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Alumni news.

Formerly Enslaved Woman Honored at 1820 Gravesite

Individuals honoring the gravesite and remembering Silva Storms, who was born in Africa and lived as an enslaved person in Middletown, include (left to right) Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta (far left), Professor Liza McAlister, chair of the Department of African American Studies (far right), and Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 with Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 (center). Congregants who traveled with Chief Ayanda (wearing white, left to right of center: Monica John, Shelby Olatutu Banks, Nkosi Fajumo Gray, and April Alake Silver) also gathered for the ceremony led by Clarke. Next to the Storms gravesite is that of Nancy Williams, a relative of Storms. (Photo by Wendy Black-Nasta P’07)

On May 9, a group of students, faculty, and Middletown friends joined Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19 and Chief Ayanda Clarke ’99 in a spiritual commemoration ceremony to honor a woman, Silva Storms, who died in 1820 and was buried in the cemetery on Vine Street, across from the Beman Triangle. Research indicates she had been born in Africa and was brought to Middletown as an enslaved person. The event was part of McDuffie-Thurmond’s research project for Black Middletown Lives, the service-learning course taught by Jesse Nasta ’07, visiting assistant professor of African American studies.

Nasta notes that McDuffie-Thurmond, who had been documenting the African American burials in the cemetery as part of his final project in the class, “completely took it upon himself to take that 10 steps beyond the assignment, to envision this ceremony. Jumoke is not just documenting the gravesites, but honoring the people who were enslaved here in Middletown.”

For his part, McDuffie-Thurmond remembers the first time Nasta took the class to the cemetery as a significant experience. “I’d never been to the section of the graveyard that was designated for Black Middletown residents, and Silva Storms’s gravesite—her tombstone stood almost alone in an open space—resonated with me. Professor Nasta told us it was the oldest tombstone in the African American section. I sat down there and listened to what was around me, what I felt, and I thought, I have to do something that tends to the spirit. We have a legacy of slavery in this land that constantly informs the space we live in—and it is unresolved. I wanted to do something that would resonate with those of us who live here now. It was a very intuitive decision.”

New Book by McIntyre ’84 Explores How We Arrived at a Post-Truth Era

Did you ever wonder how we arrived in a post-truth era, where “alternative facts” are substituted for actual facts and feelings are given more weight than evidence? In Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), Lee McIntyre ’84—a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an instructor in ethics at Harvard Extension School—explores the long history of the phenomenon . . . and what’s different this time around.

Post-Truth book cover

Q: Many people think that post-truth is a new idea, borne of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but in your book, you explore the history behind the concept. Historically speaking, when did the idea first arise?

A: The word “post-truth” first started to be used in the 1990s, in a political story in a magazine. But the real interest here is that in 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth their word of the year. This was due to a 2,000% increase in usage from 2015! So the word post-truth is of fairly recent origin. But the roots behind it, as I explore in my book, go back to science denial in the 1950s and cognitive bias that has been with us since the dawn of human civilization.

Q: As you note, the idea of a single objective truth has never been free from controversy. If this is true, can it be argued that post-truth is really just an alternative view of the truth? Can there be such a thing, in your opinion? 

A: An alternative view of truth—or the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth—is the bread and butter of epistemology. Philosophers debate the meaning of truth all the time: what is the appropriate concept of it, what its relationship is to knowledge, belief, certainty, etc. In the political context, though, things are different. Post-truth arose not from some philosophical quarrel, but from politicians who wanted to impose their reality on others. Here I draw a distinction with something like “spin doctoring” where everyone really knows that the person is lying and shading the truth, e.g., “my candidate obviously won the debate last night,” versus claiming that obviously false things are true, e.g., “the murder rate went up in the USA last year.” I see post-truth as the first step toward authoritarian rule.

Q: You argue that when we set forth a statement as fact with the intent to manipulate someone into believing something that we know is untrue, we have crossed the line from interpretation to deliberate falsification. Is this, for you, where post-truth begins?

A: Like lying, post-truth is intentional. It is a strategy. There are many different tactics that one might use in post-truth (lying, propaganda, selective exposure to information, etc.), but the intent is what matters. The analogy with lying is telling: A lie has to be made on purpose. One cannot accidentally lie. Similarly, post-truth is the deliberate attempt to see information through a political lens before it is shared with the public. That is when post-truth begins. When political expediency is more important than telling the truth about reality, we have crossed over into post-truth.

Q: We talk about political spin and how its intent is to influence others. But you see post-truth in its purest form to be when one thinks the audience’s reaction to the lie told actually changes the lie to truth. Can you give an example, from both sides of the political aisle, of this phenomenon of a lie “becoming” truth?

Nasta ’07 Presents Beman Triangle Research at CAAS

Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, top left, and the students in his service-learning class, Black Middletown Lives, are focused on an area near campus called “The Beman Triangle,” documenting the lives of the African Americans who owned those homes in the pre-Civil War era. The students are: (front row, l. to r.) Rose Johnson-Brown ’18, Sammi Aibinder ’18, Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond ’19; (second row, kneeling): Angel Martin ’19; (back row, l. to r.) Professor Nasta ’07, Catherine Wulff ’18, Belén Rodriguez ’19, Nicole Hayes ’19, Henry Prine ’18, Tedra James ’18. Not pictured: Tatiana Ettensberger ’18, Julia Natt ’19, Jessi Russell ’20, Jess Wachtler ’18.

 

“This is the history of right here,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07, speaking of his work with Black Middletown Lives, his service-learning class. “We venture deep, but no farther than two blocks.” He and his class of 13 students are doing firsthand archival research on individual projects, documenting the lives of those African Americans who lived in the area now called “The Beman Triangle,” after the most prominent black property owner in that five-acre patch of land bordered on one side by Knowles Avenue to the corner where Neon Deli now stands at Cross and Vine.

Jesse Nasta and the students of Black Middletown Lives gather on Cross Street in front of one of the five surviving houses from the pre-Civil War community now commonly called “The Beman Triangle.”

On Tuesday, April 17, Nasta spoke about this work at the Center for African American Studies, noting that almost a dozen years ago, he was standing in the same spot, presenting his honors thesis, “Their Own Guardians and Protectors: African American Community in Middletown, Connecticut, 1822–1860.” Nasta, a Middletown native, is delighted to return to Wesleyan and pursue this project that captured his scholarly interests at a young age.

In his talk, he provided historical context for the development of this area, recounted brief biographies of some of the residents of the area, and discussed the work of the class in light of the Beman Triangle today.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Variety: “Entertainment Education Report: The Best Film Schools in 2018”

Wesleyan is highlighted as one of the best schools to study film. An exceptional group of filmmakers, including Joss Whedon ’87 and Michael Bay ’86, have cited Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, as a major influence on their understanding of film.

2. Hartford Courant: “New Bike Share at Wesleyan Offers Speedy Transport for Students”

Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleindienst discusses Wesleyan’s new partnership with San Francisco–based start-up Spin to provide bicycles on campus for quick and low-cost rental by students and other community members.

3. WNPR: “Where We Live”

Katja Kolcio, associate professor and chair of dance, and Anna Fox ’19 discuss Wesleyan’s partnership with a university in Kiev, Ukraine, their recent visit to the country, and what they have learned from activists involved in the country’s revolution in 2014. Kolcio is also associate professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies and associate professor of environmental studies. (Kolcio and Fox come in around 26 minutes).

4. Poets & Quants for Undergrads: “The Case for ‘Test Optional’ College Admissions”

A new study, which analyzed data from Wesleyan and many other schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT in admission, finds that “test optional” institutions tend to enroll a higher proportion of low-income, first-generation students on average, and students from more diverse backgrounds. The study also found that high school GPA was a better predictor of success in college than standardized test scores for these students.

5. Gizmodo“What Shapes Are Things in Outer Space?”

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, paints a picture of the planet formation process, and explains why planetary systems tend to be flat.

Recent Alumni News

  1. Tech Crunch: With Loans of Just $10, This Startup Has Built a Financial Services Powerhouse in Emerging Markets”

    Shivani Siroya ’04 is founder and chief executive officer of Tala, a Santa Monica–based financial services start-up. The Tech Crunch article offers examples of lives that have been changed in places such as India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania with help from Tala. Additionally, author Jonathan Shieber reports that Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund recently provided $65 million in new financing for Tala: “’We see Tala as a company building the future of finance. They have quickly become one of the leading mobile-first lenders in emerging markets where well over 3 billion consumers do not have access to traditional banks,’ says Case.”

2. Washington Post: “The Trailblazing Writing Life of Alexander Chee [’89]”

“Alexander Chee is best known as a novelist, and after the operatic plot of his Queen of the Night, readers may be surprised at the quiet intimacy of his first essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel,” writes reviewer Crystal Hana Kim. “By offering the reader such advice in the form of personal revelation, we are asked to journey with him, to learn how to write alongside him. In the ensuing essays, Chee reflects on his professional trajectory. In some, like ‘The Writing Life,’ which chronicles Chee’s class with Annie Dillard at Wesleyan University, he discusses craft explicitly. In others, like ‘The Rosary,’ he only alludes to his writerly life….”

 

3. Washington Post: Op-Ed: “I Thought Grit Would Bring Me Success. It Almost Killed Me,” by Nataly Kogan [’98]

Nataly Kogan, who arrived with her parents in the United States as Russian refugees when she was only 13, is the founder of Happier, a learning and technology platform. In this op-ed she writes about the pressure she put herself under to succeed in America, but through work with a life coach, she learned important lessons about self-compassion. She is the author of  Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Sounds True; May 1, 2018).

4.  Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: ”A Liberal Arts Education in Singapore and the Usefulness of ‘Useless’ Knowledge

Terry Nardin, professor of political science and director of Common Curriculum at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, offers an explanation of a liberal arts education that challenges the cultural expectation that “the purpose of tertiary education is to equip students with technical or other specialised skills that qualify them for a specific job and stable employment.” As an example of a liberal arts graduate who has met with success he offers:  “Luke Wood [’91] graduated in 1991 from Wesleyan University, an American liberal arts college, where he had majored in American studies. Wood was able to turn his passion for music into an internship at Geffen Records, after which he signed artists for DreamWorks and Interscope.” Nardin traces Wood’s path further, concluding that “Wood’s success is another good reminder that ‘useless knowledge’ can not only turn out to be useful after all, but also that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.”

5. Variety:Bloom/Spiegel Partnership Unveils Participants of Second Edition (EXCLUSIVE)

Ostin Fam ’17 (Dung Quoc Pham ’17) was selected as one of eight filmmakers for “the second edition of the Bloom/Spiegel Partnership, an alliance between New York’s IFP Marcie Bloom Fellowship in Film and Jerusalem’s prestigious Sam Spiegel Film School.” The article includes this background on the Wesleyan alumnus: “Born in Vietnam and based in New York, Fam graduated from Wesleyan University and received the Steven J. Ross Prize for his senior film thesis. Fam is currently finishing the screenplay of his first feature, Small Wars. Taking place in a rural village in Vietnam, the story is about a family of three.”

Q&A With Novelist Kate Greathead ’05 on Writing Laura & Emma

Kate Greathead ’05, who majored in English at Wesleyan, is the author of Laura & Emma: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Laura & Emma, the debut novel by Kate Greathead ’05, was reviewed by Wesleyan magazine books editor Laurie Kenney, who wrote: “Nine-time Moth StorySLAM champion Greathead’s debut novel offers an insightful and witty exploration of class, family, and privilege in New York blue-blood society in the 1980s and early ’90s, as told through the eyes of Laura, an Upper East Side single mother born into wealth, and her daughter, Emma, conceived during a one-night stand. Filled with an eclectic cast of supporting characters and told in vignettes that span more than a decade, Laura & Emma offers a fresh take on the mother-daughter bond and the struggles of trying to find oneself. Booklist says, ‘Greathead’s smart and original take on the mother-daughter novel impresses and charms.'”

In a follow-up conversation with the Connection, Greathead reflected on the writing process, including her work with Wesleyan mentors, and offered advice for those still working toward publication.

Q: How did your work at Wesleyan influence this book? Any great writing advice you received?

A: I wasn’t a confident person when I arrived at Wesleyan. I had some very kind and generous professors—Anne Greene, Phyllis Rose, Roxana Robinson—who helped me develop confidence in my writing, which made me take myself more seriously as a student and a person. One of my most valuable writing experiences was writing my senior thesis, a collection of personal essays, under the guidance of Elizabeth Bobrick [then a visiting professor in English]. Every two weeks we’d meet and discuss my work. The craft of writing can be taught, but of equal importance, the substance of what you write, can’t unless the teacher tries to get to know you. The best teachers find gentle ways to push you towards your most fertile material. Elizabeth took the time to do that and I benefited greatly.

Q: Any significant discoveries you made as you wrote about mother/daughter relationships?

A: I can’t speak for all mother/daughter relationships but I suspect in most there’s a volatility that’s just as intense as a romantic one, an undercurrent of jealousy, resentment, hurt, contempt, and neediness complicating the love. It might rarely erupt, but it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.

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.

 

 

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Hartford Courant“Connecticut Natives at Wesleyan Organize TEDx Conference”

Wesleyan hosted its inaugural TEDx conference on April 7, featuring talks by many distinguished alumni, local officials, and others. Two of the student organizers, Eunes Harun ’20 and Leo Marturi ’20, are interviewed about the event.

2. The Hill: “Trump, Pelosi Appear Most in Early Ads—for the Other Side” 

A new analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project finds that Donald Trump has been the top target of political attack ads this year, with Nancy Pelosi the second favorite target, as both parties seek to drive their political bases to the polls. “Although presidents and presidential candidates are the most common targets in congressional campaign ads, it is noteworthy that Pelosi has consistently been singled out more than any other congressional leader since 2010 despite her minority party status for the bulk of that time,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government and WMP co-director.

3. Faith Middleton Food Schmooze: “Funeral Food with a Twist, a Seductive Rosé and Amy Bloom”

In connection with her new book, White Houses, Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom talks about food in the Franklin Roosevelt White House. Bloom comes in around 21 minutes.

4. Naturally Speaking: “Extending Evolution, an Interview with Prof. Sonia Sultan”

On this podcast, Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, discusses her research on phenotypic plasticity and transgenerational effect in plants, and shares her thoughts on one of most controversial ideas currently circulating in mainstream evolutionary biology: the so-called “extended evolutionary synthesis.” Sultan was honored at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine’s annual Darwin Day lecture.

5. Inside Higher Ed: “The Data Should Make You Happy!”

President Michael Roth ’78 reviews Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Roth writes: “We don’t need cheerleading psychologists telling us we should be happier than we are.”

6. Squash Magazine: “Teaching the Game: Women and Squash”

Shona Kerr, Wesleyan’s head coach of men’s and women’s squash, is interviewed for a story about gender bias in the world of squash coaching. Kerr is one of only three women in the country who coaches a men’s collegiate squash team.

Recent Alumni News

  1. NDTV Profit: “Wipro Director, Harvard Alumnus Rishad Premji [’99] Appointed Chairman Of Nasscom” Rishad Premji, who was an economics major at Wesleyan and holds an MBA from Harvard, was appointed chairman of IT industry body Nasscom (National Association of Software and Service Companies) for 2018–19. Previously, he was chief strategy officer and board member of Wipro Ltd, which he joined in 2007. In 2014 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. [See the site for a video message from Premji, on accepting this new position.]

2. NPR: “Mary Halvorson [’02] Re-Engineered Jazz Guitar. Now, She’s Hacking Her Own Code”

In this review of Halvorson’s new double album, Code Girl, Nate Chinen, director of editorial comment at NPR Music, calls Halvorson’s style “staunchly unplaceable in style—art-rock? avant-prog?—and mysterious in several other respects.” The article also refers to John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, Emeritus, Anthony Braxton as her “august mentor.” Code Girl is out on the Firehouse 12 label.

3. Harvard Medical School News: “Why the Fly? Geneticist Stephanie Mohr [’93] Delves into Science’s Favorite Winged Model Organism”

“[S]elf-described ‘fly person’ Stephanie Mohr,” a lecturer on genetics at Harvard Medical School and author of the book First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery (Harvard University Press, 2018)explains her fascination with the insect and its importance in genetics research.

4. New York Times: “Even With Scholarships, Students Often Need Extra Financial Help“

This article by Janet Morrissey profiles a number of programs at prestigious universities that are designed to assist low-income scholarship students with living expenses. Richard Locke ’81, provost at Brown University, is mentioned as “help[ing] prepare Brown’s E-Gap (Emergency, Curricular and Co-curricular Gap) Funds, and its FLi (First Generation Low-Income) Center in late 2015 after hearing stories from students who were struggling financially.”

5. WBAL 1090—Educator Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] to Speak at Towson Commencement

WBAL NewsRadio 1090’s Tyler Waldman reported Towson University President Kim Schatzel said: “We are honored to welcome Beverly Daniel Tatum to campus as our commencement speaker. Not only is she a thought leader in the higher education community, her expertise in diversity, inclusion and race relations supports Towson University’s relentless pursuits in these areas.” Tatum will speak at Towson’s College of Liberal Arts commencement on May 23, 2018, and will receive an honorary doctorate. A former Wesleyan trustee, Tatum was awarded an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan in 2015.

Banks ’15 Receives Fulbright to Study International Crimes, Conflict, Criminology

Isabella Banks ’15 received a Fulbright Study/Research grant in International Crimes, Conflict, and Criminology for 2018–19.

Isabella Banks ’15 was awarded a 2018–19 Fulbright Study/Research Grant for the master’s program in International Crimes, Conflict, and Criminology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Combining perspectives and methodologies from the fields of criminology, law, psychology, sociology, and political science, the program also draws on resources available through its location near The Hague—home to the UN’s International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

“I hope to focus my research on transitional justice, which applies restorative principles to systematic, conflict-related human rights violations,” says Banks, who majored in the College of Social Studies with a certificate in international relations while at Wesleyan. Her honors thesis, “The Jury Is Out: Negotiated Agreements in the German Inquisitorial System,” is an exploration of the United States’ adversarial system of justice in comparison with the German inquisitorial system. A 2015 article in the Connection noted that Banks said her interest in exploring alternatives to the U.S. system of criminal justice was initiated by what she observed as its “growing dysfunction” as well as the increasing measure of disapproval it garnered.

After graduating, Banks studied abroad on a one-year Watson Fellowship, pursuing research in restorative justice in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, England, and South Africa. For her project, “Making Crime Personal: Restorative Alternatives to Criminal Justice,” she interviewed individuals involved in a range of restorative justice processes and acted as a participant observer in schools, prisons, and community organizations working to implement restorative practices.

She is currently affiliated with the Center for Court Innovation in New York City, whose founding director was John Feinblatt ’73 and current director is Greg Berman ’89. Banks serves as a planner for the Research-Practice Strategies team led by Director of Policy and Research Julian Adler ’02.

“My Watson year opened my eyes to the importance of human relationships in justice processes and fostered a fascination with conflict transformation that I am sure will drive my learning for years to come,” said Banks.

 

Lobel ’97 Produces Empire on Blood Podcast

Empire on Blood, a new seven-part serialized podcast from Panoply, is produced by Mia Lobel ’97. The series investigates a 1992 double homicide in the Bronx, exploring the judicial process that led to a conviction. That conviction has now been overturned after Calvin Buari spent more than two decades in prison for these murders, which he did not commit.

The show, says Lobel, is the result of veteran journalist Steve Fishman’s six-year quest to determine the facts of the case.

“Steve brought us this incredibly complicated story he’d been working on,” recalls Lobel. “He had courtroom papers and 80 hours of taped interviews with all the key players. It was so exciting for me as a producer. The show takes a really deep look at the moral complexity of the criminal justice system: What happens if you are, actually, a criminal—but convicted of a crime you didn’t commit?”

An anthropology major at Wesleyan, Lobel earned her graduate degree in journalism, specializing in audio formats—“radio, at the time,” she says. She marks 2014 as the year the general public began to share her excitement for audio productions—podcasts—when Serial came out and smartphone technology made it accessible.

“People are being reintroduced to the power of sound alone—where you make all these pictures in your head,” she says.

All-Alumni Survey: Thank You, Participants!

For a four-week period in January and February, the Office of University Relations surveyed BA alumni to understand attitudes and preferences around key areas, including communications, Wesleyan events, and philanthropy.

Of the 27,000 alumni contacted via email, more than 5,400 participated. This 20-percent response rate far exceeded expectations. The average U.S. college survey response rate is closer to 5–10 percent.

“We are thrilled with the level of engagement shown by our alumni in responding to our most recent survey,” reports Thomas Diascro ’89, director of alumni and parent relations, “and I cannot thank them enough for taking the time to participate.”

In the coming weeks, University Relations staff will begin looking more closely at the full results, and they plan to share their findings with the entire community in early fall—but for those who want a teaser, Diascro offers the following:

  • 92 percent of respondents are proud to be Wesleyan alumni;
  • 86 percent of respondents have a positive feeling towards Wesleyan;
  • 84 percent of respondents believe Wesleyan is deserving of financial support from alumni.

Executive Producer Selkow ’96 Directs Hip-Hop Docu-Series Rapture

At SXSW film and music festival, members of the creative team behind Rapture are Executive Producer Ben Selkow ’96, Director Marcus Clarke, Executive Producer Peter Bittenbender (of Mass Appeal), and Executive Producer Sacha Jenkins (of Mass Appeal). Rapture, a docu-series produced by Mass Appeal for Netflix is available now. Netflix describes the project as: “star[ing] directly into the bright light that hip-hop culture shines on the world…. Rapture dives into the artists’ lives with their families and friends, to sitting front row in the studio and grinding on tour, to experiencing the ecstatic power of moving the crowd.” (Photo Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty for Netflix)

Rapture, a new eight-part docu-series on hip-hop that premiered on Netflix March 30, features Ben Selkow ’96 as executive producer, showrunner, and one of the directors. It is art with an overarching purpose: “We hope to bring audiences and fans closer to the artists’ experience by sharing their biography and showing the perseverance, talent, and luck that helped each transform and transcend their situation,” says Selkow, a film studies and African American studies major while at Wesleyan, who previously directed Reza Aslan’s CNN series Believer. After returning from the SXSW film and music festival in Austin, Texas, where the team showcased several episodes of Rapture, Selkow discussed the project.

Connection: What drew you into this project and made it personally compelling?
Ben Selkow: Netflix wanted to collaborate on a new hip-hop project with Mass Appeal, an on-the-rise culture media and content company. A Netflix executive introduced me to Mass Appeal’s Sacha Jenkins and Peter Bittenbender, who needed an executive producer and showrunner. We got on really well from jump—and spent the next 18 months conceiving, refining, staffing, shooting, editing, finishing, and promoting Rapture.

I was drawn to it on many levels. I’ve been listening to hip-hop since my first Beastie Boy, Ice-T, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, and Public Enemy tapes—yes, tapes! And at Wesleyan, I continued my education in hip-hop with Javaid Khan (DJ Van Vader) ’96, Phil Jenkins (DJ Casual Phil) ’96, Jason Rosado ’96, and my man Jake Sussman ’96 making me mixtapes, as well as partying at [Malcolm] X house, while Matt Dickerson (DJ Denmark) ’95 was spinning. And then—beyond my love of the music, the culture, the politics, and its growing power of expression and American reporting—I really dug Sacha and Peter. Of course, the opportunity to work with Netflix and connect with audiences in 190-plus countries/117 million subscribers was a dream.

Connection: What was your role on the project and what were your biggest challenges?
Ben Selkow: As showrunner and one of the executive producers, I worked with all our specialists in each area, leading the charge—from conception to the talent casting, to the aesthetic look, to team staffing, to legal, to music supervision, to running everything with our amazing post-production team and doing the general crisis control. I also directed the episode with 2 Chainz.

Hip-hop artist Nas (left) and Executive Producer and Director Ben Selkow ’96 attend the Rapture Netflix Original Documentary Series, Special Screening at The Metrograph in New York City, on March 20. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Netflix)  Wesleyan viewers will want to know that Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 makes a cameo appearance in Rapture‘s Nas/Dave East episode, when the three are shown filming the video for the Hamilton mixtape song, “Wrote My Way Out.”

As for challenges, we had no proof of concept as this was Season 1, so the initial casting was the first challenge. We wanted a diverse group of artists and we were trying to compel the artists to entrust their stories with us. We were also making big asks for their time—not just an interview and some B-roll, but we wanted to do longitudinal, observational cinema, which makes for totally unique narratives. But we were able to earn a tremendous amount of trust with all the artists. Then the challenge was keeping up with their kinetic lives and building narratives. In the end, it was both a relief and incredibly exciting to watch the artists’ reactions once we screened their episodes with them. Sitting in a screening room with Nas, Just Blaze, or 2 Chainz and hearing that they loved it and thanked us…. Man, amazing feeling.

Connection: Why is this piece important? What do you think are the most important points you are bringing to the world?
Ben Selkow: By selecting a wide breadth of artists who range aesthetically, regionally, generationally, racially, and gender-wise—as well as including a super producer—Rapture paints the portrait of hip-hop as a diverse, complex, and wildly dynamic music universe. By offering an immersive view of the artists’ personal lives—beyond just seeing them as superstars—we are afforded the privilege of witnessing the artists’ humanness and mortality, as well as seeing what it is to live a life of an international celebrity.
We hope that Rapture illuminates some of the misconceptions about hip-hop and rap culture. For so long society at large has written off hip-hop as being only for gangsters, thugs, people who were morally corrupt. But through Rapture, we sought to depict the brilliance, passion, intelligence, artistry, dexterity, humanness, complexity, and perseverance that has made hip-hop and rap music the dominant global form.

We hope the series shows the featured artists at the top of their game for a reason, rising because of supreme artistry, hard work, a desire to change their situation: in summary, rising through the American dream.

Connection: Were there some best moment, breakthroughs, or epiphanies? What did you learn?
Ben Selkow: We had many, many incredible moments—from rocking with Nas at JazzFest in New Orleans backed by a 10-piece brass band in the Soul Rebels, to watching T.I. and Harry Belafonte intensely examine contemporary issues. But one moment that I just experienced speaks to the moments of resonance, the nuances and many gems throughout this whole series: During the screening of the Nas episode at the 1,100-seat Paramount Theatre at SXSW, T.I. was sitting with Dave East in the audience (I was one row behind them). They were really enjoying the episode, where director Sacha is highlighting Nas’s power in hip-hop—and she tells him that legendary Bronx rapper Big Pun’s grandson’s given name is Ether (“Ether” was a famous diss track Nas made in 2001). On screen, Nas is visibly taken aback at hearing this—as, I can see, are T.I. and Dave East, Nas’s protégés.

The next thing that happens in the film is we play a line from “Ether” to punctuate the point, that Nas’s influence is deep: “I am the truest, name a rapper that I ain’t influenced.” When this line plays, the audience spontaneously sings this line together—led most loudly by T.I. and Dave East.

At that moment, I realized: Doesn’t matter what the reviews say; true hip-hop is feeling this project. We did it—and, hopefully, get an opportunity to keep telling these stories. [See trailer below].

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Sharing the Stage: Greenberger ’81 Wins Award, Whitford ’81 Presents

Sharing the Stage: Bradley Whiford ’81 (left) presents the Writers Guild Award to his senior-year housemate and fellow theater major, Dan Greenberger ’81. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety)

Dan Greenberger ’81 attended the Writers Guild Award as a nominee in the category of On-Air Promotion (“the TV equivalent of movie trailers,” he explains) on Feb. 11, 2018. As an award veteran (he’d already won twice previously), Greenberger had done his homework: checked who was presenting his category and prepared an acceptance speech in case he won.

Just before the ceremony, as people milled around the dinner tables, he ran into his Wesleyan senior-year housemate, Bradley Whitford ’81, who had news: the scheduled presenter in the on-air promotion category had canceled. Instead, “I’m presenting in your category,” Whitford told his friend.

And from there, everything went off script for Greenberger, who quickly tried to reformulate his prepared speech to celebrate the friendship on stage, should he win.

Greenberger was the winner, and when he dashed on stage, the two embraced and ribbed each other gently about their college housekeeping habits.

In a conversation afterward with the Connection, Greenberger acknowledged the uniqueness of sharing that moment with his fellow theater major. “Senior year was a bonding time, as we were both getting ready to go out into the world.

“Brad and I took a train together to New York to audition for Juilliard,” Greenberger recalls.”He got in and I didn’t—and that’s when I decided I would be a writer.” In fact, Whitford had appeared in Wesleyan plays that Greenberger had written.

“Obviously, at the presentation, we were joking around a lot—but how great a full-circle moment is that? To be on stage, getting an award, with someone to whom you’ve talked about dreams and hopes when we were in college—I’m just so proud of what Brad has done with his career. As an actor, he keeps getting better.”

Greenberger, whose current work at CBS includes writing the promotions for Kevin Can Wait, notes that his favorite assignment was also very Wesleyan: How I Met Your Mother, the nine-season sitcom written by Carter Bays ’97 and Craig Thomas ’97. “I loved the sensibility; it was smart, it was funny, it was edgy—and I loved the fact that it was created by Wesleyan guys,” he recalls.

And he also knew it well: “When you work on promoting a show, you really get to know it almost better than anyone. You watch every episode more than once, you take it apart, you take notes on it: ‘Oh, here’s a good line; there’s a good moment.’ These are the pieces of the puzzle that I use to build the promotion—a story in 20 seconds, and every syllable counts.”

As for Whitford, Greenberger maintains: “He’s one of the very funniest people I’ve ever known. I’ve always told him he should do more comedy.

“But seriously—any time I look at Brad I go back to those days at Wesleyan when we were both theater majors falling in love with ‘the business,’ and wondering, ‘how do we get into this, and how do we make our mark?’ It was so great to have our paths converge on that stage.”

 

Alumni Attribute Long Lane Farm for Jumpstarting Interests, Careers in Agriculture

Daniel Mays '06 owns and operates a 14-acre farm in Scarborough, Maine.

Daniel Mays ’06 owns and operates a 14-acre farm in Scarborough, Maine.

According to the recently published 2017 Long Lane Farm annual report, almost 100 Wesleyan alumni are working in agricultural production industries. Many of these alumni got their start working at Long Lane Farm, Wesleyan’s student-run organic farm devoted to allowing students a place to experiment and learn about sustainable agriculture.

The following alumni shared their farming experiences post-graduation:

Daniel Mays ’06
Mays studied math and physics at Wesleyan where he helped out in the early days of Long Lane. Since then, he has taught at a boarding high school, bicycled through Mexico, earned a graduate degree in environmental engineering, and worked on a number of farms. In 2010 he started and currently owns and operates Frith Farm in Scarborough, Maine. The farm encompasses 14 acres and offers organic vegetables, pasture-raised eggs, chicken, lamb, pork, and turkeys. Frith Farm employs no-till vegetable production methods.

Mays believes farmers should be stewards of the land, not miners of its resources, and that farms should be hubs of the community, not distant sources of its calories. He also believes that economic sustainability need not be sacrificed, but rather can come directly from the union of environmental stewardship and community involvement.

Jordan Schmidt ’08 at Remedy Farm in New York.

Jordan Schmidt ’08
After graduating, Schmidt worked on a few different vegetable farms and then spent several years organizing the field work at Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley. In 2013,  she helped her partner take over management of her family’s dairy farm, Chaseholm Farm, in Pine Plains, N.Y., which she has been transitioning over to 100 percent grass-fed cows. Schmidt also grows several acres of culinary and medicinal herbs on that same property and runs Remedy Farm. In addition to being a farmer, Schmidt is a nutritional therapy practitioner, associate instructor for the Nutritional Therapy Association, and a movement teacher. She has spent a decade working with organic farm systems and is fascinated by the connections between the health of our broader environment and the health of our internal bodies. Read more about Schmidt in her Remedy Farm profile.