Society

Face Coverings become a Form of Student Expression


Three weeks into the fall semester, Wesleyan students are adapting to the “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings or masks are required in all public spaces to help reduce the spread of the virus. Some students find the masks also can serve as a fashion accessory or statement piece. (Photos by Olivia Drake MALS ’08)

campus during COVID-19

Classes Held in Socially-Distanced Indoor and Outdoor Classrooms

This fall, Wesleyan is holding in-person classes on campus in both indoor and outdoor classroom settings. More than 180 classrooms have been revised in order to achieve a minimum six-foot distance between occupants. Updated floor plans and maximum room capacity are clearly posted in each classroom.

Faculty and students are required to wear face coverings in classrooms at all times. In addition, break times have been expanded to 30 minutes or more to allow for custodians to disinfect all touchable surfaces in each classroom between classes.

(Photos by Olivia Drake)

outdoor classroom

Mary Alice Haddad, the John E. Andrus Professor of Government and chair of the College of East Asian Studies, teaches her GOVT 296: Japanese Politics course in the Hogwarts classroom, located between the Davison Health Center and the Davison Art Center. The outdoor classroom will safely accommodate up to 40 students.

This Changes Everything Documentary Selected as First Year Matters Common Experience

This Changes EverythingAs part of Wesleyan’s First Year Matters (FYM) program, the FYM committee selects a “common experience” for the incoming class as an intellectual introduction to Wesleyan.

Next fall, the Class of 2024 will watch and discuss the documentary This Changes Everything, directed by Avi Lewis and based on the award-winning book of the same title by environmental activist Naomi Klein.

“The film is an unflinching look at the disparate impacts of climate change on various communities around the world and highlights some fundamental conflicts between global economic systems and efforts to combat climate change,” said First Year Matters Committee Chair Kevin Butler, assistant dean of students and director of community standards.

The FYM committee is currently working to arrange a related keynote address during the New Student Orientation program.

Any faculty or staff who is willing to facilitate a small group discussion with incoming students on Thursday, Sept. 3 is asked to contact Butler at kbutler@wesleyan.edu.

The First Year Matters program is designed to help first-year students establish on-campus community connections, engage in shared learning experiences, explore new opinions and ideas, and acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in Wesleyan’s rigorous liberal arts environment. In addition to the common reading, students attend lectures and presentations by faculty, residence hall discussions, and a major participatory arts event during New Student Orientation (NSO).

Alumni of Color Help Wesleyan Plot a Path ‘Toward an Anti-Racist Community’

The recent death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed while being forcibly detained by police, has ignited the United States and brought issues of inequality and violence against black people to the forefront of the national consciousness.

Alison Williams ’81, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer, and Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 hosted a panel discussion on Thursday, June 11, titled “Toward an Anti-Racist Community,” featuring six alumni of color who discussed how to move beyond the pain and trauma of the current cultural moment toward constructive action.

“What I hope is that this will be the beginning of many conversations that lead to transformation both at Wesleyan and beyond,” Williams said. “This requires that we first take a look at our own attitudes and biases and do some personal work. . . . Until we do the personal work, any structural or institutional changes that we implement will be meaningless.”

“We feel confused, angry,” President Roth said during his panel introduction. “Sometimes energized, sometimes full of despair. When I have that mixture of feelings, I turn to friends and colleagues . . . I want to listen.”

Wesleyan Community Reacts to George Floyd’s Death

wesleyan
After George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed during his arrest on May 25 in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide demonstrations, members of Wesleyan’s administration and alumni are speaking out against racial injustice and offering resources for community members.

On May 30, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 shared a Roth on Wesleyan post titled “Build an Anti-Racist Community in Which Hatred and Intolerance Have No Place.”

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. We speak their names with sorrow and with anger. In recent weeks, we confront once again the fact that in America some people so radically devalue African Americans that their lives can be just brutally destroyed. The precarity of black lives has a very long history in this country, but now technology makes it possible for people everywhere to witness violent injustice. We witness, and we are disgusted; we witness, and we are enraged; we witness, and we mourn. Black Lives Matter.

As a historically white institution, Wesleyan has struggled with our own history of racism. Over the last several decades, thanks to the work of activist students, faculty, staff and alumni, we have become more aware of the ways in which the ideology of white supremacy has affected this history and our own present. We try to build a different kind of community – one in which racism, hate and intolerance have no place. This is an ongoing project, and we re-dedicate ourselves to it.

Birney Studies Ancient Perfume “Knock-Offs” in Athens as New Directions Fellow

bottles

Greyware unguentaria (perfume bottles) were produced in Greece (pictured at left); however, Wesleyan’s Kate Birney excavated similar bottles in Ashkelon, Israel (pictured at right). By using the scientific process of ceramic petrography, Birney is revealing that the unguentaria from Israel are likely “knock-offs” of the Greek perfumes. “When we excavated these bottles at Ashkelon in Israel, their coloring and fine quality looked exactly like the ones known from Greece. We’d seen some crummy imitations before—basically thick-walled bottles painted grey and haphazardly striped, clearly echoing the Greek original but not going to fool anybody—but the assumption was that the nice, super-delicate ones must be imported from Greece,” Birney said. “That is not necessarily the case.” (Image at left: Unguentaria (P10734) from graves near the Agora. Image from the Athenian Agora Excavations Collection at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Image at right: courtesy of the Leon Levy Expedition.)

Kate Birney

Kate Birney

There was something about Kate Birney’s research that smelled a little off.

As far back as the 4th century B.C., Greece was a global leader in producing a plethora of posh perfumes sold in handcrafted ceramic bottles marked with three chalky-white stripes.

“Much like today, some of these ceramic perfume bottles were ‘branded‘—made in distinctive shapes, and painted or decorated in distinctive ways—probably to tell the consumer what scent they contained, or which perfume house/region they were imported from,” said Birney, associate professor of classical studies and chair of Wesleyan’s Archaeology Program.

So when similar bottles, or unguentaria, were excavated from the site of Ashkelon in southern Israel, scientists assumed the Hellenistic-period (4th–1st century B.C.) perfumes were imported via trade routes. Or were they?

Through a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, Birney spent this past winter and early spring at the Wiener Lab of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, studying the ceramic petrography of bottles collected from Ashkelon. There, she worked with petrographic specialists and accessed the lab’s comparative collections.

Young ’88 Addresses the Severity of the COVID-19 Crisis for Black Americans

Al YoungAlford “Al” Young Jr. ’88 is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Sociology and professor of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. Young’s research focuses on low-income, urban-based African Americans, African American scholars and intellectuals, and the classroom-based experiences of higher-education faculty as they pertain to diversity and multiculturalism.

In this Q&A, Young addresses the severity of the COVID-19 crisis for black Americans, particularly in Michigan. Michigan is ranked fourth in the country for having the most coronavirus-related deaths (4,915+).

How has COVID-19 affected your research interests?

Alford “Al” Young Jr.: I have spent the better part of my career studying the plight of socioeconomically disadvantaged African American males who live in large or midsized cities. I am interested in their vision of how mobility unfolds in America, especially the extent to which that broader vision relates to their conceptions of personal possibilities for advancement. In doing this work I pay a lot of attention to how these men talk about perceived challenges, problems, and struggles concerning the effort to get ahead. They argue that some of these factors are created by others (racism, public fears of black men, etc.) and some were created by themselves (black-on-black violence, etc.).  The basic point of the research has been to assess how much whatever they imagine to be pathways forward are grounded in their broader understandings of pathways for Americans more generally. I seek to know whether they maintain distance or connection between how they think other Americans get ahead and how they think they might do so.

Bendall Remembered for Teaching Philosophy 29 Years at Wesleyan

L. Kent Bendall, professor of philosophy, emeritus, died on May 15 at the age of 88.

Bendall received his BA from Rice University and his MA and PhD from Yale University. He arrived at Wesleyan in 1963, where he taught philosophy until his retirement in 1992. During his 29 years at Wesleyan, Bendall was an integral part of the University and the Philosophy Department. He served many terms as chair of the Education Policy Committee and of the Philosophy Department; he also served as chair of the University Senate and was a member of the planning committee for the new African American Institute in 1974.

He was a philosopher who was devoted to the ideal of truth and a rigorous search for it. Joe Rouse, Hedding Professor of Moral Science and Professor of Philosophy, recalled: “Kent Bendall was an excellent logician and philosopher, and a generous colleague and friend. Two considerations will always stand out in my recollection of Kent: his extraordinary clarity of thought and expression, and his utterly unquestionable personal and intellectual integrity.”

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

1. Washington Post: “Biden Makes End Run Around Trump as the President Dominates the National Stage”

Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, comments on Biden’s unusual strategy during an unprecedented time for the 2020 presidential campaign. “There is not a ready off-the-shelf playbook for how you campaign in this environment if you are a nonincumbent, so that’s part of what you’re seeing,” she said. “We’re all being thrown into this new environment, where campaigns are going to need to reinvent, to some extent, how they go about things, how they going to go about reaching citizens.” Fowler added, “I think we’re at a stage of this event where people are starting to feel coronavirus fatigue. So it seems like to me that the local television news strategy and reaching around is probably a good one at this point.”

NSF Funds Mark’s Research Into Impact of Pandemic on Courts

Alyx Mark

Alyx Mark

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark studies the American separation of powers system, access to justice, and Supreme Court decision-making. She was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant to study the response of state courts to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Congratulations on receiving the NSF RAPID grant! Can you please explain how this opportunity came about?

Near the beginning of the pandemic, NSF sent out a Dear Colleague letter soliciting project proposals related to COVID-19. When I read that letter, my first thought was that this was relegated to epidemiologists and others working in areas directly applicable to studying the pandemic. But when I began thinking about how it related to my own research, I realized there are quite significant impacts to how court systems work as a result of the pandemic. I submitted a brief overview of a project idea, and then they invited me to submit a full proposal. The funding was just awarded, and ultimately the whole process took just under a month—versus four months or more, which is typical for NSF funding. The NSF has a special funding stream that is exclusive to these types of projects.

Can you share more about your proposed research project?

Thanks to our federalist system of government, states have considerable authority to dictate how their courts operate, how they’re organized, what types of specialty courts they have, etc. It is very rare that a massive shock like this forces every state to respond. Hurricane Katrina was a similar example, when many states in the South had to rethink how courts and other government processes worked in the wake of the catastrophic disaster.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I became interested in studying how states were moving their courts to remote operations at different speeds and in different ways. I thought it would be interesting to catalog all the ways that states are meeting this challenge, and to speak to the people who are implementing the procedures. I’m also very interested in studying the impact of remote operations on people who use the courts to solve their legal problems. I want to know whether the innovations being forced by the pandemic are mitigating or aggravating existing access challenges for vulnerable populations. I plan to focus the project on civil justice, such as landlord-tenant disputes, family law, debt collection cases, and so on. One reason for this is that people don’t have the same types of constitutional protections on the civil side that they have on the criminal side, such as guaranteed counsel.

What are these existing barriers to access that you’ve alluded to with regard to civil courts?

One of the main barriers we see for vulnerable populations is a lack of access to affordable legal assistance. I’m conducting research on reforms to the legal profession in Utah with Anna Carpenter, a law professor at the University of Utah. A recent report revealed that over 90 percent of civil court cases in the Salt Lake City area involved at least one party that was not represented by a lawyer. What’s happening in Utah is not unique—across the country, it is estimated that the vast majority of people represent themselves in civil court, yet these people are much less likely to have a favorable outcome. Also, courts may not be easy to physically access, particularly for people who live in rural areas or lack transportation. And for people who can get to court, there can be challenges with accessing the information they find there. For example, is the information that courts are providing understandable to you? Are court forms written in your language, or at a grade level you can read? Beyond all that, many people who are faced with a civil legal problem do not identify the problem as something that can be addressed through the justice system. Rebecca Sandefur, a scholar many in the access to justice field look up to (including me!), uses an iceberg to describe this phenomenon, with the tip of the iceberg being people who actually go to court, and underneath the water being everyone else who doesn’t realize they can use the justice system to solve their problems.

How do you plan to conduct your research?

There are three stages to the project. The first stage is a comprehensive scan of all the changes that every state court in the U.S. has made in response to the pandemic, ranging from their courts of last resort to municipal courts. The support from the NSF enables me to work with three undergraduates on conducting this data collection effort. In the second stage, I’m interested in speaking with the people who have both designed and implemented these changes. Who are these people, both internal and external to the court system, who have been working on these innovations and reforms, and how are they feeling about how it’s going? Finally, I plan to investigate this question about whether these innovations have had any impact on access to justice for vulnerable populations. I’ll be working with the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC) on analysis for this stage.

It’s still early in your research, but what have you seen thus far in terms of how courts are responding to the pandemic? 

Three main types of changes to hearings are emerging. In some states, I’ve seen delays or pauses on all jury trials and all non-emergency types of cases. In others, I’ve seen shifts to online or telephonic hearings. For example, the Texas Supreme Court is holding its oral arguments on Zoom, with all the justices and the two attorneys in the middle of their “Brady Bunch” square. And then in some places, emergency cases, such as domestic violence cases, are still being physically held in courts, with social distancing measures being taken for safety.

When we see these courts moving operations to a remote space in a very short period of time, the question becomes, what is the added risk of having these processes happen remotely? If it doesn’t appear to be adding significant risks, then perhaps courts can consider extending some of these policies beyond the pandemic to improve access for those vulnerable populations. We’re seeing this very rare surge of innovation as a consequence of the pandemic, and I see solutions being utilized that could also be very useful for the long term.

In addition to changes to how hearings work, courts have also reconsidered how filing paperwork happens. Just to give one example, what if we could relax notary requirements for people who don’t have easy access to notaries, and instead ask them to submit a statement that says, “Under penalty of perjury, everything I’ve said in this statement is true.”

What do you think the appetite is for this kind of longer-term change? 

It’s hard to say at this point. There are many reasons why states have not pursued major innovations, including a lack of resources to do so. But, that’s not to say that states aren’t doing innovative things. For example, Utah—a state I’ve been researching—is piloting a system of online dispute resolution for small claims cases, and recently opened up its legal market so that non-lawyers (Licensed Paralegal Practitioners) can provide limited forms of services in certain areas of law. I think a moment like this is really important because it allows courts to take stock of how they’ve been doing things and ask themselves if changes are possible.

What are you teaching this semester? Are you incorporating this current moment into your teaching?

This spring I’m teaching American Government & Politics and Judicial Decision-Making. In the latter class, the students are working on grant proposals for their own projects related to what judges do. It’s nice to see this spectrum of interest among the students ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court all the way down to a municipal docket. Seeing my students’ proposals was a bit of an inspiration to light a fire under my office chair to write my own proposal to the NSF!

In my American Government & Politics class, we’ve been talking about the connections between federalism and the coronavirus. We see a pattern of state reactions to what’s happening nationally. To say the very least, this is an unusual moment that is providing these really wacky examples of national-state relations. The pandemic has allowed us to test some of the theories we’re learning about in the abstract by examining current events.

Dolan Studies Impact of COVID-19 on Public Attitudes Toward Globalization

Lindsay Dolan

Lindsay Dolan

Assistant Professor of Government Lindsay Dolan specializes in international political economy and comparative politics in developing countries. Her research and teaching interests include international organizations, foreign aid, and development. Together with her co-author Quynh Nguyen of Australian National University, she has been studying how COVID-19 is affecting public attitudes toward globalization.

President Trump recently announced that he is suspending U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO). Can you briefly explain the role of the WHO, particularly during a global health crisis, and what will be the implications of the U.S. cutting funding? Which countries or populations will be most affected?

The World Health Organization (WHO), like many international organizations, exists to provide information and coordinate among its 194 member states. Although it works on a host of global health issues, pandemic preparedness is an important part of its mandate. Its role during such a crisis is to collect and disseminate valuable information on the number of cases, provide scientific and technical information to inform government responses, and to establish a forum for coordination among governments.