Society

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.

Pitts-Taylor Edits Collection on Feminist Science Studies and the Brain’s Body

9781479845439_FullVictoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the editor of Mattering: Feminism, Science and Materialism published by NYU Press in August 2016.

Anthony Hatch, assistant professor of science in society, co-authored a chapter in the collection titled “Prisons Matter: Psychotropics and the Trope of Silence in Technocorrections.”

Mattering presents contemporary feminist perspectives on the materialist or ‘naturalizing’ turn in feminist theory, and also represents the newest wave of feminist engagement with science. The volume addresses the relationship between human corporeality and subjectivity, questions and redefines the boundaries of human/non-human and nature/culture, elaborates on the entanglements of matter, knowledge, and practice, and addresses biological materialization as a complex and open process.

Army Veteran Ball ’08: “Afghan Translator Deserves Special Immigrant Visa”

Matthew Ball ’08 passed up a lucrative job in the financial sector to serve in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger after graduation. He and his cohorts relied on Afghani translators who frequently risked their lives for the American Troops.

After graduation, Matthew Ball ’08, at left, served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. He and fellow soldiers relied on Afghan translators who frequently risked their lives for the American troops. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Ball)

In 2010-11, when Matthew Ball ’08 was stationed in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province, serving in the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, he and the other soldiers relied on Qismat Amin, then only 19 years old, for both information and communication with the local Afghan residents.

Now a Stanford law student, Ball is on a personal mission: To fulfill what he views as his duty to the young interpreter who worked with him during his deployment.

“There’s a really strong bond that a lot of soldiers have with interpreters—they’re crucial members of the team. … There were times when my life was in Qismat’s hands and Qismat’s life was in my hands,” Ball told the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Hamed Aleaziz for an Aug. 20 story.

Rutland Speaks on BYUradio about the Olympics, Nationalism

Peter Rutland

Peter Rutland

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, was interviewed on BYUradio about the Olympics and nationalism.

“The Olympics are practically built for indulging in what you might call ‘good nationalism,’ as opposed to the xenophobic kind,” said host Julie Rose in the introduction. Yet this year’s Olympic Games come at a time of fear of outsiders, both in the U.S. and abroad.

They begin by discussing the difference between patriotism—which has more positive connotations—and nationalism, which implies dislike of foreigners. The key distinction, says Rutland, is about having respect for people from all countries.

“In practice, the Olympics is a competition, it’s about winners and losers,” he said. “The Olympics is very contradictory. On the one hand, it claims to be transcending nationalism in a kind of fellowship of international athletes. But at the same time, in practice, it reinforces nationalism by encouraging people to cheer for their team and take pride in their team’s victories, and correspondingly, the defeat of other nations’ teams.”

Rutland also commented on the mass appeal of such competitions.

“It does tap into a desire to express our belonging to a bigger community—not just our family and neighborhood, but our country. And, at least when it’s going through the media—when it’s watching the Olympics or watching the World Cup for soccer, it seems to be pretty benign. It’s not like going to war. Sport, as George Orwell said, is a kind of substitute for war. Nobody is getting killed, nobody is getting hurt, and we’re all kind of on the same side, in that everybody is enjoying the competition, and you win some, you lose some.”

Rutland also is professor of government, professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies, and tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Gross Writes About a ‘Tipping Point’ in Relations Between Police, African Americans

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, writes in The Huffington Post about the case of Korryn Gaines, the latest death of an African American at the hand of police. Gaines was fatally shot after a five-hour standoff with police and SWAT officers in Maryland, and had prophesied her own demise during an earlier traffic stop, in which she had also been defiant.

While Gaines’ behavior may once have appeared irrational, and possibly a sign of mental illness, Gross writes, “after these and so many other deaths of black women and men killed during minor traffic stops, killed for selling loose cigarettes, or found dead in jail after failing to signal a lane change, Gaines’ defiance may gesture toward a desperate tipping point: that the system is so corrupt there is little distinction between notions of legal and illegal. It may also mark the mounting fear that for black people there is little chance of survival during even the most routine police encounters.”

Jenkins Stages Play in Florentine Prison

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, recently completed a collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Florence, Italy. The center asked Jenkins to stage a play in a Florentine prison on the theme of human rights.

The play, which was based on Dante Aligheri’s 14,000 line epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” was performed on July 14 and featured Coro Galilei, a choir that specializes in Gregorian chants, and actors from a local prison. The script consisted of texts written by the prisoners on the theme of justice intertwined with fragments from the “Divine Comedy” and interviews with human rights activists from around the world.

“Dante’s Inferno” is the most famous section of “The Divine Comedy” and is based on Dante’s real life in 14th century Italy, where he was a city official, diplomatic negotiator, and a man who dared to cross the Pope. Dante also was a convict and convicted of crimes, and Jenkins uses Dante to connect with incarcerated men and women.

“Dante was condemned to death, but we do not remember him as a convict,” Jenkins told the audience at Sollicciano prison in his prologue to the play. “We remember him as writer and philosopher who denounced the lack of justice in his society. After having seen our play, we hope you will remember the performers, not as convicts, but as writers whose words are born from the wisdom of experience, as Dante said, ‘Men of great value…. Suspended in this limbo.'”

Jenkins has already taught “Dante’s Inferno” and acting to inmates in Connecticut and Indonesia. Jenkins encourages incarcerated men and women to make connections between their own life stories and the experiences of the characters in classics like “Dante’s Inferno.” Their thoughts are used to create play scripts that are performed inside a prison. Wesleyan students also perform the scripts at other colleges and in the community, and engage in discussions about issues related to reforming the country’s criminal justice system.

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten

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Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.

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At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. Through a partnership between university-based research labs, Middletown Public Schools and local community organizations, Kindergarten Kickstart aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.