Students

Chong ‘21 Rallies against ICE Policy, Speaks at Capitol Press Conference

chong

Bryan Chong ’21 spoke during a press conference at the state Capitol, where Attorney General William Tong announced a lawsuit filed by Connecticut, 16 other states, and the District of Columbia against the government’s proposal to revoke student visas for international students should their universities choose to move classes online due to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Mark Mirko @markmirko/Hartford Courant @hartfordcourant)

On July 6, when the U.S. government made a federal ruling that international students would be deported should their studies be held exclusively online, Bryan Chong ’21 took immediate action to fight back.

The Hong Kong native and visa holder had already spent six years in Connecticut, attending high school in Kent before enrolling at Wesleyan. If the COVID-19 pandemic moved Wesleyan to return to an all-online format again, the policy would have forced Chong to return to China for his senior year of college. But he wasn’t worried about himself as much as his international peers.

“I couldn’t imagine the mental toll this would have on international students who don’t necessarily have a secure home to go home to. There are many international students who see colleges and universities as a safe haven from their hometowns, or maybe from income insecurity, housing insecurity, and food insecurity,” Chong said.

After receiving blowback from universities and colleges across the country, on July 14 the government abruptly rescinded the proposal, easing the minds of the more than 400 international students at Wesleyan.

2 Students of Color Receive Tokita Prize for Literature

Jade Tate '22 and Jake Kwon '21

Jake Kwon ’21, top, and Jade Tate ’22 are recipients of the Shu Tokita Memorial Prize.

Jake Kwon ’21 and Jade Tate ’22 are the recipients of the 2020 Shu Tokita Memorial Prize, which is awarded annually to a student of color majoring in literature or language with a focus on literature, who demonstrates financial need.

The award, which comes with a $1,500 prize, was established 20 years ago by the friends and relatives of Shu Tokita ’84, who passed away in 1989 from leukemia. He had received a BA in English literature from Wesleyan and an MA in Japanese literature from Tsukuba University. The prize seeks to reflect Tokita’s interest in literature and is focused on supporting students of color, for whom the study of literature, Tokita’s family and friends felt, is often considered a “luxury.”

Applicants may be affiliated with the following departments: English, College of Letters, other language/literature departments, or related studies in East Asian studies concentrating on Chinese or Japanese literature.

Tate and Kwon received the prize during a virtual awards ceremony on June 30. The selection is based on the submitted 750-word essay and on financial need, and not on academic standing.

Kwon, a biology and English double major, had a lifelong struggle with literature as a person of color. POC voices, he says, were undermined in the American education system.

Wickham ’21 Speaks on the Black Student Experience in STEM

posterAs the Black Lives Matter movement continues to shine a light on the Black experience in America, one Wesleyan student is doing his part to foster better understanding for students of color in STEM fields.

On July 2, Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21 participated in a panel discussion on “Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Why This Moment Matters.” The event, hosted by the Society for Neuroscience and moderated by Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, provided a forum to discuss hurdles faced by Black students and faculty in STEM and ways to enhance recruitment, mentoring, and retention in STEM fields.

Wickham, a neuroscience and theater double major, is the Class of 2021 president and a College of Integrative Sciences summer research student. A native of Jamaica, Wickham prefaced his comments by acknowledging that as a West Indian Black his experience does not necessarily reflect the full breadth of experiences had by African American students in science. But for his part, Wickham hopes that in sharing his perspective as a neuroscience undergraduate, he can help move the conversation forward in terms of “how we can make the field more inclusive and equitable” and in particular to voice some of the challenges Black students encounter when navigating STEM.

Geology Class Maps Local State Park for Geological Survey

geology class

Members of the Geologic Field Mapping course explore a gneiss and schist outcrop at Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam, Conn.

geology class on zoom

The class met with members of the Connecticut Geological Survey staff through Zoom. Pictured, top row, from left: Caroline Murphy ’20, Professor Phil Resor, and Oliver Benson ’22. Middle row, from left: Emmy Hughes ’20, Alexa Trujillo ’22, and graduate student Donald Koepp. Bottom row, from left: state geologist Margaret Thomas, geoscience resource assistant and graduate student Zach Kläng, and geoscience resource assistant Taryn Isenburg.

This spring, a group of five students enrolled in Wesleyan’s Geologic Field Mapping service-learning class undertook a project to map the geology of Gillette Castle State Park and develop educational materials for the general public based on this map.

The 184-acre park, which was purchased by the State of Connecticut in 1943, sits atop a hill overlooking the Connecticut River. Here American actor and playwright William Hooker Gillette, known for playing Sherlock Holmes on stage, built and lived on this estate from 1919–1937. His 14,000-square-foot, fieldstone-faced mansion resembles a medieval castle, hence the park’s namesake, Gillette Castle.

The ‘castle’ is surrounded by woodlands, trails, ponds, cliffs, and massive rock outcrops.

“In order to make educational materials that are approachable and useful, we needed to make it of interest to anyone—whether they were a Connecticut geologist or a family looking for a place to picnic,” said Alexa Trujillo ’22. “We found joy in toeing the line between too scientific and not scientific enough. All of us coming from different experiences with geology, writing for an audience, and education made us the perfect team to create something like this.”

geology class

The class’s report was made using the ArcGIS StoryMaps software.

On May 15, Trujillo, Caroline Murphy ’20, Oliver Benson ’22, Emmy Hughes ’20, and graduate student Donald Koepp presented their work to their “clients” at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) State Geological Survey. The project was supervised by course instructor Phillip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and education studies.

“Even after we moved to distance learning, the students rose to the occasion and did a great job synthesizing their fieldwork along with other material to create GIS and interactive maps,” Resor said.

The class first met in person at the Connecticut DEEP headquarters in early February, where staff introduced students to the park and provided examples of geologic maps and story maps from other parks. After learning basic GIS skills, students created base maps and spent three afternoons on site, conducting fieldwork in February and early March.

While in the park, the students looked for outcrops of rock.

“These were crucial in the geologic story because they are pieces of what was once under the ground, but came up through the surface. They can tell us the story of what went on underneath where we were standing,” said Trujillo, a sociology and education studies double major. “We looked for folds, banding, mineral types, strike, dip, and much more. Basically, we wanted to know everything. We cataloged everything we found because any piece could be the missing connection to the geologic story.”

The class ultimately produced an interactive map through the software ArcGIS that shows the park’s trails, unique locations, benches, parking, and “all of the outcrops we found, some cool locations to check out, bathrooms, and anything else you would normally find on a map,” Trujillo said.

They also created a “StoryMap” that includes sections on Gillette himself and his castle, the geology, and hidden gems located within the state park. The maps will be published online by DEEP at a future date.

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).

Scholar-Athletes, Seniors Honored for 2019–20 Accomplishments

On May 21, the Wesleyan University Athletic Department hosted a virtual event to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of scholar-athletes. The ceremony combined the annual Scholar-Athlete Banquet with the end-of-the-year Senior Awards presentations.

Maynard awardIt was hosted by Director of Athletics Mike Whalen ’83 and featured remarks from President Michael Roth ’78. Several coaches presented individual awards to the student-athletes.

Hockey goalie Tim Sestak ’20 and women’s soccer defender Mackenzie Mitchell ’20 were the recipients of the Roger Maynard Memorial Awards, which are presented annually to the Wesleyan male and female scholar-athlete who best exemplifies the spirit, accomplishments, and humility of Roger Maynard ’37 (established by the family of Roger Maynard, a former Wesleyan trustee who lettered in cross-country and track.)

In addition to winning the prestigious Maynard Awards, Sestak and Mitchell were also chosen by the Department as the two scholar-athlete speakers, an annual tradition of the Scholar-Athlete Banquet.

Wesleyan Hosts 188th (and First Virtual) Commencement


On Sunday, May 24, for the first time in its history, Wesleyan University held its Commencement virtually, awarding 771 Bachelor of Arts, 3 Bachelor of Liberal Studies, 4 Bachelor of Arts on completion, 36 Master of Arts, 19 Master of Liberal Studies, 1 Master of Philosophy, and 10 Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Streamed on both the Wesleyan website (on the Commencement 2020 page) and on the Wesleyan University Facebook page, the ceremony—the University’s 188th—saw more than 3,000 family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni gather together online for a common moment in celebration of the members of the Class of 2020. Graduates had just completed one of the more unusual and challenging semesters in recent memory as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the University moved to a distance learning model to ensure student and community safety.

President Michael Roth ’78 delivered a live welcome address from the Wesleyan campus.

The virtual proceedings were led by President Michael Roth ’78. In his welcome address, President Roth said, “Class of 2020, we have already seen what you are capable of when you have the freedom and the tools, the mentors and the friendships, the insight and the affection to go beyond what others have defined as your limits.

Students Honored with 2019–20 Prizes, Fellowships, Scholarships

monogramOn May 22, the Office of Student Affairs announced the names of students who received academic or leadership prizes, fellowships, and scholarships in 2019–20.

More than 300 students and recent alumni received one of the University’s 180 prizes. (View the list below or on the Student Affairs website.)

Scholarships, fellowships, and leadership prizes are granted to students and student organizations based on criteria established for each prize or award. Certain University prizes are administered by the Student Affairs/Deans’ Office, while others are administered by the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD).

Wesleyan Awards 2020 Hamilton Prize for Creativity

HamPrize2020_Winner_Brianna Johnson

Brianna Johnson ’24 is the recipient of the Hamilton Prize for Creativity which comes with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan.

For the fourth consecutive year, Wesleyan has awarded its prestigious Hamilton Prize for Creativity to three students whose creative written works best reflect the originality, artistry, and dynamism of Hamilton: An American Musical, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and directed by Thomas Kail ’99.

Brianna Johnson of The Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, N.Y. was awarded the grand prize—a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to attend Wesleyan. She was recognized for three songs comprising an album/mixtape titled, “Tell ‘Em The Truth.” In addition, Wesleyan awarded two honorable mentions along with $5,000 stipends to Luka Netzel of Kansas City, Mo. (The Pembroke Hill School) for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers,” and Chiara Kaufman of Rye, N.Y. (Hackley School) for two works of flash-fiction, titled “The Maid” and “The Burials.”

The winning works were chosen from a pool of over 400 submissions this year. Faculty members reviewed entries, while an all-star selection committee of Wesleyan alumni in the arts, chaired by Miranda and Kail, judged finalists.

About the Honorees

Johnson was honored for “Tell ‘Em The Truth,” an album/mixtape comprised of three songs: “Dreams to Reality,” “These Chains,” and “Damages of Duality.” She wrote these songs, among several others, in 8th and 9th grades as she struggled to acclimate to a predominantly white school as one of the only black students in her classes. Around the same time, the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer, and many other senseless killings of black people left her feeling scared and resentful.

“My own America wanted to eradicate me, dehumanize me, make me feel like I was nothing. I was a blank corpse with no identity, no face and in America, no voice,” she wrote in her submission for the Hamilton Prize. “I wanted to change that and so I traded in my anger and disappointment for a pen and paper. I transcribed my emotions into lyrics.”

“When experiencing Brianna’s work, I was struck by the honesty, perspective and structure already present in what she’s creating,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, ’02. “I’m so glad that she’s chosen Wesleyan as the place to continue developing her artistic talents. I look forward to following her artistic journey.”

Committee member and actress Beanie Feldstein ’15 called Johnson’s work a “powerful, moving example of infusing one’s own life-experience into art,” with Johnson putting “her whole being into each lyric, each melody, each performance. […] Her work is wholly raw, vulnerable and masterful. In addition, her art displays radiant strength and an essential commitment to morality that is inspirational. I was rapt and enthralled. It is the work of a young artist you know will do great things and help heal our society.”

Luka Netzel

Luka Netzel ’24

Netzel received an honorable mention for his musical, “Heartful Dodgers.” Set in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969, the play follows twins Barry and Fitz who decide to dodge the draft by joining a nearby Amish community after they are conscripted to serve in the Vietnam War. There, they meet Sarah Ann, daughter of the town’s Minister, who longs to experience the world outside the Amish community.

Author Mary Roach ’81 said she had a “big goofy grin on my face” while reading “Heartful Dodgers.”

“Everything about this piece is fresh, pitch-perfect, professional. Luka has so expertly and lovingly nailed the classical musical genre—the stage directions, the characters’ moves and their back-and-forth singing. And the lyrics! Hilarious and charming. I could see and hear Luka’s vision so clearly in my head as I read. I expect to one day be seeing some of that same creative vision on a Broadway stage.”

Kaufman

Chiara Kaufman ’24

And Kaufman received an honorable mention for two works of flash-fiction. “The Maid” is a stream-of-consciousness narrative from a distressed woman, a wife and mother contemplating a grim future. Committee member Carter Bays ’97, executive producer and writer of How I Met Your Mother, said “The Maid” “captured the mature, complicated voice of a character that I can’t imagine a teenager being able to access.” Kaufman’s other piece, “The Burials,” tells the story of a family, generation after generation, with a dark, secret history.

About the Hamilton Prize

The Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity was established in 2016 in honor of Miranda and Kail’s contributions to liberal education and the arts and named for the pair’s hit Broadway musical, which that year won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score. A filmed version of Hamilton will be released on Disney Plus beginning July 3.

Over the past four years, about 2,000 students have submitted stories, poetry, songs, plays, and screenplays for consideration for the prize. Read about past winners in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Learn more about the Hamilton Prize.

Students Pitch Social Benefit Business Ideas

Be Better

Blake Northrop ’22, won the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition on May 5 with his venture, Be Better, a clothing brand focused on producing sustainable products.

A clothing brand that promotes education and discussion of mental health and wellness is the winner of the Wesleyan COLLISION Spring 2020 pitch competition sponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

Created by Blake Northrop ’22, Be Better consists of the clothing brand itself—which highly values customer participation and artist collaboration—as well as an online community forum for followers and members to connect, discuss, and share their stories about mental health.

On May 5, Northrop and more than dozen other aspiring student entrepreneurs pitched their social benefit business ideas. Watch a recording of the Pitch Night online here.