Olivia Drake

Matesan’s New Book Explores Political Violence, Islamist Mobilization in Egypt and Indonesia

The Violence PendulumIoana Emy Matesan, assistant professor of government, is the author of The Violence Pendulum: Tactical Change in Islamist Groups in Egypt and Indonesia, published by Oxford University Press, September 2020.

The Violence Pendulum challenges the notion that democracy can reduce violence, or that there is anything exceptional about violent Islamist mobilization in the Middle East. It also addresses an ongoing puzzle in the study of political violence, and shows why repression can sometimes encourage violence, and other times discourage it. Matesan also investigates escalation and de-escalation in an inter-generational and cross-regional study of Islamist mobilization in Egypt and in Indonesia.

The Violence Pendulum is currently featured in Oxford University Press’s collection on Peace Studies.

Ellis Neyra Pens New Book on Latinx, Caribbean Poetics

Book by NeyraRen Ellis Neyra, associate professor of English, is the author of The Cry of the Senses: Listening to Latinx and Caribbean Poetics, published by Duke University Press, 2020.

Weaving together the Black radical tradition with Caribbean and Latinx performance, cinema, music, and literature, Ellis Neyra highlights the ways in which Latinx and Caribbean sonic practices challenge anti-Black, colonial, post-Enlightenment, and humanist epistemologies.

Krishnan’s Book Receives Special Citation from the Dance Studies Association

DSA awardA book written by Hari Krishnan, professor and chair of dance, received a special citation by the awards committee of the Dance Studies Association.

Krishnan’s Celluloid Classicism: Early Tamil Cinema and the Making of Modern Bharatanatyam (Wesleyan University Press, 2019) was honored with the 2020 de la Torre Bueno® First Book Special Citation for being an “invaluable addition to scholarship on Bharatanatyam in the crucial period between the 1930s and 1950s, offering an impeccably researched and well-argued revision of the common recounting of this phase of the dance’s history.”

Krishnan’s archival work “is impeccable,” the citation reads, “combining interviews with readings of key films and reconstructions of lost works using songbooks. Throughout, he is deeply attuned to gender, class, and caste, especially in charting devadasi genealogies in early cinematic works. He includes invaluable reflections on the complexity of working artists’ lives in these crucial periods, and argues persuasively that specific dimensions of some lives undergird the cinematic invention of ‘classical’ Bharatanatyam as a middle-class form.”

Dollinger ’22: Pandemic Year in College Brings Pride, Purpose

Dollinger

An essay on campus life during the pandemic, written by Shayna Dollinger ’22, was recently published by J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

When religion major Shayna Dollinger ’22 imagined her college experience, it never involved mandatory quarantining, weekly virus testing, attending concerts—solo—in a 6-by-6-foot square space, and wearing masks at a socially distanced tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. But this was the true reality of her junior year at Wesleyan.

“But weirdly enough, I don’t miss what could have been. I am proud and grateful every day for the lengths my university has gone to keep its students safe and engaged during these turbulent times,” Dollinger wrote in an essay titled “My Pandemic Year in College Has Brought Pride and Purpose.” The essay, which was an assignment in her BIO 107: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, was later published in the Dec. 3 edition of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

“There is a culture of mutual respect for the health of our peers,” Dollinger described. “We wear masks at all times, except when in our own residences, and we try to hold as many events outdoors as possible. We genuinely want to be here and stay here, and the only way that is possible is if we all agree to keep our campus safe and healthy. We are young people who care not only about our own health, but the health of our peers, the older members of our community, and the health of our country and world.”

Dollinger wonders what the outcome would be if the entire country were able to implement Wesleyan’s “Keep Wes Safe” strategy on a larger scale, as well as create a culture of joint responsibility. Perhaps, she writes, “this pandemic would ease its course and we might be able to prevent the next.”

“Until then, I will rock my Wesleyan University mask and find joy in my very own college experience.”

Read the full essay online at jweekly.com.

15 Seniors Elected to Phi Beta Kappa

phi beta kappa

Fifteen seniors were inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society on Dec. 2. Phi Beta Kappa means “love of learning is the guide of life.”

During a virtual ceremony on Dec. 2, 15 members of the Class of 2021 were inducted early decision into the Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The oldest scholastic honor society in the nation, Phi Beta Kappa at Wesleyan is limited to 12% of the graduating class each year.

Fall-semester election is based on grades through the end of a student’s junior year and fulfillment of the General Education expectations. The minimum grade point average for the fall election is 93, and students are nominated by their major departments.

“Your families, teachers, fellow students, and others at Wesleyan couldn’t be prouder,” Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 said during the initiation ceremony. “We’re delighted to recognize your achievements, even in this world of Zoom, and acknowledge your good work and your strong character. I am honored to be among those who honor you today. Thank you for your many contributions to Wesleyan, and congratulations on this extraordinary achievement.”

The students and their major(s) are below:

Jacob Barabas, College of Social Studies, economics
Kian Caplan, neuroscience and behavior, science in society
Julia Gyourko, history

Employees Recognized for Years of Service to Wesleyan

Joyce Topshe

Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe is celebrating her 20th year working at Wesleyan. She credits her love for the job to a “lifelong passion” for design and construction. LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, and Etch A Sketch were among her favorite childhood toys. “I am so lucky to be getting paid to do the things I love and with people that I care about,” she said.

For 19 years, Joyce Topshe took on the role of managing Wesleyan’s construction services, environmental services, rental properties, and Physical Plant-Facilities.

Now in her 20th year of working at Wesleyan, the associate vice president for facilities is powering through “the most challenging year of my career,” she said. “As we approach the end of the fall semester during a raging pandemic, I am feeling like we almost won the World Series. My entire team has worked exhaustively to make our campus safe during the pandemic, and I am so grateful to every member of my team for staying the course despite the challenges and concerns that the pandemic brought.”

Topshe, a member of Wesleyan’s Pandemic Planning Committee and the Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT), helped oversee the COVID-19 testing operation on campus and was heavily involved with the University’s reopening plans last fall.

Despite the pandemic, Topshe “continues to love coming to work every day because I enjoy the people that I work with,” she said. “Many of us have been working together for the entire time and we have this incredible sense of ownership and loyalty to our Wesleyan community, to each other, and even more so to the students that we serve. I enjoy working as a team and I am grateful for my talented colleagues who have contributed to the wonderful accomplishments that our team has achieved. I can’t believe that it has been 20 years since I joined Wesleyan. It is true that time flies when you are having fun.”

Scholars Explore the Theme of “Dirt” Through Center for the Humanities Series

During the Center for the Humanities Lecture Series, nine scholars explored the theme of “Dirt” throughout the fall 2020 semester. The theme explored the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of filth, waste, toxicity, and contamination alongside ideas of purity, hygiene, and cleanliness to address and reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural urgencies.

Through various topics, the scholars discussed uses and abuses of dirt and its various political, religious, sexual, ethnic, racial, and ecological significations.

The topics and speakers included:

Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave” by Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music; “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence” by Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies; “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures” by Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies; “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being” by Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies; “Lust Area” by Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology; and “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954-1979)” by Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

Other speakers included “Detention Operations” by Angela Naimou of Clemson University; “Soil, The Black Archives” by Marisa Solomon of Barnard College and Columbia University; and “Histories of Dirt in Lagos” by Stephanie Newell of Yale University.

The series was hosted by Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities.

The spring 2021 Center for the Humanities theme is ephemera.

Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities, explained how the theme "examines the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of soil, filth, waste, and contamination to reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural issues bearing on bodies and borders.” Korda also acknowledged that the land on which Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities stands once belonged to the indigenous Wangunk Indian tribe.

Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities, explained how the theme “examines the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of soil, filth, waste, and contamination to reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural issues bearing on bodies and borders.” Korda also acknowledged that the land on which Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities stands once belonged to the indigenous Wangunk Indian tribe.

Amy Tang

On Oct. 19, Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies, presented a talk titled “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.” “[The novel] vibrantly juxtaposes multiple timescales specifically working between the scale of the human and the scale of the planet. Moreover, Ozeki’s novel highlights the narrative’s own temporal plurality as a way of locating ourselves within the geological epochs of the Anthropocene.”

On Oct. 26, Yu-Ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies, presented a talk titled "Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures."

On Oct. 26, Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies, presented a talk titled “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures.”

Johnson noted that in the 1800s, liberal arts colleges and Protestant theological seminaries across the United States had integrated manual labor into their educational programs. At Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, students labored together 30-45 minutes before meals, and at Oneida Institute in New York, students were required to labor three hours a day.

On Nov. 9, Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies, spoke about “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence.” Johnson noted that in the 1800s, liberal arts colleges and Protestant theological seminaries across the United States had integrated manual labor into their educational programs. At Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, students labored together 15 minutes before meals, and at Oneida Institute in New York (pictured at left), students were required to labor three hours per day. “Initially, requiring students to labor in farms or workshops served purely practical purposes. Manual labor provided physical exercise that improved general health and well-being, and in contributing labor toward the maintenance of institutions, growing foodstuffs, or producing commodities, students got to offset the cost of their tuition.”

goldberg

On Oct. 5, Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology, presented a talk titled “Lust Area,” which focused on progressive support for all-gender public bathrooms in contrast to progressive silence surrounding the surveillance and policing of men who have sex with men in public bathrooms (also called “cruising”). Goldberg argued: “some of the contemporary support for all-gender bathrooms on the Left is motivated, probably unconsciously, by a discomfort with the homoerotics of the bathroom, and more specifically with the possibility of cruising. All-gender bathrooms can alleviate this discomfort insofar as they foreclose opportunities for cruising, whether through designs that eliminate opportunities for discrete exposure and contact, or by the installation or conversion of single-user bathrooms.”

Paula Matthusen presented "Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave" on Nov. 23 as part of the Fall 2020 Center for the Humanities Lecture Series.

On Nov. 23, Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music, presented “Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave.” With Projected Resonances, Matthusen explored the acoustic space in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and its intertwined histories of musical performance and tourism.

On Sept. 14, Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. "Queer Erotic Archives in Franco's Spain (1954-1979)"

On Sept. 14, Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, presented “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954–1979).” Galeano explained that under Francisco Franco’s regime (1939–1975) in Spain, the authorities incinerated heterosexual pornography while they preserved, curated, and restored queer pornography. The study of the confiscated materials “suggests that queer and trans communities embodied in their photographs a reading of their own desires that differed from the authorities’ views,” he said.

Books by Meyer, Smolkin Translated and Distributed in Russia

meyer book

Two books written by Wesleyan faculty have recently been translated to Russian, where they are now being distributed.

Nabokov and Indeterminacy: The Case of the Real Life of Sebastian Knight was originally written by Priscilla Meyer, professor emerita of Russian language and literature, and published by Northwestern University Press in 2018. Renowned translator and Nabokov expert Vera Polishchuk translated Meyer’s book, which is now available in Russian by Academic Studies Press.

Nabokov and Indeterminacy shows how Vladimir Nabokov’s early novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight illuminates his later work. Meyer explores how Nabokov associates his characters in Sebastian Knight with systems of subtextual references to Russian, British, and American literary and philosophical works. She then turns to Lolita and Pale Fire, applying these insights to show that these later novels clearly differentiate the characters through subtextual references. Meyer argues that the dialogue Nabokov constructs among subtexts explores his central concern: the continued existence of the spirit beyond bodily death. She suggests that because Nabokov’s art was a quest for an unattainable knowledge of the otherworldly, knowledge which can never be conclusive, Nabokov’s novels are never closed in plot, theme, or resolution.

sacred space

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism was written by Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history, and published by Princeton University Press in 2018. Olga Leontieva translated the book, which is now available by New Literary Observer.

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. She shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

The translation was already featured in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in the media project STOL, in The Journal Republic, and the media platform polit.ru.

Kottos Awarded Simons Collaborative Grant to Advance Wave Transport Research

kottos

Professor Tsampikos Kottos is one of 11 researchers worldwide to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. Simons is awarding $16 million total in funding over the next eight years.

With support from the Simons Foundation, Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics, will work on groundbreaking wave transport research, ultimately benefiting a broad range of technologies ranging from wireless communications and efficient energy harvesting, to biomedical and avionics sensing technologies.

Kottos is one of 11 principal investigators (PIs) from 12 universities and research institutions across the globe to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. The group’s project, “Harnessing Universal Symmetry Concepts for Extreme Wave Phenomena,” is based at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. (Read Kottos’ ASRC bio online here.)

During the first four years, Simons is awarding ASRC $8 million, out of which Wesleyan is receiving $600,000. In the second phase, Simons will award an additional $8 million.

The grant aims to stimulate progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in mathematics, theoretical physics, and theoretical computer science. This research aims to further the fundamental understanding of and ability to manipulate light and sound waves in order to facilitate the development of novel wave-based technologies.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Wesleyan to be part of this international coalition, which hopefully will address the next generation’s needs of classical wave-based technologies,” Kottos said.

Kottos’s research interests include linear, nonlinear, and non-Hermitian wave transport, mesoscopic transport, and mathematical physics. He has published more than 140 papers. During the 2020–21 academic year, Kottos is teaching PHYS 324: Electricity and Magnetism; PHYS 521: Physics Colloquium; PHYS 214: Quantum Mechanics; and PHYS 510: Theoretical Physics Seminar II.

In addition to participating in the research, Kottos also is serving on the Simons Collaboration Initiative steering committee.

Tan ’20 Honored by Geological Society of America for Poster Presentation

GSAOn Nov. 23, the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) Geobiology and Geomicrobiology Division awarded earth and environmental sciences graduate student Yu Kai Tan ’20 with a student presentation award.

Tan presented his poster, “Freshwater Mussels in North America: Museum Collections and Pre-Industrial Biogeography,” on Oct. 29 during the GSA’s annual (virtual) meeting. Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21 collaborated with Tan ’20 on the poster. Their advisors are Ann Burke, professor of biology, and Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences.

Judges commended Tan’s poster for being “beautifully organized” and having a “terrific use of time and space.” They also noted that “the digitalization and processing of these collections is incredibly important to maintaining them and making them accessible for future research,” and the work “plays a vital role in understanding past and present biodiversity.”

poster

(click to enlarge)

South Asia’s Caste System Discussed by Scholars, Students

In South Asia, particularly in India, people are born into a caste system that determines their social status, career, and access to resources and opportunities. Under Brahmins (priests, intellectuals), Kshatriyas (military, warriors), Vaishyas (merchants, farmers), and Shudras (laborers, servants) are Dalits, also known as the “untouchables.” Those in the Dalit caste group struggle with oppression and discrimination and are considered “dirty” and spiritually polluting.

On Nov. 21, Wesleyan’s South Asian students’ association Shakti presented a conversation titled “Caste Conundrum and Identity Politics.” Panelists included Hari Krishnan, professor of dance; Indira Karamcheti, associate professor of American studies; Manjula Pradeep, a human rights lawyer and former director of the Navsarjan Trust; and Meena Varma, director of the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

Shakti members Sushraya Jay and Darshana Banka moderated the discussion, which explored gender, privilege and their corresponding impacts on a day to day basis.

Shakti members Sushraya Jay ’21, top left, and Darshana Banka ’22, top right, moderated the discussion, which explored the caste system, gender, and privilege, and their corresponding impacts on a day-to-day basis.

"The caste system is so ingrained into society so people have adjusted life ... It doesn't bother everyone in India. There's millions of people who support this system because they have benefits associated with a caste," Pradeep said. 

“The caste system is so ingrained into society, so people have adjusted life. . . . It doesn’t bother everyone in India. People don’t want to talk about it. There are millions of people who support this system because they have benefits associated with a caste,” Pradeep said. “But the lower you are in the caste, and you’re born in the (Dalit) community, you have to do degrading work. If you’re born an untouchable, you live and die an untouchable.”

"We all need to be hyper-aware of the circulation of caste discrimination, even in daily life. If you see something, say something. Being a silent observer; it's not enough anymore," Krishnan said. Everyone needs to be an activist, everyone needs to be in solidarity ... and be aware of the social political problems that continue to promote and propagate violence."

“We all need to be hyperaware of the circulation of caste discrimination, even in daily life. If you see something, say something. Being a silent observer; it’s not enough anymore,” Krishnan said. “Everyone needs to be an activist, everyone needs to be in solidarity . . . and be aware of the social-political problems that continue to promote and propagate violence.”

caste

Karamcheti discussed the Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965, which opened up worldwide immigration to the United States. Since the 1917 Immigration Act, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zones Act, immigration from various non-white countries had been restricted to around 100 persons per year. The Hart-Celler Act raised that cap to 20,000 per year, prioritizing highly skilled, highly educated individuals and family reunification. Consequently, those migrants joined the U.S. as members of the upper and middle classes. “They had professions in the public sphere, often highly prestigious, and incorporated into the U.S. into a flattening out of caste. In a sense, that first wave of immigration comes in, not caste-less, but as upper-caste. As those numbers increased into the 2000s, what you get is the community of South Asians, putting caste-ism into practice.”
As long as the South Asian community was small in number, the dominant culture saw them as all belonging to the model minority. “In this sense, ignorance about their internal differences was in a sense protection; people could pass in terms of their caste identity. South Asians, as their numbers increased, put caste-ism into practice against each other. As the dominant culture gained knowledge about South Asians, knowledge in this case led to more caste discrimination,” she said.

"If you have to ask what caste privilege is, you're probably privileged," Varma said. We need to bring caste into the open, bring discrimination out into the open. We need to be caste aware and that's why solidarity networks are so important."

“If you have to ask what caste privilege is, you’re probably privileged,” Varma said. “We need to bring caste into the open, bring discrimination out into the open. We need to be caste aware and that’s why solidarity networks are so important. One thing we can do, as when we talk about COVID, is to stop using the word ‘social distancing.’ Even though this is now global terminology, this is what has happened to Dalits for 3,000 years. We are now being social, and being distant for reasons of health, but it is because we need safe distancing, not social distancing.” Varma also described the work of Dalits. “Dalits are manual scavengers; they are cleaning human [feces] with their hands,” Varma said. “Cleaning of dry latrines is mostly done by women, and sanitation workers, mostly men, die every day because they are lowered into a manhole without protection. Here is a country that can send satellites into space, but can’t automate its sanitation.”

Gamelan Ensemble Provides Virtual Mini-Concerts, Demonstrations During Pandemic

On Nov. 19, students from the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble presented their work-in-progress, a number of compositions in different tuning systems, and formal musical structures.

On Nov. 19, students from the MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners class presented their work-in-progress as part of a virtual mini-concert series. Both the beginning and advanced classes are allowed to perform in person as long as they remain six feet apart and wear masks and disposable gloves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of Wesleyan’s musical activities and classes were canceled, drastically adjusted, or moved to virtual platforms. Fortunately, for Wesleyan’s Javanese gamelan classes, students were still allowed to meet in-person as long as they followed strict guidelines: wear a mask and disposable gloves, social distance, and frequently use hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

“The university made all of these available to the students in the World Music Hall, where the gamelan meets,” explained Winslow-Kaplain Professor of Music Sumarsam. “The gamelan instruments were set up six feet apart, and the students were required to maintain that distance while playing or sitting in the audience area for discussion, and when lining up to enter or exit the hall. We also planned to have occasional online lectures and discussions, so the group did not have to meet in person as often.”

In the process of planning their hybrid MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners and MUSC 452: Javanese Gamelan-Advanced courses, Sumarsam and fellow gamelan instructor I.M. Harjito, University Professor of Music, decided to create a biweekly series of virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations, each one showcasing a different theme or style in 30-minute formats. “The production staff of CFA has worked tirelessly to publicize and produce these virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations,” Sumarsam noted.