

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock on the History of the Russian New Year’s Tree

Victoria-Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria-Smolkin-Rothrock

A hundred years ago, Christmas in Russia looked a lot like Christmas in America, with trees, presents and twinkling lights. All that changed with the Russian revolution, Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock told NPR in an interview about the history of the Yolka, or New Year’s tree.

“The tree comes to be seen as a symbol of both the bourgeois order, which is one kind of class enemy, and of religion in particular, which is another kind of class enemy,” explains Smolkin-Rothrock. “There are very explicit statements that essentially unmask the Christmas tree for the class symbol that it is. It becomes clear that one does not have Christmas trees without political sympathies and allegiances falling into question,” a dangerous thing in the Soviet era.

In 1935, though, there was a letter in Pravda, the official paper, saying things had changed.

Smolkin-Rothrock sums up the argument of one high-ranking Bolshevik: “Here we are, and Socialism has been built, and why would we deprive those children who had never had a Christmas tree of their own of the pleasure of the tree?”

So, the tree was redeemed. And it moved up the Orthodox calendar, becoming completely secular. Today, New Year’s trees can be found in the homes of many Russian Jews.

Smolkin-Rothrock is also assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies.

The Wesleyan Media Project Finds More Campaign Advertising with Little Impact

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

The campaign season so far has seen a significant increase in the volume of GOP presidential ads, and an explosion in advertising by super PACs and other outside groups. Outside groups sponsored 81 percent of ads between January 1–December 9, 2015—a 71 percent increase over 2011, and 12,000 percent increase over 2007.

This was the finding of an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, its first of the 2016 election cycle. The “remarkable growth in campaign activity by independent groups” it found was covered by The Washington Post, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, USA Today, Vox and others.

Notably, the report found little correlation between campaign advertising and a candidate’s poll numbers. As Vox demonstrates in a chart, there actually appears to be an inverse relationship between the two at this point. They write: “The big thing that jumps out is the contrast between Jeb Bush (lots of spending, low poll numbers) and Donald Trump (no spending, high poll numbers).” The apparent ineffectiveness of TV campaign ads has led some to ask whether their death is near.

“It’s far too early to call for the death of TV advertising,” Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, says in the report. “The Republican field is still crowded, which makes for a more challenging advertising environment. It is also important to remember that volume isn’t everything. All ads are not created equal; advertising content and the characteristics of the receiving audience matter and will condition their influence.”

Fowler discussed ad effectiveness with NPR:

“Some ads score well” on effectiveness, she said. “But volume and quality don’t go hand in hand.”

She cited “Desk,” a 30-second spot the Bush superPAC released last week. As the camera moves in toward the desk in the Oval Office, images of Trump, then Ted Cruz, and then Marco Rubio appear as if sitting behind it. An announcer suggests each is unqualified for the job — and then the ad shifts to talk about Bush.

Fowler said three attacks are too many. “It ends up coming off as a laundry list,” she said. And right now that’s the problem with the whole campaign: “There are too many other candidates to attack.” She predicted the ads will get more focused and effective as the candidate field shrinks.

Local Community Joins Discussion on Indigenous Middletown

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of American studies, spoke at the "Indigenous Middletown: Settler Colonial and Wangunk Tribal History" discussion, which stemmed from her Service Learning course, Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown: Native Histories of the Wangunk Indian People

At right, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of American studies, speaks at the “Indigenous Middletown: Settler Colonial and Wangunk Tribal History” discussion on Dec. 5. The event stemmed from her Service Learning course, Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown: Native Histories of the Wangunk Indian People. In the class, students made connections between community-based work, archival research, oral historical work, and select academic studies.

On Dec. 5, Wesleyan students, faculty and the local community gathered for a two-hour discussion on “Indigenous Middletown: Settler Colonial and Wangunk Tribal History.” The event was sponsored by the American Studies Department, the Center for the Americas, and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of American studies, coordinated the event, which stemmed from her Service Learning course, Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown: Native Histories of the Wangunk Indian People. The class is in partnership with the Middlesex County Historical Society.

Ulysse Writes About ‘Pedagogies of Belonging,’ Public Anthropology

Gina Athena UlysseProfessor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse is the author of two new essays on The Huffington Post.

In “Pedagogies of Belonging,” she writes about her experience working with students of color as they face the realities of structural racism, and she challenges institutions to go beyond rhetoric, to face up to the difficult challenges of moving onto a path of greater belonging.

The essay begins:

There is a conversation Black faculty often have with Black students that we rarely mention in public, let alone in mixed company. The tone of this exchange differs to some extent if the student are U.S. born or from the diaspora. It follows discussions that open their consciousness as they grapple with accepting an inescapable truth — they are Black.

It’s not that they did not know this. But now there is a new realization that emerges as they are bombarded with intellectual evidence in our classrooms that corroborates their everyday reality. Combined with social interactions in institutions not made in their image, the students confront what the late Martinican postcolonial psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon aptly calls the ‘fact of blackness.’ Their bodies are historically coded and permanently marked with significations that forces them into categories they cannot choose. Acknowledgement of this fact comes with the recognition that they will be denied the unearned, social luxuries afforded to their white peers.

Ulysse also recently wrote an essay, “Paul Stoller’s Public Anthropology Turn” about WesChester University’s Stoller, the first blogger to be awarded the Anthropology of Media Award by the American Anthropological Association (AAA).

Ulysse, who shares with Stoller an interest in bringing anthropology to the public, interviewed Stoller about the significance of this award. He tells her he was inspired to “enter the public sphere out of a sense of duty instilled by his mentors.” Ulysse writes:

Throughout his career, Stoller has tried to follow their path with his work. In the last five years, he has experienced what he calls “blogging bliss” and “blogging bites.” The former, also the title of a new book, reflects a blogger’s elation at knowing a piece of writing hit all the right notes and reached an audience beyond the paucity of readers that rigorously researched academic journals attract. The downside, he noted, is in “the limited scope, nuance and length (850 words), along with a short-life span (24hours), after which a post quickly dissipates into the ether of cyberspace. In short, if you only read a blog you get a sliver of knowledge and that can be problematic.”

To be sure, the discipline and its practitioners have had an ambivalent relationship with public writing. Academic institutions tend to be inherently conservative and anthropology is no exception. Public anthropology is often characterized as “popular,” “light,” and not “serious” and hence not the path to prestigious academic appointments, important research grants, and disciplinary recognition. Still, many will quickly point out that Frantz Boas and Margaret Mead were disseminating our too often coveted knowledge to anyone who would listen back in their day. They were not the only ones, Black scholars such as St. Claire Drake, Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston and others were also out there interacting with the public. Needless to say, anthropologists have been roaming outside of ivory towers for some time using academic expertise to engage with the public, or at least, in more public fora.

President Roth: Has political correctness really ‘run amok’ on college campuses?

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

In an essay published on The Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog, President Michael Roth responds to those in the media who see political correctness “run amok” on college campuses. “I work with students everyday, and I have had protesters at my office, and I don’t see their realities reflected in public discourse,” he writes.

Roth sees political correctness as a “charismatic bogeyman with strange powers to titillate liberal and conservative writers alike.”