Wesleyan University

The commencement speaker looked at the audience, and in his best doomsday voice uttered: “You are all going to die!”

It prompted a massive wave of laughter.

That’s because the speaker was renown SciFi/fantasy guru Joss Whedon, who gave a hilarious and frank commencement speech using his witty and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor to entertain and inspire the grads at his alma mater.

Whedon is the famed creative mind behind the cult hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly; the director behind the third-highest grossing movie of all time, The Avengers; and a man who was on the short list to direct the upcoming Star Wars franchise installment VII (should have been him, went to J.J. Abrams instead).

Whedon launched his speech with a cliché: “Two roads diverged in a wood and …” then quickly joked: “No, I’m not that lazy.”

He recalled how when he was a grad at Wesleyan University back in 1987, his commencement speaker was Bill Cosby, who had admonished the audience that: “You’re not gonna change the world, so don’t try.”

Whedon said he knew he could be more inspiring, which is when he launched his “you’re all gonna die” bit.

“Because I’m figuring…it’s got to go up from here, right? It can only get better. This is good. It can’t get more depressing. You have, in fact, already begun to die.”

But he comes full circle eventually:

Let’s just say that, hypothetically, two roads diverged in a wood and you took the path less traveled. Part of you is going, “Look at that path over there! It’s much better! Everybody’s traveling on it and it’s…it’s paved and there’s like a Starbucks every 50 yards… This is wrong. This path’s got nettles and Robert Frost’s body and… somebody should have moved that, right? It feels weird. …

You have, which is a rare thing, the ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself. To at least give it the floor. Because it is the key, not only to consciousness, but to real growth.

To accept duality is to earn identity, and identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just “who you are,” it is a process that you must be active in.

And it’s not parroting your parents or even the thoughts of your learned teachers, it is, now more than ever, about understanding yourself so you can become yourself.

Of course, he’s a Hollywood guy – so the gratuitous leftist slant was in there, too.

The only way, really, to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who’s spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it.

This connection is part of contradiction. It is the tension I was talking about. Because tension isn’t about two opposite points, it’s about the line being stretched in between them. And we need to acknowledge and honor that tension and the connection that that tension is a part of. Our connection, not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around.

The connection we have is part of what defines us on such a basic level. Freedom is not freedom from connection. Serial killing is freedom from connection. Certain large investment firms have established freedom from connection….

But we as people never do, and we’re not supposed to. We are individuals, obviously, but we are more than that.

So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world because that is actually what the world is.

Read more.

CLICK HERE to Like The College Fix on Facebook.

IMAGE: Online Screenshot

Student environmentalists have targeted colleges’ endowments, pressuring campus leaders to sell off petroleum industry stocks as a new tactic in the war against “Big Oil” emerges on college campuses.

The strategy against the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street aims to pressure university trustees to divest from endowment shares that don’t agree with environmentalists’ values and philosophies, and the movement has already met with some success.

One such example is Unity College, which likes to call itself “America’s Environmental College.” It’s the latest school to revise its investment portfolio in the name of “sustainability.” Campus leaders announced the decision earlier this month.

Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity, told ThinkProgress.org that “the trustees have looked at the college’s finances in the context of our ethical obligation to our students, and they have chosen to make a stand.”

Mulkey also declared in a campus news release that “we are running out of time. The window of opportunity for salvaging a livable planet for our children and grandchildren is rapidly closing.”

It’s unclear whether the move is simply a marketing ploy for the small school, an attempt to attract green students to the Maine campus, which currently has a $13.5 million endowment, very small compared to other colleges across the nation.

Meanwhile, those other larger campuses with much bigger piles of cash are under pressure by the movement, led by well known activist and global warming guru Bill McKibben of 350.org.

He’s taken on a nationwide tour to whip college students into a frenzy to pressure their administrations to divest. Targets of that campaign include Swarthmore and Middlebury colleges, which hold endowments of $1 billion and $871 million, respectively.

McKibben’s website argues “divestment is the opposite of an investment–it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Fossil fuel investments are a risk for investors and the planet–that’s why we’re calling on institutions to divest from these companies.”

However, McKibben – a professor at Middlebury – does not address the notion that divesting in a stock doesn’t make it disappear, simply go to another buyer.

But protestors insist holding certain pro-business and pro-industry stocks amount to hypocrisy. In mid-October, five Middlebury students issued a fake press release thanking the college for divesting from fossil fuels in honor of the Dalai Lama’s campus visit. The students were eventually given an unofficial reprimand for the hoax, according to news reports.

Similarly, at Swarthmore College,“Mountain Justice” club members have tried numerous publicity stunts, like delivering the Board of Trustees Christmas stockings full of coal, and decorating campus buildings with “Brought to you by Chevron” flyers.

So far, Swarthmore administrators have not budged, and even offered up a reasonable response against the environmentalists’ efforts.

After meeting with members of Mountain Justice, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp released this statement: “The Investment Committee believes that we should be an active shareholder in the companies whose shares we own, thereby enabling us to hold them accountable. Indeed, we have some notable examples in our history where affecting positive social change has come from exerting influence on a company by virtue of our stockholder presence.”

Not to mention, the college needs its portfolio to make money. Swarthmore’s 2010-11 endowment provided almost 40 percent of the college’s operating revenues, with the college reportedly spending an average of $29,955 per student from the endowment.

Further, the firms who manage college investments usually have confidentiality clauses. Opening university endowments to student scrutiny not only undermines these firms’ competition, but also encourages any number of other groups to uses the endowment for symbolic protest.

Nevertheless, the pressure continues to mount.

“Divestment is fast becoming a tactic used by student activists fighting against climate change,”notes a recent article in 7 Days, Vermont’s Independent Voice.” “Students at the University of Vermont last month called on the board of trustees to pull endowment funds from oil and energy stocks. Also in late October, students at 18 colleges and universities staged a National Day of Action to pressure their administrations to divest; the campaign involved some big-name institutions, including Cornell, Boston University and Harvard.”

What’s more, students at Wesleyan University have called on their administration to divest from Shell and Exxon Mobil, weapons contractors, Bank of America, and companies in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

It remains to be seen whether the pressure will affect change. This latest movement was inspired by the widespread 1980s divestment movement against South African apartheid, which by some accounts was a successful model, although skeptics contend it was international pressure that removed U.S. companies from South Africa, not university politics.

Fix contributor Danielle Charette is a student at Swarthmore College.

IMAGE: ArbyReed/Flickr

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook.

 

 

Perusing class schedules at universities across the nation illustrates that legitimate courses of study can be found among the hallowed halls of higher education, but there’s plenty of fringe, questionable, biased or pointless classes peppered throughout. Here’s a look at some of the more extreme examples of that from this fall’s course catalogs:

Anthropology

Columbia University, UC Berkeley

Apparently hauntings and Satanic possession isn’t just the darling of Hollywood right now. Some colleges’ anthropology departments have taken a liking to the subject this fall. Columbia University offers a course called “text, magic, performance.” Its description states the class:

“pursues interconnections linking text and performance in light of magic, ritual, possession, narration, and related articulations of power. … Domains of inquiry include: spirit possession, trance states, séance, witchcraft, ritual performance, and related realms of cinematic projection, musical form, shadow theater, performative objects, and (other) things that move on their own, compellingly. … Retraced throughout the course are the uncanny shadows of a fully possessed subject.”

Not to be outdone, Berkeley offers an anthropology course titled “the psychic life of history, culture, illness and violence.” Its course outline notes:

 “… We will devote a particular attention to hegemonic discourses on the body, health and suffering, as in the case of new psychiatric categories such as ‘trance and possession disorder,’ … we will further compare the dialectic and tension around the phenomenological experience of being ‘at-risk,’ between the ‘magical world’ and ‘psychopathological thought,’ pondering the experience of ‘cultural’ and ‘psychic apocalypse.’ ”

A prerequisite to enroll in either class is the instructors’ permission. That, and maybe a crucifix and some holy water.

English

Wesleyan University

An English class that doubles as a feminist/gender/sexuality studies course on this Connecticut campus is called “Queer Time: The Poetics and Politics of Temporality.” It promises to explore “relationships among textuality, temporality, and sexuality,” and draw on “works by directors of the new queer cinema of the 1990s” and “introduce students to examples of recent theoretical writing on ‘queer temporality,’ ” according to its course description. One of the books students enrolled in the class will read is called “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” an autobiographical tale that features themes such as pedophilia, suicide, death, homosexuality and depression.

The class syllabus also calls for “intensive participation” among enrolled students. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of uplifting discussions.

Economics:

University of Vermont

The slant of economics professors at the University of Vermont isn’t hard to determine when one peruses their department’s course catalog. There’s “capitalism and human welfare,” an interesting combination, which “investigates theories of growth of the capitalist economy and the historical process of the ascendance, domination, and recent relative decline of the U.S. economy.” (No course on communism and human welfare, by the way). A “labor, race and gender” class touches on issues such as unions, as well as “discrimination, economics of education, and other aspects of the economics of gender and race.” (I’m sure white male executives will make out like bandits in that classroom).  Next comes “African-Americans in the U.S. economy,” which offers an “examination of historical and contemporary inequality between whites and blacks, focusing especially on labor, housing, and credit markets.” (I’m pretty sure we know where they’re going with that one). And finally, there’s “economics of gender,” which tackles “how gender differences produce different economic outcomes for women and men in work, leisure, earnings, poverty; explores effectiveness of policies to overcome gender gaps.” (Hey, the 80s called; it wants its hot-button issue back).

Ethnic Studies:

Amherst College

The Black Studies department at Amherst College offers plenty of options for students, as long as they are not interested in learning about the contributions, accomplishments or opinions of black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Alan Keyes, Thomas Sowell and others. The department’s course topics run the gamut, from racism and the slave trade to revolutions and the Black Arts/Black Power movement. Specific topics tackled by the department include: music, Haiti, race and politics, African art and Caribbean poetry. One famous black historical figure even gets his own class. Nope, not Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. —- it’s controversial civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.

First year/freshmen seminar

University of California, San Diego, Swarthmore College

The freshmen or first-year seminar consists of small class sizes, they’re discussion-centric, and the topics are typically obscure, philosophical elective-type offerings. While there are many first-year seminars offered at campuses across the nation this fall that border on the absurd, two in particular stood out from the crowd.

“Interrogating gender: Centuries of dramatic cross-dressing” is offered this fall at Swarthmore College. It’s set to tackle such pressing matters as:

“Do clothes make the man? Or the woman? Do men make better women? Or women better men? Is gender a costume we put on and take off? Are we really all always in drag? Does gender-bending lead to transcendence or chaos? These questions and their ramifications for liminalities of race, nationality and sexuality will be our focus in a course that examines dramatic works from The Bacchae to M. Butterfly.”

Inquiring minds want to know. On the other side of the country, UCSD offers its freshmen “God, sex, chocolate: Desire and the spiritual path.” The course description asks:

“Who shapes our desire? Who suffers for it? Do we control our desire or does desire control us? When we yield to desire, do we become more fully ourselves or must we deny it to find an authentic identity beneath? How have religious and philosophical approaches dealt with the problem of desire?”

I bet the professor won’t have to pull teeth to get students to finish their homework.

Religious Studies

The vast majority of mainstream universities across the nation get an “F” —- for failing to offer one course focused on the teachings of Jesus Christ, by far the most influential religious figure in the history of the world. He’s lucky to get a passing mention in departments choked with subjects that tackle almost anything and everything but Jesus directly. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, post-modern religious thought, Jihad, existentialism, yoga as religion, asceticism, alchemy, Judaism, Catholicism, church-state relations, and so on and so forth.

So let’s see, universities can tackle: demonic possession, “queer time” literature, anti-Capitalist screeds, the Black Power movement, a history of cross-dressing and unfettered human desire, among a host of other obscure or controversial topics —- but studying the most influential figure to walk the face of this Earth? Heavens, no!

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook.

 

IMAGE: SMBC College/Flickr

Cardinal Conservative member Aileen Yeung talks to a Wesleyan student at the affirmative action bake sale. Photo: Campus Reform

The Cardinal Conservatives at Wesleyan University in Connecticut put on a bake sale last week, which wouldn’t be noteworthy but for one thing: The bake sale was an affirmative action bake sale, in which prices are set according to acceptance rates for different racial groups.

The conservative student group sold baked items at different set prices ($2.00 for white students, $1.50 for Asians, $1.00 for Latinos, $0.75 for African Americans, and free for Native Americans) to highlight what they call the inherently racist practices of affirmative action programs, and passed out fliers for an event the following evening to discuss affirmative action.

These kinds of events have gained popularity on some campuses in the past decade, most notably at Bucknell in Pennsylvania, where administrators shut down a 2009 event. The Cardinal Conservatives at Wesleyan weren’t shut down, but the bake sale has sparked serious controversy at the liberal arts college.

Already, the bake sale has launched multiple events, an editorial and an op-ed condemning the event in the student newspaper the Argus, personal email from teaching faculty to a student involved with the bake sale, and a summons for the Cardinal Conservatives to appear before a student government body to explain the bake sale. Student groups hung banners in the student center this week in a coordinated reaction to the bake sale event.

“Affirmative action is a band-aid on a social gash,” one banner read. “It does not begin to level the playing field.”

Friday, the Wesleyan campus will host two events in response to the bake sale. The following email was sent to the entire student body:

Wesleyan Community:

In response to the Affirmative Action Bake Sale sponsored by the Wesleyan Cardinal Conservatives, a group of concerned students and faculty will be hosting a forum on FRIDAY (NOVEMBER 5) AT 5PM IN USDAN ROOM 108. This forum will provide an open space for anyone interested to listen and voice their thoughts, opinions, feelings, questions, concerns, etc. about the bake sale. In so doing, we hope to address not only what affirmative action policies are and how they pertain to Wesleyan, but also, our campus climate and deeper societal issues that acted as catalysts for this event. Other points of interest are equally open for discussion. Hope to see you there!

Sonia Manjon, VP for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer
Renee Johnson-Thornton, Dean for Diversity

Another event, sponsored by students on campus, will take place earlier in the day. The email below was sent to students on campus (but was not a campus-wide email):

We are asking for people to show support by showing up to USDAN between 12pm and 2pm in Wes colors, BLACK, RED, and WHITE.

Join us as we educate Wesleyan on the true facts of Affirmative Action and we discuss how race has been played out on this campus. It is important that we have a large number of people show up so that people understand that this is not something that can just be forgotten. This is important and we need to sta…rt realizing that things will only get worse if we do not stand up and say something.

Even if you do not want to publicly get up and say something or take a stance, your presence is just as important. Support your peers because if it weren’t for people who spoke out against these type of things African-Americans, Latin@s nor Women would even be here at Wes to do things like play SPORTS.

So think about that before you decide to say that “it wasn’t that big of a deal” or “you don’t have enough time”.

I WOULD LIKE TO ALSO STRESS THAT THIS IS NOT A STUDENT OF COLOR EVENT. WE ARE A GROUP PF [sic] CONCERNED STUDENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO EDUCATE WESLEYAN ON THE TRUTH.

The full exchange between Rowe and Professor Claire Bond Potter has been provided by Rowe:

From: [Claire Potter]
Date: Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 3:52 PM
Subject: the bake sale
To: [Victoria Rowe]

Dear Tori,

The announcement about the affirmative action Bake sale was forwarded to me by a colleague. I cannot tell you how hurtful this event was to many of your fellow students, whose admission to this university, and presence in our classes, is an honor to them and a privilege to our community. At Wesleyan, faculty are charged with valuing *all* of our stiudents, from the moment of admission to the day they depart, BA in hand. Such events as the one your organization mounted are mere stunts that do not promote dialogue. Rather , they are intended to promote solidarity among young conservatives at different campuses. Actual speech promotes dialogue, not mocking others and implying that some students are less accomplished and less deserving than other students; or that some faculty must not belong at Wesleyan because they might have been appointed with attention to faculty diversity.

Without speaking the word race, you and your group are in fact stigmatizing students of color and their allies without mustering any facts that these fellow students *are* less “qualified” to attend a competitive university than you and your political allies are. While perhaps you do not intend to harm people, by producing a self-aggranding event that also promotes a false idea about our admissions policy (which promotes the admission of many different kinds of students for many different reasons, including the admission of large numbers of men who do not meet the admissions standards set by women and the children of celebrities who raise our national profile) you do a great deal of harm. As an addendum, studies show (see Bowen et. al.) that the largest number of students to be advantaged in the admissions process are actually the children of alumni/ae, or so-called “legacies.” If you really want to talk about admissions policy, you should read about it, talk about it, and research the policies of your institution and how they are acted on, not organize public stunts that embarrass fellow students without making yourself available for an intelligent conversation about the facts.

I am very disappointed that the Campus Republicans cannot bring themselves to promote a real dialogue, and an elevated one at that. There will be a student run event Friday at 5 in Usdan to discuss this matter, and I hope you will make yourself available for the dialogue you say you want.

Claire Bond Potter
Professor, History and American Studies
Wesleyan University

From: [Victoria Rowe]
Date: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:49 AM
Subject: the bake sale
To: [Claire Potter]

Professor Potter,

The intent of the affirmative action bake sale was to initiate a dialogue among students on the topic of affirmative action. At the event, we actively engaged a multitude of students in conversation. Some agreed with us, and others did not, but the event prompted the discussion. We passed out fliers encouraging students to debrief and discuss the event at a meeting that was held Wednesday evening. This meeting was a forum for intelligent discussion. Everyone was invited.

The Cardinal Conservatives believes that all people are created equal and wholeheartedly condemns racism. We brought public attention to the topic of affirmative action, because we believe the practice of affirmative action is inherently racist. Giving preference to an individual, based on his or her race, implies that the individual needs a preference, because he or she is inferior. This practice also discriminates against the individual who was denied a position or admission because he or she was not the desired race. We were in no way implying that students of color are less qualified to attend a competitive university than Caucasian students. Rather, we were stating that that is the implication of affirmative action.

We believe that genuine equality can only be achieved when individuals are judged based on their own merit, not anything else. People of all races come from different backgrounds and conditions. An applicant should be evaluated based on his or her achievements in the context of his or her environment. Intelligence, character, integrity, and other desirable qualities can be demonstrated in many ways.

The event was specifically focused on affirmative action practices, but we are aware of the practice of admitting a greater number of men to create a balance between the number of men and women on campus, admitting the children of celebrities, and admitting legacy students for reasons other than just merit. We also disapprove of these practices.

Additionally, the affirmative action bake sale was in no way associated with the Wesleyan College Republicans. An email was sent to the College Republican listserv about the bake sale, but it was not run-by or endorsed by the student group. The Cardinal Conservatives sponsored the event.

I am attending an event in out-of-state this weekend. I have planned on attending it for months. My ride leaves before 5pm, so I regret to say that I will be unable to attend the discussion at Usdan. I truly hope that the discussion this afternoon goes well.

Best,
Tori

From: [Claire Potter]
Date: Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 10:57 AM
Subject: Re: bake sale
To: [Victoria C Rowe]

Thank you for this response, although it evades the issue of why such an event would be necessary if the organization did *not* believe that there were students of color admitted to Wesleyan who were unqualified to attend. Nor does it respond in any way to the substantial harm that has been caused to a great many students of color and their allies.

There are many of us that think this event, in and of itself, was racist because of that harm, and that the failure to consider that as an outcome of a certain kind of political speech is not what we expect of Wesleyan students, regardless of their political beliefs.

with great regret that we have become acquainted in this way,
Claire Potter