Tag Archive for COVID-19

2020 Commencement Ceremony, Class Reunions Postponed

commencement

Wesleyan’s 188th Commencement Ceremony will be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 announced that Wesleyan will delay its 188th Commencement Ceremony, originally scheduled for May 24, 2020. Wesleyan’s reunion gatherings, typically held during the same weekend, will be celebrated in alternate formats.

“Although I’d been delaying this decision in hopes that we might still have an opportunity to gather together in late May, I’m writing now to let you know that we will have to find another time and place to celebrate the 2020 graduation. There is so much uncertainty about what the next few months will hold, and we don’t think it is responsible to plan to bring a large group together on Andrus Field in May,” Roth wrote in an all-campus email on April 2.

“I know this will be greatly disappointing for many, particularly for graduate students, seniors and their families, who were looking forward to the Commencement ceremony this spring. I do expect the Board of Trustees to vote (remotely) to award degrees at its May meeting. For official purposes, the University will graduate all those who qualify, and we will find a way to mark that event in some festive (if still virtual) way at that time. We will be writing again soon with our plans in that regard. Please know that we have every intention to bring people together in-person at some point in the future to celebrate this year’s graduates. We are reaching out to seniors to ask for their input in designing meaningful alternatives. Similarly, our colleagues in Advancement will work with the reunion committees to seek input regarding reunion celebrations. When this pandemic recedes, there will be plenty to celebrate together. Please stay safe, and take care of one another. I look forward to celebrating these important milestones with you in the future.”

Like President Roth, Frantz Williams ’99, vice president for advancement, hoped that the trajectory of the pandemic might be such that reunions could happen. But under current conditions, the University decided that gathering a large group of alumni, guests, students, faculty and staff in May would pose too large a risk to the health and safety of the community and beyond.

“We are keenly aware that many classes have been actively preparing for and anticipating their reunions and can assure you that we are working on alternate plans for in-person celebrations at a later date,” Williams wrote. “In the meantime, some classes have already been taking advantage of technology to gather remotely, and this spring Wesleyan will encourage and support more of these gatherings. In addition, we will find other new ways to come together at a time when we are physically separated but eager for connection.”

Wesleyan staff are currently reviewing a variety of options for the postponed ceremonies, and actively seeking input from both students and alumni on their preferences and recommendations for both. The University expects to finalize these plans in the coming weeks and in accordance with official local, state, federal and health officials’ guidance about the pandemic’s trajectory, and will be in touch with the Wesleyan community as soon as possible with updates.

Wesleyan Labs Create, Donate Face Shields to Local Hospital

visor

Shawn Lopez, Wesleyan’s IDEAS Lab coordinator, models a face shield he created using the lab’s 3D printer. Lopez spearheaded the mask production at Wesleyan two weeks ago and has already donated 100 to Middlesex Hospital.

To help medical personnel safeguard themselves during the coronavirus outbreak, two makerspace labs on campus are manufacturing much-needed protective masks using 3D printers.

On April 1, Wesleyan donated its first set of 100 face shields to medical personnel at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, and others to Wesleyan staff who must work on campus to support the remaining students. The mask, which offers a barrier from the spray of liquids, can be used with or without additional medical masks that cover the nose and mouth.

visors

The face visor frames are printed on 3D printers, and the plastic shield locks onto the small nubs. The completed product protects the entire face.

“Our 3D printers have been running at full speed,” said Francis Starr, professor of physics and IDEAS (Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences) program coordinator.

Shawn Lopez, the IDEAS Lab coordinator, initiated the project at Wesleyan after “weighing the potential benefits (vast) against the potential harm (nonexistent).”

“Designs for hand-sewn masks and 3D-printed visors were making the rounds on makerspace blogs and websites. It was clear that we could jump in and make a difference here at Wesleyan,” Lopez said. “As the coordinator of the lab, I understood that it was within my purview to undertake a project of this nature.”

Aalgaard: COVID-Related Incidents Part of a Long “Historical Arc of Anti-Asian Racism”

Scott Aalgaard

Scott Aalgaard

Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Scott Aalgaard studies modern and contemporary Japan, including the experiences of Japanese-Americans during World War II, when approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps. We spoke to him about the echoes of that history in the surge in racist incidents against Asian-Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Aalgaard, as we think about the increase in racist acts against people of Asian descent in the United States today, can you please offer a brief history of racism faced by Asian-Americans?

The first thing that I want to argue is that we can’t understand either the Japanese internment during the Pacific War or the present crisis with racism surrounding the coronavirus as exceptions. Racism is very much the norm instead of the exception in this country and others. It’s also critical to understand that racism isn’t just about vilifying the other, it’s about solidifying a sense of a pure self. In the North American context, that sense of self is understood as white. This is an argument that Ta-Nehisi Coates makes in his writings about how the construct of whiteness itself was created by positively contrasting it against blackness at the time of slavery.

Cohan: Human Behavior Affects Virus Evolution

Frederick Cohan

Frederick Cohan

Frederick Cohan, the Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, professor of biology, is a microbial ecologist whose course “Global Change and Infectious Disease” examines how human disturbance of the environment contributes to infectious disease outbreaks. He also researches the origins of diversity among both bacteria and viruses.

In early February, as the novel coronavirus was beginning to spread, Cohan wrote an article in The Conversation, co-authored with PhD candidate Kathleen Sagarin and Kelly Mei ’20, titled, “A Clue to Stopping Coronavirus: Knowing How Viruses Adapt From Animals to Humans.”

Cohan also was interviewed recently by The Wesleyan Argus about the biology of the coronavirus.

You teach a course on Global Change and Infectious Disease, which looks at how human disturbance of the environment can contribute to infectious disease outbreaks like the one we’re now living through. Can you give us a brief introduction to the course?

I teach this course every year or two, and there are usually over 170 students enrolled. I’m also in the middle of writing a book based on the course content. We talk about five categories of environmental disturbance that humans are creating or have created in the past that bring new diseases to us or exacerbate existing ones. The categories are: demand for food (hunting and agriculture), demand for land (living at high density), demand for travel, demand for energy, and demand for health care (including antibiotics).

Startup Led by Dhanda ’95 Developing COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests

Rahul Dhanda

Rahul Dhanda ’95

A lack of fast, reliable diagnostic testing has played a major role in the rapid proliferation of cases of COVID-19. Rahul Dhanda ’95 and his team at Sherlock Biosciences are working furiously to change that, potentially shortening the testing’s time horizon to a matter of minutes.

Dhanda is co-founder, CEO, and president of the engineering biology startup based in Cambridge, Mass., which is creating two different diagnostic tests for COVID-19—one rooted in CRISPR technology, the other in synthetic biology. The hope is that the tests can be released during the course of the current pandemic, Dhanda said, each with its own different applications and utility.

A history major who also took premed classes at Wesleyan, Dhanda earned his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before forging a successful career in the biotech field, with a specialty in diagnostics.

McGuire Studies the Relationship Between Democracy and Public Health

James McGuire

Professor of Government James McGuire is a political scientist with expertise in the association between democracy and public health.

You study the relationship between democracy and population health. Does the literature find that democracy is good for population health?

As a political scientist I’ve long been interested in democracy, and especially in its possible impact on other aspects of well-being. Many other political scientists have studied democracy’s impact on economic growth and income inequality. My interest has been in democracy’s impact on the risk of early death, and particularly on child mortality in developing countries. For Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, whose capabilities approach I endorse, the end of human development is to enable each of us to lead a thoughtfully chosen life. To live the life one has reason to choose, however, one has to be alive.

For my forthcoming book Democracy and Population Health, I reviewed more than 200 quantitative studies of the association between the two phenomena. On balance, these studies find that democracy is usually, but not invariably, beneficial for population health. One can certainly dredge up examples of authoritarian countries that have done well. China, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba have reduced infant mortality quite steeply over the past 30 years, but for every such case there is a North Korea, Venezuela, or Zimbabwe—authoritarian countries where infant mortality has declined only at a glacial pace.

Dubar: Psychological Well-Being and Sleep Health in Troubling Times

Royette Dubar

Royette Dubar

Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Dubar leads the Sleep & Psychosocial Adjustment Lab at Wesleyan. She’s a developmental psychologist who studies the links between sleep and a range of indices, including emotional well-being, academic performance, quality of interpersonal relationships, and technology use, in adolescents and emerging adults. She has just launched a new study on the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among adolescents and the challenges that come with it, especially for college seniors.

Your research focuses on sleep and psychosocial well-being among young people ages 15 to 29 years old. The pandemic and near-global shutdown has been extremely disruptive to everyday life, and many college students are struggling with needing to abruptly leave their campus homes and transition to distance learning. How do you anticipate this will affect them?

While at this point, I think many students have come to understand the motivations for suspending in-person classes, the move to distance learning has, undoubtedly, been generally upsetting and stressful for students. One of the factors that leads to stress is not being able to control what’s going on. At Wesleyan, as at numerous other colleges and universities, students did not have much time to process the switch to online learning and it was not a decision they could control.

Roth, Whaley, McLarney Host Video Forum for Students Remaining on Campus

Spring semester courses resumed on March 23 after the two-week spring break. Faculty contacted students in each of their classes to update them on how the classes would continue to meet. In many cases, classes will continue to meet via Zoom and Moodle, regardless of students' physical locations.

A student works in Usdan University Center on March 23. Approximately 300 students are staying on campus during the coronavirus pandemic. All students are completing their classes remotely due to concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), regardless of their physical locations. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

remote

Another student works inside Usdan University Center on March 23.

On Sunday evening, President Michael S. Roth ’78, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley, and Medical Director Tom McLarney invited the approximately 300 students who will be remaining on Wesleyan’s campus for the spring semester to participate in a video forum hosted by the University’s virtual Zoom platform. The event was aimed at communicating important information about on-campus resources during the remainder of the semester and answering participants’ questions.

Although the University has temporarily transitioned to distance learning in efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, students who are housing-insecure, who were unable to return to their homes, or who had extenuating circumstances were allowed to petition to continue to live on campus in Middletown.

“It’s a crazy moment at Wesleyan and around the world,” Roth said during the video forum. “There’s a lot we don’t know about what will happen in this country and around the world over the next several weeks. We do know that the best way to defeat this virus is to prevent it from passing from one person to another.”

Roth, McLarney, and Whaley stressed the importance of practicing the best advice of medical professionals for combatting the virus’s spread: washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, using hand sanitizer when necessary, and, most importantly, maintaining a physical distance from others.

“Whether you’re sitting on Foss Hill…or exercising outside, maintaining a physical distance from one another is really important over these next few weeks,” Roth said.

Spring semester courses resumed on March 23 after the two-week spring break. Faculty contacted students in each of their classes to update them on how the classes would continue to meet. In many cases, classes will continue to meet via Zoom and Moodle, regardless of students’ physical locations. Classes are “not going to be the same [as they had been when held in person], but we’re going to do our best,” Roth said. “The faculty is taking this very seriously.”

Wesleyan Resource Center Collecting Donations for Pantry

resource center

The Wesleyan Resource Center has set up a temporary pantry, which is open to any student in need. The pantry will be open for the duration of the spring semester.

The Wesleyan Resource Center is collecting food and other items to support low-income and food-insecure students who continue to reside on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center will be open seven days a week. Items can be dropped off or picked up between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Suggested donations include:

  • Pasta kits (microwaveable mac and cheese, rice meals, ramen, etc.)
  • Canned food with pull tabs (vegetables, beans, pasta, etc.)
  • Food in sealed individual serving cups (applesauce, vegetables, fruits)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, body wash, soap, mouthwash, tissues)
  • Cleaning supplies (disinfecting products, paper towels, dish soap, sponges)
  • Candy, chips, snacks
  • Kitchenware (pots and pans, cookware, cooking utensils, cups)

For those who would like to donate and are sheltering in place or residing off campus, products can be purchased online and delivered to the Resource Center at 167 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

For more information, contact Demetrius Colvin, director of the Resource Center.

Shusterman Offers Advice for Families on Transitioning to Homeschooling

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben

Anna Shusterman with her sons Max and Reuben.

Anna Shusterman, associate professor of psychology and co-coordinator of education studies, studies learning and conceptual development in children. In this Q&A, we asked her for advice for families on transitioning children to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Q: How should parents talk to kids about what’s happening in the world and why their daily lives look so different?

A: Full disclosure: I am not a clinician. However, as a parent and a research psychologist, I think it’s important for parents to validate their children’s emotions rather than dismissing them or telling them they are being silly. It’s also important that we’re not running around in a state of panic, as this can be too unsettling for kids. Children feel our stress and they need real social connection, so some time should be made for sitting together, talking, and reading books, when parents put their phones away, too. NPR’s Life Kit has good advice on talking to kids about scary current events.

No matter what else is happening, young children need human connection—board games, talking, working together on a project, cooking, anything together, the more child-led the better. Here’s a good commonsense report on the topic.

Q: What is your advice for parents on helping kids transition to distance learning?

A: Try to set up a gentle routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, chores, exercise, creativity, academics, regular meals, and sleep. By age 5 or 6, children can be a part of the conversation to create this schedule.

Grossman on Mitigating the Economic Fallout from the Coronavirus

Grossman

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, is an expert in economic history as well as current policy issues in macroeconomics, banking, and finance. In this Q&A, we asked him about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and how the government is responding in efforts to mitigate the damage.

Q: We’ve all seen the headlines about a coronavirus-induced recession. What is the current state of the economy, and what do you predict we’ll see over the coming months?

A: Prior to the virus outbreak, the American economy was doing well by conventional standards. The unemployment rate was 3.5% in March, down from a peak of 10% around a decade ago. According to the government’s most recent estimate (released on Feb. 27), real gross domestic product grew by 2.3% in 2019. Not stellar, but high relative to other developed economies. It is going to get substantially worse quite soon.