Society

Wesleyan Refugee Project Aids Refugees from around the World

Cole Phillips ’16, center, and Sophie Zinser ’16, right, volunteer every week at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, helping refugees apply for housing and energy subsidy programs. Here, they are pictured with Ramez al-Darwish, a Syrian refugee from Homs.

Cole Phillips ’16, center, and Sophie Zinser ’16, right, volunteer every week at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, helping refugees apply for housing and energy subsidy programs. Here, they are pictured with Ramez al-Darwish, a Syrian refugee from Homs.

The world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Concerned Wesleyan students are volunteering with community organizations, coordinating various speaker panels, fundraising for international NGOs and agencies, and engaging in advocacy efforts.

This fall, Casey Smith ’17 and Cole Phillips ’16 founded the Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP). Smith, a College of Social Studies major who is pursuing certificates in Middle Eastern studies and international relations, has worked with refugees since high school, advocated for refugees’ rights in Washington, D.C., and volunteered for refugee resettlement organizations. She is currently studying abroad in Jordan, where she helps refugees access legal services with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and teaches yoga at the Collateral Repair Project (CRP). Phillips is a government major pursuing certificates in Middle Eastern studies and international relations. While studying abroad in Jordan, he worked for CRP, an NGO that provides aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Phillips then returned to Jordan in August via a Davenport grant to conduct research for his thesis, and grew close with a Syrian refugee with whom he worked as an interpreter. These experiences inspired Smith and Phillips to engage the Wesleyan community in refugee aid work.

“More broadly, we also wanted to start conversations and bring awareness about refugee issues to campus,” said Smith.

Currently, there are 34 Wesleyan students volunteering through WRP, and many more have expressed interest. Every week, student volunteers work with three different organizations: Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), helping refugees apply for housing and energy subsidy programs; the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), working on refugees’ resettlement applications; and Paper Airplanes, tutoring Syrian refugees in English.

Science in Society Major Lu ’17 Interested in Public Healthcare, Neurophysiology

Anna Lu ’17, who is majoring in the Science in Society Program, has a philosophy concentration with a focus on ethics and political philosophy. She's also minoring in East Asian studies. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Anna Lu ’17, who is majoring in the Science in Society Program, has a philosophy concentration with a focus on ethics and political philosophy. She’s also minoring in East Asian studies. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Q: Anna, where are you from and what attracted you to Wesleyan?

A: I am from Woodbridge, Conn. and I was born in New York, but I didn’t seriously look into Wesleyan until October of my senior year of high school! When I was looking for schools I wanted to stick closer to home and, at the time, I was being recruited for swimming—a sport that had dominated my time during high school and that I had decided to pursue at the collegiate level. Of all the schools I looked at, I narrowed it down to a couple NESCAC schools and Wesleyan was the best fit for me.

Q: What are you majoring in and why?

A: I came to Wesleyan planning to major in psychology, but as time progressed I fell in love with neuroscience and behavior. Last May, I changed my major from neuroscience to the Science in Society Program (SISP), a program that allows me to reach outside my comfort zone and, with a philosophy concentration a focus on ethics and political philosophy, allows me to focus on both current and historical issues within our healthcare system.

Q: Why did you decide to change majors?

A:  My parents are neuroscientists and were neurosurgeons back in China. I’m the older child of two in my family, as well as the first generation Chinese American student-athlete in my family to attend such a prestigious school. While I originally followed in my parents’ footsteps, I never fell in love with neuroscience the way I’ve fallen for the Science in Society Program. The time I spend learning about science in society and narrowing down a big issue within public healthcare to the commodification of our own bodies is absolutely mind blowing to me.

I don’t regret the hours I spent at a lab desk, or in a fume hook, mixing chemicals as well as making observations through the lens of a microscope as a neuroscience major. During my time at Wesleyan, I’ve been able to educate myself in a way I never imagined. I consider myself an existentialist; that is, I believe that what people choose to do reflects who they are and confirms who they will become. I value my social and extracurricular interactions, and I just didn’t think locking myself in a room mixing chemicals or performing surgeries on mice would be conducive to a happy future for me.

Anna Lu '17  is enrolled in the HIST 368 class, History of Science and Technology in Modern China, this semester.

Anna Lu ’17 is enrolled in the HIST 368 class, History of Science and Technology in Modern China, this semester.

Q: What is your interest in healthcare?

A: I’ve always been a big advocate for personal health. I guess I can thank my parents for always being concerned about personal hygiene and health; both of them graduated from medical school, and I’ve always admired them for what they’ve done and how far they’ve come.

Q: It sounds like your parents were quite influential.

A: My parents have had a big effect on me, and I appreciate them for their never-ending support, especially now that I’ve grown up and I’m experiencing more in the world.

Q: What have been your most instrumental classes at Wesleyan so far?

A:  I think my most instrumental class was Cellular Neurophysiology with Associate Professor Gloster Aaron. I was going through a personal and identity crisis at the time because I found the hard sciences were just not suitable for me anymore, and yet this class with Professor Gloster really helped me realize the importance of what I had done so far, at that time, and that I don’t have to pursue medical school right after college but have other options as well. Another class I really enjoyed was Classical Chinese Philosophy taught by Professor Stephen Angle in the College of East Asian Studies. I am a CEAS minor, as well as a philosophy concentration in the SISP major, and it was an amazing class for me to really go deeper into the history and understand why my parents raised me the way they did.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in at Wesleyan?

A: I was on the Wesleyan Swimming and Diving team my freshman year, but I left the sport when I found myself going through the motions just because I was comfortable with my routine. I’ve been involved in the We Speak We Stand Bystander Intervention group on campus; we did a performance during freshman orientation, and I loved the experience and really hope I can partake in it again! I’d also like to have more experience within the community as well, and I’m very curious about the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education’s teaching program.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I’ve always been an athlete, so after I stopped swimming I decided to try running. I ran the half-marathon in Middletown in April, and I plan on running my second half-marathon this coming spring. And now that I have an apartment I can finally cook, so I enjoy making food with friends.

Q: How will you wrap up your junior year?

A: Right now I’m focusing and drilling down on my new SISP major. It’s so exciting and interesting, and very suitable for me.

 

Matesan Writes About Strategic Response to ISIS Attacks on Paris

Ioana Emy Matesan

Ioana Emy Matesan

In an op-ed written for Inside Sources (and appearing in Las Vegas Sun and other newspapers), Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Emy Matesan questions whether the swift French military response to the recent ISIS attacks on Paris will be effective in preventing future attacks and improving security for civilians.

Matesan, who studies contentious politics and political violence in the Middle East, considers different opinions on ISIS’s strategic logic and what each would mean for the repercussions of a military response. She concludes that the most likely logic is one of provocation.

She writes:

[Provocation] is a strategy beloved by al-Qaida and many other extremist groups, who count on the emotional response of their opponents, and who know that the use of indiscriminate violence against them will turn them into martyrs and heroes, boosting their ranks and recruitment potential. And if this is the case, then the escalation in military strikes, the resurgent sectarian rhetoric and the bubbling xenophobia in the West in response to the attacks is precisely what ISIS was counting on, and hoping for.

That is not to say that the military strikes might not be effective in destroying the military capabilities or even much of the leadership of the Islamic State. The fact that the group has a very clear geographic concentration in Syria makes this quite possible. But would such a destruction of capabilities count as “success”?

Over the last decade the United States has recognized that destroying the military capabilities of a group does not equate to winning “the war on terror,” it does not necessarily undermine the sources of violent extremism, and it does not always make civilians at home or abroad any safer. Furthermore, if we’ve learned anything over the last decade of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, it’s that clandestine organizations learn and adapt, quite often much faster than military organizations and state governments.

Matesan writes that it’s critical to recognize that much of ISIS’s recruiting has been fueled by a refrain of social justice and opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

We would be remiss if we condemn the violence perpetrated by ISIS and remain silent about the unthinkable violence that Assad has inflicted on his country’s population over the past five years. Improving domestic security can work, but it can also become counterproductive if it results in profiling, and if it doesn’t prioritize human security.

Unlike what some governors in the United States might have us believe, showing hospitality toward Syrian refugees might in some ways be the best way to undermine radical groups, and to show that the United States is indeed committed to social justice and to the protection of human life.

This is particularly important because there is growing evidence that individuals who engage in terrorist groups can and do renounce violence and leave the organization if they become disillusioned with the group and with the cause. This is an incredibly important silver lining and opportunity that liberal democracies should be able to take advantage of, and which might hold more promise than a solely military approach, which we have seen fail time and again.

A student group also invited Matesan to discuss the recent attacks on Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and the Sinai and alternative policy responses at 4 p.m. Nov. 23 in PAC 002.

Rouse Examines Naturalism in Articulating the World

rousebook(by Fred Wills ’19)
Joseph Rouse, the Hedding Professor of Moral Science, is the author of a new book titled Articulating the World: Conceptual Understanding and the Scientific Image, published by University of Chicago Press in December 2015.

Rouse also is professor of philosophy, professor and chair of the Science in Society Program, professor of environmental studies.

In his new book, Rouse examines naturalism as a historically situated philosophical project, “as we find ourselves in the midst of ongoing conflicts over what naturalism’s commitments are and why they matter, along with challenges to those commitments,” he explained.

According to Rouse, “the most pressing challenge for naturalism today is to show how to account for our own capacities for scientific understanding as a natural phenomenon that could be understood scientifically.” This idea marks the driving theme behind his book—that meeting this challenge “involves substantial revisions to two familiar philosophical accounts; conceptual capacities within a scientific understanding and what a scientific conception of the world sums up to.”

Fins ’82 Discusses the Treatment of Brain Injury Patients and His New Book

Former Wesleyan Trustee Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law" as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. Several students and faculty attended the talk.

Wesleyan Trustee Emeritus Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law” as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. The talk was open to members of the Wesleyan community.

eve_Joe fins_hcf_2015-1105213525

Fins, the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer at Wesleyan, discussed his most recent book, Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness, published by Cambridge University Press in August 2015. The book traces the evolution of the medical classification of severe brain injury and recognizes what he calls “a deeply marginalized class” of society. Prior to writing the book, Fins interviewed more than 50 families of people with brain injuries who are identified as in a minimally conscious state and reveals that patients are often incorrectly categorized as in a vegetative state, or having an absence of responsiveness or awareness.

Read more about the discussion in this Wesleyan Argus article and more about his book in this Q&A, below:

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Q: What motivated you to write the book?

A: I wrote it to give voice to patients and families touched by severe brain injury and chose this genre because it was a complex interdisciplinary problem that needed a broader frame than that afforded by the typical truncated article in a medical journal. Rights Come to Mind is a story that straddles the sciences and the humanities and fundamentally is a question of how scientific advance compels us to change our views about ethics and moral obligation. I have been working with these patients and families for more than 15 years and have seen how new knowledge about the brain and consciousness made the status quo of neglect increasingly untenable and wrong. We now know that patients we thought were permanently unconscious are sometimes, in fact, conscious, albeit minimally conscious. They are often misdiagnosed and undertreated, leaving conscious individuals in the lurch. How this scientific progress informed our ethics and what it means for these patients and families is the subject of this book.

Q: How have a large number of patients with severe brain injuries been misdiagnosed?

A: That is a complex question which I explain at length in the book, but there are three key reasons for the diagnostic challenge.

Elizabeth McAlister on the State of Vodou in Haiti Today

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister spoke to The Guardian about the state of the Vodou religion in Haiti today.

“Most Americans don’t know that they don’t know what Vodou really is,” said McAlister, who specializes in Haitian Vodou.

The article describes the actual practice of Vodou, and discusses its critical place in Haiti’s history as the first black republic. And turning to McAlister for her expertise, it addresses Vodou’s stance on homosexuality.

“Many, many gays and lesbians are valued members of Vodou societies,” explains McAlister, who has devoted years to researching LGBT in Haitian religion. “There is an idea that Vodou spirits that are thought to be gay ‘adopt’ and protect young adults who then become gay.”

“Vodou ‘does gender’ totally differently than the Christian tradition,” McAlister explains. After all, Vodou has gender fluidity at the core: men might become mediums for female spirits, women for male spirits. “But Christians, especially evangelicals, have zero flexibility for this; they see homosexuality as a sin, period.”

Stigmatized as a primitive, or even wicked religion, Vodou is inherently progressive and inclusive, McAlister continues.

“Vodou tends to be radically unjudgmental,” she explains. “The alcoholic, the thief, the homeless, the mentally ill, all of these people are welcomed into a Vodou temple and given respect.”

In reality, McAlister emphasizes, Vodou is far more similar to a close-knit church community than most Americans could ever imagine.

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

Grossman, Imai Write About Boehner’s Next Move

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, and Masami Imai, professor and chair of economics, professor of East Asian studies, are the authors of an op-ed published in The Guardian about House Speaker John Boehner’s likely next move when he retires from Congress. The op-ed is titled “Whoever hires John Boehner post-Congress will make a terrible investment.”

They anticipate that, like most former members of Congress and high ranking members of the executive branch, Boehner is likely to have his pick of lucrative job offers—to become an investment banker, lobbyist or corporate adviser. “But for any of these companies, John Boehner would be a terrible investment,” they write.

They cite their own research looking at the hiring of politically connected directors from British government in the three decades before World War I, which found that these appointments tended to have a negative effect on bank equity returns.

Elvin Lim Talks to Globe About Presidential Candidate Rhetoric

Elvin Lim

Elvin Lim

This election cycle, those presidential candidates who use the simplest language are performing best in the polls, an analysis by The Boston Globe found.

“There’s no time to explain in modern politics,” Elvin Lim, associate professor of government, told the Globe.

On the Republican side, front-runner Donald Trump’s speeches, with short, simple words and sentence, could be understood by a fourth grader, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. In comparison, Mike Huckabee and Jim Gilmore, who are struggling in the polls, communicate with voters at a 10th grade level. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s speeches are “just right for eighth graders,” while Bernie Sanders comes in at a 10th grade level.

Lim, who is the author of,“The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush,” said the current media environment benefits those who can speak in pithy soundbites.

“If you think about the tweet, the tweet is short,” he said. “The candidate who shows they can punch as much as they can in that short time form gets their message out.”

But is that a good thing?

“At some point enough is enough,’’ Lim said. “If you continue drawing these lines, you’re going to hit comic strip levels…There are real costs to oversimplification.”

Plous and the Science of Compassion Featured on NPR

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award from the Jane Goodall Institute. Zhang was a student in Plous's Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment. 

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and anthropologist Jane Goodall presented Qian Zhang of China with a Day of Compassion Award from the Jane Goodall Institute. Zhang was a student in Plous’s Social Psychology MOOC last summer and received the honor for intervening when she heard a boy being beaten in a neighboring apartment.

NPR’s “Hidden Brain” program took a look at the science of compassion in a program featuring Professor of Psychology Scott Plous and the “Day of Compassion” exercise that he leads in his social psychology courses at Wesleyan and in his Social Psychology MOOC on Coursera.

“Scott radiates kindness,” said host and science correspondent Shankar Vedantam in introducing Plous. More than 250,000 students from around the world signed up for the first run of Plous’ MOOC. The course capstone was the Day of Compassion exercise in which “students had to spend one day being deliberately kind and generous toward others. Scott asked them to notice how these actions changed the way they felt about themselves.”

“Students often report that it’s transformative—that they’re really surprised at the reaction, that people are so overwhelmingly positive that it starts to feed on itself,” said Plous. “And by the end of the day, they report, ‘This is a different side of me that I didn’t recognize was there.'” What’s driving this? “Oftentimes, it seems that compassion is contagious. We talk about paying it forward: The idea that if you do something good for another person, that give that person a kind of lift, and that person in turn will do something good for someone else, and it sets off a chain reaction,” Plous explained.

Students in the course are asked to “think deeply about their life choices,” down to what they eat for breakfast and how they commute to work, and how those choices affect other people.

Vendantam also interviewed Kellie, a participant in Plous’ MOOC who lives in London. She used some of the psychological principles taught on the course—including the “norm of reciprocity” and the power of empathy—to form a relationship with a homeless man she met on the street. She ended up inviting him for a cup of coffee, where she talked about her own life and encouraged him to open up about his. She eventually learned that he had left home because of tension with his father, but badly missed his mother. Though he was resistant, Kellie convinced the man to allow her to call his mother.

“It was quite beautiful to watch because he started out not knowing what to say and being quite guarded and defensive. That all broke down within five minutes.” After that, she convinced him to return to his family, and bought him a bus ticket home.

“I think that day in the course with Professor Plous most definitely opened my eyes to the reasons why people don’t do something to help. […] It’s easy to say ‘I can’t make a difference,’ but everyone can make a difference,” no matter how small, she said.

 

Students Volunteer at Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education

Every year, about 20 Wesleyan students volunteer alongside Wesleyan faculty to teach local inmates through Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education. Pictured are six volunteers at the Cheshire Correctional Institute.

Every year, about 20 Wesleyan students volunteer alongside Wesleyan faculty to teach local inmates through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education. Pictured are six volunteers (now alumni) at the Cheshire Correctional Institute.

In a study hall of more than two dozen inmates, Liza Bayless ‘16 approached a cluster of men boisterously chatting in the corner. She listened in to see where the conversation had digressed, prepared to shift it back towards the homework. To her surprise, the debate was centered around the book they were reading for class, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and the confines in society that by one reading may have led the protagonist, Edna, to commit suicide.

The Awakening is known for being this stiff novel with a mainly white, upper-class cast, and I was hearing these men talk about how badly they felt for Edna,” Bayless said. “It’s amazing how much empathy they bring to their readings.”

It isn’t every day that Wesleyan students observe prisoners debating the intricacies of feminist theory, or most topics for that matter. In Bayless’s case, however, it’s twice a week. For two hour-and-a-half study halls, she makes the drive to Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Connecticut, where she serves as a teaching assistant for visiting faculty Sarah Mahurin’s Imagining the American South.

Bayless is one of about 20 TAs and writing tutors that volunteer for Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education (CPE). The program offers Wesleyan classes and credits to inmates.

“Mass Incarceration: Feminists Respond” Focus of FGSS Symposium Nov. 6

Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies will host its annual symposium on Nov. 6. This year’s topic is “Mass Incarceration: Feminists Respond.” The event is free and open to the public.

“As Angela Davis has written, state punishment is not marginal, but central, to feminist concerns,” said Victoria Pitts-Taylor, professor and chair of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, of the program’s theme. “To begin with, the number of incarcerated women has been growing rapidly, with over one million women in the U.S. in jail, prison, on probation or on parole, and with black women the fastest growing group of those imprisoned. But beyond this, the practices of intensive policing and mass incarceration of people of all genders are devastating whole communities, especially those of poor people of color.

Gruen Named Faculty Fellow at Tufts’ Center for Animals

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

This month, Lori Gruen accepted a three-year appointment as a Faculty Fellow at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Animals and Public Policy. Gruen is the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of environmental studies at Wesleyan. She also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies.

The mission of the Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy (CAPP) is to conduct and encourage scholarly evaluation and understanding of the complex societal issues and public policy dimensions of the changing role and impact of animals in society. As a Faculty Fellow, Gruen will explore human-animal relationships with Tufts students by teaching classes, mentoring student research, leading service activities, and presenting public seminars under CAPP sponsorship. She’ll continue teaching at Wesleyan during this three-year term.

The title of Faculty Fellow is awarded by the Dean of Cummings School to participants who have shown a deep and consistent commitment to the Center’s efforts in graduate and veterinary education, research, service and outreach.

Gruen’s research lies at the intersection of ethical theory and practice, with a particular focus on issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical investigations (e.g. women, people of color, non-human animals). She has published extensively on topics in animal ethics, ecofeminism, and practical ethics more broadly, and is currently thinking about intersections of race, gender, and species and chimpanzees.