Alumni—especially those whose class years ended in 3 or 8—joined the families of graduating seniors of Wesleyan’s Class of 2018 for a campus-wide series of celebrations, WESeminars, thesis exhibitions, and festivities. Wesleyan’s Class of 1968, celebrating their 50th Reunion, began with a dinner on Thursday to gather the group and kick off the weekend. Other highlights included academic open houses, the annual parade of classes, the All-Campus Party featuring DJs Ben Resnick ’13 and Clément Guerner ’13, and Commencement speaker Anita Hill.
To see the Reunion photo gallery, click here.
To see the Commencement gallery, click here.
In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Recent Wesleyan News
Joyce Jacobsen, the Andrews Professor of Economics, is interviewed about how unpaid labor—such as childcare and housework—can be measured, and the potential impact on GDP. Jacobsen is also provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Masami Imai, professor and chair of economics, professor of East Asian studies, and Richard Grossman, professor of economics, are the authors of an op-ed in support of the proposed Postal Banking Act. The law would mandate that the U.S. Postal Service offer low-cost retail banking services, which, if properly implemented, would expand banking access to many low-income and rural families, improving their financial well-being, while also helping to shore up the USPS’s finances.
3. Connecticut Jewish Ledger: “Conversation with Vera Schwarcz”
Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, Emerita, discusses her new book, In the Crook of the Rock: Jewish Refuge in a World Gone Mad—The Chaya Leah Walkin Story.
4. The Washington Post: “On the Subject of Evolution, a Way to Hang on to Both Science and Religion”
President Michael S. Roth reviews The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness and Free Will, a new book by Kenneth R. Miller.
5. One Green Planet: “10 Colleges with Plenty of Vegan Options!”
Wesleyan is featured among the best colleges for vegans thanks to well-known vegan chef Stephanie Zinowski and her “to-die-for vegan apple crisp.”
Recent Alumni News
In a Q&A with the Miranda family (Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, father Luis Miranda, brother-in-law Luis Crespo, wife Vanessa Nadal, mother Luz Towns-Miranda, and sister Luz Miranda-Crespo), Winfrey and In The Heights collaborator Hudes (Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater) ask the clan to explore the roots of their familial commitment to philanthropy.
National Public Radio Morning Edition host Rachel Martin asks U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb ’94 about the agency’s new enforcement actions against those who sell vape pens and other non-burning nicotine devices—such as JUUL—to children and teens.
3. Courant.com: “Senators Hail Ted Kennedy, Jr. [’83 P’16, ’20] After 4 Years in Chamber”
Kennedy, who is not seeking re-election this fall, is lauded as a “down-to-earth, gracious, hard-working lawmaker” in the Connecticut Senate.
4. The Wellesley News: “Professor Kate Gilhuly [’86] Pursues Interest in Literature Through Research in Classics”
From a childhood where her mother read Homer and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology aloud, to becoming a classics major at Wesleyan, Gilhuly traces her path to Wellesley, where she is a professor in the Classics Department.
“The Ciambra, directed by Jonas Carpignano [’06] and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, is a gritty penetrating story of adolescence to adulthood set in Southern Italy featuring Romani actors and extras.” Carpignano was the assistant director of Benh Zeitlin’s [’04] Beasts of the Southern Wild.
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.”
“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.
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.
Recent Wesleyan News
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
“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….”
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).
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.”
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.”
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.
In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.
Recent Wesleyan News
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Nationally known leaders and distinguished Wesleyan alumni and faculty presented short, powerful talks during the inaugural TEDxWesleyanU event April 7 in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall.
Launched in 2009, TEDx is a program of locally organized events that bring the community together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. Some of the best talks from TEDx events have gone on to be featured on TED.com and garnered millions of views from audiences across the globe.
Speakers included Maria Santana ’98, a correspondent for CNN en Español; Connecticut State Representative Matthew Lesser ’10; Middletown Mayor Dan Drew; National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita ’71; national radio host Angela Yee ’97, and others. (View photos of the speakers below this article. View bios of all 13 speakers here.)
“The current political climate is characterized by the lack of conversations taking place between people of opposing sides and viewpoints. TEDxWesleyanU is the launchpad we need to kickstart an unprecedented level of dialogue,” said Eunes Harun ’20, who spearheaded the event. “The TEDx mission and Wesleyan’s values align so heavily in the fostering of ideas and sparking dialogue. This event further emphasizes how Wesleyan is at the forefront of confronting current political and social issues in an effort to ultimately make the world a better place.”
Harun came up with the idea to host a TEDx event after tossing off ideas to his roommate, Alex Harold ’20, and neighbor Leo Merturi ’20. The tri-founders soon created a TEDxWesleyanU core team including Melisa Olgun ’20; Anthony Price ’20, and Thafir Elzofri ’19. Zoe Reifel ’21, who organized a TEDx event as a high school student, joined the team late to offer her experiences and input. Collaboratively, the group spent more than a year-and-a-half planning the inaugural event, which “has been one of the most impactful learning experiences of my life,” Harun said.
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: