Faculty

Kleinberg Authors New Book on Levinas’ Cultural Legacy

The first time Ethan Kleinberg, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters, immersed himself in the world of the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas 20 years ago, he wrote a book.

“It was written as a traditional intellectual history and I found that what that I had done was to completely deactivate the aspects of Levinas’ thought where he believes that there are ethical guidelines that come to us from outside our own history, these transcendent ethical guidelines puncture any historical or contextual moment,” Kleinberg said.

He didn’t like what he’d written, so he took an unprecedented step—he tore it up and started over again over a decade later.

Kleinberg’s new take on Levinas’ cultural legacy, Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought will be published this October in the Cultural Memory in the Present Series from Stanford University Press. Using a series of Levinas’ lectures on the Torah and the Talmud as the touchpoints, Kleinberg has crafted an exploration of his thinking that encompasses aspects of Western philosophy, French Enlightenment universalism, and the Lithuanian Talmudic tradition.

Levinas, a man of strong convictions and a sense of humor, was born in 1906 in present-day Lithuania. Levinas was the among the first to bring philosopher Martin Heidegger’s work to France, and later wrestled with the German’s turn toward Nazism.

Levinas became a French citizen in 1930 and served in the French military during World War II. He was captured in 1940 and spend the remainder of the war in a German prison camp. He was insulated from the Holocaust because of his status as a prisoner of war. Levinas held a relatively protected position despite his religion. His family in Lithuania did not, and were murdered by the Nazis.

Ethan Kleinberg

Ethan Kleinberg

While a prisoner, Levinas turned to sacred Jewish texts, which prompted an evolution in his thinking. Initially, a philosopher associated with the existentialists, his experience during the war led him to focus on what he called “being-Jewish.” He chronicled his thoughts in a series of notebooks, which were recently published.

New Visiting Faculty Bring Vast Academic Interests from High Altitude Ecosystems to Pharmacoengineering

visiting faculty 2021

Several new visiting faculty and scholars attended New Faculty Orientation in August. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Nineteen visiting faculty, including fellows, scholars, and postdoctoral researchers, join Wesleyan for the 2021-22 academic year. Their academic interests include high altitude ecosystems, Muslim political masculinities, Indigenous cultural studies, epidemiology and public health, 20th-century continental philosophy, pharmacoengineering, social media’s effects on adolescent development, and more.

Their bios are below:

Alisha Butler, Provost Equity Fellow in the College of Education Studies, is a mixed-methods researcher whose work draws on interdisciplinary perspectives to interrogate the overlapping ecologies of schools, neighborhoods, and cities that shape students’ and families’ experiences in schools. This work includes studies of school-family and school-community partnerships. Her dissertation leveraged qualitative methods to investigate gentrification’s effects on urban schools, focusing on how middle-class families in gentrifying communities select secondary schools for their children, how administrators and educators respond to changing school demographics, and how gentrification shapes the politics of family engagement. She earned her BA at Yale University and an MA in education policy from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she also will complete her PhD in education policy. Butler will join Wesleyan during the spring 2022 semester.

Alton Byers, Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment, is a mountain geographer, conservationist, and mountaineer specializing in applied research, high altitude ecosystems, climate change, glacier hazards, and integrated conservation and development programs. He received both his BA  and PHD from the University of Colorado, the latter focusing on landscape change, soil erosion, and vegetation dynamics in the Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, Nepal. He joined The Mountain Institute (TMI) in 1990 as an environmental advisor, and over the next 25 years worked as co-manager of the Makalu-Barun National Park (Nepal Programs), founder and director of Andean Programs, director of Appalachian programs, and director of science and exploration. In 2015 he joined the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado at Boulder as a senior research scientist and faculty, and currently works on a range of research, writing, and teaching projects in the Himalayas, Andes, Appalachian, and Rocky Mountains. His work has been recognized by the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal from the Nepali NGO Mountain Legacy; David Brower Award for Conservation from the American Alpine Club; Distinguished Career Award from Association of American Geographers, Mountain Specialty Group; Ecosystem Stewardship Award from The Nature Conservancy; and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Nepal Geographical Society. In 2016 he received a Fulbright Specialist award to teach mountain geography at Tribhuvan University, Nepal, and has twice been shortlisted for the Rolex Award for Enterprise. Byers is co-editor of Mountain Geography: Human and Physical Dimensions (University of California Press at Berkeley, 2013). His most recent book is titled Khumbu Since 1950, a unique collection of historic photographs of the Mount Everest region that he has replicated over the years. In April 2021 he was awarded the 2021-2022 Fulbright Nepal Research Award for continued work in alpine conservation and restoration work.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan’s intellectually dynamic faculty, students, alumni, staff, and parents frequently serve as expert sources for national media. Others are noted for recent achievements and accolades. A sampling of recent media hits is below:

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 participated in a Newsweek podcast debate titled “Is Higher Education Broken?” “I think the idea that only rich people should be able to experience the benefits of learning—whether that’s about math and science, or whether it’s about literature and philosophy—that’s a huge mistake. (Aug. 31)

President Roth also wrote a book review of Allan V. Horowitz’s A History of Psychiatry’s Bible for The Washington Post. “In this history … Horwitz emphasizes the social construction of scientific concepts. This account underscores the economic incentives in play as psychiatrists tried to reach consensus on how to describe specific disorders so that they could treat them—and be paid well to do so.” (Sept. 3)

In The Washington Post, Kyungmi Kim, a cognitive psychologist and assistant professor of psychology, explains why people tend to hold onto material possessions. “Mostly, when people think about the self, the self is residing within the physical boundary of our body,” she said. “However, we also have an ‘extended self’ which includes important people in our lives, plus certain objects that help us ‘define ourselves because they belong to our personal history.'” (Sept. 2)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the much anticipated directorial debut tick, tick…BOOM! by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 is timed to detonate Nov. 10 as the Netflix film opens the 35th edition of AFI Fest at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. Bradley Whitford ’81, Hon. 20, will play the role of Stephen Sondheim. The Emmy-winning actor tells The Hollywood Reporter that he found the obligation of playing a legend like Sondheim “scary” but he found a soft place to land on Miranda’s set. “We had the same wonderful, crazy acting teacher in college,” Whitford said of the late William “Bill” Francisco, professor of theater, emeritus. “Whitford says while there’s a relatively small percentage of the audience that has ever seen Sondheim, those who do know him love and adore him. ‘It’s scary to have that obligation but Lin was there to pull the blood out of me.'”

In Wicked Local, Jasmine Fridman ’25 shares her thoughts about working for the Mystic Mural project this summer. Fridman wants to major in environmental science as a result of working on the mural. “We learned a lot about the current effects of climate change on a global level, but also on a local level and on our home,” she said. “Not only did we paint nature, but we also took field trips to learn about the environment — it was very enriching.” (Sept. 2)

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, was mentioned in The Conversation for writing an article about an eighth-century female Sufi saint, known popularly as Rabia al-Adawiyya. “[She] is said to have walked through her hometown of Basra, in modern-day Iraq, with a lit torch in one hand and a bucket of water in another. When asked why, she replied that she hoped to burn down heaven and douse hell’s fire so people would—without concern for reward or punishment—love God.” (Aug. 30)

In The Connecticut Patch, William Wasch, Sr., ’52, is remembered for his long career with Wesleyan. “In 1964, Bill returned to Wesleyan and began a long career with the university, initially running the annual fund and then becoming Director of Development and Alumni Relations in 1967. While at Wesleyan, he oversaw several large capital campaigns and successfully kept more traditional alumni connected to the university during the very difficult years of campus unrest in the late 60s and early 70s. He retired from Wesleyan in 1985.”

 

Faculty, Staff Prepare for a New Semester at Wesleyan

After an unusual 18 months of hybrid teaching, working remotely, and navigating university life during a pandemic, Wesleyan’s faculty and staff are eager for some normalcy this fall. In this News @ Wesleyan piece, we speak to several employees about what they are most looking forward to during the fall 2021 semester.

Morgan Keller

Morgan Keller

Morgan Keller became director of international student affairs on Aug. 23 after stints at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California-Santa Cruz, and Clemson University. He learned of Wesleyan through his cousin, Adam Keller ’14, who spoke favorably of the university during his time here as a film major.

“This fall, I’m excited to meet the new and continuing international students and get a sense of the different ways we can holistically support them,” he said. “I’d like to create initiatives and co-curricular opportunities to increase our international students’ engagement with their U.S. American peers and enhance their sense of belonging in the campus community.”

As a New England newbie, Keller also is looking forward to experiencing the fall season in Connecticut and attending festivals and agricultural fairs with his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 9.

Abderrahman AissaThis fall, Abderrahman Aissa, adjunct assistant professor in Arabic, is teaching Elementary Arabic, Intermediate Arabic, Advanced Arabic, and a new Fries Center for Global Studies course—Introduction to Tamazight: The Native Language of North Africa and Beyond. This course will introduce students to the language and culture of the Amazigh people, an ethnic group native to North Africa and West Africa. The Tamazight language has been a written language for almost 3,000 years.

“I can’t wait to be with my students in class and hopefully go back to a full normal teaching and learning environment,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to teaching Introduction to Tamazight for the first time ever, especially since this language is practically unheard of in U.S. colleges’ curricula.”

Emily Gorlewski

Emily Gorlewski

New Play Revisits 1971 Attica Prison Riot

incarcerated stories

Artwork by Ojore Lutalo, which is inspired by the Attica Prison Riot of 1971, will be on exhibition later this month in Zilkha Gallery as part of “Remembering Attica: Legacy of a Prison Revolt,” a series of events commemorating Attica’s 50th anniversary.

Edward Torres, an assistant professor of the practice in theater, can’t help but be moved when he performs the words of L.D. Barkley, a prisoner who played an important role during the 1971 Attica Prison riot, raising morale for incarcerated men protesting their mistreatment. 

“We are men! We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such,” Barkley said in 1971 shortly before he was killed by police. 

For Torres, the most devastating part of performing the new play Echoes of Attica is to know that every word is real.

“This is a piece of history I am reliving,” Torres said. “It comes alive on the page because of that. It’s very powerful. The emotion is all there in the words, so you don’t have to overdo it.” 

The play, written and directed by Professor of Theater Ronald Jenkins, will be performed at 3 p.m., Sunday, September 12 in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts. Admission is free for Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff. 

Rap poet and activist BL Shirelle will be performing new music she wrote for the play “Echoes of Attica.”

Rap poet and activist BL Shirelle will be performing new music she wrote for the play “Echoes of Attica.”

The cast features the formerly incarcerated actors and musicians Darío Peña, BL Shirelle, Naomi Wilson, and Crystal Walker, who all take on multiple roles in the play. 

This event is part of “Remembering Attica: Legacy of a Prison Revolt,” a series of events commemorating the Attica anniversary, including lectures, films, and “Behind Enemy Lines: The Prison Art of Ojore Lutalo,” an exhibition of prison protest art by Ojore Lutalo, in the South Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. The exhibition will be on display on campus from Tuesday, September 21 through Sunday, October 17. Lutalo will give an artist talk at the opening of the exhibition at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, September 21.

In September 1971, 2,200 prisoners took over the state prison at Attica, New York, demanding better living conditions and political rights, holding 42 staff members hostage. Negotiations with prison officials broke down and the state police took back the prison by force. Forty-three people were killed in the riot, the vast majority by the police. 

Jenkins, who has facilitated theater workshops in Italy, Indonesia, and the United States for over a decade, saw the potential in the story after listening to Attica survivors speak about their experiences. Working with the cast and hearing their personal stories of police abuse, medical mistreatment, and general degradation at the hands of authorities, offering an added dimension to the script.

Peña spoke of being thrown down the stairs and having his ribs broken. Shirelle talked about being beaten. Wilson never thought she’d survive prison and rewrote her obituary fifteen times. There is nothing theoretical in their rehearsal conversations. 

Jenkins believes that the heart of the play rests with the music. Gospel songs performed by Wilson and rap music written by Shirelle provide an important piece of the story’s emotional journey. “The songs come from a place of sincerity,” Shirelle told a preview performance audience. “They are real. I spent ten years in prison and when I wrote the song about medical mistreatment in prison, it was easy because I had seen it all so many times.” 

In addition to the emotional truths unearthed by the actors, there are the literal truths found in the script. Jenkins crafted the play using thousands of pages of reports, FBI files, and interviewing survivors of the prison. The records are poignant, disturbing and, in some instances, just absurd. (Jenkins points to a conversation where President Richard Nixon congratulated New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller for his good work on handling the riot despite the deaths of innocent people.)

While the play might explore the past, the ills of the present are never far away.

“It’s important to remember that Attica is not just about the past. Attica is about the present, the things that are happening right now, things that are being done every day in the criminal justice system,” Jenkins said. “It helps us understand the origins of the violence that the state commits against communities of color.”

The play will be published in Spring 2022 by MIT Press in Performing Arts Journal. 

The performance is supported at Wesleyan by the African American Studies Program, the Film Studies Department, the Theater Department, the Art Studio Program of the Art and Art History Department, the Music Department, the Center for the Arts, the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the History Department, the Science in Society Program, the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, the Provost’s Committee on Equity and Diversity, and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life.

Aksamija Helps Porticos of Bologna be Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Porticos in Piazza Santo Stefano

Porticos in Piazza Santo Stefano. (Photo by Francesco Ceccarelli)

Associate Professor of Art History Nadja Aksamija got her first glimpse of Bologna, Italy back in 2004 as she walked from the train station towards the historic city center. It was a hot day and she dragged her suitcase down the sidewalk. 

Crossing Piazza Maggiore, Aksamija stepped into the shade of Palazzo dei Banchi, experiencing for the first time the city’s breathtaking porticos – extensions from the upper levels of structures that create about 37 miles of covered walkways alongside city streets. 

“I remember thinking that this was incredible,” Aksamija said. “It felt like a changing landscape.”

While the porticos create surface uniformity to the streetscape, closer examination reveals a constantly shifting environment. The gorgeous columns vary as you walk underneath. The light changes. The floor heights shift. Life teems underneath the porticos, with shops, cafes and bars, and live music giving the space character and dimension. Aksamija thought it was a fascinating hybrid between a city square and someone’s living room.

Liu Explores Racial Equity in School Funding as NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow

Roseann Liu

Roseann Liu

While teaching in New York City public and charter schools that served low-income, students of color, Roseann Liu and her fellow educators would frequently purchase basic resources such as paper, books, and classroom manipulatives for their students out of their own pockets. Students learned from outdated textbooks and teachers hungered for professional development opportunities.

Teachers and parents alike understood these conditions as the norm.

“Having less became natural,” said Liu, assistant professor of education studies. “Most students, parents, and teachers were unaware of how sharp the disparities were between underfunded and well-funded schools.”

As a newly-selected National Academy of Education (NAEd)/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, Liu is exploring the topic of racial equity in school funding through an ethnographic book project, tentatively titled “Designed to Fail.” She’s among only 25 fellows selected for the $70,000 fellowship from a competitive pool of 249 scholars of education.

“‘Why is racial equity in school funding so hard to achieve?’ That’s what I hope to answer,” Liu said.

For “Designed to Fail,” Liu is focusing her study specifically on the State of Pennsylvania, which has one of the widest gaps in the country between educational opportunities for white students and students of color. In a recent study by the Education Law Center, Pennsylvania was cited for providing school districts with the most white students $10,175 in state aid, whereas districts with the least white students received only $7,270—or $2,904 less per student.

While some scholars have already focused on finding the best models for school funding (for example, using performance-based systems), few studies have focused on the actions of school funding influencers— such as lawmakers, advocates, and lawyers—including the strategies they deploy to change school funding systems and the impact of their work.

New Access-to-Justice Class Helps Students Enact Changes in Civil Law

In-person members of Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s access-to-justice course, with class mascot Smudge the corgi in the arms of the course’s community partner liaison, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts. Photo courtesy of Armando Alvarez.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s aspiring law students arrived at her new service-learning class with a typical set of assumptions about how American courts work: Lawyers do most of the talking, decisions by the Supreme Court are followed to a tee by lower courts, and people who have legal problems tend to resolve them.

However, most individuals’ interactions with the law come through small civil actions—lawsuits, traffic court, and evictions, for example. For many people who live in low-income neighborhoods, not only is finding legal assistance difficult, but when they do access the law, often representing themselves in court, it might make their problem worse.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark

Alyx Mark

Thanks to Mark’s new access-to-justice course, offered last spring and planned for every two years, Wesleyan students got a new perspective and a chance to help enact real change. “Wesleyan has a lot to offer to the local community, as well as more globally. We have these entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, and sharp students who want to do good things in the world. So, it’s not a hard sell to go to a community partner and say, ‘Do you want a team of researchers to help you solve this problem?’” Mark said.

After a year of planning, Mark partnered with a civil justice funder, a national civil justice advocacy organization, and a local provider of legal services to offer students practical opportunities to wrestle with systemic issues. Mark also recruited a subject-matter expert, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts, to provide students with a practitioner’s perspective in their weekly meetings. Mark published her thoughts on the project recently in ABA Journal.

“The community partners articulated what they needed, like a wish list of different types of projects that will help them advance their work. What was nice about the projects is that they all required a different set of research skills,” Mark said. “The community partners loved talking to the students.”

Ospina Explores the Struggle of Searching for Community in New Book

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, recently authored a book of short stories titled Variations on the Body. (Photo by Simon Parra)

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, believes that writing fiction is another powerful way to engage the subjects that have driven her academic work—memory, violence, and culture.

“Right now, I think that this is the way that I am going to continue exploring intellectual issues that interest me, including those related to history and politics,” said Ospina, who previously published a book of cultural criticism.

Her debut book of short stories, Variations on the Body, has been translated into English from Spanish by Heather Cleary and was published in the United States in July by Coffee House Press. The book (Azares del Cuerpo) had been previously published in Colombia (where is it already in its third edition), Chile, Spain, and Italy, receiving raves from critics.

In six loosely connected stories, Ospina, who was born in Bogotá and is also associate professor of Latin American studies, follows women and girls from different parts of Colombian society. Through meticulous prose, characters struggle with searching for a community after migrating and with the marks that that voyage leaves on the body. It’s a book filled with tactile imagery and almost a journalistic approach in how it documents the lives of its characters.

Autry Pens Articles on Race, Identity, and Politics in the U.S.

Robyn Autry, associate professor of sociology, studies racial identity, Blackness, and memory, in addition to the politics of museum development in the United States and South Africa. She is the author of eight recent articles relating to these topics.

Her work includes the following:

In the fall, she will teach SOC 202-01: Sociological Analysis and SOC 299-01: The Future Perfect.

Hagel Discusses Authenticity Claims in Democratic Life

Nina Hagel, assistant professor of government, is a political theorist whose research focuses on questions of freedom, recognition, resistance, and democratic belonging. She often teaches courses on contemporary political theory, the history of political thought, and feminist political theory. She is working on a book manuscript on the meanings and political value of authenticity claims.

In March 2021, she gave a virtual talk called “Right-Wing Populism and the Dangers of Authenticity” at the University of Alabama as part of the Political Science Department’s Colloquium.

She also presented at the Conference on Philosophy and Social Science in Prague, Czech Republic in May 2020, virtually. Her presentation was called “Rousseau and the Stakes of Authenticity.”

Hagel was additionally invited to speak (virtually) at the Pioneer Valley Political Theory Workshop, in Northampton, Massachusetts in April 2021; present at the Association for Political Theory’s conference in Northampton, Massachusetts in November 2020; and give a talk at the University of Connecticut’s Political Theory Workshop in October 2020.

Moreover, Hagel served as a panel discussant in an “Author Meets Critics” panel for American Incest: An Undercover Politics of White Supremacy by John Seery at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association.

At Wesleyan, Hagel received the Center for the Humanities (CHUM) Faculty Fellowship for the fall of 2021, in addition to a grant from Academic Affairs to fund a book conference.

In the fall, she will teach CHUM 376-01: Subjection, Contract, Consent.

Dubar, Thomas ’18, MA ’19 Explore the Psychological Effects of Social Media Ghosting

Royette Dubar

Royette Dubar, PhD, assistant professor of psychology

Jhanelle Oneika Thomas '18, MA '19

Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19

So long are the days of slipping out the back door of a party to avoid confrontation with a date gone bad. Through social media, one can easily “ghost”— that is, cut off all communication without giving a reason.

In a new qualitative study titled “Disappearing in the Age of Hypervisibility: Definition, Context, and Perceived Psychological Consequences of Social Media Ghosting,” lead researcher Royette Dubar, assistant professor of psychology, and her former master’s student Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19 investigated both the motives and psychological consequences of the act of ghosting.

Dubar and Thomas discovered that this modern-age disappearing act has both negative consequences for the ghostee (i.e. the person being ghosted), and the ghoster (i.e. the person committing the act).

The study, which appears in the June 2021 issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media, is based on a sample of 76 college students who participated in a focus group session.

Ghosting has an overwhelmingly negative effect on the person being ghosted and can have both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short-term, ghosting may lead to internalized feelings of self-criticism and self-doubt, Dubar explained. Over time, these feelings may hinder the development of trust and vulnerability in future relationships, “which are key ingredients for developing intimacy.”

“Because ghosting does not provide any closure to the ghostee, it robs the individual of an opportunity to address any personal issues that may actually promote growth within that individual,” she said.

A 19-year-old female participant in the study described her own experience of being ghosted: “It becomes a lot of self-doubt at first. I think a lot of personal insecurity comes out when you get ghosted because you begin to question because you don’t have answers. So you question yourself, you question what you know about yourself and you blame yourself. You say that it’s because ‘I’m not pretty enough,” or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ or ‘I said the wrong thing,’ or ‘I did the wrong thing,’ or whatever. And at least for me, that’s really harmful and can really affect my mood for a long period of time.”