Faculty

Matesan Discusses Manchester Terror Attack on CBS Connecticut

Ioana Emy Matesan

Ioana Emy Matesan

Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Emy Matesan discussed the recent terror attack in Manchester, England on CBS Connecticut.

Matesan said the big question on her mind is the nature of the perpetrator’s connection to ISIS. At this time, not much is known about the perpetrator’s background.

We know from terrorism studies that there is no single profile to explain “why an individual would join a terrorist group or why they would undertake a terrorist attack, so there are so many possible paths to radicalization. That story we do not know yet,” she said. “The other interesting question that we’re not exactly sure about yet is the connection to ISIS. Because ISIS has claimed the attack […] but it seems like they don’t have their story straight.”

“It seems most likely that [ISIS] simply inspired the attack but had no direct connection in organizing or coordinating it,” she said.

Understanding how ISIS is either inspiring or directing terror attacks like this this is important in dictating policy response, she added. It’s quite difficult to predict where the next attack will come from when attackers are acting relatively independently.

Matesan also noted that in this case, the attacker chose a high-profile venue with significantly less security than in other locations, such as in London. The fact that the victims included many women and children resulted in a high shock value.

“The message that ISIS wants to send is to be scared, that they’re coming for us, and that’s exactly the message that we need to undermine,” she said. “In terms of responses, of course enhanced security and intelligence cooperation and hardening targets is the only clear and obvious response. What perhaps is most important is what we should not do, and that is not to fall into the trap of provocation and in the trap of Islamophobia and xenophobia.”

Matesan also is a tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Yohe Rebuts Sen. Paul’s Call to Withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, rebuts an op-ed on Fox News in which U.S. Senator Rand Paul argues for the United States to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Writing on the site Climate FeedbackYohe explains that Paul’s opinion relies on the flawed claim that the agreement would do little to slow climate change and would cost American jobs.

Yohe breaks down Paul’s assertions regarding anticipated global warming—both with and without the agreement—as well as the Senator’s predictions that the agreement would cost the country 6.5 million in lost jobs and $3 trillion in lost GDP. Yohe contends that Paul relies only on analysis by economists who will produce numbers that support his view. Instead, Yohe points to the recent experience in both the U.S. as a whole and in California, which has a cap and trade program. Both have seen carbon emissions fall dramatically while unemployment has fallen and GDP growth has increased. “These simple economic observations contradict the Senator’s claims,” he writes.

Yohe goes on to explain why energy transformation on the scale envisioned by those who support the Paris Accord is economically feasible, and writes that renewable energy will be the growth sector of the first half of the century. For the U.S. to withdraw from the climate agreement “would reduce investment incentives in the United States. Leaving the Accord would thereby limit employment growth opportunities. It is here that the future employment of those displaced by the contraction of, for example, the coal industry, would otherwise be found.”

McAlear Visits Former Students Odede ’09, ’12, and Perel-Slater ’11 at Non-Profits in Africa

Professor Michael McAlear gathers with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Africa. 

In 2010 Professor Michael McAlear first gathered with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Kenya, offering a lecture on clean water. This year on his visit during spring break, he again gave a lecture to these students, now pre-teens and young teenagers, who filled his Q&A session with their concerns, interest, ideas, and a deep desire to learn.

In March, during Wesleyan’s spring break, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Michael McAlear took a trip to visit and catch up with three alumni whom he’d known when they were undergraduates, just beginning the nonprofits for which they are now known. McAlear doesn’t see them often: they live and work in Africa. All three had received Wesleyan’s Christopher Brodigan Award in their senior year, for research or work in Africa.

Kennedy Odede '12, Mike McAlear and Jessica ’09 Odede.

Pictured from left are Kennedy Odede ’12, Mike McAlear and Jessica Posner Odede ’09.

McAlear’s first stop was in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, and home of SHOFCO, Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede. Linking education for girls with community services, the organization has grown since McAlear had last visited in 2010 to help set up the school, when it held only two classes of girls ages 6 and 7, and the group was building a clinic was built to honor Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the student slain in the spring of 2009. At that time, McAlear offered the young students a lecture on clean water and also became a sponsor for one little girl, a responsibility and relationship that is ongoing,

“I was overwhelmed by the need in Kibera— and the optimism and fearlessness of Kennedy and Jessica; you couldn’t help being swept up by that,” McAlear recalls. “They were so young and naïve that they didn’t know what they couldn’t do—so they just kept on doing things.”

Wesleyan Media Project Researchers Write About What Americans Will Really Dislike about ‘Trumpcare’

Researchers affiliated with the Wesleyan Media Project wrote in The Washington Post on May 5 on what “Americans will really dislike about the House ‘Trumpcare’ bill.” The article, authored by Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Courtney Laermer ’17, Wesleyan Media Project Project Manager Laura Baum, and Sarah Gollust ’01, is based on data from Laermer’s senior thesis.

House Republicans voted on May 4 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with their alternative plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The authors argue that this vote is likely to cause headaches for Republicans due to several unpopular changes it makes to the law. They focus, in particular, on the AHCA’s replacement for the individual mandate (unpopular itself with only 35 percent public approval) with a “continuous coverage requirement.” As they explain:

If you let your health insurance coverage lapse for more than 63 days, you would have to pay a 30 percent late-enrollment surcharge on top of the premium for the next year. (The bill passed with two amendments affecting these penalties. The widely debated MacArthur amendment lets states seek waivers to enable insurers to charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions who fall into this coverage gap. The late-breaking Upton amendment added Wednesday provides $8 billion in funds to offset some of these higher penalties for waiver states, but most analysts don’t think it’s enough).

The researchers surveyed nearly 1,600 Americans in mid-March during the debate over the first version of the AHCA. Here’s what they found:

As much as citizens don’t like the requirement to purchase insurance or pay a penalty to the government, our evidence suggests that they dislike the AHCA’s penalty paid to insurers even more.

In short, AHCA opponents and potential challengers to House Republicans can choose from among many lines of attack: the public is already concerned about protections for people with preexisting conditions, huge cuts to the Medicaid program, and citizens losing insurance. Highlighting the AHCA’s coverage-gap penalty could drop public support further.

StemCONN Symposium Shows Connecticut is Leader in Stem Cell Research

Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke on “A Protection Racket: Tbx6 and the Establishment of Muscle Stem Cells in the Zebrafish Embryo” during the StemConn 2017 conference, held April 27 in New Haven, Conn.

Professor Stephen Devoto spoke at the StemConn 2017 conference, held April 27 in New Haven, Conn.

The annual StemCONN conference, held April 27 in New Haven, made clear that Connecticut’s commitment to stem cell research has helped the state become a national leader in this burgeoning area of research and commercial development.

Wesleyan is one of the founders of the StemCONN conference, along with Yale and the University of Connecticut. This year marks the 6th StemCONN conference, an event that brings together more than 500 individuals from academic institutions, bioscience industry, and government.

“Stem cell research continues to be an exciting and fast-paced field with new discoveries fueling prospects for new therapies based on regenerative medicine for a range of debilitating medical conditions, and Connecticut is at the leading edge of this field,” said Janice Naegele, professor of biology and one of the symposium’s organizers. “A major emphasis of StemConn’s mission is education, and this year’s conference attendees included undergraduate trainees, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. Special interactive sessions over lunch provided a fabulous small group format for undergraduate and graduate students to ask questions and discuss career paths with our invited speakers. This is a one of a kind opportunity for many of our trainees.”

Connecticut passed ground-breaking legislation in 2005, becoming the first state to fully approve funding for stem cell research. The 12-year, $100-million per year initiative has enabled the state to compete successfully for scientific talent in the field and has helped to establish a growing bioscience corridor in the Hartford-New Haven area.

Wesleyan Emeritus College Offers Theses Supervised by Retired Faculty

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The Wasch Center, located on Lawn Ave., is launching the new Wesleyan Emeritus College this spring.

Starting next fall, the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty will begin a two-year pilot program, “Wesleyan Emeritus College,” to encourage thesis tutorials between undergraduates and retired faculty members.

During this pilot, 11 retired faculty participants have been specifically approved to administer tutorials for credit by their parent departments.

Richard Elphick, professor of history, emeritus, taught at Wesleyan from 1972 to 2015. His interests are African history, comparative imperialism, revolutions, theory of history, and the history of Christianity. “I would be interested in supervising theses focusing on the following areas: History of Christianity, Africa (especially South Africa), imperialism, World War I and II, Cold War,” he said.

Jack Carr, professor of theater, emeritus, worked at Wesleyan from 1984 to 2015. He was the lighting and scene designer for the Theater Department, and a professional designer for productions in New York, the United Kingdom, Bucharest, Romania and Russia. His interests include lighting, design for dance and theater, and theater history. At Wesleyan, he taught Introduction to Production, Lighting Design, Designing for the Computer, and has already advised hundreds of thesis productions.

Stewart Leads Annual Earth Week Rant

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Brian Stewart, professor of physics, led his 10th annual Earth Week Rant on April 19 and 20.

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Brian Stewart, professor of physics, led his 10th annual Earth Week Rant on April 19 and 20. Stewart discussed energy and argued that a surprisingly simple, nature-oriented way of organizing public information can help us to make decisions as we navigate a murky future. (Photos by Will Barr ’18)

Jenkins Interviewed on BBC About New Play ‘Islands’

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins was a guest on the BBC program “Sunday” to discuss his new play, “Islands: The Lost History of the Treaty That Changed the World.” The play, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch ceded Manhattan in exchange for the tiny spice island of Rhun, premiered April 21 and 22 at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

Jenkins’ interview begins about four-and-a-half minutes in. Or, on the BBC page, scroll down and select the “Islands” chapter.

“We’re performing the actual text of the 1667 Treaty of Breda. In this treaty, if you look closely at the words, you’ll see that the English and the Dutch were ending their war,” said Jenkins told the BBC.

“As part of the agreement, they were also trying to erase from history all the awful things that they had done during the war. And among those awful things were the massacre of the indigenous Muslim population of the island of Rhun. And we have the Dutch character singing the words of the treaty, and then the indigenous characters question that. […] Those murders did occur and we can’t forget that. There’s a back and forth dialogue between the colonial masters and the indigenous victims of colonialism.”

Jenkins describes visiting Rhun. In the 17th century, Rhun was as valuable as Manhattan because it was the world’s primary source of nutmeg which, at the time, was worth its weight in gold. They met nutmeg farmers and were shown the nutmeg trees, which are still there.

The radio feature includes Wesleyan students singing songs written for the play by John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce and Artist-in-Residence in Music I. Harjito.

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Irani Analyzes Differences in Good and Bad Rhetoric

Tushar Irani, associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of letters, recently published an essay titled “What is good rhetoric?” for Aeon, a digital magazine for culture and ideas. Related to his current book, Plato on the Value of Philosophy, the essay calls on the public to consider the civic good that rhetoric serves in democratic politics, and the effect it may have on our ability to engage in independent thought.

The essay discusses the difference between good and bad political rhetoric. By drawing on Plato’s understanding of persuasive speech, Irani draws a distinction between flattering rhetoric and “self-moving” rhetoric. The problem with conventional rhetoric, according to this view, is not with persuasive speech itself or the fact that people use it. It is with the ability of a persuasive speaker “to subvert or short-circuit an audience’s power of independent thought.” Good rhetoric, while it is still persuasive, invites the listener to think independently about what the speaker is saying, creating an opportunity to “have our desire to understand enlisted.” Irani refers to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as an example of this type of rhetoric.

Aeon is a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. Irani’s essay can be read online.

Gallarotti Discusses Rising Tensions Over Russia, North Korea on Radio Program

Giulio Gallarotti

Giulio Gallarotti

Professor of Government Giulio Gallarotti was a guest recently on “Best of the Valley/ Shore” on WLIS/WMRD to discuss “Current Challenges of American Foreign Policy.”

“Our economy is doing well, the stock market is strong. The Fed’s been talking about raising interest rates, that’s how well we’re doing. And that hasn’t happened in a long, long time,” said Gallarotti by way of introduction. “There’s a lot going on all over the world and Americans are involved all over the world because we’re a global power.”

On recent tensions with Russia, he said: “I think it’s always been a kabuki dance, even at the height of the Cold War. It’s kind of like two very big people sharing the room. There will be a lot of friction, no matter who they are. Even in good times, they’ll always have issues. And in bad times, the friction will sometimes get to a crisis level. People will be very worried. I think that Russia is trying to solve a lot of different problems. Its main problems are domestic, not foreign, and a lot of the foreign policy is oriented toward maintaining some kind of stability in this political regime. Putin is using a lot of ‘rally around the flag’ tactics.”

Gallarotti elaborated on the problems in Russia, which include political instability, declining oil revenues, and a bad economy. And he said that the Russian people are “culturally comfortable” with being ruled by an iron fist throughout their history.

Listen to the whole interview here (scroll to “Valley Shore–41417–Wesleyan Government Professor”).

Gallarotti is also co-chair of the College of Social Studies, professor of environmental studies.

Grimmer-Solem Delivers Talk at Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences Meeting

Erik Margot Kohorn

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem presented a talk, “The Wehrmacht Past, the Bundeswehr, and the Politics of Remembrance in Contemporary Germany,” at the meeting of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (CAAS), April 12.

Grimmer-Solem also is associate professor of German studies and a tutor in the College of Social Sciences. His expertise is in modern German history with specializations in economic history, the history of economic thought, and the history of social reform. He has also developed research interests in German imperialism, German-Japanese relations before 1918, and Germany in the two world wars.

Grimmer-Solem discussed his research, which uncovered the involvement of a Wehrmacht general, honored in public as a member of the military resistance to Hitler, in massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. He discussed how his findings were received by the German public, how that resulted in the official renaming of an air force base, and what that reveals about German perceptions of the war of destruction waged in the Soviet Union by the German army. The talk explored the deep involvement of the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust, the Janus-faced nature of many members of the German military resistance, and the ongoing problem of basing contemporary Germany’s military tradition and “official memory” on aspects of this tainted legacy.

CAAS, chartered in 1799, is the third-oldest learned society in the United States. Its purpose is to disseminate scholarly information through lectures and publications. It sponsors eight monthly presentations during the academic year, hosted by Wesleyan and Yale, that are free and open to the public, allowing anyone to hear distinguished speakers discuss current work in the sciences, arts, and humanities.