In the Media

Inaugural Hamilton Prize Winner Featured in Boston Globe

Audrey Pratt, winner of the inaugural Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity. (Photo by Betsy Pratt).

Audrey Pratt, winner of the inaugural Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity. (Photo by Betsy Pratt.)

The Boston Globe recently published a profile of Audrey Pratt, an incoming student in Wesleyan’s Class of 2021 and the winner of the inaugural Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity. Pratt, a graduate of Needham (Mass.) High School, won a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Wesleyan for her short fiction submission, “Thorns, Black and White.”

Pratt, who was accepted early decision to Wesleyan, told the Globe that when she applied for the prize, she “didn’t think in a million years I’d win,” but she was excited for the chance to have Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 and Thomas Kail ’99 read her work. Miranda, writer/creator and former star, and Kail, the director of Hamilton, are co-chairs of the alumni selection committee for the prize.

Wesleyan received more than 600 entries, including short stories, slam poetry, screenplays and songs.

Pratt described her entry as “a dark fantasy story, almost a modern Grimm fairy tale, about a forest, the coming of age process, girls with antlers and other monstrous versions of forest creatures.”

Pratt has written stories as long as she can remember. She was captain of her high school’s speech and debate team, a member of the all-female robotics team, and a member of the National Honor Society. At Wesleyan, she plans to study creative writing, neuroscience and behavior, and film.

“I’m going to take this opportunity and run with it,” she told the Globe. “It has given me a lot to live up [to], but I’m going to try my best and make everyone proud.”

Read more about Pratt and the Hamilton Prize here.

Rubenstein Discusses Theories of the Multiverse on Studio 360

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein was a guest on WNYC’s “Studio 360” recently, in a show titled, “The Theoretical Physicist Wore a Toga.” She addressed existential “what if” questions and the idea of multiple universes—an idea, she explains, which “is about 2,500 years old.”

“For the ancient Atomist philosophers [in Ancient Greece], the most desirable thing about what we’re now calling the multiverse was that it got rid of the need for a god. If it is the case that our world is the only world, then it’s very difficult to explain. How is everything so perfect? How is it that sunsets so beautiful?” she said. “What the Atomists believed was that religion and the belief in these kinds of benevolent gods actually caused people to behave terribly to one another, so they wanted to find a different explanation. So their explanation was that it’s not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so it was just perfect the way it is, but that actually that our world was just one of an infinite number of other worlds that looked totally different from our world, and that worlds were the product just of accident, of particles colliding with one another and randomly forming worlds.”

“It sounds a lot like modern physics,” she added.

What are the practical effects of such theories?

“Every major development in modern Western science since Copernicus has been advertised as this radical de-centering of our importance. […] As science progresses, we learn that we are less and less important than we thought we were. That’s one argument. But of course, it doesn’t seem to be the case that these purported decentralizations of the importance of the human have in any way contributed in any way to our feeling like we’re insignificant. We still tend to think that we run the planet.”

Rubenstein is also professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Badr ’20 Runs Website to Empower Youth to Tell Their Stories

Ahmed Badr '20

Ahmed Badr ’20

Ahmed Badr ’20, who was born in Iraq and came to the United States as a refugee in 2008, was profiled recently on NPR. According to the story, Badr used writing to figure out what it meant to be an Iraqi-American kid:

Over time, Badr realized that writing on his personal blog helped other people understand who he was and where he came from.

“There was this feeling of empowerment that was just overnight, all of sudden people were interested in my story,” Badr says. “… And so with that in mind, two years passed, and I thought, ‘OK, well this was great, but this is only helping me. This is only helping my own expression. So how about I take that feeling and that space that I created for myself and turn it into something that allows youth, refugee or otherwise, all over the world to do the same exact thing.’ “

Badr founded the website Narratio to empower other young people from around the world to tell their own stories. He curates essays, poems and stories submitted by young people, and also runs youth writing workshops.

Badr tells NPR he feels guilty when he sees family still living in Iraq, and feels a sense of personal responsibility to give the millions of youth in that country an outlet to express themselves.

“I want to be able to turn that guilty feeling that I had when my cousins asked me, ‘What are you up to?’ into a responsibility … and make it possible for them to be able to answer that question as freely as they would like to,” he says. “And so, if I can do that by giving them a website that they can share their stories on, that’s a step in the right direction.”

At Wesleyan, Badr is both an Allbritton Fellow and a Patricelli Center Fellow.

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.”

President Roth Calls on Universities to Promote Intellectual Diversity

President Michael S. Roth

President Michael Roth

On May 11, Wesleyan President Michael Roth writes in The Wall Street Journal about the need for colleges and universities to proactively cultivate intellectual diversity on campus. While student protests over controversial speakers have dominated headlines of late, he writes:

The issue, however, isn’t whether the occasional conservative, libertarian or religious speaker gets a chance to speak. That is tolerance, an appeal to civility and fairness, but it doesn’t take us far enough. To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.

Roth discusses initiatives at Wesleyan, including the Posse Veteran Scholars program, which brings cohorts of military veterans to campus on full scholarships.

These students with military backgrounds are older than our other undergraduates and have very different life experiences; more of them also hold conservative political views.

Now, Wesleyan plans to deepen its engagement with the military by working with the U.S. Army to bring senior military officers to campus. Starting next year, the first of them will arrive to teach classes on the relationship between military institutions and civil society.

Roth goes on:

Another new initiative for intellectual diversity, launched with the support of one our trustees, has created an endowment of more than $3 million for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus. This fall, our own academic departments and centers will begin offering courses and programs to cover topics such as “the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise and market economies” and “the relationship of tolerance to individual rights, freedom and voluntary association.”

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

Students are also recognizing the value of the free exchange of ideas. This spring, the Wesleyan Democrats and Wesleyan Republicans joined forces to host a Bipartisan Political Series to encourage open political dialogue on campus.

WSJ subscription is required to access the full article. The Wesleyan community can access the article through the Olin Library website.

Roth Writes About Teaching Iconic Film ‘Casablanca’ to Today’s College Students

President Michael Roth

On the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, President Michael Roth writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching the iconic film to modern college students. He writes, “…I have to encourage students to open themselves to the pace, the acting styles, and the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema. I push my smart, hip, and often progressive students to give up their condescending attitude toward the past.”

He writes:

This year, the immigrant story at the heart of Casablanca is more powerful than ever. Many of my students are sympathetic to refugees escaping brutal conditions, and in our current political atmosphere this is no small thing. But Casablanca’s themes go deeper than that, depicting a world in which people are willing to work together across differences for shared political goals. There can be no litmus test of political or moral purity when the threat is real and the task is to find common ground from which to take effective action.

On college campuses it is easy to stay locked in the bubble of one’s own friends and allies. A campus may, like Rick’s cafe, pride itself on diversity, but student groups (and faculty allies) often self-segregate, so they rarely put aside their differences to join forces, or increase mutual understanding through conversation and debate.

While administrators talk a lot about helping the world, colleges often seem content to prepare students to maximize personal gain after graduating, encouraging a retreat into a private life in which other people’s problems and political struggles don’t inspire concern — let alone commitment and action.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, colleges are reluctant to stick their necks out for anybody, except their own students, alumni, and faculty. Casablanca forces us consider what it takes for good people to act in a corrupt world, not just turn their noses up at the corruption. What does it take to say “no” to abuses of power? How does one come to risk one’s life by publicly affirming basic human values?”

These are questions that Casablanca raised when it was released 75 years ago. Today’s undergrads may resist its earnestness and romanticism, and they can easily point out deficiencies in its portrayal of race and gender. But Casablanca’s story of how diversity and solidarity can be combined to fight tyranny still resonates, even if that combination remains more aspiration than reality on campuses. I suppose that’s one reason I continue to teach the film: When neutrality is no longer an option, aspiration counts for a lot.

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.

Roth Writes on Hungary’s Attempts to Shut Down a Leading University

President Michael S. Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael Roth writes in The Washington Post about the Hungarian government’s efforts to close down the Central European University (CEU), a leading private university founded by liberal Hungarian-born financier George Soros.

CEU is accredited in the United States and registered in New York State, but has no U.S. campus. The Hungarian government has targeted the school by passing a law requiring universities to have campuses in the place where they are registered. The response has been mass demonstrations and even threats to suspend Hungary’s European Union membership.

Pointing to  recent debates over free speech at American universities, Roth writes:

While we in the United States fret about whether right-wing provocateurs can speak in the evening or the afternoon, a far more dire situation has developed in Budapest.

The Hungarian government is trying to shut down Central European University, a major beacon of research and teaching. The university was supported by the liberal philanthropist and financier Georges Soros and is currently led by Michael Ignatieff, a champion of freedom of inquiry. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has put enormous pressure on CEU but supporters around the world have rallied to its defense. We should, too!

He concludes:

When freedom of inquiry and expression is threatened on campus, it will be threatened elsewhere in society. In the long run, it’s the most vulnerable who have the most to lose.

 

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.

Slotkin Featured in PBS Special, ‘The Great War’

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS's American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS’s American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English, emeritus, was featured in a PBS American Experience special, “The Great War,” on April 10.

“It’s a watershed in American history. The United States goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power,” says Slotkin in Chapter 1 of the series.

In Chapter 2, Slotkin appears beginning around 15 minutes.

“When Wilson declares war, the total armed trained force of the United States is less than a quarter of a million men,” he says. “The British Army loses more than that in one battle.”

“In order to just enter the war at all, the United States has to raise from nothing an army of millions. But they can’t rely on volunteering because it just would take too long. So they realized that they needed to have some kind of draft.”

 

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.