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Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo ’01 Teaches Latino Studies, Queer Studies

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Assistant Professor of American Studies Laura Grappo, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2001, is interested in Latino studies and queer studies.

Q: Welcome back to Wesleyan, Professor Grappo! Can you please fill us in on what you’ve done since graduating from Wes?

A: After graduating from Wesleyan in 2001, I worked a fifth grade teacher at a Catholic school in the Bronx. Then I went to grad school at Yale and got my Ph.D. in American Studies. I took a job for a couple years as an assistant professor of American studies at Dickinson College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Last year, I came to Wesleyan as a visiting professor, and this year I began as a full-time, tenure-track professor.

Q: How does it feel to be back at Wesleyan?

A: I’m excited to be back. I had a wonderful experience here as an undergrad. It was really formative for me as a scholar and I made good friends and enjoyed many of the resources Wesleyan offers. When I saw there was a position open here, it seemed like a terrific opportunity, as not only is Wesleyan an incredible institution, but it’s also in a great area of the country, with so many excellent resources—other universities, libraries, museums, cities—located nearby. I really like the Wesleyan community, and all the smart and interesting people who are here.

Q: Please describe your research interests.

A: The two main fields I work in are Latino studies and queer studies. I feel like my work is guided by ethical and theoretical parameters, and I try to think through conceptual ideas within specific cultural and political moments and texts.

I’m currently working on a book manuscript called “Home and Other Myths: A Lexicon of Queer Inhabitation,” which is about the concept of “home” in the context of minoritarian politics and culture. The decision to use the concept of home as a structural theme was partly inspired by the work of Jean Amery, who is well know for his writings on surviving the Holocaust. In his book At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, he defines home not as a place, but as a state of innocence— a way of being in the world where you trust in the laws and customs of the land in which you live, a state in which you trust in the basic moral goodness of other people. Amery writes eloquently and convincingly about how the Holocaust shattered that state for Jews. Extrapolating from this idea, I argue that this conception of home offers a rich and productive way of thinking about contemporary queer life in the U.S., as queer people are often cast outside of the figurative boundaries of national and cultural homelands.

Q: What courses did you teach this semester, and what do you plan to teach in the future?

A: This semester, I taught an introductory Latino studies class and an upper-level class called Diaspora Border Migration. The Introduction of Latino Studies course introduced students—mostly first-years and sophomores, interested in a variety of different fields—to the history, politics, and culture of Latinos in the U.S. Although the class focuses on Latino identities, we considered the ways in which studying latinidad resonates with the larger field of American studies as well. With all my classes, I hope to encourage students’ curiosity and encourage them to think more carefully and deeply about the issues at hand. And with introductory courses in particular, I also hope that the concepts we discuss will pique their interest and guide them toward taking more American studies courses and considering the major. This semester, my upper-level seminar had a number of American studies majors, but also included students majoring in government, history, theater, and Latin American studies. In addition to a more theoretical dense syllabus, the course also asked students to reflect on important current events, such as the President’s speech on immigration, the various debates and actions concerning “securing the border,” and the concept of “illegality.”

Next semester I am teaching a junior colloquium called Cultural Theory and Analysis, which explores influential political theories and cultural concepts in the Western canon. I‘ll also be teaching a seminar titled Queer of Color Critique, which focuses on the ways in which people of color have critiqued queer political and scholarly work through the lens of racial and ethnic differentiation. Next year I’ll be teaching two introductory courses, one on Latino studies and one on queer studies, and two upper-level seminars in the same fields.

Q: I understand the Queer Studies cluster was established at Wesleyan after you were hired. Can you please tell us a little about the cluster, and how it will change the academic experience for students interested in this field?

A: The Queer Studies cluster has been in the works for a long time, but was formally established this year under the leadership of my American studies colleague Margot Weiss, [associate professor of American studies, associate professor of anthropology]. There are a number of professors who contribute classes to the cluster, including some recently arrived scholars. I believe the cluster will give students who are interested in queer studies an accessible academic path to follow, as they’ll be able to easily look online and see all the classes available, allowing them to cumulatively build a course of study that is nuanced, diverse, and thorough.

I’ve observed a lot of interest from students in exploring the field of queer studies—both in a scholarly way and a political way. I think that queer studies as a field has become central to understanding American studies. It’s important to note that queer studies is an expansive discipline – that is to say, it’s not just talking about gay people (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Rather, queer studies as a discipline asks us to think about the world from a minority point of view. What does it mean to negotiate difference? How do we think about minorities in a majority culture, and how are their rights and care determined?

Q: As a student at Wesleyan, you majored in “Women’s Studies.” Can you talk about how the field has changed since that time? The major is now “Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.”

A: I think it’s gone from being primarily an analysis of gender—which is, of course, important—to a broader way of thinking about how gender and sexuality, which are closely and inextricably tied together, work to construct experiential and political life. People often think of “women’s studies” or “feminist, gender and sexuality studies” as niche fields. But women are half the world. And thinking about gender and sexuality is not just important for people who identify as women, it’s for everyone: how we identify as humans–it’s one of the most basic ways in which we negotiate difference, and it has far reaching implications for everything from the creation of human life to the workings of global politics.

Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching here so far?

A: The students at Wesleyan are outstanding: They’re smart, creative, dedicated to learning, and very interested in the world around them, both culturally and politically. I find the vast majority of my students to be really interesting, intelligent people. I love our class discussions, and hearing what students think about ideas and texts. It can be fascinating for me to interact with students as they lay fresh eyes on material I know well, and very rewarding when a student comes up with an angle I hadn’t considered.

Q: What do you like to do outside of work?

A: I have two-year-old twins, who take up a lot of my time. We have two dogs and a cat, all rescue animals, who are also integral parts of our family. And, as we live in the forest, we spend a lot of time outside, hiking, spending time with family and friends, and working hard in our vegetable garden.

Fedolfi Receives Cardinal Achievement Award for Giving Tuesday Efforts


Charles Fedolfi '90

Charles Fedolfi ’90

The Office of Human Resources presented a Cardinal Achievement Award to Charles “Chuck” Fedolfi ’90 in December 2014.

Fedolfi, director of annual giving for the Office of University Relations, was honored for his work on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 2, when the Wesleyan community joined together in an unprecedented show of support for students.  Led by Fedolfi, a team of colleagues and volunteers inspired alumni, parents, faculty and staff to make 2,059 gifts totaling over $500,000 – far exceeding the original goal of 1,000 gifts for the day and setting a record for the largest number of gifts Wesleyan has ever received in one day. On Wesleyan’s first Giving Tuesday in 2013, 292 individuals contributed $54,135.

“Chuck was the driving force that made Giving Tuesday successful. He and his team developed an effective marketing plan featuring a handful of impressive Wes students and then communicated the message across media platforms with a motivating sense of urgency and excitement,” said Gemma Fontanella Ebstein, associate vice president of University Relations. “This intense campaign really got everyone talking, and giving, to their cause: Wesleyan.”

This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for those extra efforts. Award recipients are nominated by department chairs and supervisors. Nominations can be made anytime throughout the year. For more information or to nominate a staff member for the award, visit the Cardinal Achievement Award website.

Recipients will continue to be recognized in News @ Wesleyan.

See past Cardinal Achievement Award recipients here.

Somoroff ’18 is Making Documentary Film on Holocaust Survivor, Woman Who Saved Him

Sofie Somoroff '18 traveled to Poland over Thanksgiving break to document on film the reunification of a Holocaust survivor and the "righteous gentile" who saved his life.

Sofie Somoroff ’18 traveled to Poland over Thanksgiving break to document on film the reunification of a Holocaust survivor and the “righteous gentile” who saved his life.

A prospective film major, Sofie Somoroff ’18 is interested in how filmmakers can foster a connection between the past and the present. Over Thanksgiving recess, she traveled to Poland to document the reuniting of Karl Schapiro—the grandfather of Somoroff’s close friend and working partner, Rachel Kastner—with a “righteous gentile” who saved his life during the Holocaust.

Sofie Somoroff filmed in Auschwitz.

Sofie Somoroff filmed in Auschwitz.

Schapiro has not returned to Eastern Europe since the war, and while he has corresponded with Paulina Plotskaj, the woman who saved him, they have not seen one another in many decades. Now 90 years old, Plotskaj and her parents, who were Christians, hid 15 people in an underground bunker for approximately three years during World War II. They were recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad VaShem, the world center for Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration. Plotskaj, who had no children and whose husband passed away 25 years ago, now lives alone in Krakow.

Somoroff’s connection to Plotskaj came through her friend Kastner, who visited Poland last spring on a trip retracing the steps of Eastern European Jewry during the Holocaust. Plotskaj unexpectedly spoke to Kastner’s tour group briefly during the trip. When Kastner came home, she and Somoroff “felt compelled to return to Poland and capture this fleeting reunion,” said Somoroff.

NEA Supports Center for the Arts’ Breaking Ground Dance Series

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts a $20,000 grant to support the 2015–2016 Breaking Ground Dance Series. The CFA is one of the 919 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant.

The Breaking Ground Dance Series, now in its 15th season at Wesleyan, features cutting-edge choreography, world-renowned companies, and companies pushing the boundaries of the art form.

Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard returns to Wesleyan with two new dance works.

Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard returns to Wesleyan with two new dance works.

Upcoming performances this season include the return of Montréal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard on Feb. 6-7, 2015 and Tari Aceh! Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra on Feb. 27.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard will be performing the New England premiere of “Gymnopédies,” created around the theme of the duet set to music by French composer and pianist Érik Satie; and the Connecticut premiere of “Henri Michaux: Mouvements,” featuring texts and visually arresting projected India-ink drawings from the book “Mouvements” by Belgian-born poet, writer and painter Henri Michaux, and electroacoustic music by Canadian composer Louis Dufort.

Altman ’17 Promotes 88.1 WESU Radio Activity, Hosts Punk Girl Band Show

Tess Altman '17 is the public relations director at 88.1 WESU.

Tess Altman ’17 is the public relations director at 88.1 WESU. She also hosts a radio show called Feminist Power Hour. (Photos by Olivia Drake)


In this Q&A meet Tess Altman from the Class of 2017.

Q: Tess, where are you from and why did you choose Wesleyan?

A: I am from the suburbs of Chicago. I was interested in going to a liberal arts school and getting out the Midwest — so I started looking around at a few schools in the NESCAC. As far as why I chose Wesleyan, it seemed like a place where people were excited about many different things, and the prospect of being around those people excited me.

Tess Altman hopes to major in creative writing and FGSS.

Tess Altman hopes to major in creative writing and FGSS.

Q: How did you become involved in Wesleyan’s radio station, 88.1 WESU?

A: I first got involved with the station last year. I’d never done anything in radio before, but I decided to sign up for training on a whim. I ended up really loving being on air. I also think that the community down there is really great — I’ve gotten to know so many non-students that have made my experience at Wesleyan so much richer.

Q: You’re currently the public relations director for the station. What is involved in this position?

A: Most of what I do as public relations director is all about outreach and getting people more involved, whether that’s through Facebook, Twitter,

President Roth and Professor Weil Make Second Major Campaign Gift

President Michael S. Roth and Professor Kari Weil have made a new six-figure gift to Wesleyan in support of endowment for financial aid, including a provision that royalties from President Roth’s latest book, Beyond the University, go to financial aid.

In announcing the gift, Joshua Boger ’73, chair of Wesleyan’s board of trustees, said: “This is the second major gift that Michael and Kari have made to Wesleyan’s campaign, and I am so grateful for their leadership and generosity. Their support of financial aid is particularly welcome because it underscores the University’s commitment to increasing access – the highest priority of our campaign. THIS IS WHY.”

Wesleyan has raised $125 million for scholarship endowment. Overall, Wesleyan’s generous supporters have contributed $354 million toward the campaign’s $400 million goal.
Roth established a policy of eliminating loans in favor of outright grants for most students with a family income below $60,000. The policy has also reduced the amount of loans required in all final aid packages by about 35 percent. This effort and all of Wesleyan’s financial aid grants, including a special scholarship program for veterans, are supported by gifts from alumni, parents and friends.

“Wesleyan continues to attract students of extraordinary potential from diverse economic backgrounds, meeting their full financial need,” says Roth. “The University’s commitment to financial aid fosters a campus community based on equality and freedom, where differences in the classroom emerge not from privilege, but from talent and effort.”

As University Protestant Chaplain, Mehr-Muska Mentors, Offers Confidential Support

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others.

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, meet Tracy Mehr-Muska, Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain. 

Q: Rev. Mehr-Muska, how long have you been Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain, and what did you do before this?

A: This is my third year as a university chaplain at Wesleyan. Like many, my professional journey was not a direct route. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, I served as a Deck Watch Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. My love of the sea and my degree in Marine/Environmental Science led me to subsequently work as a marine scientist, conducting oceanographic surveys and engineering subsea cable routes for a company that installed transoceanic fiberoptic telecommunications cable. although I loved my job, I felt most deeply fulfilled when attending church, visiting sick or homebound parishioners, or volunteering with the church’s youth. I then transitioned to Princeton Theological Seminary, and after graduating, became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I served as a chaplain for a hospice program in Boston, where I ministered to people approaching death and to their families. Although I loved hospice chaplaincy, it has been thrilling and fun to now work with people at the other end of their lives—students newly emerging into adulthood who are working to discern their vocational identity and establish their priorities, distinctiveness and values.

Q: Coming from such a different background, what made you want to become a university chaplain?

A: My years at the Coast Guard Academy were immensely challenging personally, physically, and spiritually. The two caring and patient military chaplains who served as my chaplains were not only instrumental in my surviving, thriving, and graduating, but they were also influential in helping me find joy and deepen my faith.

ITS Launches Security Awareness Campaign

The ITS training videos teach computer users about cyber criminals.

The ITS training videos teach computer users about cyber criminals.

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, Information Technology Services launched a new security awareness campaign titled “Protecting You, Securing Wesleyan”.

The campaign consists of security awareness training videos; tips and tricks provided on the ITS Facebook and Twitter pages; posters distributed around campus; and a new website about cyber security initiatives on campus. The information will help Wesleyan faculty, staff and students be safer online, at work, home or on the road.

Football’s Fuchs ’17 Receives Regional Honors, Gold Helmet Award

Placekicker Ike Fuchs '17. (Photo by Brian Katten)

Placekicker Ike Fuchs ’17. (Photo by Brian Katten)

Placekicker Ike Fuchs ’17 (#10) accounted for 16 of the Cardinals’ 22 points during a 22-0 football victory at Williams College Nov. 1, raising Wesleyan’s record on the season to 6-1.

For his performance, Fuchs received three regional awards and one national honor. Fuchs was named NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week as well as ECAC Division III Northeast Special Teams Player of the Week. He also was the recipient of the New England Football Writers’ Association weekly Gold Helmet Award for the top effort by a regional Division II/III player during the week.

Ike Fuchs '17

Ike Fuchs ’17

He is the first Cardinal to earn this coveted honor since Shea Dwyer ’10 was recognized for his 213-yard rushing performance with five TDs in a win over Hamilton in 2010. Fuchs also was named USA College Football’s Placekicker of the Week, a national honor.

Fuchs went 5-for-5 on field goals including a career-best 39-yarder and added an extra point on Wesleyan’s lone touchdown, that by running back Lou Stevens ’17 in the second quarter. Fuchs’ other three-pointer came from 31 yards, 35 yards, 23 yards and 25 yards. He entered the game 3-for-6 on field goals but had made his last two before the Williams game. As a result, Fuchs established a pair of school records as he broke the mark for field goals in a game, set by Greg Zlotnick ’86 when he booted four field goals against Coast Guard in 1983. Fuchs has now made seven straight field goals, breaking Zlotnick’s season record of six in a row, also set in 1983.

Backer, Culliton, Quinones Honored with Cardinal Achievement Awards

Scott Backer

Scott Backer

Rick Culliton

Rick Culliton

Scott Backer, associate dean of students, and Rick Culliton, assistant vice president/dean of students, received a Cardinal Achievement Award in October for completing the federally mandated campus crime (Clery) report for the past two years. This special honor comes with a $250 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for those extra efforts.

They completely revised and updated the report from previous years and incorporated additional edits to ensure the data in the report was accurate. This involved collaborating with various offices on campus. They took on this responsibility in the absence of the Public Safety Director who is typically responsible for coordinating the report.

Maritza “Cookie” Quinones

Maritza “Cookie” Quinones

In addition, Maritza “Cookie” Quinones, After School supervisor at the Green Street Arts Center, received a Cardinal Achievement Award in November for her “selfless giving and community-minded approach to assisting families during their experience at the GSAC and beyond,” explained Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Arts Center and PIMMS. Quinones makes thoughtful phone calls to parents regarding their children’s progress and behavior in the program. She makes a point to invite and to escort Middletown families to arts and cultural events at the Center for the Arts.

“Cookie tirelessly works to ‘make it happen’ for the community,” MacSorley said.

Award recipients are nominated by department chairs and supervisors. Nominations can be made anytime throughout the year. For more information or to nominate a staff member for the award, visit the Cardinal Achievement Award website.

Recipients will continue to be recognized in News@Wesleyan.

See past Cardinal Achievement Award recipients here.


Wesleyan Media Project Launches New Attack Ads Website, Videos; Provides Campaign Analysis

WMPbanner_20perThe Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes campaign television advertising in federal elections, has launched a new initiative to educate the public about attack ads and dark money in elections, thanks to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

As anyone who watches television is well aware, the airwaves are filled with attack ads. Negativity in advertising is especially pronounced in some races, such as the Connecticut governor’s race, in which only 15 percent of ads were positive from Sept. 1 to Oct. 23. At the same time, dark money—or spending by outside groups who do not disclose their donors—is playing an increasingly prominent role in campaign advertising. This is concerning to those who care about transparency in elections.

The Wesleyan Media Project’s new website,, aims to educate voters about attack ads and dark money.

Grossman Discussant at Economics Research Conference

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

On Oct. 24, Richard Grossman, professor of economics, was a discussant at a conference titled “Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development,” organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Grossman commented on a paper by Dan Bogart (University of California at Irvine) titled “Securing the East India Monopoly: Politics, Institutional Change, and the Security of British Property Rights Revisited.” The paper focuses on the history of the English East India Company and ways it yields new insights on the relationship between politics, institutional change, and the security of property rights in Britain.