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McNair Research Talks Spring 2014 Presents Wesleyan McNair Program Fellows
Thursday, April 17, 2014 Noon to 1 PM
109 Exley Science Center

Rashedul Haydar “Laser Induced Plasmas Under Bulk Water: Spatiotemporal Characteristics and Spectral Analysis”
Mentor: Prof. Lutz Huwel

Lavontria Aaron “The Remote Sensing and Mapping of Serpentine Soil Plants in Puerto Rico”
Mentor: Prof. Martha Gilmore

Justine McCullum “Trends in Smoking Over 30 Years”
Mentor: Prof. Lisa Dierker

McNair Research talks are designed for interested, non-expert students.
For more information about the Wesleyan McNair program and application for the Research Fellows and Scholars program, see www.wesleyan.edu/mcnair

April 22, 2014 Upcoming McNair talks in the series:
Oluwaremilekun Ojurongbe Alexander Mehner Manuel Rivera








Last November I hosted the first “All Diversity and Identity Groups Priorities Meeting.” Over cookies and refreshments, roughly thirty student leaders came to share their experience and brainstorm ways to collaborate. We had representatives from student groups ranging from Invisible Men to Shakti, Open House, Rho Ep, WSDR, and the Bayit.


First we heard from Chief Diversity Officer Antonio Farias. The crux of his remarks revolved around administrative transparency and advocacy. He affirmed that under his leadership the Diversity Office will collaborate, communicate, and hold itself responsible. Dean Farias reminded us that our work as student leaders is our legacy at Wes and that we must work together to make the changes we wish to see on campus.


Jumping off of his remarks, we launched into discussion. As a group we talked about what prevents us from working together, what about our school makes it difficult to do diversity and identity group work and where do we need more support from the administration. We grappled with shared issues of event attendance, gaps in communication, outreach, lack of space, and time constraints.


We transitioned into pre-assigned small group discussions. Each revolved around a different theme such as “creating a network and increasing presence” or “creating safe spaces while sharing cultural/group issues with others.” The groups made a list of shared goals, challenges, and places to collaborate. Out of the discussion each small group had a concrete list of ways to work together to overcome the obstacles they have faced. These ideas included hosting more meetings such as this one, creating a Gender Resource Center (talk to Nina Gurak to help!), reviving the UOC, and hosting more joint events.


The event was a great success and given the positive feedback I expect a higher attendance at the next meeting. For those who weren’t able to attend, here is a copy of our meeting notes. Stay tuned for more information, but tentatively the next meeting is scheduled for the first few weeks after Spring Break. Special thank you to Dean Renee Johnson-Thornton, Samira Siddique, Alton Wang, Lily Herman and LaNell Williams for their help with the event. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions for the spring meeting. Thanks!


Kate Cullen ’16

Dwight Greene Intern for Diversity and Community Engagement 



Our Muslim Community

By: Mansoor Alam  

To write this with honestly was quite difficult—it is hard to portray the Muslim experience at Wes as one that is largely positive. What it means to be a Muslim at Wesleyan is largely defined by all of the characteristics you thought would only contribute to creating a more vibrant community at Wes. Beyond race and ethnicity—one of the most defining factors of the Muslim experience at Wes is your individual interpretation and practice of Islam—your level of religiosity—and how others perceive this in the community.

I have been told that there once existed an MSA at Wesleyan that was not riddled with constant debates over whose beliefs were right, an MSA not consumed by homophobia and fears that the liberal ideals of Wesleyan would infiltrate our community. I have been told that there once existed an MSA that was truly beautiful – where students came as they were and rarely left. An MSA that created an environment where people embraced Islam – that encouraged dialogue. The Muslim community at Wes has become quite dismissive in my time here, and it is heartbreaking to see students needing to walk away from the MSA because they could not be the Muslim and person they were there.

I can think of no other way to capture the state of the Muslim community at Wes than to tell the following story.


The first thing I was taught on campus, directed to me as a Muslim student, was that there is a division in the Wesleyan community. Those who are. And those are not. At the Friday Prayer during my freshman orientation, a man gave a sermon urging us Wesleyan Muslim students to avoid many of the official orientation events, in particular, “Bend It At Beckham”. He said, “beware of the strange things that go on at this campus”.

Three years later I stood in his place, and gave a Friday sermon to the incoming class of 2017. I ended my talk by asserting that the best way to test our beliefs, our own faith, was to challenge them by stepping out of our comfort zones. I made sure to acknowledge the strange things on campus as well, quoting Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) – “Islam began as something strange; and it will return as something strange.” Given the places we come from, the environments we grew up in, characteristics about ourselves that we have no control over – we as Muslims on campus can no longer expect a completely homogenous Muslim community.  As a Muslim at Wes, you will encounter things that are unfamiliar. You will be challenged. And most importantly, you must actively choose what your contributions will be to the Muslim community at Wes, and to the larger Wesleyan community.

We cannot begin to claim that others do not accept us when we do not even accept ourselves.


From: UNCF/Merck <carita.marrow@uncf.org>
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Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013 12:11 PM
To: Ishita Mukerji <imukerji@wesleyan.edu>
Subject: 2014 UNCF/Merck Science Scholarships and Fellowships

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Science Scholarships and Fellowships
The UNCF*Merck Science Initiative is an innovative approach that creates opportunities in the biological, chemical and engineering sciences for African American students throughout the country.

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This is the first of a series of blog posts on the experience of religious students at Wesleyan. Religion is an issue we rarely talk about as a community and I hope through this series we can get the conversation going. A few questions to think about as you read this: in what ways is Wesleyan more or less accepting of religious difference than the rest of the country? How does this difference affect the lives of religious students and fabric of our community? Why is religion a topic that often gets overlooked even though it is so central to many of our lives? 

The first piece in this series is centered around the Jewish experience at Wesleyan. Danny Blinderman ’14 graciously agreed to reach out to different members of the Jewish community, reflect on his years at Wesleyan, and compile the post. Enjoy!

-Kate Cullen ’16 (Dwight Greene Intern for Diversity and Community Engagement)


Our Jewish Community

By: Danny Blinderman

When I was asked to contribute a piece for the Dean for Diversity Blog on the Jewish community the request struck me as odd, just as I am sure that the topic and placement of this piece seems out of place to all of you.  When we think about groups and communities that are marginalized on this campus our minds often turn to students of color, sexual assault survivors, or the Queer community.

The Jewish community doesn’t often make that list, and I think the reason why is that when most people imagine a Jewish individual at Wesleyan, they imagine someone like me. They imagine a white (Ashkenazi), upper-middle class individual whose parents went to college (and likely graduate school) and work in industries and jobs where employment is steady. They imagine someone who is fairly disconnected with Israel, secular (perhaps militantly so) and while ze might show up for services once or twice a year, religion plays an exceedingly small role in their life. This person does not accept limitations on what food they can eat, what they can do on Saturdays, and whom they can touch. The last time their Judaism made a claim on their life was likely one of their parents or grandparents exhorting them to eat a second helping of food at dinner.

There is no doubt that this individual exists in, and perhaps even dominates, the Jewish community at Wesleyan. My goal for this piece is to show you that I am not the only kind of Jew at Wesleyan. I want to show you that there are Jews here who are not secular, not apathetic towards Israel, and not white. I want to showcase the diversity of Jewish life and Jewish experience on this campus, and I want to do it by telling three simple stories about how those who diverge from the mainstream face marginalization that deserves to be recognized and oppression that deserves redress.


I want you to imagine that you lived in a world where, once a week, time stops. Where the never-ending deluge of emails, texts, phone calls and homework assignments that competes for our attention and drives us to the brink of distraction recedes for just one day. Into the void normally filled by the racket of everyday life instead comes reflection, meditation or a time to truly connect with people for longer than a harried five-minute meet up as you both wait for coffee at Pi. You might read a book you’ve been meaning to get to, take a walk towards Long Lane or call that relative that you’ve been meaning to contact, all with the confidence that you’ve dropped out of normal time and that, just for today, you live in a world that waits for you.

I’ll bet the vision outlined above sounds lovely to most of you, and about as close to the reality most of us experience as the idea of sleep during finals. However, for a few people on this campus it is a weekly reality. Jewish tradition designates Saturday, or more exactly sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, as a day of rest and reflection. While there are many variations on what one is or is not allowed to do on Shabbat according to Jewish tradition, the most commonly cited and often observed are an abstention from using electricity (laptops, phones etc.), writing, driving and other work activities. Shabbat observance at Wesleyan takes many forms. I have friends who don’t answer emails on Shabbat, and try to abstain from writing or homework. I have others who have no issue with writing or turning on a light, but for whom Shabbat is more of an imagined reality where one can get away from the din of normalcy and reflect.

It is important to note that these are not casual preferences but rather core tenants of people’s identities and religious practices. I say this because, as you’ve probably already realized, the rest of the world doesn’t operate on this schedule and often has trouble honoring the choices of individuals who choose to set aside a day for Shabbat.

You might wonder how big a deal that conflict could be. We all run on different schedules, so why does it matter that Wesleyan and the people who live here rarely take into account Shabbat as they conduct their lives and run the school? It matters because Wesleyan often makes it impossible to be a fully accepted member of the community and keep Shabbat in a meaningful way.

As an example, I now want you to imagine that when time stops for you, it continues for the rest of the world. Now, think about what happens if when the rest of the world interacts with you, they don’t know or acknowledge that you’ve chosen to treat this day differently. Instead, they expect you to function, literally, on their time rather than your own. They schedule meetings, send emails and assign work with no regard for the fact that you won’t or can’t respond or comply. All of a sudden this peaceful oasis that you have built for yourself is transformed into a cage that constrains you and diminishes your ability to participate as an equal in this community.

For too many people, Wesleyan turns Shabbat into a cage. It is transformed from something beautiful into something ugly by Wesleyan’s inability or unwillingness to take into account that some people live at a different tempo. Professors and administrators regularly place major deadlines on Saturday, totally unaware that they are forcing students to choose between an integral part of their religious identity and their academic standing. One of my more unsettling discoveries was that if a student asks for an extension or alteration of a deadline for religious reasons, Professors are not obligated to grant one. Instead, the University puts students’ religious identities and academic lives at the mercy of professorial discretion.

Don’t believe that these conflicts are real and hurtful? My freshman year drop-add began on a Saturday. For you or me this is a totally inconsequential fact, but it is a deeply unfair choice for those who keep Shabbat. I have a dear friend who observes Shabbat, and tries to abstain from writing or using her laptop during the day. She has described to me how hurtful it was to have her first real interaction with Wesleyan be a choice between her religion and her academic standing, especially as a first year when support systems are at their weakest and the terror of being left out of classes is greatest. Worse, there was no redress. Deadlines can be altered but drop/add doesn’t move because a few students have a religious objection. My friend literally counted down the second until after sundown in order to see what classes she got and what her standing for drop/add would be, placing her at a disadvantage to the rest of our class because of her religious observance.

This is all piled on top of a myriad of other issues that effect people’s lives every day. There are exams scheduled on Saturday’s during the fall, and NESCAC games sometimes fall on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. All of this contributes to the cultural divide that any Shabbat-observant student faces on this campus. At Wesleyan, Friday nights are typically reserved for various shades of debauchery, not reflection or community. At a place where religion is often caricatured and misunderstood the idea that someone might alter his or her behavior for religious reasons is seen as archaic and uncool More broadly, students must live daily with the disconnect that comes from a University and community that is alternately incapable or unwilling to acknowledge or accommodate people who have chosen to live on a different temporal landscape, one where the go-go-go ceases for one day a week.


My best friend at Wesleyan is also the smartest person I know. I can count on one hand the number of arguments I have won against her, and rare is the issue that does not evoke a passionate opinion or a well-constructed argument. I say this only to drive home the significance of the recent instance when she told me that she just didn’t want to be part of the dialogue around Israel-Palestine this year.

I was surprised, and asked why. She explained that she has a cousin who lives in Israel, an exceptional person, judging from her description. He just finished medical school and per Israeli law is now about to begin his army service. He had just written her an extraordinarily eloquent letter describing how he felt torn between patriotism and a desire to serve and the terror at the thought of being a soldier. My friend told me she just didn’t think she could talk about this topic right now. Her cousin, her friend is in the Israeli army and she felt that too many people forget that people here have personal connections to this issue when they have conversations and dole out criticism on this campus.

Many people have written on the shortcomings of the dialogue around the issue of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The scope of their criticisms and objections (coming from every possible side) are wide-ranging, and far too broad for me to get into fully here. I want to first make it clear what I am not saying by starting with this: these shortcomings do not come from the substance of political opinions. No one has a right to be shielded from ideas or opinions different from his or her own, no matter how shocking or hurtful they might be. A robust dialogue on this issue is vital (indeed, I spend most of my time contributing to it) and is an integral part of the political and humanitarian conversation on this campus.

However, there is a fine line between debating ideas and attacking individuals. All too often the dialogue around this issue strays into the vitriolic and cruel. Words like thug, murderer, evil or killer slip into our conversations too often and are attached to people and institutions too easily. I think this happens because it is easy to caricature and attack an abstraction, to brand people or places we have no knowledge of or contact with as evil. A personal connection of any kind humanizes the individual or place in question, and places it beyond the reach of certain types of rhetoric. As an example, the majority of us might rail against the commentators on Fox News but we likely wouldn’t use the same words or tone to speak with a friend who happens to hold conservative opinions. Their humanity demands our respect, even if we declare open season on their views.

It is important to remember that for many people on this campus, the issue of Israel is not abstract. They have friends and family who live there, and in some cases serve in its army. These people are incredibly precious to them, and often fear for their safety accompanies them wherever they go. When our dialogue regresses to the ugly state it often does the result is more than discomfort: it becomes a deeply personal attack on someone they love. On all other issues we strive to be kind, to divide between the individual and the idea. We would never insult President Roth’s family in order to make a point about need-blind. Most of us agree that while ideas are fair game human beings are not. Some people in the Jewish community wonder why that sometimes doesn’t apply to their friends or family in Israel.

When we talk, argue, or criticize we need to remember never to dehumanize. At its core, the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerns human beings, not faceless institutions or amorphous organizations. All too often this campus forgets that when someone floats a caustic comment, you might be implicating an individual who is dear to someone you know. That should never stop the discussion—quite the contrary it makes it more personal and urgent—but it should dictate how that conversation should be conducted. I know a fair number of people here with family or friends in Israel who feel attacked by rhetoric that makes them out to be monsters and are too scared too speak up. Our community owes them a better, and kinder, conversation.


Are you Jewish?

This is a question that, I must confess, I have never been asked. Partially this is because that particular part of my identity leaks out of my ears. I think the last time anyone at Wesleyan was surprised by the fact that I am Jewish was my first day on campus. Strangely, there is something comforting about that level of transparency. It is empowering to know that people accept my identity, that they recognize me as I recognize myself. I don’t have to justify or explain who I am; it comes just as naturally as my name.

I think this is the world that we should strive for, where everyone accepts and affirms whatever identity people choose to attach to themselves. But what if you lived in a community that refused to recognize you in the way you saw yourself? What if everyone was always surprised, maybe even incredulous, that someone who looked and sounded the way you did could be what you said you were. What is it like where your identity doesn’t match the world’s preconceived notion of what that identity should look like? I imagine that it would be exhausting and humiliating to be forced again and again to explain, and justify yourself to everyone around you.

There is a portion of the Jewish community on this campus for whom that is a daily reality. Picture a Jewish student here: you probably imagined someone who is white, maybe with wavy hair. Their family came from somewhere in Eastern Europe and bagels and matzo ball soup are their culinary markers of choice.

At Wesleyan, we forget that this is a portion of the Jewish community rather than its totality. The Jewish community here encompasses a startling range of diversity, Sephardic and Mizrahi, Black and White, East and West. The trouble is, we’ve decided what a Jew looks and sounds like on this campus and anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is forced into a never ending series of explanations and awkward questions.

This critique is not directed merely at the Wesleyan community: too often the Jewish community forgets that there is more than one type of Jew. At Shabbat services, no one has ever asked me “What brought you to services”. The answer is seen as self-evident: I am a Jew and tonight I decided I wanted to pray. Yet when someone shows up who doesn’t match our imagined image of a Jew at Wesleyan (which all to often means someone who is not white) the curious questions begin: “What brought you to services, tell me about your family, have you always been Jewish?” These are examples of the awkward half-questions that betray all to easily the incredulity that someone who looks like that or talks like that could really be Jewish. How is an individual supposed to find acceptance either at Wesleyan or within the Jewish community if we continually, casually doubt that they are who they say they are.

Even if we nominally accept the differences in people (and I have rarely known any Wesleyan community that would not at least strive to do so) our level of curiosity represents another barrier to acceptance. The interest we direct towards most individuals is towards their ideas or experiences: towards these individuals it is often directed at them. Namely, how someone who looks like or sounds like him or her came to be sitting with us. No matter how pure our intentions, these individuals can feel put on display when what they crave at that moment is what all of us crave: to find acceptance within a community.


I hope you were surprised by something you just read. It was my intention to lift up stories that don’t get told often enough and remind the campus that these individuals exist. Hopefully with a little more education and understanding we can move forward towards a greater measure of acceptance.

Being on campus, it is often quite easy to live in a bubble and not hear about news that’s going on in the midst of work and things going on on campus.  However, one story that I have kept on my radar in the last couple of months was the Steubenville, Ohio rape case. Thinking about the heinous actions of the men in the story was one thing but what stuck out to me was the way in which they were represented in relation to the victim of the case. You’ll notice that I won’t use their names here. I think that in order to make my point,  it will be important to divorce the personal from the structural.

Thinking about the case gave me a flashback to the summer before I got to Wes and some pretty healthy Facebook activity over an article about sexual assault entitled The New Rules of College Sex (it even garnered a rebuttal from Abbey Francis ’14) which was making the essential claim that young men on college campuses, like myself, were being unfairly categorized as sexual predators based on new standards for sexual assault.

To be blunt, this article scared me stiff. To think that engaging in what I presumed to be consensual activity could land me in prison was something that made me, I think understandably, quite nervous. However, age and experience have a habit of changing your perception.

The article also stated, however inelegantly, that males were being put at risk of being charged because of the unclear nature of what exactly consent was. If you’re in an unclear situation, especially one with alcohol present, how could you be sure that you were in the right?

That’s just it, unfortunately. Consent is a moving target based on both parties’ sensibilities and comfort level.  In our sexual encounters, partnerships, relationships, etc. it is so important to be in consistent communication with your partner. Enthusiastic consent must be more than a slogan we learn during Orientation. During my time at Wesleyan, I have come into contact with a little, very big, term called rape culture. It’s a culture that pervades the nation and certainly doesn’t leave our campus untouched. At the risk of being overly simplistic, rape culture is a systematic acceptance of sexual assault that simultaneously shames and silences its victims.

None of this, by the way, comments on the alarming projections of sexual assault victims who never report being abused or assaulted.

The natural, almost logical, response to calls for higher levels of consent and the calling out of rape culture is to say something along the lines of “To enter into these discussions, we should set the rules and parameters as to what exactly you mean by sexual assault. What are you talking about when you say consent?” The thing is, if you as a human being are faced with unwanted sexual contact, you have been sexually assaulted and that is based on your experience and the way in which you were treated.

This returns me to the Steubenville case.  In watching the verdict being handed down, the thing that jarred and triggered me the most was not the victim-shaming coverage (although that certainly made my skin crawl). It was the idea that our media could take seriously a counter-claim that the plaintiff was a consenting individual because she did not “affirmatively say no”.

What does progress look like here? To me, progress isn’t seen in the conviction of the defendants. Simply jailing two young men that were already so steeped in a culture that made them think it was not only acceptable but publishable to gang rape a young woman seems to me nearly fruitless, if only it allows for the slight hope that some young men in the future will see this case as a reminder to its unacceptability.

The structure remains. The rape culture remains. Until we come to terms with the way we view and represent the bodies of those that force us to consider what we believe we are entitled to sexually and societally, then Steubenville won’t be the last chapter; it’ll just be the newest.

Dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault is hard to do alone. Support is available. For a safe space to speak contact Alysha B. Warren, LPC, Therapist/Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator or any of the therapists at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 860.685.3217. CAPS can provide a space to help you sort out your feelings about the event(s), assist you in making decisions about what you would like to do next and help you begin the healing process.

Sexual violence is a community issue and we all have a role to play in prevention. Bystander intervention is one of the ways that we can begin to significantly reduce sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, such as stalking, sexual harassment and relationship violence, on our campus and in our communities.  For more information about how to become an active bystander, contact Alysha.

I have also attached a document from Alysha Warren elucidating the notion of consent a bit further. It can be found here: enthusiastic_consent_peer_health_advocates_fall_201211

This is a post that I co-wrote with one of the chairs of the Asian-American Student Collective Victoria Chu. It is designed to provide some context to a dinner taking place tomorrow entitled “Misunderstanding Minority”. I hope to see you all there.


Why have racist incidents been occurring recently in such alarming numbers on our campus?

To what extent are our students expected to play a role in addressing these grievances?

And most importantly of all – how do we expect to move forward if we stand as a campus still divided along color lines?

These controversial issues of closeted racism have been disturbing in itself, but they are indicative of a larger issue that is often neglected.  As leaders of groups that are invested in the full membership of all students on this campus with particular attention to students of color, the two of us are compelled to acknowledge the lack of communication and collaboration among many identity groups on campus– and how a lack of cohesive alliances is ultimately detrimental to any sort of progress our campus may hope to achieve. These incidents are collectively not only an issue that affects our African American students, but also one that affects all students.  A prescient example of these larger implications is seen within the Asian-American community on campus.

The lack of interest at Wesleyan in political issues concerning Asian Americans – particularly at a university purported to be so progressive – has been disheartening.  It stems from an ignorance of the issues that Asian Americans face that have been dismissed by mass media in light of the unfair “Tiger Nation” stereotypes.  It isn’t just physical hate crimes that fly under the radar.  It is the skewed depiction of Asians in the media, the lack of adequate health care and housing for lower-income Asian groups due to cultural and language barriers, and the under-representation of Asians in the political power structures of our nation. However, is housing discrimination, obstacles to adequate health care, political under-representation, or racial discrimination shown behind the mask of linguistic and cultural differences restricted to the Asian-American community? None of these things are restricted to one race, one gender, one sexuality, or one class.

So then what keeps us from acknowledging our commonalities more often? Stereotypes have been instrumental in expanding the divide between persons of color. Asian-Americans are often normalized into the perception of the “Model Minority” stereotype, and choose to distance themselves from stereotypical images of African Americans such as “mammy” or “Sapphire”, caricatures also based in historical fallacy.

African-Americans, Asian-Americans and all persons of color have faced enormous discrimination that has often led to acts of violence, both within and between their communities.  What we must understand is that these prejudices have arisen from the historical discrimination within the United States. Structural cycles of oppression within America perpetuate distance and dissonance among lines of color, gender, sexuality, etc. This causes us to ask the question of whether or not we even can (or should) attempt to reach that ideal of a “post-racial” society? It is this question and the need for solidarity both within the student of color community and the larger campus community that will ultimately move us forward.

With this recognition in mind, there will be a dinner/discussion entitled “Misunderstanding Minority” that will be moderated by Professors Amy Tang (AMST) and Lois Brown (AFAM) with  panelists Victoria Chu ‘13, Kelsey Henry ‘15, Christian Hosam ‘15, Chantaneice Kitt ‘13, and Lynna Zhong ‘15 on Thursday, November 29th at 7PM in the Daniel Family Commons. This discussion is being co-sponsored by the new WSA Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, Ujamaa Collective, the Asian-American Student Collective, the Invisible Man Collective, Ajua Campos, the Caribbean Students’ Association and the Dwight Greene Internship for Diversity and Community Engagement in the hope that our student body will be willing to recognize the similarities between the struggles all minority groups face – and how to work with one another to further our progress.

-Victoria Chu, Co-Head of the Asian American Students Collective
-Christian Hosam, Dwight Greene Intern for Diversity and Student Engagement, Chair of the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity (CID)

In writing the first of these two blogs about the power of willful ignorance, I tried to lay out a sense of what it is and how it should be conceptualized. In this concluding chapter, I thought it would be appropriate to use anecdotal evidence to provide an interesting entree into understanding exactly how willful ignorance operates within our campus. As I’m sure most of you are aware of, there have been an alarming number of racialized incidents that have taken place on campus in recent weeks. These events have upset and triggered many of us on campus, particularly those of us that identify as students of color. But what I’d like to do here is re-contextualize these events in terms of what it means to be willfully ignorant when an incident of hate occurs on campus.

Before I go any further, however, I feel compelled to make a statement on what I feel is one of the largest misconceptions about any incident of oppression that occurs (whether on campus or off). In my time at Wesleyan, the most dangerous assumption that I have seen made when an incident of hate occurs (whether that is a problematic sign placed in the student center, a bake sale based on racist underpinnings, racist posts on an anonymous chat board, or the like) is that these events only harm those in the affected group. In actuality, they affect us all. As a community, when one of us has their value and humanity challenged, we are all degraded as a result. The lack of that awareness lies firmly within the realm of willful ignorance.

Like I said in my last post, willful ignorance is based on unwillingness to accept the oppressive structures that surround you, so if you hear of an ad for a forum around these issues, see a poster that calls your attention to issues of discrimination on campus, and then have an internal dialogue that says that those issues don’t affect you, then you are part of this larger structure that normalizes you to believe that.

At this point, you might be asking yourself a logical question: How exactly does structural discrimination manifest in my life negatively, particularly if I am in the majority class. Let me give you an example. Have you ever read an article about racial discrimination and felt compelled to say something about it but didn’t because you felt it wasn’t your place? Been involved in a conversation about any of the “isms” and checked out because you were afraid of offending someone else in the room? What we often forget is that silence is an ally of hate. The fact that we have been normalized as a society to stand-by when incidents of hate occur because we are fearful of doing damage to our reputations is itself a perpetuation of oppression. Whether on this campus or back at home, pain is reinforced by silence. Even if you aren’t in the targeted group of people that are “directly” affected (this idea of a target group is also problematic), you should still feel for your community members. To be willfully ignorant is to know this and not take steps to place your voice into the discussion.

A first step to being comfortable enough to speak is being able to listen when there are opportunities to do so. Tomorrow is one of those opportunities. There is an all-campus forum in Beckham Hall at 7:30 PM about the campus climate and recent incidents of racism and discrimination that will feature President Michael Roth, Professor Alex Dupuy, Professor Elizabeth McAlister, Public Safety Director David Meyer, Chantaneice Kitt ’13, Jalen Alexander ’14, Dorisol Inoa ’13, Evan Okun ’13 and moderator Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Manjon.

When you work to understand what’s going on around you right under the surface, then you can begin to understand how to correct it. When we all decide to work on ourselves, the social change is already done.

 The following is a re-post from my WesSpeak in the Argus that was published this Friday. Please be aware that there is a discussion this Sunday at 7 in Wyllys 114 about the Making Excellence Inclusive Task Force with Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity and Institutional Partnerships Sonia Mañjon and Dean for Diversity and Student Engagement Renee Johnson-Thornton this Sunday. If you have ever felt like your concerns were marginalized and/or misrepresented by your student representatives, I urge you to come to this meeting to share your voice and your suggestions about the WSA’s role in promoting diversity and inclusion on this campus.

Do you feel included on this campus? Do you feel that your interests are represented? Do you feel that your individuality is celebrated or do you feel that you are often pressured to subsume parts of yourself to make others feel comfortable? If you’re not satisfied, you shouldn’t be satisfied allowing your voice to be left out. I am chairing a new committee on Diversity and Inclusion within the WSA. If you feel compelled to join, please e-mail me at chosam@wesleyan.edu for more information. The appointments process will begin after Fall Break. There will also be a discussion about diversity and the WSA this Sunday at 7 PM in Wyllys 114. You should stop by.

Before this effort begins, I felt I should give some context about why this is vital to our campus. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism. You name it, it exists here! How they manifest themselves certainly complicates the issue of promoting diversity on campus.

For example, after the Argus article about this committee was published last week, I along with other WSA members received an e-mail from one of the heads of the Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights (WSDR) about omitting issues of disability rights in our discussion. While it might be easy to account it to journalistic oversight, I’ll openly acknowledge that it was something that I don’t have the appropriate frame of reference to discuss in a nuanced, appropriate way. However, the purpose of this committee is to provide an institutionalized venue for introspection about our views towards prejudice and discrimination as a campus.  I’m better because of having something that I was ignorant towards highlighted to me; this will now be something that I will be attuned to when looking for potential members as well as initiatives going forward in addition to issues of race, class gender, location, etc.

Ultimately, this committee is being formed to highlight the cycles of oppression that persist on campus and begin the work of interrupting them (cycles, I must add, that are no one person’s fault). It isn’t designed to place blame. It’s intended to ask questions. How do we increase representation from underrepresented groups on all levels of campus – in student organizations (it should be noted that the demographics of the WSA, in which this committee has found a home, does not match the demographics of the undergraduate student body), in jobs, in academic disciplines? What administrative structures keep faculty/staff diversity stagnant?  How do we reconcile ourselves to a new reality in which our financial aid policy has shifted and socio-economic diversity may necessarily decline (socio-economic diversity, it should be added, is married to racial, geographic, ethnic diversity as well). Bringing together groups that would not have come together otherwise, planning events that serve as catalysts for broader discussion, highlighting prejudice and discrimination on campus, at all levels. Once we begin to reverse these cycles, then we can start the work of coming together as a campus in a much more powerful and productive way.

Hello Dear Readers!

For my first (real) blog post as the Dwight Greene Intern for Diversity and Community Engagement, I wanted to give everyone that reads this blog a contextual understanding of not only what I’ll be doing this year but also what my personal feelings are towards the work that I do and the cycles that I wish to interrupt.  In order to do this, I want  to consider a term that is loaded with connotations: “Privilege.”  What does it mean to be privileged in relation to other people in the world and, more immediately, in relation to our peers on this campus?

Before I go any further, I’d like to insert my own personal belief that by simply attending a school like Wesleyan in which we all live on campus in relatively small proximity to any basic need, consistently interact with stellar faculty, and interact with one another, we all have what I’d like to call “functioning privilege” which simply refers to privilege that is in action as we exist on campus without us doing anything about it one way or the other.

However, what I’d like to challenge all of you to consider is how much you actually consider that privilege. Is it something that you take for granted or wear on your shoulder? Does the fact that we have people to clean up after us strike you as peculiar or something that you don’t think about at all? My point in asking all of this is to get us to consider together not if we have privilege, but how it functions for all of us during our time at Wes.  I think to do this correctly, however, it is necessary to reconsider something that I stated earlier: what is our privilege in relation to one another?

While I know that my title may be a bit unnerving, I don’t want anyone to think that privilege on its own is anything to be ashamed of. I’ve already stated that it functions in all of our lives so that’s certainly not what I’m stating here. What I am saying, and what I was setting off in my title, is that there is a point at which privilege becomes something more than “functioning” and goes into what I’d call “active” mode, in which we are actively working to perpetuate our privilege, often at the expense of others. The most powerful form of this, in my opinion, is willful ignorance.

Willful ignorance, as I’m going to simplify it, is actually characterized by an unwillingness to acknowledge or understand how privilege and social power function in your life.  It’s one thing to benefit from the “isms” of the world. Its another thing altogether to view anyone that is willing to call those benefits out as abhorrent or “radical”

Over the course of this year, I’ll be working to break down many of the misconceptions related to things that I have experienced and I’m sure that we have all gone through (although not necessarily consciously). However, anything that I do bring up will be a function of unpacking the dangers of willful ignorance. Breaking down this false equation of ignoring racist, sexist, classist, homophobic etc. statements to actually not being any of those things, will be the focus of all the work that I do. Thank you for coming along for the ride.

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