In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Wesleyan in the News
1. Marketplace Tech: “Twitter Bans Political Ads, But Is That All Good?”
Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, is interviewed about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that the platform would no longer run political ads. Fowler says implementing this ban is likely to be more complicated than it sounds, and she is skeptical that it will help to reduce the impact of disinformation and improve political discourse. Fowler was also interviewed on Marketplace Morning Report and quoted in Quartz on the ban.
2. NPR’s Throughline: “Zombies”
On Halloween, NPR’s Throughline podcast interviewed Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister as part of a deep dive into the history of zombies. Now a global phenomenon in pop culture, the idea of zombies originated in Haiti, back when it was a French colony called Saint-Domingue and many enslaved Africans were worked to death on plantations. The Haitian people ultimately rose up in revolution and defeated their colonizers. But after the revolution, many Haitians were forced back onto plantations when the French demanded reparations in exchange for recognizing their independence. “I think that the figure of the zombie is a reminder that slavery happened to people, that they freed themselves from it, that it still happens in a kind of an afterlife, and it echoes in social practices,” said McAlister. An abbreviated version of the story also aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.
3. Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live: “Acknowledging Middletown’s Ties to Slavery”
Demetrius Eudell, professor of history and dean of the social sciences, and Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies, were interviewed for a program examining the history of slavery in Middletown, Conn. The city was recently designated a site of memory by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as part of the international project “The Slave Route: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.”
4. American Psychological Association Monitor: “Changing the World From the Classroom”
The November issue of the American Psychological Association’s magazine features Professor of Psychology Scott Plous’s work on “action teaching,” or project-, community-, or classroom-based activities that aim to effect social change while educating students. Action teaching can be used at all levels and types of education, and Plous maintains a website, actionteaching.org, that contains an ever-growing list of sample activities, student assignments, and free resources. Read more about Plous and action teaching in this Wesleyan magazine article.
Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita, special advisor to the president, is interviewed about her new book, The Movie Musical!, published by Knopf on Nov. 5. She talks about why the movie musical blossomed in the United States, how her students have reacted to movie musicals over the decades, and her enthusiasm for the High School Musical franchise.
6. WNYC’s The Takeaway: “Panel Decides Some Chimps Won’t Be Moved to Sanctuary”
William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen talks about a recent decision not to move all chimps retired from research facilities to sanctuaries. She is among animal advocates who are concerned about what keeping chimps in labs could mean for their well-being.
7. Research Outreach: “Climate Change: 40 Years on the Front Lines of the Climate Change Wars”
Research Outreach profiles Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, and his influential work over the past four decades on climate change risk management, adaptation, mitigation, detection, and attribution. Reflecting on his long career, Yohe says, “William Nordhaus’s invitation to participate in an early National Academy of Sciences report on Changing Climate changed my life. It opened my eyes to an enormous frontier of unexplored but fundamentally critical questions that were ripe for exploration from a rigorous economic perspective. Nobody in the early 1980s knew what those questions might be.”
8. Hebrew Union College’s College Commons: “Michael S. Roth: ‘Safe’ Spaces?”
President Michael S. Roth ’78 discusses the place of religious faith in education, sharing some of his personal experiences from the classroom and beyond. He also speaks about the notion of “safe enough spaces” on college campuses as described in his recent book of the same name.
9. WSHU Public Radio: “Hat City, USA!”
Johan Varekamp, professor of earth and environmental sciences, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, discusses the dark underbelly of Danbury, Connecticut’s booming hatting industry in the 19th century: devastating mercury poisoning suffered by factory workers. “There are a whole range of medical observations that are typical for mercury exposure. And the hatmakers in Danbury had ’em all, and so it was known as the Danbury shakes,” Varekamp said. In 2002, he studied a river into which workers would dump the dirty water from the hatmaking process, and found levels of mercury higher than anywhere else in the state. “Of course, [those] 150 years of hatmaking have left a legacy of polluted uplands and soils and yards in Danbury that is pretty amazing,” he said.
Alumni in the News:
NPR’S Steve Inskeep talks to Nicholas Rasmussen ’87, ex-director of the National Counterterrorism Center, about the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (See also “Threat Assessments,” the 2017 Wesleyan magazine article by Gabriel Popkin ’03 on Rasmussen.)
2. The Atlantic: “The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump”
Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, recounts the history of his musicals, placing them in the current political climate. He writes: “My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story … ” He details the shift in the narrative after college, when it became a story focused on a community undergoing gentrification. He noted: “[I]f we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them.”
“Serving from 1986 to 1990, Mr. Baliles (his slogan was ‘Baliles. The name rhymes with smiles’) was seen as one in a tide of ambitious, moderate governors who rose to prominence in the 1980s, among them Bill Clinton in Arkansas and Thomas H. Kean in New Jersey. The New York Times called Mr. Baliles ‘a tough, intelligent, shrewd politician and manager with an intellectual bent.’”
4. University of Arkansas News: “Pryor Center Presents Kevin Strait [’97]: ‘Curating African American History and Culture’”
Kevin Strait, museum curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, “began working in 2010 in the Office of Curatorial Affairs on the research, development and acquisition of objects for several of the museum’s permanent exhibitions including the interpretive spaces of the Sweet Home Café, Musical Crossroads and the Power of Place. Strait oversees collections related to segregation, 20th century political and social history and popular culture.”
5. Vineyard Gazette: “Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds Is a Successful Combo”
“For as long as he can remember, Dan Wolf [’79] has been a tinkerer — a fidgeter, a fixer and a figure-outer, happy to futz with anything he could get his hands on. When he was young, it was gas-powered model planes, connected to his fingers with a string as they puttered through the air. His dream was to fly one.” A former state senator, Wolf is CEO of Cape Air.
“Here are five things you might not know about the maker behind one of the most iconic Halloween treats. Smarties is currently led by Dee’s granddaughters: sisters Liz Dee ’06 and Jessica Dee Sawyer, and their cousin Sarah Dee. In an interview with Inc., the three co-presidents say it wasn’t clear they would all go into the family business.”
7. Women and Hollywood: “DOC NYC 2019 Women Directors: Meet Martha Shane [’05] – Narrowsburg”
In a Q&A with Martha Shane ’05, writer Sophie Willard asks probing questions, beginning with a description of the film in Shane’s own words (a “darkly comic story of a French film producer and her mafioso-turned-actor husband”), and including what inspired her to take up filmmaking, advice for other female directors, and her thoughts on the industry since the launching of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.