Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Class of 2016 Admits Experience Wesleyan at WesFest (Photos and Video below)

During WesFest, held April 12–14 on campus, Class of 2016 admits attend classes, meet with professors, talk with Wesleyan students, and participate in campus events.

Midday on Friday, April 13, Class of 2016 admitted students and their families spread out across a sunny Foss Hill at WesFest, enjoying a barbecue lunch buffet as upbeat music plays in the background. Some, having arrived only hours earlier, are still soaking in the sights and sounds of Wesleyan. Others already have a good feel for the school, having stayed overnight in the dorms with a student host, and sat in on a class or two.

Kai Leshne and his mother have come from San Francisco, Calif., drawn by the excellent academics, and strong soccer and music programs. Kai visited a Portuguese class earlier in the day, and is excited after discussing study abroad opportunities in Brazil with the professor.

“I really, really like it,” he says, summing up his impressions of the school thus far. “There’s just such a friendly atmosphere. Everyone’s really open and extroverted.”

Shravya Raju, visiting with her parents from San Jose, Calif., says she was attracted to Wesleyan because of its strong science program and small size. Compared with the large schools in the University of California system, she feels Wesleyan would give her greater opportunity to interact with professors and engage in hands-on work.

“It’s really pretty,” she says of the campus.

Two Professors Receive Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships

Magda Teter

Magda Teter, Chair of Medieval Studies, Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of history, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, professor of English, have been awarded 2012 fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

According to the Guggenheim Foundation, the prestigious academic honor is presented to scholars “who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” This year, the 87th annual competition recognized 180 scholars, artists and scientists from across the U.S. and Canada. They were selected from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants, range in age from 27 to 84, and represent 62 disciplines and 74 different academic institutions. Through their fellowship projects, they will travel to all parts of the globe.

Teter also was recently awarded a Harry Frank Guggenheim fellowship. Both fellowships will allow her to take a full year sabbatical and support her travel and research expenses to the Vatican and Poland as she works on a new book, The Pope’s Dilemma: Blood Libel and the Boundaries of Papal Power.

The Pope’s Dilemma takes the familiar story of blood libel against Jews to tell a much broader story of religion and politics in Europe, demonstrating that the persistence of the ‘blood libel’ illuminates the reach, and also the limits, of papal authority in coping with local powers – a topic of significant interest even today, in light of the sex abuse scandals,” Teter says.

According to her biography on the Foundation web site, Teter specializes in early modern religious and cultural history, with an emphasis on Jewish-Christian relations in Eastern Europe, the politics of religion, and the transmission of culture among Jews and Christians across Europe in the early modern period. She is the author of Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Sinners on Trial (Harvard University Press, 2011), and a co-editor of and contributor to Social and Cultural Boundaries in Pre-modern Poland (Littman, 2010). She has also published numerous articles in English, Polish and Hebrew. Teter serves on the editorial boards of Polin, the Sixteenth Century Journal, and the AJS Review, and is co-founder and editor of the Early Modern Workshop, an open source site with historical texts and videos of scholars discussing them.

Elizabeth Willis

Willis, who specializes in poetry, is the author of Address (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), which won the PEN New England Winship Award for Poetry. Her other books include Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003), and The Human Abstract (Penguin, 1995), which won the National Poetry Series. Her biography on the Foundation web site notes: “Her most recent projects are investigative in spirit, shifting increasingly toward hybrid genres and explicitly questioning the boundaries of literary representation.” Willis has been awarded fellowships in poetry from the California Arts Council and the Howard Foundation. She has held residencies at Brown University, University of Denver, Naropa University, the MacDowell Colony, and the Centre International de Poésie, Marseille, and was a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Mills College.

With her Guggenheim fellowship, Willis will travel to Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, New York and California to conduct research for a new project. She explains, “I’ll be working on a new project that involves American religious, cultural and political history. It’s a book-length poem, not a history, but along the way it is thinking about theater, film and improvised family structures. I’m interested in what constitutes a sovereign body within America’s evolving concept of itself as a nation. And for me, poetry always brings up interesting questions about representation and voice.”

Willis adds, “I’m thrilled. The fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime honor, and the timing couldn’t be better for me. The work I’m doing now involves a good deal of research and travel, so I’m immensely grateful that I’ll have the chance to focus on it more completely.”

5 Questions With . . . Sarah Croucher on Middletown’s Beman Triangle

Assistant professor Sarah Croucher is leading an archeological dig in the Beman Triangle, located between Vine Street, Cross Street, and Knowles Ave. Local resident Leverett Beman divided the land in 1847, and sold these plots off to other African-American families. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask 5 Questions of Sarah Croucher, assistant professor of anthropology, assistant professor of archaeology, assistant professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies. Croucher will lead an archaeological dig on the site of the Beman Triangle in Middletown on April 28-29. The public is welcome to attend. To view photos of the dig on April 14-15 click here

Q: Professor Croucher, what exactly is the Beman Triangle and what is its significance to the history of Middletown?

A: The Beman Triangle is the land between Vine Street, Cross Street, and Knowles Ave., where homes have existed since the early 19th century. Local historian Liz Warner has shown that something very important happened here in the mid- to late-19th century. Leverett Beman, son of the first Pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in Middletown, had the land divided into plots by a surveyor in 1847, and sold these plots off to other African-American families. This seems to be a deliberately planned community; a way that members of the AME Zion Church could become property owners (something that remains hard for many people today), and live as neighbors in a relatively prosperous community. The Beman Triangle is of national importance as very few African-Americans were able to go through a similar community-building process in the mid-nineteenth century, when they still lacked U.S. citizenship and slavery was still legal in many states. Although the houses might not look like much today, the site is an important testament to the lives of the nineteenth century Beman Triangle community.

Q:  What do we know already about the AME Zion Church community?

A: There has been some wonderful historical research done on the Beman Triangle community by local historians Liz Warner and Janice Cunningham, as well as Wesleyan alumnus Jesse Nasta as part of his thesis. This work has shown us how active the residents were politically, in ways that are traceable through historical documents.

28 Juniors Awarded Davenport Study Grants

The John E. Andrus Center for Public Affairs recently announced its 2012 Davenport Study Grant recipients. Twenty-eight juniors will receive funding to support research and scholarly projects in public affairs, beginning this summer. Grants typically range from $500 to $3,000.

The funds are made available to current sophomores and juniors thanks to a gift from the Surdna Foundation in honor of Frederick Morgan Davenport, Class of 1889, and Edith Jefferson Andrus Davenport, Class of 1897. Recipients are chosen based on “demonstrated intellectual and moral excellence and a concern for public affairs.” They must show promise for leadership in public service through their personal qualities and scholarly and vocational intentions.

This year’s recipients represent majors in the College of Social Studies, History, Sociology, Government, Latin American Studies, Science in Society, American Studies and Anthropology, Religion, Dance, French Studies and Neuroscience & Behavior.

The grant recipients and their project titles are:

Zain Alam ’13, Dreams and Disappointment: India’s Muslims, the Muhajir, and the Making of Pakistan

Dahlia Azran ’13, Memorials of the Holocaust: A Comparative Study of the planning process of Holocaust Memorials in the United States, Israel, Germany and China

Rev. Billy Warns of the Coming “Shop-Ocalypse” in April 23 Lecture

Anti-consumerism activist Reverend Billy stages revival-style “services” in public squares, theaters, art museums and parking lots, seeking to make people and institutions mindful of the consequences of their spending.

On Monday, April 23, Wesleyan will receive a visit from Reverend Billy (Bill Talen), the anti-consumerism activist and performance artist, who has tried to “exorcise” so many Starbucks cash registers, he’s been banned from the coffee shop chain. He will speak at 7 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

Talen is best known as the subject of the 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?, produced by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlok and directed by Sundance Film Festival Award-winner Rob VanAlkemade.

In his performance art, Talen takes on the persona of an evangelical preacher to protest the excesses of corporate commercialism.  He and his choir, “The Church of Stop Shopping,” preach a broad message of economic justice, environmental advocacy, and anti-militarism. He stages revival-style “services” in public squares, theaters, art museums and parking lots, seeking to make people and institutions mindful of the consequences of their spending. Talen also implores audiences to confront abusive labor practices, exploitative resource extraction, the demise of small businesses and the ecological costs of excessive consumerism. He chants things like “change-aluia” and warns of the coming “shop-ocalypse” to try to get his audience to imagine a world free from consumerism.

“Products, logos, and labels have become our gods; the beings for which we will give up everything we have. Shopping malls are our temples and churches,” says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, associate professor of religion, describing Talen’s message. “In the style of a revivalist preacher, he calls his audiences to turn away from their self-destructive investment in false gods and turn back toward ‘reality,’ which is to say to make things rather than buy them; to support small businesses rather than transnational corporations; and to stop the endless, unconscious consumption that’s destroying the earth, our bodies, and our civil life together.”

Rubenstein is teaching Talen’s work in her Introduction to the Study of Religion course, as part of a unit on capitalism and some of its counter-movements as late-modern religious expressions.

The event is sponsored by the Baldwin University Lectures, the Center for the Arts, the Ethics and Society Project, the Office of Institutional Partnerships, the Religion Department, Sociology Department (Hoy Endowment) and Government Department.

Chin ’13 Attends Clinton Global Initiative, Seeks to Make Wesleyan Greener

Shamar Chin ’13

From March 30-April 1, Shamar Chin ’13 joined nearly 1,200 other students at a meeting in Washington, D.C. of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U).

According to the Clinton Global Initiative’s website, CGI U, launched by former President Bill Clinton in 2007, “challenges students and universities to tackle global problems with practical, innovative solutions.” CGI U hosts an annual meeting for students, national youth organizations and university officials to discuss solutions to pressing global issues.

Prior to attending the meeting, each student must develop and submit a Commitment to Action: a specific plan to address an important challenge on his or her campus or in the global community.

For her commitment, Chin is seeking to convert Wesleyan’s lawn mowers to produce fewer environmentally harmful emissions.

“At the meeting, I had the chance to network with many students from across the globe and learn about their commitments,” says Chin. “I had the opportunity to attend working sessions in my area of interest—environment and climate change—where we discussed the importance of campus sustainability and environmental entrepreneurship. The plenary sessions were inspiring and made me realize that failure comes with innovation, but we should embrace it rather than give up.”

Chin is majoring in Earth & Environmental Science and Environmental Studies. “I have always wanted to start a green initiative in my community,” she says. Over winter break this year, her thesis advisor, Suzanne O’Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, associate professor of environmental studies, director of the Service Learning Center, urged her to apply to the Clinton Global Initiative.

O’Connell calls Chin a “self-starter.” She was impressed that Chin, after working with middle school girls at the Green Street Arts Center last summer, had taken the initiative to start her own environmental afterschool program for girls.

Chin is still gathering the necessary approvals for her CGI U commitment, which she has called “Go Green-Go Wes.” She aims to meet her goals before she graduates next spring.

“I firmly believe that global warming is linked to the emission of greenhouse gases, and this was the foundation for my Commitment to Action,” Chin explains. “Wesleyan University has signed the New England Governors/ Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Action Plan, which requires greenhouse gases associated with energy production to be reduced to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. I proposed raising funds to purchase two electric lawn tractors. However, Wesleyan does not own their own lawn equipment, so I have reworked my commitment to raise funds to purchase catalytic converters for our lawn tractors.”

“Participating in this program has been such a blessing and one of the best experiences of my life. I met incredible people, heard amazing ideas and I left feeling very inspired. I am positive that we as students can enact change,” Chin says. She encourages her fellow students to apply to the Clinton Global Initiative in the future.

Djanali ’09, Sheehan-Connor Published in Economic Psychology Journal

Iwan Djanali ’09 and Damien Sheehan-Connor, assistant professor of economics, are the authors of an article, “Tax affinity hypothesis: Do we really hate paying taxes?” published in the Journal of Economic Psychology. The paper resulted from Iwan’s senior thesis at Wesleyan. The article, which was published online in February, will appear in the August 2012 issue of the journal. It can be read online here.

Through an experiment using 66 Wesleyan undergraduate students as subjects, Djanali and Sheehan-Connor found evidence contradicting a well-established economic principle: that people derive no utility from paying income taxes. Standard economic analysis assumes that when people decide how much of their time to dedicate to work versus leisure, they base decisions on the hourly wage rate after taxes. Put another way, raising taxes by a certain amount has the same effect on a worker as lowering his wages by the same amount.

Challenging this thinking, Djanali and Sheehan-Connor decided to test the hypothesis that people do, in fact, derive utility from paying taxes because of their “pro-social tendencies.” They found statistically significant evidence that, at the same net wage rate, subjects worked more in the presence of a tax than its absence. In addition, they found that the impact of wage changes on the amount subjects worked depended not only on after-tax net wage rate, but also on the tax rate. These findings have important implications for tax policy and economic analysis.

Adelstein Author of The Rise of Planning in Industrial America

Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, is the author of The Rise of Planning in Industrial America, 1865-1914, published by Routledge in March 2012.

In the book, Adelstein explores the remarkable transformation undergone by business in the U.S. over the half-century following the Civil War—from small sole proprietorships and proprietorships to massive corporations possessing many of the same constitutional rights as living men and women. Approaching this story through historical, philosophical, legal and economic lenses, Adelstein presents an original, three-pronged theory of the rise of business firms.

He traces the big business boom to three historic developments: a major managerial achievement within the firms themselves; a ill-conceived and ill-timed attempt by legislators to rein in rapidly expanding firms; and the Supreme Court’s understated—but immensely consequential—decision granting constitutional rights to corporations separate from those of their owners. Read more about the book in this March 26, 2012 Wesleyan Connection story.

Singer, Farkas, Skorik Published in American Naturalist

Mike Singer, associate professor of biology; Tim Farkas ’08, MA ’10 and Christian Skorik ’09, MA ’10 are the authors of “Tritrophic Interactions at a Community Level: Effects of Host Plant Species Quality on Bird Predation of Caterpillars,” published in the March issue of The American Naturalist. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine also contributed to the report.

Researchers report that a tree is not a tree is not a tree when it comes to birds foraging for tree-feeding caterpillars. With help from a small army of students, the scientists ran a field experiment in Connecticut forests over two years, involving hundreds of tree branches either bagged with garden variety, bird-proof netting or left open to foraging birds. They found that disparities in caterpillar growth between different tree species, such as black cherry and American beech, changed a caterpillar’s risk of becoming bird food. On balance, nutritious trees like black cherry can increase a caterpillar’s risk of being taken by foraging birds by 90%. This neat pest-control system works because the most nutritious tree species harbor the greatest numbers of caterpillars, offering up the easiest pickings for birds. For tree-feeding caterpillars, however, no tree is completely safe. Even without the risk of being in a crowd, nutritionally poor trees like American beech can slow down a caterpillar’s growth and prolong its exposure to bird predation.

Read more about the study in this past Wesleyan Connection article.

Wesleyan Leads Local Archaeological Dig

The Hartford Courant featured an archaeological dig of the “Beman Triangle” site by Sarah Croucher, assistant professor of anthropology, assistant professor of archaeology, assistant professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Wesleyan students and community volunteers. The archaeologists hope to uncover household items that paint a picture of the day-to-day lives of the black families who owned property on the site–bordered by Vine Street, Cross Street and Knowles Ave.–in the mid-19th century.

Siry on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Only Synagogue

In an interview with the Tel Aviv newspaper, Haaretz, Professor of Art History Joseph Siry discusses his new book on Beth Sholom Synagogue, the only temple by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Siry describes the synagogue, located outside Philadelphia, as the climax of Wright’s lifelong work designing modern religious architecture. “Wright was conscious of the fact that he was nearing the end of his life, and it was vital to him to bring to fruition architectural ideas he considered essential,” Siry tells Haaretz. Siry and his book were also featured in a recent story in The Wesleyan Connection.

Adelstein Explores the History of Corporate Power in New Book

Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, presents an original theory of the rise of business firms in his new book.

The influence and power wielded by large corporations in our country has never been more pronounced than it is today. But how did we get here? In a new book published this month (March 27), Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics Richard Adelstein explores the remarkable transformation undergone by business in the U.S. over the half-century following the Civil War—from small sole proprietorships and partnerships to massive corporations possessing many of the same constitutional rights as living men and women. Approaching this story through historical, philosophical, legal and economic lenses, Adelstein presents an original, three-pronged theory of the rise of business firms.

In The Rise of Planning in Industrial America, 1865-1914 (Routledge), Adelstein traces the big business boom to three historic developments: a major managerial achievement within the firms themselves; an ill-conceived and ill-timed attempt by legislators to rein in rapidly expanding firms; and the Supreme Court’s understated—but immensely consequential—decision granting constitutional rights to corporations separate from those of their owners.

The first of the three developments refers to the unprecedented emergence following the Civil War of industrial giants demonstrating successful, consensual central planning at a large scale. For the first time in history, thousands of men and women were organized to work toward large-scale production for the common goal of profit maximization. Previously, only military generals and a few slave masters had succeeded in purposefully coordinating the efforts and interactions of hundreds or thousands of individuals toward a single purpose.

In the 1880s, as the efficiencies brought by large-scale production drove down prices, firms in dozens of industries organized in trade associations, cartels and trusts to keep prices up, output down and marketing territories protected. An anti-monopoly campaign was initiated, but by the time the federal Sherman Act was enacted in 1890, many of the trusts and cartels had already collapsed under their own weight, releasing their small member firms back into the competitive sea. Some of these firms continued to grow much larger by acquiring suppliers and distributors to ensure a steady flow of materials in and product out of their enormous facilities. Consequently, the Sherman Act was of little use in a fight against bigness, which Adelstein argues was the more important problem posed by the great firms, and which only began to become clear to Americans after 1890.