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Alumni, Faculty Discuss Russia’s Return to the World Stage at Shasha Seminar

David Abramson ’87, Foreign Affairs Analyst at the U.S. Department of State, asks a question at a panel held by Wesleyan alumni on Saturday afternoon regarding Russia’s economic development, the prospects for foreign investors, and the range of careers available to graduates in Russian studies.

David Abramson ’87, foreign affairs analyst at the U.S. Department of State, asks a question regarding Russia’s economic development during the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns.

shasha bannerRussia has returned to the world stage in dramatic fashion in recent years with military interventions and interference in elections.

What is driving this aggressive behavior? Will the current political system survive the scheduled departure of its architect, Vladimir Putin, in 2024? How should the United States deal with Russia?

On Oct. 11–12, Wesleyan alumni and faculty panelists tackled these questions and more during the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. This year’s theme was “Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage,” with Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, serving as this year’s director. Rutland works on contemporary Russian politics and political economy, with a side interest in nationalism. (For a Q&A with Rutland, previewing the seminar, click here.)

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues.

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 Nation: “Edward Snowden Deserves to Be Tried by a Jury of His Peers, Just Like Everyone Else”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti argues against the Justice Department’s decision to deny Edward Snowden’s request for a jury trial. She contends that in Snowden’s case, in which he is accused of leaking classified information from the National Security Administration in 2013, a jury trial “is not only a viable alternative to a hearing before a judge; rather, given the nature of the charges—where the defendant has supposedly acted to protect the people from the very state that would charge him with a crime—jury deliberation is the proper forum for discussion of appropriate punishment and is the bulwark against the potential misconduct of the state.”

2. Transitions Online: “Stuck in the Middle”

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, professor of government, and Dmytro Babachanakh ’20 explore the history of U.S. involvement in Ukraine, and call upon U.S. leaders of both parties to stop “treating lesser powers as political instruments.”

3. Tulsa World: “Save the Little Grouse on the Prairie”

Alex Harold ’20 is the author of this op-ed that calls for the lesser prairie chicken to be placed on the endangered species list to get the protections it desperately needs, as over 90 percent of its habitat has been degraded or destroyed. While many haven’t heard of this bird, Harold explains that it is an “indicator species” that “reflect(s) the health of the entire prairie ecosystem.” Harold wrote the op-ed as an assignment in E&ES 399, Calderwood Seminar in Environmental Science Journalism, taught by Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell, this semester. The Calderwood Seminars are offered in a variety of disciplines to teach students how to effectively communicate academic knowledge to the public. Read more here.

Hill ’93 Reads from Latest Book at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore

On Oct. 8, Edwin Hill ’93 presented an author’s talk and reading at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

Hill is the author of the crime novel The Missing Ones, a follow up to his critically-acclaimed book Little Comfort. He presented his reading with Vanessa Lillie, author of Little Voices.

Hill, of Roslindale, Mass., served as the vice president and editorial director for Bedford/St. Martin’s, a division of Macmillan for many years before turning to writing full time. He has written for Publishers Weekly, the L.A. Review of Books, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, among other publications.

Photos of his talk are below: (Photos by Nick Sng ’23)

Edwin Hill '93

3 Alumni Receive MacArthur “Genius” Awards 

MacArthursThree of the 26 “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals” to receive 2019 MacArthur Fellowships are Wesleyan alumni.

Mary Halvorson ’02, Saidiya Hartman ’84, Hon. ’19, and Cameron Rowland ’11 each received a $625,000, no-strings-attached award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius” grant, are selected based on “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments,” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work,” according to the foundation.

They join 17 other Wesleyan alumni and university affiliates named MacArthur Fellow recipients. (View all.)

Mary Halvorson '02

Mary Halvorson ’02

Mary Halvorson ’02 is a guitarist, ensemble leader, and composer who is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences.

Her additional albums as a solo performer or leader include Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2014), and Meltframe (2015), and she has performed on numerous other recordings as a side musician or co-leader. Since 2018, Halvorson has served as an instructor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts. She has performed at such national and international venues and festivals as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Berlin Jazz Festival, and the Village Vanguard, among many others.

Townsend ’90 Discusses New Memoir at Bookstore with McCrea ’21

bookstore

Professor of Letters, Emeritus, Paul Schwaber joined College of Letters alumna and author Sarah Townsend ’90, P’21, and current COL major Sara McCrea ’21 for a discussion of Townsend’s book at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

On Sept. 19, Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore hosted a Q&A with College of Letters (COL) alumna Sarah C. Townsend ’90, P’21, author of Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Psychosis, (Lettered Streets Press, 2019) in conversation with current COL major Sara McCrea ’21.

McCrea, who reviews alumni books for the Wesleyan Connection, had selected Townsend’s book for inclusion in the second of her recent-publications series last spring. Encouraging others to read Townsend’s work, she had written: “Bursts of sharp and vulnerable detail presented in lyrical prose display Townsend’s fearlessness as she evaluates the ways in which her own body and others’ bodies handle and inform emotion. Through its discussion of losing and finding wholeness, Townsend’s succinct and striking writing implores readers to reckon with the power and limitation of physical reflections in representing mental illness.”

This semester, at the bookstore event, she told those gathered, “I was in complete awe of this book’s riveting honesty and its masterful structure.”

An audience that boasted many of McCrea’s COL peers, along with University Professor of Letters Kari Weil, were seated to face Townsend and McCrea. Additionally, Professor of Letters Emeritus, Paul Schwaber, who had been director of the College of Letters as well as one of Townsend’s advisors while she was an undergraduate, was also in attendance, contributing his observations and a question to the discussion that followed the Townsend/McCrea dialogue.

Townsend began by reading from the book, tracing her experience as a new mother with a nursing infant, quickly moving into psychosis, undergoing hospitalization, and finally returning to a healthy sense of self. Yet, “this isn’t a really heavy book,” Townsend explained. “It’s joyful, actually—a love story.”

Prompted by McCrea’s questions, Townsend explored the meaning of the title: She had become fascinated by Phillipe Petit, the man who walked on a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center. He had talked about the importance of properly “setting the wire”—a through line—before beginning to cross. Like Petit’s high wire, she noted, her baby’s umbilical cord had been attached off-center, in what is called a compromised attachment.

“I think our minds are natural pattern-makers, and we have that in our favor,” Townsend noted, commenting on the associations these items had brought to her consciousness. The two also discussed Townsend’s use of sound, as well as the book’s narrative shape, noting that it is unlike that of a male hero’s journey; instead, it traced out a spiral structure. The two also explored Townsend’s writing process, as well as the ways that her career as a psychotherapist had informed the work.

“I guess one of the great things about writing is that there aren’t any rules and you can just take from anywhere and see what you might do with it,” Townsend concluded, ending the formal part of the program to greet students personally and sign books.

Townsend’s debut book, Setting the Wire, is an account of postpartum psychosis and a meditation on what holds us together. Her style mixes memoir with film, music, visual art, and psychology.

The conversation touched on Townsend’s experience of fragmentation when she was a new mother.

Blaine ’92 Brings One-Woman Show and Brain Surgery/Art Tour to Campus

On Sept. 25, Jennifer Blaine ’92 performed The Vicissitudes of Travel in Usdan 108.

Hosted by the neuroscience and pre-med students of the MINDS Foundation and the Basal Gang, The Vicissitudes bridges the gap between medical science, mental health, and performance art.

In the solo show performed by Blaine and co-written with Karen Getz, Blaine’s portrayals of each member of a family comes to life against the sparse set that invites the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Terrified by the idea of losing her brother, “Sister” goes on a journey through her brother’s brain surgery that blends visual art, memory, and tangled neurons in an attempt to connect with “Brother” before it’s too late.

During the post-performance discussion, Blaine and the students in the audience delved into the healing journey, the creative process, and the role of art in medicine.

“Every time I perform The Vicissitudes I am amazed at what it evokes for people. People enjoy a character, find themselves laughing one moment and the next are moved by a poignant revelation,” Blaine said. “As the creator and performer it’s both terrifying and exhilarating to perform the piece for new audiences since even I don’t know what will happen. We begin the journey as strangers, but by the end of the piece we have such a deeply bonded experience that segues into meaningful dialogue and sharing that’s unique to each particular group.”

At the Wesleyan performance, Blaine was particularly struck by the insightful line of questioning and sharing.

“Students’ questions about the text unearthed things I had never even thought about,” Blaine said. “One of the missions of the performance is to connect the invisible community affected by brain issues and create a way that we can be present, listen to one another, and have more compassion. I believe we achieved that. I hope this performance can be the beginning of a dialogue with the Wesleyan community about these issues.”

The event was coordinated by Kush Patel ’20 of Wesleyan MINDS, graduate student Helen Karimi from The Basal Gang, and Meg Zocco, director of parent development.

After performing at Wesleyan, Blaine will bring The Vicissitudes to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, where she will also hold workshops for medical students.

Photos of the performance are below. (Photos by Tom Dzimian)

Jennifer Blane

“You Just Have Read This…” 3 Books by Wesleyan Authors

In the fourth of this continuing series, Sara McCrea ’21, a College of Letters major from Boulder, Colo., reviews alumni books and offers this 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.

cover of Kaplan's book shows a black and white photo of the composer, Irving Berlin

James Kaplan ’73: Irving Berlin: New York Genius (Jewish Lives Series) (Yale University Press, Nov. 5, 2019)

Venerated biographer James Kaplan first encountered the music of Irving Berlin in a New York record store in the ’70s. The tune: “Oh, How That German Could Love,” a song Berlin composed at 21 years old. Kaplan was entranced, playing on repeat the song that he writes “pierced the thick veil of time.” One could say Kaplan accomplishes the same feat, as Irving Berlin: New York Genius portrays the Jewish immigrant and incomparable composer with stunning depth, integrity, and intimacy. In his portrait of Berlin, Kaplan explores the musician’s highs and lows, from his astonishing versatility to his struggles with mental illness. Along with the portrait of the musician, Kaplan also captures the dynamic life of the city that made and was made by Berlin: New York City with its glittering, fast-paced energy. In the same manner that Berlin was able to create the essences of songs, Kaplan captures the essence of a life, guiding his readers effortlessly through the nuances of Berlin’s character. As a bright spotlight on the nine-decade career of a man who changed American music forever, Kaplan’s biography is an homage to extraordinary grit and talent that any music-lover—from ragtime to rock—will appreciate.

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 the NRA Highjacked History”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about the history of the legal debate over the Second Amendment, and explains how the court’s understanding of that history may shape the nation’s response to the current gun violence epidemic. Her op-ed was reported on in The Trace.

2. The Hill: “A Tragic Misperception About Climate Change”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, is co-author of this op-ed that argues “The U.S. contributes to global warming not only through its own emissions of greenhouse gases but also by the effect of its behavior on the actions of other countries.” The U.S. must first “get its own house in order,” then take steps to encourage other countries to take similar action to reduce carbon emissions, he writes.

3. Process: a blog for American history: “The Politics of Statehood in Hawai’i and the Urgency of Non-Statist Decolonization”

In this essay, written on the 60th anniversary of the United States claiming the Hawaiian islands as the 50th state of the union, Professor of American Studies J. Kēhaulani Kauanui reflects on the dispute over Maunakea, a sacred mountain that is currently under threat by those who want to construct a major observatory at its summit. She writes that the dispute “can be seen as a microcosm of the history of Hawai‘i’s (U.S.) statehood and earlier American encroachment.”

4 Alumni Work to End Gun Violence Through Everytown

Rob Wilcox (Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy) Sam Levy (Counsel), John Feinblatt (President) and Nick Suplina (Managing Director of Law and Policy).

Four  Wesleyan alumni are helping drive policy and political efforts for the organization Everytown for Gun Safety. The alumni are, from left, Rob Wilcox ’01, deputy director of policy and strategy; Sam Levy ’04, counsel; John Feinblatt ’73, president; Nick Suplina ’00, managing director of law and policy.

Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded as a result of gun violence. 

Through an organization called Everytown for Gun Safety, four Wesleyan alumni are working with lawmakers to pass common-sense laws and policies that build safer communities and save lives while still respecting the Second Amendment.

Everytown members research a range of vital issues surrounding gun violence and develop data-driven solutions. To date, Everytown has supported nearly six million mayors, mothers, police, teachers, survivors, gun owners, students, and everyday Americans to make their own communities safer.

Wesleyan in the News

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. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

Wesleyan Welcomes Alumni, Parent to the Board of Trustees

Five Wesleyan alumni and one parent were recently elected to the Board of Trustees.

The board is the governing body of the University and responsible for ensuring that the University fulfills its mission, sustains its values, and appropriately balances its obligations to current and future generations. The board establishes long-term strategic policy and direction; approves the University’s budget and major financial expenditures, program initiatives, and construction projects; oversees the University’s financial affairs; stewards the University’s endowment and other capital resources; and appoints and supervises the president of the University.

The board is composed of up to 33 trustees, a diverse group of leaders in their respective fields who are united by a deep affection for and commitment to the institution.

The new members include:

Adam Bird

Adam Bird

Adam C. Bird ’87, P’19, ’22 is a senior partner with McKinsey & Company and the global leader of the Consumer Tech & Media practice, advising top management of the most disruptive (and disrupted) companies. A board member of the Paley Center for Media, he is past vice chair of the board of the Munich International School, and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. At Wesleyan, he was a College of Social Studies major, a student representative to the Board of Trustees, and graduated with honors. He is also the father of Matthew ’19 and Sophie ’22.

Wesleyan in the News

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. Inside Higher Ed: ‘Safe Enough Spaces’

President Michael Roth is interviewed about defending free speech, inclusion on campus, and affirmative action, among other topics, in connection with the forthcoming publication of his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, due out Aug. 20 from Yale University Press.

2. The New York Times: “The World’s Smartest Chimp Has Died”

William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen writes in this op-ed about the legacy of the “world’s smartest chimp” Sarah, who died recently in her 50s after a long career working with researchers. Sarah taught the world about animal cognition, including chimps’ understanding of the thoughts and desires of others. Her career showed us that “not only do chimpanzees have complex thoughts, but also distinct personalities with strong preferences and prejudices,” Gruen writes.