Tag Archive for African American Studies

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “Career Path Intervention–Via a MOOC”

An open online course by Gordon Career Center Director Sharon Belden Castonguay, which helps young people explore their interests and career options, is featured.

2. NPR: “Midterm Election Could Reshape Health Policy”

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “Career Path Intervention–Via a MOOC”

An open online course by Gordon Career Center Director Sharon Belden Castonguay, which helps young people explore their interests and career options, is featured.

2. NPR“Midterm Election Could Reshape Health Policy”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, explains why Democrats are “laser-focused on health care” this election season. Fowler also recently was quoted on advertising in the midterm elections in The Washington Post and USA Today, and interviewed on NPRMarketplace, and The Takeaway.

3. Religion & Politics“Russia’s Journey from Orthodoxy to Atheism, and Back Again”

Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin’s “engaging book is full of striking analysis and counterintuitive insights,” according to this review. The book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, was also recently reviewed in Foreign Affairs, while Smolkin, who is also associate professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies, was quoted in The Washington Post.

4. AnthroBites: “Queer Anthropology”

Margot Weiss, associate professor and chair of anthropology, speaks about the study of queer anthropology in this podcast interview. Weiss is also associate professor, feminist, gender and sexuality studies; associate professor of American studies; and coordinator, queer studies.

5. The Hill: “The Memo: Trump Remark Sparks Debate Over Nationalism”

Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought Peter Rutland, who has taught courses on nationalism for 30 years, says it was “surprising” that Trump called himself a nationalist. “The words ‘nationalist’ and ‘nationalism’ are not part of the normal American political vocabulary. It has got very negative connotations.” Rutland is also professor, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies; professor of government; and director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.

6. WNYC’s Soundcheck“Composer and Drummer Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11] Explores Time”

Assistant Professor of Music Tyshawn Sorey performed live, in-studio with his newly formed ensemble that incorporates turntablism, electronics, and spontaneous composition. Sorey is also assistant professor, African American studies.

Recent Alumni News

1. Forbes: This New $100 Million VC Fund Is Looking to Help Crypto Startups Bridge China and Silicon Valley

Alexander Pack ’14 and his new $100 million venture capital fund, Dragonfly Capital Partners, are profiled. With his partner, Bo Feng, Pack will “look to invest in a mix of crypto-first funds, protocols, and applications, as well as tech startups building infrastructure for crypto-driven economies.” The company is also featured in Venturebeat.

2. UMass Med Now: UMMS Alum Raghu Kiran Appasani [’12Addresses UN General Assembly on Global Mental Health

Raghu Kiran Appasani ’12 helped launch the United for Global Mental Health campaign with an event at the United Nations General Assembly cohosted by Appasani, United for Global Health campaign CEO Elisha London, and Cynthia Germanotta of the Born This Way Foundation.

3. XO Necole: “4 Gems ‘Women In Media’ Can Learn From Angela Yee [’97]”

Entrepreneur and radio host Angela Yee ’97 was recently honored by Women In Media during their annual conference. XO Necole celebrates Yee’s “hustle hard” mentality and breaks down 4 “top-notch takeaways” from Yee’s motivational speech.

4. Coronado Eagle & Journal: Documentarian Matt Tyrnauer [’91] To Be Honored With Coronado Film Festival Director Award

Producer/director Matt Tyrnauer ’91 will receive Best Director honors at the Coronado Island Film Festival (Nov. 9-12). His prolific career as a writer and filmmaker is discussed, as is his latest film, Studio 54, which is generating industry-wide Oscar buzz.

5. MariaShriver.com: “Where There Is Anger There Is Hope

Shriver highlights the book by Dr. Helen Riess ’87,The Empathy Effect: 7 Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, Connect Across Differences, as well as The Good Men Project, founded by Tom Matlack ’86, MALS ’87, P’16.

 

 

Haitian Musicians Lead Drumming Workshop, Performance for Students

Boukman Eksperyans band members toured Wesleyan while visiting campus Sept. 20-21.

On Sept. 20-21, core members of the Grammy-nominated Haitian “roots” band Boukman Eksperyans, along with the band leaders’ son Paul Beaubrun (band leader of Zing Eksperyans), engaged with several groups on campus. Boukman, founded in 1978, is one of Haiti’s best-known bands and performs traditional Vodou rhythms with pop, reggae, and blues.

After learning that the group was touring between Brooklyn, N.Y., and Montreal, Canada, faculty from African American Studies and the Music Department invited and coordinated their visit at Wesleyan.

On Thursday, band members led a workshop for students enrolled in the West African Music and Culture course, taught by John Dankwa, adjunct assistant professor of music. Boukman Eksperyans’ drummer Hans Dominique, known as “Bwa Gris,” taught the students about traditional Haitian drumming and rhythm.

Later that evening, the group performed an acoustic set in Downey Lounge, bringing to Wesleyan their distinctive style that fuses the traditional rhythms of Afro-Haitian religion (known as Vodou) with rock and reggae. Singing in the Haitian Kreyol language, they bring attention to the different ways of knowing and living in the Caribbean. The younger Beaubrun has been bringing the family tradition in new directions, performing as the opening act for Lauren Hill’s latest tour. They are also celebrating the release of Paul Beaubrun’s new album “Ayibobo” on Ropeadope Records.

On Friday, the musicians worked with students from the Music Department’s experimental music and sound design programs to record new tracks in the Music Department’s recording studio.

“Boukman Eksperyans is long known for their political activism critiquing the Haitian class system, American meddling in Haitian affairs, and racism and colorism throughout the world,” said Liza McAlister, professor of religion and professor and chair, African American studies. “Boukman Eksperyans are ambassadors for a better understanding of the Vodou religion; they have served as U.N. Goodwill Ambassadors too. We are thrilled that they were able to visit campus and share their experiences with us.”

A video of the drumming workshop is on Facebook, Photos of the drumming workshop and concert are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake and Chloe de Montgolfier ’22)

Blackness, Race, Sexuality, Power Explored During AFAM’s 50th Anniversary

Center for African American Studies.

The Center for African American Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2018–19 academic year.

On Feb. 21, 1969, a group of brave students chained the doors shut to their Fisk Hall classroom and demanded that Wesleyan offer more support to its black community. As a result of this peaceful protest, Wesleyan established the Center for African American Studies, the Malcolm X House dormitory, and the black student union, Ujamaa. The black students who graduated that spring became known as the Vanguard Class of 1969.

During the 2018–19 academic year, African American Studies is commemorating its 50th anniversary with a plethora of events surrounding the topic of “Blackness, Race, Sexuality, and Power.” In addition, the Vanguard Class will be honored at their 50th reunion, along with other students of that era, for their groundbreaking efforts. Their courage helped spur Wesleyan’s now cutting-edge scholarship and teaching in black history, literature, and the arts, along with race theory and critical approaches in anthropology, religion, science, and beyond.

The fall events include:

“Solidarity, Intersectionality & Resisting Oppression”
Feminist philosopher Carol Hay
Sept. 20 at 4:30 p.m.
Russell House
Sponsored by Philosophy Department

Boukman Eksperyans & Paul Beaubrun – Haitian Music
Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.
Downey Lounge
Sponsored by African American Studies and Music

McAlister in The Conversation: For Some Catholics, It Is Demons That Taunt Priests with Sexual Desire

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, writes about a lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse of children uncovered in the Catholic Church: In some strands of Catholic thought, priests who abuse children have succumbed to temptation by demons. McAlister is also chair and professor of African American studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, professor of Latin American studies.

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, Wesleyan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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.