Society

Sienkiewicz ’03 Authors Book on U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media

Matt Sienkiewicz ’03

Book by Matt Sienkiewicz ’03.

The U.S. has poured millions of dollars into local television and radio programming in the Muslim World in an effort to win the hearts and minds of that region’s citizens. But according to communications scholar Matt Sienkiewicz ’03, the Middle Eastern media producers who rely on these funds are hardly puppets on an American string.

In The Other Air Force: U.S. Efforts to Reshape Middle Eastern Media Since 9/11 (Rutgers University Press, 2016), Sienkiewicz explores America’s efforts to employ “soft-psy” media—a combination of “soft” methods, such as encouraging programs modeled on U.S. entertainment and reality programs, with more militaristic approaches to information control—to generate pro-American sentiment in the Middle East. Drawing on years of field research and interviews, Sienkiewicz gives readers an inside look at radio and television production in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories to show how Middle Eastern media producers are working to forge viable broadcasting businesses without straying outside the American-set boundaries for acceptable content.

“Although much of the U.S. power apparatus desires Middle Eastern media that will parrot American perspectives, this is no longer the sole, or even dominant, strategy in the region,” says Sienkiewicz in his introduction. “Instead, the encouragement of certain media forms serves as the organizing principle for a wide range of American projects.  More so than asking local agents to transfer specific, American-vetted messages to viewers, U.S.-funded projects have instead tended to demand that Afghans, Palestinians and others create programming the embraces the industrial and aesthetic conventions of for-profit, American-style commercial television and radio, while being constrained mainly by a basic set of ‘red lines’—words and ideas that are off-limits.”

Sienkiewicz is an assistant professor of communication and international studies at Boston College. In addition to authoring The Other Air Force, he is the coeditor of Saturday Night Live and American TV (Indiana University Press, 2013) and has produced several documentaries, including Live from Bethlehem (2009), which chronicled the shaping of the Ma’an News Network, the only major independent news source in the Palestinian Territories.

Grossman Argues Truth Was Lost in the Election

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman tells his students that getting closer to the truth is what economic research is all about. That’s why he was so dismayed when “my devotion to, and belief in, the truth was battered by the presidential election,” he writes in an op-ed on The Hill.

He writes:

It turns out that polling data and analysis contained very little truth. The news were no better. The mainstream media got many things wrong. And there was no shortage of fake news. Although peddled as the real thing, it really wasn’t even trying to provide truth, only to shape opinion.

But by far the biggest letdown in the truth department was Donald Trump, who proved that telling lie upon lie upon lie need not prevent someone from being elected president.

“What should the truth-loving public do going forward?” Grossman asks.

First, pay attention to sources. It is relatively easy to construct a realistic website that has the look and feel of a real news organization or reputable think tank. Do not be fooled. If someone tells you something about the state of employment in the United States, double check facts at Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website. The U.S. government is the best, most reliable source for factual data about the nation’s economy. Obama didn’t fudge the numbers, and Trump is unlikely to be able to do so.

Second, even relatively trusted new sources have their less trustworthy bits. In print media, the division between truth and opinion is usually clear. You can generally trust what you read in the Wall Street Journal, until you get to the opinion pages. Television networks are less clear about separating fact from fiction. CNN’s hiring of Trump campaign employee Corey Lewandowski—while he was on the Trump payroll and still subject to a non-disclosure agreement—should have set off alarm bells among CNN viewers, not to mention the better journalistic instincts of CNN’s management.

Third, be demanding. I encourage my students to challenge the authors that they read in class, including me. Ask questions, check sources and verify the truth for yourself. Just because something has been shared on Facebook a million times does not mean it is true. We should challenge the assertions of politicians of all stripes just as vigorously.

Finally, we need to care more about the truth. One of the most troubling aspects of the election was that so many people voted for Trump despite being fully aware of his many lies because “he shouldn’t be taken literally.” At the risk of sounding naive again, approaching national elections with the attitude that outright lies don’t matter does not bode well for the future of our democracy.

Wesleyan Students, Staff Participate in Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan students and staff helped stuff 1,000 boxes with everything families will need for a Thanksgiving dinner celebration.

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan students and staff helped stuff 1,000 boxes with everything families will need for a Thanksgiving dinner celebration.

This fall, Wesleyan students and staff took part in the Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project, an annual collaborative effort to provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need. Wesleyan was one of 70 community partners for the project, led by Fellowship Church in Middletown. The university’s involvement in the project was coordinated by Cathy Lechowicz and Diana Martinez, director and assistant director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.

MCTP 3For this year’s project, the Wesleyan community donated stuffing, gravy, pies and other foodstuffs; students and staff from the Allbritton Center helped register families at Amazing Grace Food Pantry from Oct. 31 to Nov. 18; students and staff, including the men’s crew and women’s lacrosse teams, helped with packing almost 1,000 boxes of food at Fellowship Church on Nov. 21; and staff from Wesleyan’s Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development helped distribute the food to Middletown residents in need on Nov. 22. The women’s lacrosse team also collected more than $600 to contribute to the project.

Students Help Local Residents Prepare for a Thanksgiving Day Feast

Fred Ayres '17 helps stock shelves at Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown on Oct. 4. Ayers is one of several Wesleyan students and alumni who are volunteering at the food pantry this month.

Fred Ayres ’17 helps stock shelves at Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown on Nov. 4. Ayers is one of several Wesleyan students and alumni who are volunteering at the food pantry this month in preparation for Thanksgiving. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

On Nov. 24, dozens of low-income Middletown families will enjoy a Thanksgiving Day feast courtesy of a local food pantry and the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships at Wesleyan.

Fred Ayres helps a patron gather a ration of food at Amazing Grace. The pantry serves an estimated 3,000 individuals, or 1, 075 households each month.

Fred Ayres, at right, helps a patron gather a ration of food at Amazing Grace. The pantry serves an estimated 3,000 individuals, or 1,075 households each month.

From Oct. 31 to Nov. 18, four Wesleyan students, three alumni and JCCP staff are hosting Middletown Community Thanksgiving Basket Project registration at Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown. Families who sign up will receive a baked turkey and traditional fixings on Thanksgiving Day.

In addition, the JCCP is hosting a Stuffing and Gravy Drive (jars or cans) from now until Nov. 18. Boxes are placed in North College, Usdan, Olin, Freeman Athletic Center and Allbritton. Wesleyan volunteers also will assist Middletown Police Department with a turkey drive on Nov. 18 and 19. They also hosted fill-a-bus events at local supermarkets on Nov. 5 and 6.

Volunteer Fred Ayres ’17, a neuroscience and economics double major, has served as an intern for the St. Vincent de Paul Middletown group, which includes Amazing Grace, throughout the fall semester. In addition to directly volunteering with families who shop at the pantry, he has also learned how Amazing Grace stocks their shelves, how they raise funds and collect donations,

Dwight L. Greene Symposium: Alumni Speak on Opportunities, Challenges in Higher Ed

The 24th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium, held in conjunction with Family Weekend, focused on “Opportunities and Challenges in Higher Ed." Speakers at the 2016 Dwight Greene were Al Green p’16, Tracy Gardner, moderator C. Andrew McGadney ’92, Assistant Professor of PhysicsRenee Sher ’11, and Marina Melendez ’83, MALS ’88. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

The 24th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium, held in conjunction with Family Weekend, focused on “Opportunities and Challenges in Higher Ed.” Speakers at the 2016 Dwight Greene were Allen Green P’19, Tracey Gardner ’96, moderator C. Andrew McGadney ’92, Renee Sher ’11, and Marina Melendez ’83, MALS ’88. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

The 24th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium, held on Oct. 29 during Family Weekend, featured a panel of alumni ranging over three decades, speaking about the opportunities and challenges in higher education. C. Andrew McGadney ’92, vice president and secretary at Colby College, moderated. Previously McGadney had served at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where he was vice president for university advancement, He had begun his career in University Relations at Wesleyan, serving as a director of development. Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer, welcomed the speakers and attendees.

The panel featured Tracey Gardner ’96, deputy chief of staff of the president’s office at New York University; Allen Green P’19, the dean of equity and inclusion at Sarah Lawrence College; Marina Melendez ’83, MALS ’88, associate dean at Connecticut College and former dean at Wesleyan; and Renee Sher ’07, assistant professor of physics at Wesleyan.

Alumni Discuss Reproductive Rights with Students, Faculty

Dr. Blackstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice America Board for Connecticut. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district. 

On Oct. 10, Amy Breakstone ’79 and Matthew Lesser ’10 returned to campus to discuss reproductive rights and abortion politics with the campus community. The event was sponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and the Wesleyan Doula Project. Dr. Breakstone earned her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine in 1983. She is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently is on the NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut board, an affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She is a practicing OB/GYN in Bristol, Conn. Matt Lesser is a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from the 100th district.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut.

The event included a screening of the movie Trapped, which focuses on anti-abortion laws and regulations in certain states. The panelists, Wesleyan students and faculty discussed the role that NARAL plays in fighting for reproductive rights and various laws in Connecticut. (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Pitts-Taylor Recipient of Feminist Philosophy Prize

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

The Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) Women’s Caucus awarded Professor Victoria Pitts-Taylor with the Women’s Caucus Prize in Feminist Philosophy of Science for her recent book, The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics. This prize is awarded biennially for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The winner receives an award of $500, which is presented at the PSA meeting.

The Brain’s Body: Neuroscience and Corporeal Politics (2016, Duke University Press) draws on feminist philosophy, feminist science studies, queer theory, and disability studies to uncover and analyze key epistemological and ontological assumptions in contemporary neuroscience research. The book uses these tools to explore and critique neuroscientific phenomena and the way they are understood in neuroscientific practice. In addition to critique, Pitts-Taylor argues for the usefulness of an alternative conception of the brain as plastic, social, and embodied. This book contributes to a growing literature of feminist philosophy of science and science studies engaging directly with the specifics of current scientific practice both critically and constructively.

Pitts-Taylor is professor and chair of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, professor of science in society and professor of sociology. She is a past recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Advancement of the Discipline Award and a former co-editor of WSQ (Women’s Studies Quarterly). She served as the first elected chair of the American Sociological Association’s Section on the Body and Embodiment. At Wesleyan, she teaches Feminist Theories, BioFeminisms and Sex/Gender Critical Perspective.

Asian American Culture, Race Discussed at Roundtable

The Center for East Asian Studies hosted a “Roundtable on Race in Asian America” for students, staff and faculty on Sept. 29. Participants were encouraged to discuss what it means to be Asian American and share personal stories.

The Center for East Asian Studies hosted a “Roundtable on Race in Asian America” for students, staff and faculty on Sept. 29. Participants were encouraged to discuss what it means to be Asian American and share personal stories. Pictured is Takeshi Watanabe, assistant professor of East Asian studies. Watanabe teaches Japanese Culture through Food and Life in Premodern Japan.

Long Bui, visiting assistant professor of American studies, and Alton Wang '15 moderated the discussion. While at Wesleyan, Wang studied sociology and government, chaired the Asian American Student Collective and taught a course on Asian American history. He currently works in Washington D.C. engaging voters at Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and serves on the Board of Directors for the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership.

At left, Long Bui, visiting assistant professor of American studies, and Alton Wang ’16 moderated the discussion. While at Wesleyan, Wang studied sociology and government, chaired the Asian American Student Collective and taught a course on Asian American history. He currently works in Washington D.C. at Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and serves on the Board of Directors for the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership.

Campus Community Gathers for Moment of Silence

As a sign of our solidarity and commitment to address bias and inequity on campus and in the community, Wesleyan students, faculty and staff gathered at Usdan’s Huss Courtyard Sept. 27 for a moment of silence.

“As we continue to witness acts of violence around our country – especially toward black and brown and other marginalized persons – we are filled with many strong emotions based upon our own identities and experiences,” said Dean Mike Whaley, vice president for student affairs.

After a moment of silence and reflection, staff from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life met with groups and individuals wanting to talk about recent events.

“Beyond this visible sign of solidarity, we commit to continue our personal and institutional work toward peace, justice, equity and inclusion,” Whaley said.

Photos of the moment of silence are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

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Award-winning Documentary ‘Dream On,’ by Roger Weisberg ’75 Airs on PBS, Oct. 7

DreamONDream On, the newest documentary by Roger Weisberg ’75, will air on PBS at 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7. (check local listing). The film is the 32nd documentary written, produced and directed by Weisberg, who heads Public Policy Productions. Dream On has already appeared in 19 international film festivals, garnering four top awards. Weisberg’s earlier works have won more than 150 awards, including Emmy and Peabody awards, as well as two Academy Award nominations.

Dream On asks the question: “Is the American Dream still alive and well?” Are we still optimistic that hard work will raise our standard of living—for our generation and for our children? Weisberg explores this question with political comedian John Fugelsang serving as host and commentator throughout this unusual road trip. The journey revisits the cities of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 itinerary, which served as the Frenchman’s research for Democracy in America. In it, Tocqueville described America as a land of equality, opportunity and social mobility. For those interested in viewing the film as part of a community screening event or classroom educational opportunity, PBS offers a viewer’s guide, as well as a trailer and additional resources, including video segments that Weisberg was not able to include in the 90-minute slot for PBS.

Roger Weisberg ’75, founder of Public Policy Productions, introduces his latest documentary exploring the American dream in a roadtrip following the 1931 journey of Alexis de Toqueville and featuring political comedian John Fugelsang.

Roger Weisberg ’75, founder of Public Policy Productions, introduces his latest documentary, an epic road trip exploring the endangered American dream. The film retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville and features political comedian John Fugelsang.

Weisberg also spoke to The Wesleyan Connection about the process of creating his newest work and his hopes for it: 

Connection: What was the inspiration for Dream On?

Roger Weisberg: I wanted to make a contribution to PBS programming surrounding the election, but I wanted to do it in a way that was different from some of my more conventional reporting on poverty, social mobility and economic inequality. The road trip infused this project with a degree of exuberance and levity, while also permitting us to examine some urgent social issues and meet some really powerful subjects along the way.

Connection: How did John Fugelsang come to join you?

RW: We were pretty lucky to have been referred to him by colleagues who worked with Bill Moyers. It turned out that for John, the timing was perfect: He’d just lost his job as a talk show host, because the cable network that had hired him was sold to a foreign buyer. Because of John’s new feeling of economic insecurity, he was able to put himself in the shoes of many of the people he met on our Tocqueville odyssey.

Connection: What kind of time frame were you working in?

RW: In the early part of 2013, I did the whole road trip on my own, without a crew, to meet prospective participants and scout locations. In the fall of 2013, we filmed this journey in two stints of about 25 days each.

“The Role of the University in the Era of Mass Incarceration” Topic of 15th Annual Shasha Seminar Oct. 14-15

During the 2016 Shasha Seminar, participants will focus on mass incarceration and the university’s role in this seemingly intractable problem. The annual seminar is an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends that provides an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small environment.

During the 2016 Shasha Seminar, participants will focus on mass incarceration and the university’s role in this seemingly intractable problem. The annual seminar is an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends that provides an opportunity to explore issues of global concern in a small environment.

With 2.25 million citizens behind bars, America incarcerates more people than any other country.

The Wesleyan Center for Prison Education is proud to present the 15th Annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns: The Role of the University in the Era of Mass Incarceration. Join students, alumni, faculty, and leading experts from across the country on Oct. 14-15 to discuss this pressing issue and examine the university’s role in addressing it.

Registration is open now.

Speakers will lead panels on the following topics: Mass Incarceration and the University Curriculum, The Role of University-Produced Scholarship in Public Policy, College-in-Prison’s Effect on Incarcerated Students: A Discussion with Center for Prison Education Alumni, How College-in-Prison Makes for Better Universities and Better Communities and The Role of Public and Private Partnerships in Addressing Mass Incarceration. View the entire schedule online.

Michael Romano

Michael Romano

Michael Romano ‘94 will deliver the keynote address at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 14 in Memorial Chapel. Romano, who teaches at Stanford Law School and is the co-founder and director of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project, will speak about the scope and severity of the country’s mass incarceration crisis and what the university’s roles and identities might be with regard to the carceral state.

Romano’s current work involves assisting the White House with President Obama’s initiative to grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders and with law enforcement officials in California on police shootings. He also co-authored Proposition 36 which overturned key sections of California’s “Three Strikes” law. In addition to authoring scholarly and popular articles, Romano has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Economist and others. Most recently he was a subject of the PBS documentary The Return. Romano’s talk is open to the public.

Other Shasha Seminar speakers include:
Ellen Lagemann, distinguished fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative and former Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education;
Jody Lewen ‘86, director of the Prison University Project;
Rebecca Ginsburg, associate professor of education policy, University of Illinois and director of the Education Justice Project;
Vivian Nixon, executive director of the College and Community Fellowship;
Craig Steven Wilder, MIT history professor and fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative;
Lori Gruen, the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan;
Chyrell Bellamy, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University;
Scott Semple, Commissioner of Connecticut Department of Corrections;
Doug Wood, program officer for Youth Opportunity and Learning, Ford Foundation;
Mike Lawlor, Connecticut State Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning;
Greg Berman ’89, co-founder and director of the Center for Court Innovation;
Sylvia Ryerson ’10, producer of Restorative Radio;
Sarah Russell, professor of law at Quinnipiac University;
and Bashaun Brown ’18, CEO of T.R.A.P. House. Read more about the speakers online.

Reginald Betts

Reginald Betts

The final speaker of the seminar will be noted poet, memoirist and author Reginald Dwayne Betts. Betts is the author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, Shahid Reads His Own Palm and Bastards of the Reagan Era. Incarcerated at age 16, Betts spent eight years behind bars where he completed high school and began writing. Upon release he completed his BA and MFA degrees and was recently awarded his JD from Yale Law School.

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, endowed by James J. Shasha ’50, P’82 supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. The event is organized by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life and University Relations.