Society

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.

Junger ’84, Garcia ’99 Screen Their Work at the Tribeca Film Festival

This month, Sebastian Junger ’84 and Liz W. Garcia ’99 will each feature their films at the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Founded in 2001 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival attracts nearly half a million attendees.

Junger, a journalist, author and filmmaker, is co-director, with Nick Quested, of the film Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS, 

It follows an extended family’s attempt to flee their homeland in the face of violence and tragedy. Edited down to 99 minutes from an extensive 1,000 hours of footage, it also captures the combat of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and Shia Militias in Iraq.

Hell on Earth is the latest product of Junger’s long-held interest in war journalism. He directed the award winning documentary Restrepo (2010), which documents US military personnel stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. This film would eventually become part of a trilogy that includes Korengal (2014) and The Last Patrol (2016).

Prior to his war journalism, Junger authored two notable works of nonfiction,The Perfect Storm, which was adapted into a film staring George Clooney, and A Death in Belmont. His writing and journalism has earned him a Magazine Award and a Peabody Award and has appeared in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harpers and The New York Times Magazine.

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia '99

Filmmaker Liz W. Garcia ’99

One Percent More Humid, which will also play at the festival, is director Liz W. Garcia’s second narrative film. It follows two college-age childhood friends, played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, who return home from school for a New England summer. Although together they engage in typical summer mischief, the effects of their shared past traumas become increasingly pronounced. Yet as they attempt to process their traumas, a rift eventually arises in their old friendship.

Deborah Rudolph, assistant programmer at the festival, describes One Percent More Humid as “a sun-soaked, atmospheric coming-of-age tale of two young women looking to free themselves from distractions, to repair their friendship, and help each other reach the other side of grief.”

Previously, Garcia directed The Lifeguard, her directorial debut, which premiered in 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival. She was the co-creator of the 2010 TNT series Memphis Beat, and has written for television series like Wonderfalls, Cold Case, and Dawson’s Creek. Currently she is writing the final installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Festival literature calls her “one of the most prolific female voices working today in film and television.”

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.

Poet Reece ‘85 and Honduran Orphans Are Subject of James Franco Documentary

Episcopalian priest and poet Spencer Reece ’85 taught poetry to the children of Little Roses, an orphanage in Guatelmala, the "murder capital of the world."

Episcopalian priest Spencer Reece ’85 and his poetry students, the children of an orphanage in Honduras, were the subject of a documentary executive produced by actor James Franco.

The film, Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, documents the experiences of poet, priest, and teacher Spencer Reece ’85 in the year he spent teaching poetry at Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Executive produced by Hollywood actor James Franco and directed by Brad Coley, the film had its world premier at the Miami Film Festival in March. Sherri Linden, in the Hollywood Reportercalled it “eloquent,” adding that “[i]t captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.”

Reese, whose debut collection, The Clerk’s Tale, (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize, had been ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2011, and first visited Our Little Roses as a three-month-long Spanish language immersion program to help him serve his community. He told Joan Crissos of the Washington Post (The Priest Who Healed Orphans with Poetry) that over the course of these months he was struggling to learn Spanish and did not spend much time with the girls. But the night before he returned to America, he noticed one of the girls outside his room. Speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, she told him, “Don’t forget us.”

And he didn’t. Back in the States, he applied for a Fulbright to return to teach poetry to the girls, “using the lines of meters and verse to help them excavate the layers of emotional scars left behind after their parents abandoned them.” The Fulbright, he admitted to Crissos, might have seemed an unlikely stretch: “’The whole thing didn’t look very good on paper…. I hadn’t taught before, I wasn’t a priest that long, and I hardly spoke Spanish.’

“‘But poetry was what I knew…. It gave me a place where I could find solace, feel that I was loved.'”

With the grant—and a film crew to help tell his story—Reece returned in 2013. His curriculum included a variety of English language poets such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes, and he encouraged the girls to write their own poetry, which they would translate from Spanish into English. He had planned to publish these poems, and the book, Counting Time Like People Count Stars (Tia Chucha Press), will be published in time for Christmas, he notes on the Little Roses Facebook page.

 

Gottschalk Featured in CBS Special ‘Faith in America’

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, professor of science in society, was featured in a CBS special on March 28, “Faith in America: A History.” The program covered a history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in the U.S.

“The very understanding of who is acceptable in American society goes to the very heart of who Americans are, and who Americans can be,”said Gottschalk in his opening appearance. “So issues like excluding immigrants based on a religion test, which is against various laws in our country, not only threaten those who would like to come to the United States, but it threatens those who are within the United States”

“We find that folks like Thomas Jefferson and others were quite clear that there was going to be no discrimination whatsoever, and he very clearly stated that we need to be welcoming of Jews, gentiles, Gentoos, which is actually a word for Hindus, and Muslims. So just absolutely no interest whatsoever in any kind of delimiting notion of who can be American based on religion.”

Today, Muslims face the biggest threat from discrimination. Said Gottschalk, “This current president has capitalized on a nativist sentiment… As we saw in the 1920s, there’s concern about immigrants coming in, taking our jobs, and displacing our values and often not looking like us. So the nativism often has a racial premise as well as a religious premise.”

Gottschalk also is director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

College of East Asian Studies Hosts Conference on Changing Boundaries of Asia and Asian America

During the 2017 College of East Asian Studies Student Conference, held March 30 in Beckham Hall, four panelists discussed “Inside/Outside: The Changing Boundaries of Asia and Asian America in a Divided/Globalized World.”

Photos of the conference are below:

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Panelists included Long Bui, visiting professor of American studies; Abigail Boggs, assistant professor of sociology; Kia Lor, assistant director of Language and Intercultural Learning; and Takeshi Watanabe assistant professor of East Asian studies.

Weber ’13 Named ‘Emerging Green Leader’ by Grist Magazine

weber-evan

Evan Weber ’13

Each year, as part of the series “Grist50,” the acclaimed environmental publication Grist honors 50 of the world’s most impactful innovators who are working to solve humanity’s biggest challenges with fresh, forward-thinking solutions. This year, Wesleyan alumnus Evan Weber ’13, co-founder and executive director of U.S. Climate Plan, has been recognized as an “emerging green leader.”

Connecting this year’s 50 green leaders is the theme “The Fixer.” Described by Grist magazine as, “bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck,” the list includes entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists and activists.

Not only do Weber and his team push for climate legislation on the national level and organize campaigns to support climate justice, but he also supports young activists by building partnerships between grassroots organizations, teaching statewide strategy plans, and advising college students. “It is how you build a generational front against climate change in Weber’s eyes,” according to Grist.

More on Weber, as well as the full list of environmental innovators and their work can be found on Grist’s website.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Experts Discuss Fake News, Then and Now at History Matters Panel

eve_historymatters_2017-0307173459

On March 7, the History Department sponsored a History Matters Panel on “Fake News: Then and Now.” Speakers included Courtney Fullilove, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of environmental studies, assistant professor of science in society; Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of East Asian studies; and Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, associate professor of German studies.

Students Learn about Jewish Culture by Making Hamantaschen

Chabad at Wesleyan hosted a hamantaschen making workshop March 1 in Exley Science Center. Hamantaschen (also called ozney Haman or Haman’s ears in Hebrew) are tasty, flaky treats with fillings that are often made during the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). The festival commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman the Agagite’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day,” as recorded in the Megillah (book of Esther). The points on the cookie may be symbolic of Haman’s three-cornered hat.

Chabad at Wesleyan opened on campus in 2011 with social, educational, recreational and religious programming for students and faculty. “Chabad is a home where all Jews are welcome no matter what affiliation, denomination or sexual orientation,” said Rabbi Levi Schectman. “We give you the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of your Jewish heritage. Most importantly, Chabad is a place where being Jewish is fun.”

Chabad at Wesleyan also hosts an annual challah bake, a shofar making, a Chanukah celebration, “Sushi in the Sukkah,” a matzah bake and more. The organization is affiliated with Wesleyan’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which offers religious, educational, cultural, political and social activities for Wesleyan’s Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Protestant communities.

Wesleyan also offers additional spiritual opportunities.

Photos of the hamantaschen making are below: (Photos by Jonas Powell ’18)

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