Cynthia Rockwell

“Your Pillow”: Starbucks Selects Single by Rhodes ’90

J.R. Rhodes ’90 has a new album coming out Nov. 3, and a single from it has already been picked up for play in Starbucks. (Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis)

Next time you’re seeking a caffeine fix in Starbucks, keep your ears open for a song by J.R. Rhodes ’90. Hers is a haunting alto voice—with a throatiness and rich, emotional depth reminiscent of Joan Armatrading—and the song, in a minor key, “Your Pillow,” was the first single released from her album I Am, due out Nov. 3.

A music major at Wesleyan and a singer/songwriter since then, Rhodes had released three albums previously: Elixir (2011), Afriqueen Stare (2003) and Songs of Angels (1999).

The high-profile single placement, however, is something entirely new.

“A career in music can definitely be a winding road,” she says. “You have your days when you want to give up. And then you get a little help. And sometimes—you get a lot of help.”

Rankine Hon. ’17 Addresses First-Year Students on ‘Citizen’

Claudia Rankine Hon. ’17 addressed the Wesleyan Class of 2021 in Memorial Chapel on Sept. 1, discussing her book, Citizen: An American Lyric, as part of Wesleyan’s First Year Matters program.

For this year’s First Year Matters program, incoming new students read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric during the summer before their arrival on campus.

Rankine, a noted poet and author, had been on campus for Commencement 2017, when she received an honorary degree and addressed the graduating class.

On Sept. 1, Rankine was back at Wesleyan to address the Class of 2021, offering insights into the development of the book. She also entered into a discussion with first-year students, taking questions from the audience, who gave her snaps of approval throughout her talk and a standing ovation at the end.

Kevin Butler, assistant dean of students, who spearheaded this year’s program, noted that the selection committee had chosen Citizen for a number of reasons.

“It is extremely powerful and has thought-provoking passages,” he said. “We thought we could engage both the first-year students and the community at large in some really in-depth conversations on microaggressions, equality and fairness.

“There are very few speakers I’ve seen who have the certain style, voice quality and tone that is engaging and comfortable—even when the questions and answers are difficult,” he added.

Shasha Seminar 2017 Convenes Experts on Gun Legislation Debate, Paths Forward, Oct. 27-28

Guns in American Society, this year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, will be held on campus on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27-28. Made possible by a generous grant from the Shasha family, the 16th annual event will convene experts, including Wesleyan faculty and administrators, as well as alumni from across the country, to examine current debates about the role of guns in American society and discuss ways of reducing the national incidence of gun violence.

According to seminar organizer Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and science in society and researcher in the history of technology, law and culture, guns are a topic of concern not just for those advocating for gun control but also for gun rights advocates, who see the issue as a question of personal liberty. The debate, she notes, is now moving onto college campuses, with the recent passage of legislation allowing guns on campus in 10 states. Additionally, 16 more states are considering such legislation.

Ligon ’82 Discusses Creative Practices, Race, at Wadsworth Atheneum

Glenn Ligon ’82 in front of his piece, White #15, on exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum. (Photo by Cynthia Rockwell)

In a program jointly sponsored by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, artist Glenn Ligon ’82 joined Dean and Professor of Art History at Northwestern University Huey Copeland for a discussion on Sept. 13 at the Atheneum in Hartford. The two, who noted their longstanding friendship as they began their onstage discussion, explored Ligon’s creative practices and Copeland’s research on the ways African American artists have addressed race in the history of American art.

Prior to the conversation, attendees were invited to view the Atheneum’s permanent installation of post-2000 contemporary art in the Hilles Gallery. Ligon’s piece, White #15 (1994, paintstick on linen and wood), is on exhibit there. Ligon had been featured at the Athenaeum in MATRIX 120, the 1992 exhibit in an ongoing and changing series of contemporary art exhibitions, initially funded 1974, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The conversation between Ligon and Copeland explored Ligon’s work, including the installation, To Disembark (1993), and that of other contemporary artists, including Cameron Rowland ’11—as well as the museums charged with illustrating the history of African Americans, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture—in the context of current events.

Staff Spotlight: Borman Planting Trees for Wesleyan’s Next Century

Grounds Manager Rob Borman notes that the trees he and his team plant will shape the campus for decades to come.

In this Q&A, we speak with Rob Borman, grounds manager for Physical Plant.

“The trees we are planting this year are creating the face of Wesleyan 100 years from now,” Borman says. Offering a guided tour of the central campus, he noted recent plantings, the decision process behind those choices, and the history of what felled any previous trees on those spots.

He also focused on present details, taking note of the health of the foliage—color and thickness—as well as any recent stressors, like extreme weather or insect-related events, which may be affecting these future giants of Wesleyan.

Q: When did you become the grounds manager?

A: I became the grounds manager in October 2014. Prior to this, I was in facilities maintenance, focusing solely on athletics, including event preparation and set-up. However, I’d been forming my impressions of the entire campus, even then.

Q: What was first on your list?

When the Stars Align: Stanley’s Most Challenging Quilt

Tracey Stanley completed her most challenging project so far, “Amazon Star,” a quilt pattern by Judy Neimeyer and made for her cousin in the colors of the Barbados flag. It also became a memorial to her son, who would have turned 30 this year.

What might be most obvious about Tracey Stanley, an administrative assistant in the registrar’s office for 10 years (out of a 20-year total at Wesleyan), is that she is the on-campus go-to “mom” for many students—those she supervises in her office, those who appear at the registrar’s window looking lost, and those she mentors through AFCA, the Administrators and Faculty of Color Association, for which she has served as co-chair.

Warm, outspoken, determined and with a strong protective instinct, Stanley also is a union steward.

What colleagues might not know is that Stanley is an avid quilter. She began teaching herself the craft the year that her eldest son, Andre, would have turned 16. He was just 8 when he was diagnosed with brain cancer and died only nine months after that. While Stanley is grateful that Andre’s friends have remained in touch, each milestone they share is also a reminder of her own family’s loss.

It was 2003, and as Andre’s friends were celebrating learner’s permits and driver’s licenses—Stanley recalls, “I felt an awful, awful void. I asked myself, what could I do to fill the void? And it was quilting.” With a pattern and yards of brightly colored fabric, Stanley immersed herself in stitching together small pieces to create a design called “Broken Bricks for Broken Hearts.”

That one still sits in her living room. “I wrote on the label on the back that many tears went into this—but this is what I get to look at, to celebrate making it through.”  And her takeaway: “I haven’t stopped since that first quilt,” she says. The other 20 or so have become well-used, well-loved cozy coverings on cold nights for family and friends, including the quilt she made for her daughter, Reba (now a teacher in New Jersey), and the one for her son, Trey (living in Hartford; working in Rocky Hill). Stanley’s sewing room remains her haven, a place to lose herself in her art.

Until last spring, though, she’d made only one quilt on commission,

4 Home Football Games Highlight Community, Athletes, Service, Alumni

The first home football game is Saturday, Sept. 23.

The first home football game is Saturday, Sept. 23.

This year, Wesleyan’s four home football games each offer a highlight to draw fans from near and far to Corwin Stadium on Andrus Field.

The first home game, Saturday, Sept. 23, against Tufts, is a night game — “The second home night game in Wesleyan’s history,” notes Athletic Director Mike Whalen ’83. “I’m thinking of it as our time to focus on Middletown, and we’re reaching out to local high schools. Dario Highsmith ’20, a sophomore running back—an outstanding player—graduated from Middletown High. He’s a former Gatorade High School Player of the Year, and someone to watch.”

On Saturday, Oct. 7, with the Cardinals at home vs. Colby, Whalen notes that the focus will be on celebrating Wesleyan alumni athletes from all decades. This, he adds, is really a particular interest for Head Coach Dan DiCenzo. “We invite alumni to be honorary captains for the game,” says Whalen. “It’s a way to connect the current team with previous players. Our alumni attend practice the night before, have breakfast with the team that morning, and even go on the field for the coin toss to start the game.”

The annual “Salute To Service” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14, when Wesleyan faces Bates. “We’re hoping to get even more veterans—alumni and community members—this year, including, of course, Wesleyan’s Posse cohort. We’ll have bagpipes—and possibly a color guard,” Whalen says.

Nov. 4, the Homecoming/Family Weekend Game, vs. Williams, is the final home football game of the 2017 season—and promises an exciting game, playing out the intense rivalry between the Cardinals and the Ephs. Tailgating on Andrus Field— surrounded by both alumni and families new to the Wesleyan community—is a highlight each year for those who cheer “Go, Wes!”

Documentary by Magruder ’17, DuMont ’17 to be Screened Sept. 18 on Campus

While still undergraduates, Julie Magruder ’17 and Jackson DuMont ’17 began filming The Face of Kinship Care, a documentary highlighting the important role that familial, but non-parental, caregivers provide in the lives of children. The documentary will be will be shown at Wesleyan—as well as more widely—at 8 p.m., Monday, Sept. 18, at the Powell Family Cinema. September, notes Magruder, is Kinship Care Month in a number of states. Through her work on this film, Magruder has become an advocate for highlighting the importance of kinship caregivers in all states.

The project began more than a year ago, when Christine James-Brown, president of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), requested a documentary on the topic. Through the W. T. Grant Foundation, DuMont was put in touch with James-Brown. DuMont knew of Magruder’s particular interest in nonfiction storytelling, and once the idea had been solidified, he reached out to collaborate.

Fins ’82 on Civil Rights for Those With Brain Injuries: NYT Op-Ed

Joseph J. Fins ’82, MD, MACP, is a professor of medical ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury. He is the author of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times calling for deeper consideration of the civil rights for those with traumatic brain injury. (Photo: John Abbott, New York Academy of Medicine)

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, describes the startling case of a young woman thought to be in a vegetative state but later able to communicate through the movement of one eye.

In “Brain Injury and the Civil Right We Don’t Think About,” Fins says that many seemingly vegetative individuals are misdiagnosed and suffer a loss of personhood and civil rights when they do have some conscious awareness and are, in fact, in the minimally conscious state.

Because minimally conscious patients can feel pain while vegetative patients can not, a misdiagnosis of a patient’s brain state can lead to a lack of pain medication administered during a medical procedure, a horrifying possibility. So too, says Fins, is “segregating” these patients in “custodial care” facilities without offering them rehabilitative opportunities to foster their recoveries. He writes:

I use the verb “segregated” deliberately, to invoke a time when separate but equal was the law. In the wake of legal advances like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which call for the integration of people with disabilities into civil society, how is the pervasive segregation of this population justified?

Part of the problem is that when these laws were written, the notion of reintegration was focused on physical mobility … When we restore voice to these patients we bring them back into the room and the conversation.

I often speak to university students brought up in the era of L.G.B.T.Q. rights who can’t understand how my generation did not appreciate that people could love those they chose to love. … I caution against smugness, suggesting that their own children may well ask them how they allowed society to ignore conscious individuals and deprive them of their rights.

Fins, a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury, is the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law at Yale Law School. He spoke on these topics at Wesleyan in 2015 as the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer.  A trustee emeritus of Wesleyan, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university in 2012.

 

In Emerging Economies, Siroya ’04 Gives Credit Where It’s Due

By Jim. H. Smith

Shivani Siroya ’04 (center), CEO and founder of Tala, has assembled other Wesleyan women on her team to change the financial lives of those in developing countries—including Lauren Pruneski ’04 (left), director of global communications and public relations, and Bonnie Oliva-Porter ’04 (right), director of global operations. Also at Tala, but not pictured, is Amy Barth Sommerlatt ’04, expansion strategist.

No one has ever questioned Jenipher’s work ethic. For decades, this 65-year-old Kenyan woman has operated a food stall in the central business district of downtown Nairobi. It has given her the wherewithal to support a family of three sons, and she has paid for the vocational school education of each. She is also the leader of a local group of responsible adults who support each other in their efforts to save money.

Yet despite those facts, Jenipher had no credit rating. Like some 2.5 billion people worldwide, she lacked a financial identity, the very thing that traditional banks evaluate when deciding whether to make loans to consumers. Her capacity to borrow money in order to grow her business and improve her life was virtually nonexistent.

She did have one thing going for her, though. Like more than a billion residents of the planet’s emerging markets, she owned a Smartphone that she regularly used for a wide range of activities, from business management to communications with local friends and associates as well as family in Uganda. Three years ago, one of her adult sons encouraged her to download the “app” of a Los Angeles-based company called Tala, and it changed her life.

Sung ’90 Reflects on Fighting Injustice in New Documentary

Jill Sung ’90, center, with her sister Vera and father, the founder of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, in a still from the new documentary by Steven James, which will air on PBS Frontline Sept. 12. The film chronicles the saga of the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 financial crisis.

On Sept.12 (check local listings), Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline will broadcast Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, a new documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) that tells the story of the only U.S. bank to be criminally charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. That bank is Abacus Federal Savings Bank, located in New York City’s Chinatown and founded in 1984 by Thomas Sung, an immigration lawyer and an immigrant himself, who saw the need for this within the insular community. Sung and his wife are the parents of four daughters—three lawyers and one medical doctor—including two affiliated with the bank: Jill Sung ’90, president and CEO of Abacus, and her elder sister Vera, who sits on the board.

The events that are chronicled were set in motion when the Sungs discovered that one of their loan officers was taking money from borrowers in order to create false loan documents. The Sungs immediately fired him, referred the matter to their regulator, and reported the incident to the police. Yet instead of prosecuting that individual, the district attorney’s office turned their scrutiny on the bank’s officers and employees. In an unprecedented turn of events, 18 Abacus employees were placed under arrest and the press was offered a shocking photo-op: 10 of these employees were “handcuffed to a chain and paraded down the hallway in the Criminal Court building in a staged perp-walk before the national news media like a herd of slaves being led to the auction block,” as Thomas Sung later described that event in his statement to the public after Abacus was found innocent of wrongdoing.

Before that day of vindication, however, the legal proceedings, machinations, and trial sprawled over five long, intense years. James was there to film key moments and conduct interviews, including one with New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who led the prosecution.

Roberts ’77 Makes AdWeek’s ‘Most Powerful Women In Sports’ List

Michele A. Roberts ’77, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, appeared in AdWeek‘s list of its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports.”

Adweek named Michele Roberts ’77, executive director—and first female leader—of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), to its “30 Most Powerful Women in Sports” list, which features outstanding executives, athletes and journalists, among others.

Previously an attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Roberts began her career as a public defender in Washington, D.C. In the June 26 article, Adweek’s Tim Baysinger noted that Roberts would be negotiating across the table from league commissioner Adam Silver when the two worked on a new collective bargaining agreement—and Roberts would be trying to avoid a lockout, something her two predecessors were not able to do. A government major at Wesleyan, Roberts earned her JD from the University of California at Berkeley.

The negotiations now completed, Roberts noted, “The deal we worked out with the league contained a number of favorable provisions for our players, including a 45 percent across-the-board salary increase for those players whose salaries are pre-set. And, no lockout!”

In 2015, Roberts spoke at Wesleyan’s Dwight L. Greene Symposium about her role with the players union and her deep commitment to the men she was representing: “Maybe it is okay for a professional athlete to be as politically apathetic as anyone else; they have the right not to care,” Roberts said. “But when I saw my guys wearing those ‘I can’t breathe’ t-shirts, I could not have been more proud.… We will defend to the death the right of our players to comment on political issues as they see fit as long as they don’t violate any laws.”