Tag Archive for African American Studies

Formerly Enslaved Woman Honored at 1820 Gravesite

Individuals honoring the gravesite and remembering Silva Storms, who was born in Africa and lived as an enslaved person in Middletown, include (left to right) Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta (far left), Professor Liza McAlister, chair of the Department of African American Studies (far right), and Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 with Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 (center). Congregants who traveled with Chief Ayanda (wearing white, left to right of center: Monica John, Shelby Olatutu Banks, Nkosi Fajumo Gray, and April Alake Silver) also gathered for the ceremony led by Clarke. Next to the Storms gravesite is that of Nancy Williams, a relative of Storms. (Photo by Wendy Black-Nasta P’07)

On May 9, a group of students, faculty, and Middletown friends joined Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 and Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 in a spiritual commemoration ceremony to honor a woman, Silva Storms, who died in 1820 and was buried in the cemetery on Vine Street, across from the Beman Triangle. Research indicates she had been born in Africa and was brought to Middletown as an enslaved person. The event was part of McDuffie-Thurmond’s research project for Black Middletown Lives, the service-learning course taught by Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies.

Nasta notes that McDuffie-Thurmond, who had been documenting the African American burials in the cemetery as part of his final project in the class, “completely took it upon himself to take that 10 steps beyond the assignment, to envision this ceremony. Jumoke is not just documenting the gravesites, but honoring the people who were enslaved here in Middletown.”

For his part, McDuffie-Thurmond remembers the first time Nasta took the class to the cemetery as a significant experience. “I’d never been to the section of the graveyard that was designated for Black Middletown residents, and Silva Storms’s gravesite—her tombstone stood almost alone in an open space—resonated with me. Professor Nasta told us it was the oldest tombstone in the African American section. I sat down there and listened to what was around me, what I felt, and I thought, I have to do something that tends to the spirit. We have a legacy of slavery in this land that constantly informs the space we live in—and it is unresolved. I wanted to do something that would resonate with those of us who live here now. It was a very intuitive decision.”

Nasta ’07 Presents Beman Triangle Research at CAAS

Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, top left, and the students in his service-learning class, Black Middletown Lives, are focused on an area near campus called “The Beman Triangle,” documenting the lives of the African Americans who owned those homes in the pre-Civil War era. The students are: (front row, l. to r.) Rose Johnson-Brown ’18, Sammi Aibinder ’18, Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19; (second row, kneeling): Angel Martin ’19; (back row, l. to r.) Professor Nasta ’07, Catherine Wulff ’18, Belén Rodriguez ’19, Nicole Hayes ’19, Henry Prine ’18, Tedra James ’18. Not pictured: Tatiana Ettensberger ’18, Julia Natt ’19, Jessi Russell ’20, Jess Wachtler ’18.

 

“This is the history of right here,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, speaking of his work with Black Middletown Lives, his service-learning class. “We venture deep, but no farther than two blocks.” He and his class of 13 students are doing firsthand archival research on individual projects, documenting the lives of those African Americans who lived in the area now called “The Beman Triangle,” after the most prominent black property owner in that five-acre patch of land bordered on one side by Knowles Avenue to the corner where Neon Deli now stands at Cross and Vine.

Jesse Nasta and the students of Black Middletown Lives gather on Cross Street in front of one of the five surviving houses from the pre-Civil War community now commonly called “The Beman Triangle.”

On Tuesday, April 17, Nasta spoke about this work at the Center for African American Studies, noting that almost a dozen years ago, he was standing in the same spot, presenting his honors thesis, “Their Own Guardians and Protectors: African American Community in Middletown, Connecticut, 1822–1860.” Nasta, a Middletown native, is delighted to return to Wesleyan and pursue this project that captured his scholarly interests at a young age.

In his talk, he provided historical context for the development of this area, recounted brief biographies of some of the residents of the area, and discussed the work of the class in light of the Beman Triangle today.

CAAS, Second Shades Present Student-Written, Directed Play

On April 19, 20, and 21, the Center for African American Studies and Second Shades student organization presented the play La Violecion of My PapiYon (Papiyon means butterfly in Haitian Creole) in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. The play was written by Arline Pierre-Louis ’19 and directed by Ruby Fludzinski ’20 and Ray Achan ’19. The production was put together by a cast and crew of over 50 people who all identify as people of color.

Set in the beautiful town of Jacmel, Haiti, during the post-Duvalier era (1988), Gylda (played by Inayah Bashir ’20 and pictured below in the purple and white dress) is a hardworking housewife by day and lucid dreamer by night. She divides her time among the three most important areas of her life—motherhood, marriage, and friendship—but struggles at finding time for herself as a woman. This all changes when Gylda experiences a growing spiritual awakening.

Photos of the performance are below: (Photos by Jonas Powell ’18)

Ashraf Rushdy in The Conversation: The Art of the Public Apology

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains how lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th century until the 1930s.

Ashraf Rushdy

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Amid a flood of accusations against public figures for sexual misconduct and other improprieties, Ashraf Rushdy, the Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language, writes a piece exploring “the art of the public apology.” Rushdy is also professor of English, professor of African American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Read his bio in The Conversation.

The art of the public apology

Ashraf Rushdy, Wesleyan University

Just prior to his sentencing, former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar formally apologized to the more than 160 women whom he’d sexually abused. He joins a growing list. Over the past few months, many public personalities accused of sexual assault have apologized in public.

Many of us at this point are wondering what these apologies mean. Indeed, like others before him, Nassar said that an adequate apology was impossible. He stated,

“There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and convey.”

What, then, is it that he and other public figures are doing when they say sorry publicly?

In a forthcoming book, I look at different kinds of public apologies, including the kind of celebrity apologies we’ve witnessed in the past few months. What I argue is that public apologies are a type of performance and therefore should be understood as being different from private.

Yanique: Hurricane Irma Response Reflects Unresolved Feelings on U.S. Virgin Islands’ “Americanness”

Tiphanie YaniqueProfessor of English Typhanie Yanique writes in The New York Times on how the news media’s coverage and the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands reflects a bigger failure of America to fully embrace and grant rights to the citizens who reside on the islands.

In an essay titled “Americans in a Battered Paradise,” Yanique explains that 2017 marks 100 years since the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish to American rule. Yet this major anniversary has been scarcely noted in the continental United States. Virgin Islanders were granted American citizenship a decade after this transfer, yet still cannot vote in U.S. general elections.

The news media made a big deal out of Hurricane Irma’s landfall on the Florida Keys, Yanique writes, “But in truth Irma had struck United States land days before as a disastrous Category 5 hurricane. That was when it hit the United States Virgin Islands, devastating my home island, St. Thomas.”

Johnson Awarded Postdoctoral Fellowship to Explore Settler-Colonialism

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies, is the recipient of a National Association of Education Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship for the 2017-18 academic year.

The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports up to 30 early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. These $70,000 fellowships support non-residential postdoctoral proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education.

Johnson, who will be on scholarly leave for the 2017-2018 academic year, will work on a manuscript for his book project, which examines the intersections between education and settler-colonialism in the United States. He also plans to conduct interviews in Alaska Native villages and the Navajo and Tohono O’odham nations to document the historic relationships forged between Native students and African American educators who taught in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools between 1950 and 1980.

“Although I will be living and writing in New Haven for the year, I hope to remain active in on campus events at Wesleyan,” he said.

Johnson specializes in the intertwined histories of the African diaspora and Indigenous people in North America, with emphases on U.S. settler colonialism, education and counter-hegemonic social movements. His teaching areas include courses in the history of emancipatory education and U.S. empire, early African American history, American Indian history and popular music.

Johnson has already received support from numerous institutions, including the Ford Foundation, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation and a predoctoral teaching fellowship at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. His essays and editorials have appeared in American Quarterly, Pacific Historical Review and The Navajo Times. In 2015, he received recognition from the Western History Association for the year’s best essay on Native American history.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

AFAM Program Welcomes 2 New Faculty

This fall, the African American Studies Program welcomed two new faculty members: Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, and Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., assistant professor of African American studies.

Kali Gross

Kali Gross

Kali Gross is the author of Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (2006) and the newly released, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (2016). She has been featured on NPR, C-SPAN2 and other television programs, and has consulted for the PBS show “History Detectives.” Gross’s op-ed pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Houston Chronicle, American Prospect, Ebony, Jet Magazine, The Root and Truthout.

“Wesleyan University has an excellent reputation,” Gross said. “It’s a school that is known for its high academic standards and super-smart students. When I learned of the opportunity to join the faculty, I was pretty excited, and I was heartened by the fact that the program was doing a cluster hire — meaning the institution had committed to more than one line; to me that suggested a sustained investment in the development and growth of African American Studies—that was and remains of paramount importance to me.”

Gross has a PhD and MA from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from Cornell University.

This fall she is teaching a junior colloquium on African American Women, Sex, Crime and Punishment. Next spring, she will teach Introduction to Modern African American History and African American Women’s History.

“I have been so impressed by the students in the AFAM Junior Colloquium. The students are brilliant, dynamic, and tireless in their educational pursuits. They are doing graduate-level coursework—and they have done so bravely,” Gross said. “Each week we have been grappling with dense histories covering African American women and sex, crime, and punishment in U.S. history. This is not easy or light reading. It can be incredibly difficult and frustrating because few of the works end with some sort of triumph—but my students have been diligent and have critically engaged the material. They have also brought fresh insights to texts that I have been reading for nearly a decade.”

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson specializes in the intertwined histories of the African diaspora and Indigenous people in North America, with emphases on U.S. settler colonialism, education, and counter-hegemonic social movements. In his current manuscript project, Schooled: The Education of Black and Indigenous People in the United States and Abroad, 1730-1980, Johnson historicizes the Post-War migration of hundreds of African American educators to Indian Country ultimately unearthed a colonial genealogy of four generations of social reformers, missionaries, philanthropists, activists, and teachers who, since the 18th century, have used schooling to reconcile the founding cataclysms of the United States––the ongoing presence of Indigenous nations, free black people, and non-white immigrants. The result is a dramatic and transnational reinterpretation of American education and its consequences for colonized peoples across the globe.

“It’s only my first semester, but I love teaching at Wesleyan,” Johnson said. “The students are not only whip-smart, but more importantly they exemplify a politically engaged and compassionate mode of intellectual inquiry that inspires me to be more a humane, intentional, and active human in class, on campus, and in the world.”

Johnson received his PhD from Yale University and his BA from the University of Georgia.

This fall he is teaching Freedom School and Early African American History. Next spring, he will teach Black and Indigenous Foundations of U.S. Society.

The African American Studies Program at Wesleyan offers a dynamic interdisciplinary approach to the study of people of African descent in the Black Atlantic world, especially in the United States and in the Caribbean. The major enables undergraduates to bring the methodologies, theories, and insights of diverse disciplines to bear on their studies of the history, literature, politics, culture, and art of peoples of African descent. Courses, which range from seminars to larger discussion classes, are informed by theoretical and empirical approaches and explore topics such as conceptualizations of race, issues of race and identity, as well as the social structures, cultural traditions, and political realities of Africans in the Diaspora.

Gross Uses Detective Notes, Archival Documents to Write Disembodied Torso

Kali Gross, professor of African American studies, details the 1887 crime of the disembodied torso found near a pond outside Philadelphia, and the subsequent, scandal-driven trial of Hannah Mary Tabbs and George Wilson, in her most recent book Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America, published February 2, 2016.

Gross explains in an editorial published on her website, her use of “detectives’ notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly who-done-it true crime in all its scandalous detail and in doing so, gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community.”

Copies of Gross’ Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Oxford University Press.   

AFAM Program Welcomes Its First Core Faculty

This fall, the African American Studies Program hired its first core faculty members. They include Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, and Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., assistant professor of African American studies.

Wesleyan opened the Afro American Institute in 1969 and offered minimal courses on African American history. In 1983, students could major in African American studies, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the university created the African American Studies Program. Now the program is poised to make institutional history by African American Studies gaining departmental status, which would put Wesleyan on par with other top-tier universities and colleges.

“Having faculty members hired solely into the AFAM Program represents a real growth and commitment to the long-term stability of the program,” said Lois Brown, professor and chair of the African American Studies Program. “Kali Gross and Khalil Johnson also bring remarkable research strengths to the university.”

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.”

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.