Tag Archive for Class of 2022

Nonfiction Journalism Class Explores the Continuing Battle for COVID-19 Normalcy

tin can

In a recently-published essay, Chapin Montague ’21 tells the story of Wesleyan students Michayla Robertson-Pine ’22 (top left) and Elizabeth “Liz” Woolford ’21 (top right) who created a virtual after-school learning community for children called Tin Can Learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Montague and several other Wesleyan students wrote pandemic-related essays for their class, The Art and Craft of Journalistic Nonfiction.

As part of a class assignment for the spring 2021 course Topics in Journalism: The Art and Craft of Journalistic Nonfiction, students were tasked with writing short essays on the continuing battle for normalcy while attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The class is taught by Daniel de Visé ’89, Koeppel Journalism Fellow. After graduating from Wesleyan and Northwestern University, de Visé spent 23 years working in newspapers. He shared a 2001 team Pulitzer Prize and garnered more than two dozen other national and regional journalism awards. He’s also the author of three books.

Journalistic nonfiction, de Visé, explained, uses the tools of the newsroom to create long-form stories that read like novels. Books such as Moneyball, The Orchid Thief, The Warmth of Other Suns, “are grounded in journalistic nonfiction,” he said.

“The class is about how to write nonfiction using the tools of novel-writing and cinema,” de Visé said. “It’s all based on journalism—fact-based reporting. We’re reading and writing stories that have central characters who overcome literary conflicts in a scene-driven narrative.”

A sampling of the articles are published here and descriptions are below.

basketball team

Kiran Kling ’24, pictured at far left, wrote an essay about being on the men’s basketball team during the COVID-19 pandemic. Olu Oladitan ’24, pictured in the center, is featured in the essay.

Kiran Kling ’24 focused his essay, “The Call” on being a student-athlete during the pandemic. With spring sports canceled during the 2020-21 academic year, Kling explained how the 15 members of the men’s basketball team would gather on Zoom every Wednesday night to share updates, network with alumni, and “crack jokes in the players-only group chat during the call.” Read Kling’s essay online here.

Sophie Talcove-Berko ’21 shared her experience of being a college senior during the COVID-19 pandemic. In her essay, “Ski School,” Talcove-Berko wrote about the difficult decisions her peers made during their final year at Wes: “some deferred, some returned, and some went remote.” Talcove-Berko framed her essay around Tammy Shine ’21 who originally planned to return to Wesleyan this spring for her final semester of college, but instead chose to study remotely in Lake Tahoe. “While it was her final chance to live with her college friends on campus, she found the mountains rejuvenating for the mind, body, and soul,” Talcove-Berko wrote. Read Talcove-Berko’s essay online here.

Chaiban ’22: “COVID Cabin Fever”

The following essay was written by Shakka Chaiban ’22 as an assignment for the Spring 2021 semester course Topics in Journalism: The Art and Craft of Journalistic Nonfiction

Perched on the side of highway 191 in a cramped sedan, overlooking the neverending brown, barren desert of Uintah County, Utah on a late October night where only the stars illuminated the darkness, Norm Cotteleer [’22], 21, lightly hit his forehead on the dashboard in a state of perplexity. A little over four and a half hours away from his temporary home in Sandy, Utah, Norm and his two roommates had been pulled over by state police for driving 20 miles an hour over the limit after a day of journeying steep, mountainous hiking trails on the border of Colorado. While Norm himself hadn’t been behind the wheel, it was his car.

As he watched the officer begin a slow strut to his window, he remembered that his registration was two months expired.  Norm began to recognize that he was in a potentially devastating situation. In that brief moment, Norm recounted his months of internal conflict spent deciding if embarking on a cross country voyage with two semi-close-ish friends to the undiscovered terrain of Utah had been worth forgoing fall semester of his junior year at Wesleyan University, and he questioned his decision yet again. As potentially catastrophic scenarios ran rampant through his mind, Norm couldn’t help but surrender to pangs of longing for the comfort and sanity that living on campus had provided him. He thought of his closest friends, whom he hadn’t seen in eons, reminisced on the warm feeling of dwelling within a like-minded community, and missed the little pleasures of Wesleyan.

Norm exhaled a deep, cathartic sigh and smiled quietly to himself in disbelief. “That was the turning point,” he later recalled, “The weight of all my decisions and the general anxiety of the situation and life, I never wished for campus more, even if it wasn’t the same as before.”

For university students across the country, the evils of COVID-19 have greatly reshaped the trajectory of the traditional college experience. Amidst a global pandemic that has put the world on pause, college students have been forced to make vastly impactful decisions. While many schools across the country have shut down and switched to completely virtual campuses, others have adopted a plethora of varied testing structures, COVID prevention guidelines, and on-campus hybrid learning models.

At Wesleyan, students were given the onus of responsibility of deciding whether to return to campus in the spring after a relatively successful and contained fall semester, or opt out to either virtual learning or a completely alternative experience. Each student’s decision was fueled by a variety of complex factors, namely one’s socioeconomic situation, family life, and the presence (or lack thereof) of a plan of action if one was not to return to campus.

University administrators expected considerably more students to return to campus in the spring than in the fall. Yet, only 24 more students are physically on campus this semester, according to Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting. She cited the sudden increase in nationwide COVID cases in the weeks leading up to the semester’s start. The numbers also reflect the last-minute nature of these decisions, illustrating a COVID-era dilemma facing students everywhere between opting out or coming back.

For Norm Cotteleer, a junior philosophy major from East Granby, Connecticut, the decision couldn’t have been easier. Amidst the peak of COVID-19 pandemonium in August and uncertainty about campus reopening in the fall, Norm had decided to take classes virtually and drive across the country from his home to the claustrophobic, predominantly white Mormon suburb of Sandy, Utah. There, alongside two Wesleyan peers to whom he was not particularly close, Norm lived in a confined, grey brick house at the base of towering twin peaks and framed by stunning mountain ranges.

His decision to traverse the nation was fueled by an infatuation with the thought of driving cross-country and the desire to explore new lands, a test and reclamation of his independence that had felt dimmed by months of quarantine and isolation spent at home. The plan was for the three to live together within this small ski town, take classes throughout the day, and couple them with a series of nature expeditions and spontaneous trips to nearby states and regions on weekends. It seemed an ideal, fulfilling structure to replace being on campus during these strange times, but the reality of Norm’s experience fell far from what he had expected.

Only a few weeks into the stay, Norm began to witness the impacts of extended social isolation in close quarters: Norm and his friends gradually succumbed to an intense form of COVID cabin fever. The general vibes of the household grew increasingly combative and toxic, cramped proximity bringing the worst out of each housemate. Norm’s relationships with his two casual friends gradually deteriorated to the point of being unbearable. Instead of using his time away to focus on his internal development, Norm found himself looking for ways to remove himself from his situation in search of a sense of holistic peace of mind. His mental health fell into a steady decline.

“In retrospect”, he recalled, “I most definitely was blinded by an idealized, rosy expectation of how my stay and semester was to go. It was a spontaneous decision, and I wasn’t giving weight to a lot of potential downfalls that could have, and did occur. However, I will say, I will be forever grateful for life-lasting lessons sprouted from such vast adversity. Learning the skill of adaptability, facing your own emotions head on, but especially made me realize the significance of those who you surround yourself with.”
When asked about making the decision to return to campus this spring, Norm let out a light chuckle and simply said, “It was never a question.” Norm spent more than 60 hours driving home, entering almost a trance-like state of euphoria as he drew close. For the entirety of the fall semester, he had been robbed of that subtle feeling of relaxation and comfort that he had previously taken for granted. Those feelings would return only when he rejoined a community that made him feel safe. For Norm, that community was still Wesleyan.

On his first day on campus in a year, February 8, 2021, Norm finally felt like himself. Even though the adjustment to a hybrid model of in-person classes and Zoom and the abundance of COVID-19 regulations remained a bewildering journey, he found that he couldn’t care less. The serenity of Middletown, the joy of finally being around those closest to him, and the peace brought by the love of his community: Norm was finally home.

Students Gather to Honor Atlanta Victims, Combat Anti-Asian Violence

vigil

Students organized a vigil on March 30 to reflect on a recent attack against Asians and Asian Americans. (Photo by Nathaniel Pugh ’21)

On March 30, more than 150 students gathered outside Usdan University Center for a community vigil to mourn the victims of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings and to create a safe space for Asian and Asian-American students to discuss the rise of anti-Asian violence and be heard by the community.

The vigil was organized by Emily Chen ’23, Kevin Le ’22, and graduate student Emily Moon, in conjunction with members of the Asian American Student Collective.

Students read poems, played music, and shared their reflections during the event. Towards the end, the organizers gave anyone moved to speak the opportunity to do so.

McEvoy ’22 Named 2021 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow

Emily McEvoy

As Newman Civic Fellow, Emily McEvoy will join 211 other community-committed students from the U.S. and Mexico for access to a variety of virtual and in-person learning opportunities during the 2021–2022 academic year. McEvoy has a deep-rooted interest in town-gown relations with the City of Middletown. (Photo by Willow Saxon ’24)

When Emily McEvoy ’22 began her college career at Wesleyan in 2018, she felt a deep sense of detachment from the local environment. At a campus in the middle of her home state, how could this be? The insularity, she says, was jarring, and she decided to dedicate her time to combat this issue.

McEvoy immediately became involved with several local organizations, including Middletown’s North End Action Team, and the student cohort of volunteers who helped staff their office. Most recently, McEvoy has been an organizer with the Middletown Mutual Aid Collective, which has raised close to $70,000 to support Middletown residents in need.

“I developed a love for canvassing the neighborhood,” McEvoy said. “I like personal conversations with people, and I like deeply understanding the histories and issues at the table . . . before I do anything else.”

McEvoy’s leadership efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed, and in March, she was named a Campus Compact 2021 Newman Civic Fellow.

Lin ’22 Wins Biophysical Society Poster Award

Shawn Lin '22

Shawn H. Lin ’22

During the 65th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting held virtually Feb. 22–26, Shawn H. Lin ’22 was honored with an Undergraduate Poster Award for his work on “Elucidation of Interactions Between Integration Host Factor and a DNA Four-Way Junction.”

Lin, a Wesleyan Freeman Scholar, is among only six undergraduate students internationally to receive the award.

Lin’s advisors are Ishita Mukerji, Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

Lin’s poster is below (click to enlarge):

Shawn Linn poster

Cantwell ’22: Liberals Are Anxious About COVID-19 And They Social Distance More

cantwell poster

Ori Cantwell ’22 presented his research poster during the Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference on Feb. 13. Cantwell’s study found that liberals were more anxious than conservatives, partially explaining why liberals socially distanced more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ori Cantwell '22

Ori Cantwell ’22

Do political views and anxiety play a functional role in combating COVID-19?

According to a recent study by Ori Cantwell ’22, the answer is yes.

Cantwell, a psychology major, presented his recent study “Yes We (Anxiously) Can: Liberal Ideology and Anxiety Predict Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic” during the virtual 22nd Annual Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference, held Feb. 9–13.

“We found that in a sample of over 10,000 American adults, anxiety partially mediated the relationship between liberal ideology and social distancing,” Cantwell explained. “Liberals were more anxious than conservatives, and people were most likely to want to social distance if they were more anxious.”

Cantwell began working on this research in March 2020 with his advisor, Kostadin Kushlev of the Digital Health and Happiness Lab at Georgetown University. They were introduced through Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05.

“We don’t think that there’s a plus side to anxiety disorders, but these findings suggest that anxiety could have played a role in how people adapted to the threat of COVID-19 by social distancing.”

To create a social distancing index, Cantwell explored data collected by the Pew Research Center. Between March 19 and 24, more than 10,000 participants were asked, whether, during the pandemic, they’d be comfortable visiting a friend/family member’s house; eating out in a restaurant; attending a crowded party; going out to the grocery store; and going to a polling place to vote.

The average participant was comfortable doing 3.29 out of 5 activities, Cantwell noted.

In November 2020, Cantwell and Kushlev co-authored a pre-print titled “Anxiety Talking: Does Anxiety Predict Sharing Information about COVID-19?” This spring, they’ll continue their research on the topics of misinformation, infodemics, political ideology, anxiety, and social distancing.

Cantwell also is a recipient of the Psychology Department’s Feldman Family Fund grant, which supported his conference registration.

Students Use GIS-Based Maps, Apps to Study the Effects of the Pandemic

mapsThroughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has relied on dynamic visualizations in the form of maps and apps to keep up-to-date with the spread of the disease on both local and global scales.

And with the use of geo-enabled apps, individuals can locate COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, order groceries and other goods online, find uncrowded outdoor spaces, and track and even map the number of available medical resources in area hospitals.

“All of these services are available due to geographic information systems (GIS),” said Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice in earth and environmental sciences. “By using spatiotemporal visualizations, we can provide citizens, researchers, health care providers, and policy makers with a powerful analytical framework for visualization, data exploration, spatial pattern recognition, response-planning, and decision-making during the current pandemic.”

Dollinger ’22: Pandemic Year in College Brings Pride, Purpose

Dollinger

An essay on campus life during the pandemic, written by Shayna Dollinger ’22, was recently published by J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

When religion major Shayna Dollinger ’22 imagined her college experience, it never involved mandatory quarantining, weekly virus testing, attending concerts—solo—in a 6-by-6-foot square space, and wearing masks at a socially distanced tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. But this was the true reality of her junior year at Wesleyan.

“But weirdly enough, I don’t miss what could have been. I am proud and grateful every day for the lengths my university has gone to keep its students safe and engaged during these turbulent times,” Dollinger wrote in an essay titled “My Pandemic Year in College Has Brought Pride and Purpose.” The essay, which was an assignment in her BIO 107: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, was later published in the Dec. 3 edition of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

“There is a culture of mutual respect for the health of our peers,” Dollinger described. “We wear masks at all times, except when in our own residences, and we try to hold as many events outdoors as possible. We genuinely want to be here and stay here, and the only way that is possible is if we all agree to keep our campus safe and healthy. We are young people who care not only about our own health, but the health of our peers, the older members of our community, and the health of our country and world.”

Dollinger wonders what the outcome would be if the entire country were able to implement Wesleyan’s “Keep Wes Safe” strategy on a larger scale, as well as create a culture of joint responsibility. Perhaps, she writes, “this pandemic would ease its course and we might be able to prevent the next.”

“Until then, I will rock my Wesleyan University mask and find joy in my very own college experience.”

Read the full essay online at jweekly.com.

Students Reflect on Presidential Election Voting Experience

voting

From left, Annie Roach ’22, Julia Jurist ’22, and Emma Smith ’22 proudly display their “I Voted” stickers after casting their ballots in Beckham Hall on Nov. 3. “The whole process of voting was much easier than I expected,” Jurist said. “It was very convenient and easy to be able to vote on campus.”

By Annie Roach ’22 and Olivia Drake MALS ’08

After the whirlwind of 2020, Wesleyan students—many of them first-time voters—were particularly eager to exercise their right to vote in the presidential election. While several students cast absentee ballots in their home states weeks ahead of time, others voted in person on Nov. 3.

Marangela James

Marangela James ’24

Marangela James ’24 decided to vote in person in Connecticut, here on campus at Beckham Hall. She registered at Wesleyan earlier this semester, when some students had set up a voter registration table in front of Usdan. “It was a little bit hard navigating how to vote at first with everything going on,” she said, “but I thought it was helpful that Wes had a table set up to register us.”

Thomas Holley ’22 voted via absentee ballot. However, he physically dropped it off in the election box outside his town hall in Cheshire, Conn. “I mostly chose to vote absentee because of its ease and to avoid crowds on Election Day,” he said. “I voted in the 2018 midterms, but this election feels much more important. This statement comes from an unbelievable point of my privilege, but this is the first time political events have directly impacted my daily life. In 2018, I enjoyed voting, but going to the polls did not have the same sense of necessity.”

In conversations with his peers, Holley feels there is a shared sense of “we have to act now, and voting is the least we can do.” Issues such as climate change, reproductive rights, and the virus have come up frequently in discussions, he said.

E2020 Experiences Shape Students’ Views of the Election

Led by the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP), the University launched its new Engage 2020 (E2020) Initiative last fall to deepen Wesleyan’s commitment to civic engagement. To date, 33 students have already received funding to support the development of their civic literacy and their preparedness to engage in political life through hands-on experiences such as working to register voters, issues advocacy, and volunteering on political campaigns. E2020 encourages participation regardless of political affiliation or stances on specific issues.

Since the initiative’s inauguration, Wesleyan has joined forces with colleges and universities across the U.S. to reaffirm the University’s collective responsibility as institutions of higher learning. (Read more about how E2020 has supported student action in civic life in this September 2020 Wesleyan University Magazine article.)

Leading up to the election, three E2020 veterans offered to reflect on their experiences and explained whether, and how, they helped shape their views of the 2020 presidential election and the current political climate.

Dani Dittmann ’22

Dani Dittmann ’22

Government and economics double major Dani Dittmann ’22 interned with Deb Ciamacca’s campaign for Pennsylvania state representative in Pennsylvania’s 168th District, and as she had hoped, she gained much confidence in speaking about politics today, especially the importance of local elections in a swing state. Although her internship concluded at the end of the summer, Dittmann continued to help with the campaign this fall, whether it was phone banking or helping out with social media content.

On campus, Dittmann co-founded a club named New Voters at Wesleyan, which has been registering high school students to vote in Connecticut and beyond. And she also signed up to be the field hockey team’s Voice in Sport’s “More Votes More Voices” campaign team leader. She kept track of teammates’ voter registration status and made sure every member of her team had a plan to vote.

“My E2020 project absolutely impacted me and my actions leading up to the election,” she said. “My experience definitely ignited something within me to ensure I was making some kind of tangible difference leading up to Nov. 3. The experience definitely encouraged me to be as involved as I am in voter registration work and political discussions on campus, and I am so grateful!”

Philosophical Debate Serves as Living a Good Life Course’s Midterm

good life class

Students from the philosophy course Living a Good Life gathered in Memorial Chapel on Oct. 22 to participate in a three-part debate that served as their midterm.

Philosophers in the ancient world, in both the East and the West, typically viewed the practice of philosophy as an activity aimed at changing one’s orientation to the world and, thus, how one lives one’s life. Some of these thinkers developed views that still appear to have contemporary relevance, but many of them also held beliefs that we recognize today as not only outdated but also deeply misguided. Given these blind spots in their thinking, should ancient philosophy be “canceled”?

That was the question up for consideration in a midterm debate held on Oct. 22 as part of PHIL 210: Living a Good Life, co-taught by Steve Angle, Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of philosophy; Tushar Irani, associate professor of letters and philosophy; and Steven Horst, chair and professor of philosophy. The course is one of Wesleyan’s largest in-person courses taught this semester and was featured in an Oct. 19 The New York Times article titled “Ancient Philosophy, Meet Modern Pandemic.”