Alumni

Alumni news.

Former Virginia Governor Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, Remembered

Gerald Baliles ’63, Hon. ’88, who had served as the 65th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 79.

A government major at Wesleyan, he earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. After a stint in the Virginia attorney general’s office, he practiced law in Richmond, with a focus on energy and environmental issues. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1976, he became the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1981, and was, during his term, selected by his peers as Outstanding Attorney General of the United States.

Elected governor in 1985, he served in that capacity from 1986 through 1991. An obituary in the Richmond Times Post noted that as governor, “[h]e delivered on his promise to make transportation an economic building block, with new roads and improvements to the port and airports in Virginia. He saw education as the key to economic development, raising teachers’ salaries and fully funding school budgets. . . . His continuing leadership was recognized by the National Governors Association when he was elected as its chairman during his term.”

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn 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. The Washington Post: “How One College Is Helping Students Get Engaged in Elections—and, No, It’s Not Political”

President Michael Roth writes about Wesleyan’s initiative to engage students meaningfully in work in the public sphere ahead of the 2020 elections, and calls on other colleges and universities to do the same. He writes: “Now is the time for higher education leaders to commit their institutions to find their own paths for promoting student involvement in the 2020 elections. This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational benefit that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship; participants will gain organizational skills, learn to engage productively with others with whom they disagree and learn about themselves.”

2. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: “Nicole Stanton Will Be the Next Provost at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut”

Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will begin her new role as Wesleyan’s 12th provost and vice president for academic affairs on May 15. She joined Wesleyan in 2007 as associate professor of dance, and currently serves as dean of the Arts and Humanities.

Shasha ’50, P’82, Founder of Human Concerns Seminar, Is Remembered

James Shasha, the businessman and benefactor who founded and endowed the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan, died Oct. 21. He was 91.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1929, he emigrated to the United States when he was 15 and later attended Wesleyan, graduating in 1950 with a major in economics. In 1955 he moved to Argentina, where he pursued his business interests in the wool and carpet industries, serving as the country’s delegate to the International Wool and Textile organization. Later, at 73, he decided to delve into the hotel business without previous experience in this industry. He acquired four hotels: three in Argentina and one in Uruguay.

Always interested in education and the qualities of citizenship, he told Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution with which he was also affiliated: “After World War II there was a lot of idealism about how to build a better world and that was what made me understand and incorporate what a citizen’s responsibility should be: take responsibility for the environment, be it the community, the country, or culture in which it participates.”

He developed the Shasha Seminars first at the Hebrew University and then imported them to Wesleyan.

Paintings by Schechter ’17 on Exhibit in NYC

Sarah Schechter, Walrus at Night, 2019, oil and mixed media on canvas, 36" x 48"

Sarah Schechter, Walrus at Night, 2019, oil and mixed media on canvas, 36″ x 48″

Sarah Schechter ’17 is exhibiting her first solo show, “Kasual Bagel,” at the Shrine Gallery in New York City. Her paintings will be on display through Jan. 5.

Shrine is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and is located at 179 East Broadway.

Schechter, who majored in history at Wesleyan, lives and works in Harlem, and is completing an art education certification program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Gaby Giangola ’17 Is Goth Girlfriend

Along with other musicians around the world this week, Goth Girlfriend (Gaby Giangola ’17) posted her “2019 Spotify Wrapped” overview to Instagram. Accompanied by the caption “gotta start somewhere, eh?,” the photo summarizes the number of streams and listeners who tuned in to Goth Girlfriend’s music on the streaming service this year. The caption encapsulates Goth Girlfriend’s tireless ambition.

Two years after graduation, Gaby Giangola ’17 aka Goth Girlfriend, is pursuing a career in music. (Photo by Blaise Bayno)

The up-and-coming artist’s music is self-described as banshee rap or alternative rock; her sound is raw and meticulous at the same time. The five tracks on her recent EP, Sex Sprain, mix guitar chords and hip-hop beats with punk vocals, and touch on themes of isolation, mental illness, sexism, and the hedonism of a “sympathetic nervous system surging for kicks.” By night, Goth Girlfriend is a singer-songwriter, bassist, and DJ. By day, she is Gaby Giangola, an administrative assistant at an entertainment law firm in New York City. This dichotomous identity defines not only her working week, but her artistic expression as well.

Greenhouse ’73, P’08 Lectures on the Past and Future of American Labor

Greenhouse lectures in the COL library

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08 discussed his book, Beaten Down, Worked Up, in the College of Letters Library. (Photo by Simon Duan ’23)

Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, spoke in the College of Letters Library  on October 29 to a group that included Professor of History Ron Schatz’s class on American Labor History on Oct. 29, in the College Of Letters Library. His topic was “White Collar, Blue Collar and Gig Workers: What is the Future of American Labor?” The lecture was sponsored by the History Department and the College of Letters.

Greenhouse is a former New York Times labor reporter, and a review by Zephyr Teachout of Greenhouse’s book appeared in the paper on Oct. 3. Teachout called Greenhouse’s book an “engrossing, character-driven, panoramic new book on the past and present of worker organizing.” Teachout wrote: “There’s an enormous upheaval in the American workplace right now, and those who tell you they know how the next decade will pan out—for good or ill—don’t know their history. That’s one of the main lessons of Beaten Down, Worked Up … ”

Speaking to those gathered in the COL library, Greenhouse provided some of that history, drawing parallels between a piecework laborer in New York City’s garment district in the late 1800s to 20-something freelance workers putting in long hours hunched over their computers at home in today’s gig economy. He notes that some Uber drivers used to make more money per hour until upper management halved their pay rate, making it nearly impossible to support one’s family, even working 60 hours a week. He observed that Kickstarter, supposedly a labor-friendly organization, fired three out of eight people who were on a unionization committee. He further noted that Amazon now employs often inexperienced independent contractors as delivery drivers who have been involved in a number of serious auto accidents.

Alumni Speak with Students about Careers in Public Policy, Criminal Justice Reform

: James, Sarah, Nina, Aaron, Lexi

James Jeter ’16, Sarah Cassel ’13, Nina Stender ’16, Aaron Stagoff-Belfort ’18, and Lexi Jones ’17 spoke with students about careers in public policy and criminal justice reform. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

More than 50 students attended an alumni conversation on “Careers in Public Policy and Criminal Justice Reform” Nov. 13 at the Gordon Career Center.

Each of the panelists: Sarah Cassel ’13, James Jeter (who earned his degree in 2016 while incarcerated through Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education), Lexi Jones ’17, Aaron Stagoff-Belfort ’18, and Nina Stender ’16 are working in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, analyzing and impacting policies dealing with inhumane jail conditions, policing, housing inequality, and issues around incarceration.

Stagoff-Belfort and Jim Kubat, associate director for job and internship development at the Gordon Career Center teamed up to assemble this dynamic panel as part of the career center’s ongoing mission to support students as they transition into the world of work.

“Three things are true,” Kubat explained. “1. There is a broad effort underway by a variety of governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations to reform our criminal justice system through shaping and changing public policy; 2. A Wesleyan education is excellent preparation for public policy work; and 3. Wesleyan alumni are demonstrating points 1 and 2 every day.”

For some students, starting a career in policy work can be daunting. The panelists provided their own perspectives.

Stagoff-Belfort explained, “At Wesleyan, I was surrounded by people passionate about politics, social change, and learning. It completely blindsided me and made me want to educate myself about the things I cared about as much as possible. Wesleyan taught me how to be more skeptical and to ask better questions, think critically and strategically, and write efficiently and effectively, all valuable skills in making and thinking about policy.”

“You Just Have to Read This…” 3 Books By Wesleyan Authors: Otteson ’94, Stoberock ’92, Wickwire PhD ’83

In the sixth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.

book cover for ActivistKK Ottesen ’94, Activist: Portraits of Courage (Chronicle Books, Oct. 8, 2019)
Ranging in age from 12 to 94 years old, the activists photographed and recorded in Activist: Portraits of Courage will inspire you to “dissent, disrupt, and otherwise get in the way.” They are those who took action on the Senate floor, on art museum walls, and in leading marches throughout city centers. In short, they are people who made difficult choices, out of hope for and faith in a better future. In this beautifully assembled book of portraits and stories, KK Ottesen ‘94 highlights 40 of the most influential, admirable change-makers of our time, following their journeys from the beginning. While each featured activist stood out and stepped up in a way that was unique to their talents and character, they all did so with the shared vision of justice and equality. This book comes at a time where it has perhaps never felt so relevant; yet upon further consideration, it seems to have always been exactly the inspiration we needed. Striking in its images and moving in its stories of change, Activist is an homage to the people who practice courage as a way of life.

KK Otteson ’94 is an author and editor who is a regular contributor to the Washington Post magazine. A government major at Wesleyan who earned an MBA at Yale University, she is the author of Great Americans (Bloomsbury 2003), which explored what it meant to be an American through interviews with ordinary citizens who shared a name with national icons.

 

cover of the novel PIGSJohanna Stoberock ’92,  Pigs: A Novel (Red Hen Press, 2019)
On an island filled with reposited trash, four children live among pigs. In Pigs: A Novel—which has been compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Orwell’s Animal Farm—Johanna Stoberock ’92 writes a tale that is disturbingly familiar in its outlandishness. The pigs on the island are insatiable and greedy, eating any filth or wreckage that comes to the island. But when a barrel washes up on the shore of the island with a boy inside, the carefully constructed dynamic between the children and the pigs is thrown into conflict. Though the premise is absurd, Stoberock grounds the novel in a multi-faceted emotional realness that permeates the narrative with tenderness and compassion. The reader may start to see themselves not only in the children who are just trying to get by, but also in the snouted characters, as the animality of the pigs is reminiscent of humans in late-capitalism at their worst, as well as at their most vulnerable. In a meditation on consumerism, community, and culpability, Pigs portrays some of the most frightening parts of being human today, while ultimately encouraging immersive empathy as a method of response.

Johanna Stoberock ’92, who majored in English and religion at Wesleyan, earned an MFA at the University of Washington. Her honors include the James W. Hall Prize for Fiction, as well as an Artist Trust GAP award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Best of the Net anthology and other venues. She teaches at Whitman College.

 

AT the Bridge coverWendy Wickwire PhD ’83, At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging (UBC Press, 2019)
From a base of Spences Bridge, British Columbia, little-known ethnographer James Teit created a new form of participatory anthropology which allowed him to work with and advocate for Indigenous peoples in the area from 1884 to 1922. Despite his unquestionable innovation in the field of anthropology and dedication to ethical storytelling, Teit had almost disappeared from the historical record before Wendy Wickwire wrote At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging. In this impressive cobbling together of history, Wickwire crafts a stunning biographical portrait that not only secures Teit as one of the most influential anthropologists of his time, but also continues in Teit’s tradition of representing stories in their full complexity. Traversing the narrative plains of Pacific Northwest political history, the field of anthropology, the concepts of indigenous knowledge, and the hidden corners of historical archives, At the Bridge makes a compelling case for the intentional preservation of stories, while bringing the story of a very notable storyteller out of lost history.

Wendy Wickwire PhD ’83 is a professor emerita in the Department of History at the University of Victoria. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Western Ontario and her doctorate at Wesleyan in ethnomusicology. 

Swain ’90 Passes through Middletown, Honoring Children who Died in Federal Custody

Christopher Swain '90

Christopher Swain ’90 carries a torch through Middletown.

Human rights advocate Christopher Swain ’90 returned to Middletown last week, carrying an Olympic-style torch during what will be a nearly 5,000-mile journey to the spot where the US-Mexico border begins at the Gulf of Mexico, and then on through the border states to San Diego.

Swain, a parent of two, is participating in a March for the Kids, honoring the memory of the six children known to have died in federal custody.

He is hoping to bring awareness of the children who have been separated from their families and imprisoned and lost at the border; to advocate for all children to be found, freed, and reunited with family; and to share the voices and hopes of the people he meets along the way.

“I don’t know how we will find all of these kids. I don’t know how we will free all of these kids. And I don’t know how we will get them all back to their families. And I don’t know what it will take to make amends,” he said. “But I do know this—even if it takes a moon landing-level effort—we can find a way.”

Swain plans to walk, and occasionally run, 15 to 20 miles per day, five to six to days per week, stopping to refuel his torch every 45 minutes or so.

“The torch is a symbol of hope. I am keeping the flames of hope alive for these children and their families,” Swain said.

Swain invites anyone who feels strongly about the issue of the children to join him.

“If you have ideas about how to find and free these kids, I invite you to walk along with me and share those ideas. Let’s find a way, together.”

Swain graduated from Wesleyan with a double major in French literature and film studies. He stayed on to work for the Wesleyan Development Office until 1992. He also swam through Middletown in the Connecticut River as part of a Swim for Human Rights during the summer of 1996.

“I used to row crew for Wesleyan. I walked into Middletown on Friday over the Arrigoni Bridge from Portland. I used to row under that bridge. And I swam under that bridge during my Swim for Universal Human Rights in 1996. It’s not just another bridge to me,” he said. “And Middletown is not just another town.”

While in Middletown, Swain made a point of connecting with one of his favorite professors, Jeanine Basinger, as he passed the 160-mile mark of his March. “Jeanine transmitted the values of discipline, deep work, and clear thinking to her students. The values and skills she taught me shape my work every day.”

Swain’s March for the Kids is supported entirely by donations. Through a crowdfunding effort, he hopes to raise enough to cover the costs of the march, crew, equipment, and events, and eventually, a documentary film. For more information, follow Swain on Twitter @marchforthekids or email MarchForTheKids@gmail.com.

Smith ’66 on Translating and Promoting Global Indigenous Literature

Front cover of Meditations After the Bear Feast: The Poetic Dialogues of N. Scott Momaday and Yuri Vaella

Claude Clayton “Bud” Smith ’66, professor emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University, is an author who throughout his career has worked behind the scenes to bring Native Siberian creative writing to an English-speaking audience and to promote global indigenous literature. In that spirit, before Smith’s story starts, he recommends we tune in to the PBS premiere of N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear, on Nov 18.

Smith’s connection with N. Scott Momaday is personal. In 2016, Smith co-edited and translated Meditations After the Bear Feast, a collection of poems exchanged between Momaday, a Kiowa writer and the defining voice of the Native American Renaissance in American Literature, and Yuri Vaella, a writer, reindeer herder, and political activist of the Forest Nenets people in western Siberia. But Meditations After the Bear Feast nearly did not see print. How did Smith, a descendant of one of the founders of Hartford, Conn., on his father’s side and an immigrant Czech on his mother’s—who does not speak Russian or any native languages—become the critical player in bringing Meditations to publication? According to Smith, the story begins where it does for every writer, in his childhood backyard.

Claude Clayton “Bud” Smith ’66 enjoying “retirement” at an art show at University of Wisconsin, 2017. (Photos courtesy of C.C. Smith ’66)

Smith grew up a 45-minute drive from Wesleyan, in Stratford, Conn. Despite the erasure of Native American history, Smith became aware of his hometown’s long past through local Stratford history and the stories of the Sioux man who rented fishing boats to his grandfather. He remembers that, as a child on a field trip to where the Paugussett tribe first encountered settlers in 1639, “my imagination went wild.”

By 1978 Smith had published his first book, The Stratford Devil, and begun teaching when his mother sent him an article from the Bridgeport Post that mentioned the Paugussett tribe. The tribe had just won a yearslong struggle to protect from termination their quarter-acre reservation—a small remnant of their ancestral lands and the oldest continuous reservation in the United States. The reservation happened to be three miles from where Smith grew up, and so Chief Big Eagle of the Paugussett tribe became the subject of Smith’s first book of creative nonfiction. After hours of taped interviews on the Chief’s front porch, Smith began writing the tribe’s story in the voice of the Chief. Miscommunications often arose; of one such conflict Smith said, “I was discussing the gustoweha (the chief’s headdress), which has antlers. The Chief had evidently led quite a love life, marrying four times, and so when discussing the headdress I commented, in the Chief’s voice, something to the effect that, ‘the antlers remind me of myself as a young buck.’ The Chief fumed, and I changed the line to, ‘reminds me of the deer, a noble animal.'” Through the Chief’s editing of his drafts, Smith learned how to write in another’s voice, a skill that would serve him well in his translating work later. The book, Quarter-Acre of Heartache, was published in 1985, a first-person account from the perspective of the Chief, and today, when Smith reads the quotes on the novel’s rear jacket, “half are the Chief’s actual words, half are mine. I’d so absorbed his voice that I can’t now tell which is which.”

Roellke ’87 Elected President of Stetson University

portrait of Christopher Roellke

Christopher Roellke ’87 is the new president of Stetson University. (Photo courtesy Stetson University)

Christopher F. Roellke ’87, PhD, has been named president of Stetson University, effective July 1, 2020. Currently dean of the college emeritus and professor of education at Vassar College, Roellke will be the 10th person to hold this position, succeeding Wendy B. Libby, PhD, who has served as Stetson’s president since July 2009 and had announced her retirement last February.

Roellke is also past president for the Association of Education Finance and Policy, a 2014 Fulbright Scholar, and the founder and fundraiser of Vassar College’s Urban Education Initiative.

“The Board of Trustees has unanimously elected Dr. Roellke to lead Stetson into the future as our university’s 10th president,” said Joe Cooper, the Stetson Board of Trustees Chair, in a press release. “The board’s presidential search framework and process brought forth many highly qualified candidates, and we thank them all. Dr. Roellke is bringing an outstanding record of energetic leadership in higher education and a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities Stetson University faces. The board is thrilled to welcome him as president-elect.”

Roellke called the appointment “the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life,” noting Stetson’s “deep commitment to the traditions of liberal learning and globally engaged citizenship.”

A government major at Wesleyan, Roellke earned his doctorate at Cornell. As dean of the college at Vassar, he was one of three tenured faculty members on the president’s senior leadership team and oversaw the dean of studies, dean of students, campus life and diversity, and career development, as well other administrative and academic areas.

Psychology Faculty, Students, Alumni Present Research at CDS Meeting

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Kerry Brew BA '18, MA '19 were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 CDS Biennial meeting.

Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, right, and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19, left, were among a large group of Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni who recently presented research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting.

Numerous students, alumni, and faculty from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs recently presented their research at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting, held Oct. 17–19 in Louisville, Ky. The labs are led by Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth and Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman.

Barth and Kerry Brew ’18, MA ’19 presented their poster, “Do Demand Characteristics Contribute to Minimal Ingroup Bias?” The work was done in collaboration with lab alumni Taylar Clark ’19 and Jordan Feingold-Link ’18.

Sophie Charles '20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on "The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds' numerical estimates."

Sophie Charles ’20, former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax, and lab coordinator Katherine Williams presented their poster on “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.”

Sophie Charles ’20, lab coordinator Katherine Williams, and former lab coordinator Alexandra Zax presented their poster, “The Role of Digit Identity in 5- to 8-year-olds’ numerical estimates.” Barth also contributed to this work.

In addition, many alumni of the Cognitive Development Labs presented at the conference, including Vivian Liu ’18 (now at New York University); Dominic Gibson ’10 (now at University of Chicago); Rebecca Peretz-Lange ’13 (now at Tufts University); Andrew Ribner ’14 (now at University of Pittsburgh); Julia Leonard ’11 (now at University of Pennsylvania); and Ariel Starr ’07 (now at University of Washington). Former lab coordinators Jessica Taggart, Talia Berkowitz, Ilona Bass, and Sona Kumar, and former postdoc Emily Slusser also presented work.