Ghenete “G” Wright Muir ’95’s Thou Art Woman: Archiving the Lives of Black and Brown LBT Women in South Florida

Submitted on Friday, 3/19/2021, at 4:45 PM

South Florida Gay News profiles Wright Muir, a law professor and co-founder of Thou Art Woman, “an event series that celebrates LBT women and their allies through narrative, performance, and visual arts.”

The article describes Wright Muir’s multifaceted law career, her early life and family, and her coming out as gender-nonconforming and a lesbian in 2013. She helped to launch Thou Art Woman the following year, and it has since “expanded and evolved into a three-day weekend event that features visual and performing arts, networking mixers, and tons of live music,” writes reporter Carina Mask. “It’s a place where women can speak freely and express themselves and talk about subjects such as oppression, modern-day feminism, race, and marginalization.” 

The event series had to be postponed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Wright Muir says she hopes to archive its videos and other materials for posterity, “while moving forward to produce virtual events to keep our community connected, engaged and entertained in 2021 and beyond.”

The article also delves into the history of racism and segregation in South Florida, and how this history repeated itself for Wright Muir in the form of an altercation in a public swimming pool in 2020.

Patrice Peck ’09 Pens an Open Letter to Black Girls

Submitted on Friday, 3/19/2021, at 3:54 PM

“Black girls, this is a letter to help you feel less alone, to remind you all just how powerful you are,” writes Peck, a columnist for MSNBC. “[Y]ou are not imaging the pain you and other girls like you feel at all. It is unacceptable that it exists, because you are just as human and valuable as the people who cause it.”

Peck’s letter acknowledges how many adults in positions of authority have been “behaving in ways that are harmful, unreasonable and just straight-up foul toward Black girls and young women”—from the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, to politicians who are trying to ban transgender girls from participating in school sports, to religious leaders who impose “narrow definitions … of what is good and right and proper” for women’s conduct.

But the letter also provides reassurance that there “are Black women of all different professional backgrounds using their careers and their work to tackle systemic structural violence against Black girls.” And Peck celebrates the influential successes of young Black girls on social media, in the performing arts and in political movements around the world.

Harlan Coben ’84, P’17, Suburban Dad with 75 Million Books in Print

Submitted on Thursday, 3/11/2021, at 2:41 PM

The New York Times profiles the bestselling thriller novelist, giving a glimpse into his writing habits, his 14-project Netflix deal and his family—which includes his wife, Dr. Anne Armstrong-Coben ’85, and their eldest daughter, Charlotte Coben ’17.

Harlan Coben is the author of 33 books, including the newly released murder mystery novel Win, whose title character “was originally modeled on Coben’s best friend from Amherst,” writes NYT reporter Elizabeth A. Harris. Amherst is also mentioned as the place where Coben and his future wife met as members of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

In contrast to his “oeuvre full of kidnapping, murder and narrative twists,” Harris adds, “he is also a menschy suburban dad who likes to talk about his four children and dotes on his two shaggy Havanese, Winslow and Laszlo, who trail him around his New Jersey house like eager little mops.”

To work on his many books in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Coben says, “I would find a coffee shop or a library or any weird place. I keep changing places. Most writers have a set routine, a set place. My routine is to not have a routine.”

1 Year Ago, Amherst College Was Among First to Go Remote: “We Had Some Very Challenging Meetings”

Submitted on Thursday, 3/11/2021, at 2:08 PM

Marking the anniversary of Amherst’s switch to a remote learning model to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, New England Public Media interviewed Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Kevin Weinman about that decision and how the pandemic has since affected the College.

“We were one of the first colleges to announce that we were sending our students home,” says Weinman, referring to the decision made in March 2020 that most students would not be allowed to return to campus after spring break. “So we did go through two or three days when our students in particular were extremely upset, for understandable reasons.” But he asserts that, over the ensuing weeks and months, it “ultimately clearly proved to be the right decision.”

Weinman also discusses the stringent protocols put in place at Amherst over the past year—particularly frequent COVID-19 testing for all on-campus students, faculty and staff—as well as the effects of the pandemic on the College’s finances. The interview ends with an uncertain but hopeful look toward possibilities for the fall semester of 2021, as vaccination becomes more prevalent and COVID-19 less so. 

Foraging in Japan with Winifred Bird ’02

Submitted on Monday, 3/8/2021, at 12:38 PM reviews Bird’s new book, Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes. Bird is a journalist and translator, originally from San Francisco, who farmed and foraged in the countryside of Mie and Nagano prefectures from 2004 to 2014.

The review describes the book as “a botanist’s guide to edible plants, a cookbook, a collection of insightful essays about Japanese food culture, and a memoir about life in rural Japan.” Eating Wild Japan also includes illustrations by Paul Poynter.

“Everything is seamlessly connected to food,” Bird tells the reviewer. “As an environmental writer when I was in Japan, I often wanted to do better in showing the connections, to be free to write about food, culture, history, economy and the environment as one topic, because I don’t think you can separate them. You can’t understand each of them fully without talking about all of them as one. What we eat is incredibly important in determining how we use the land and how we connect to the land and nature.”

Professor Ilan Stavans on Spanglish as the Language of the Future

Submitted on Monday, 3/1/2021, at 2:21 PM

“[Spanglish] is the fastest growing hybrid language in the world,” says Stavans in a recent video for NBCLX. “I would say it is the most important linguistic phenomenon in the Hispanic world, in the Spanish-speaking world, and in the English-speaking world.”

Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst, is quoted, along with many other scholars and media personalities, about the growing phenomenon of Spanglish, a blend of Spanish and English dating back to the 19th century and now spoken across the United States, especially by Latinx immigrants and their children and grandchildren. Spanglish appears today in popular music, in advertising campaigns and on television news programs.

Stavans is the author of the 2003 book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and has taught a course on Spanglish in past semesters—making Amherst one of the growing number of colleges and universities, as mentioned in the video, that include Spanglish in their curricula.

Visiting Professor Tess Wise Interviewed 48 Bankrupt Americans—Here’s Who They Blame for Their Financial Troubles

Submitted on Thursday, 2/18/2021, at 3:56 PM

In an article for The Conversation, Wise, a Karl Loewenstein Fellow and visiting assistant professor of political science at Amherst, describes what she found when she interviewed dozens of Americans who have filed for bankruptcy to get rid of personal debt.

“My research participants would likely bristle at the idea they were receiving a handout,” Wise writes. “They saw themselves as hardworking people who’d unfairly fallen on hard times while everyone else—particularly women, minorities and millennials—got an undeserved handout.” Her interview subjects’ invocations of stereotypes about women, Black people, Latinx people and young adults have prompted Wise to compare them to Archie Bunker, a character from the 1970s sitcom All in the Family “who railed against social change and political correctness.”

Wise studies American political economy, with a focus on middle-class economic precarity. She notes that Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy is “primarily filed by people making above-median income or trying to save a home from foreclosure,” and that there is an unusually high bankruptcy rate among those arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Pioneer Valley Symphony to Host Evening with Professor Emeritus Lewis Spratlan

Submitted on Thursday, 2/18/2021, at 1:56 PM

The Pioneer Valley Symphony has announced that it will present Life Is a Dream: Celebration of Lewis Spratlan on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. The virtual event will honor the 80th birthday of Spratlan, Amherst’s Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Music, Emeritus, and the 10th anniversary of the world premiere of Life Is a Dream, the opera whose second act garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in 2000.

An article in the Greenfield Recorder describes the opera’s “journey from completion to production.” Spratlan wrote it in the 1970s, while on the Amherst faculty; its full world premiere with The Santa Fe Orchestra came decades later. 

The Feb. 20 event “will explore many different works by Spratlan and include reflections from the composer himself via Zoom,” according to the article. “The event will also include brief footage from the original run of Life is a Dream, courtesy of The Santa Fe Opera.”

Also mentioned is a virtual Music at Amherst event, scheduled for May 9, at which the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will premiere Spratlan’s “Chamber Symphony.”

5 Fast Facts You Need to Know About Sarah Bloom Raskin ’83, P’14 ’17 ’19

Submitted on Thursday, 2/18/2021, at 1:53 PM presents a roundup of facts about Raskin, who, in addition to being an Amherst alumna, trustee and parent, is also a lawyer, civil servant and Duke University faculty member. She is married to U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, lead impeachment manager in the recent Senate trial against former President Donald Trump.

The article notes that Sarah Bloom Raskin was the first woman to be confirmed as deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department, a role she held from 2014 to 2017. Before that, she served on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and was “known for taking a tougher stance on Wall Street” and enforcing regulations to protect bank customers. And even earlier, Raskin was Maryland’s Commissioner of Financial Regulation and worked as a lawyer in the private sector.

The article also mentions Raskin’s education in economics from Amherst, her J.D. from Harvard and her early law career. It names her three children, Tabitha ’19, Hannah ’14 and Tommy ’17; Tommy died by suicide on Dec. 31, 2020. 

All High Schools Should Have a Black Studies Department, Says Alan Miller ’82

Submitted on Friday, 2/5/2021, at 12:39 PM

Miller, a teacher of African American literature at Berkeley High School, is co-author of a Black History Month op-ed in The Daily Californian urging all high schools to formally incorporate interdisciplinary Black studies into their curricula.

The other authors, Miller’s colleagues Dawn Williams Ferreira and Spencer Pritchard, are co-chairs of Berkeley High’s Black studies department, the first such department ever founded at a high school, dating back to 1968. “Establishing a Black studies department here demonstrated our district’s willingness to interrogate systemic racism, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, power and oppression. It represents a willingness to commit to prioritizing Black educational needs. It reflects a willingness to invest in a department that will actively improve the level of education that all students are able to receive,” they write. 

In addition to instilling self-knowledge and pride in Black students, filling in the gaps in an otherwise Eurocentric curriculum, and fostering empathy and liberatory politics, the article notes that “a crucial way Black studies courses can improve our schools is by recruiting and hiring Black teachers.”

“Since the latest Black Lives Matter uprisings, more campuses than ever have reached out to our department for help establishing their own classes, programs or even departments,” the Berkeley teachers write. “It’s time for other districts to follow suit.”

Some Doctor-Politicians Defy the Constitution (and Hippocrates), Says Dr. Alan Blum ’69, H’06

Submitted on Wednesday, 2/3/2021, at 1:53 PM

“The seven physicians in Congress who voted against confirming the results of the [2020 U.S. presidential] election,” write Blum and Howard Wolinsky in an op-ed on MedPage Today, “have contributed to the subversion of democracy and violated one of the principles of the practice of medicine that all physicians since Hippocrates must try to uphold: Primum non nocere ... first, do no harm.”

Blum is a family physician and professor of family medicine at the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, and founding director of the university’s Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society. With Wolinsky, a medical journalist, Blum lists and condemns the M.D. members of the Senate and House of Representatives who voted to invalidate the election results, as well as those who “stood in lockstep behind Trump” and his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The votes of these members of Congress “reflect not only the willful rejection of legal and judicial democratic norms but also unabashed racism,” the opinion piece continues. “These physicians’ deeds must be addressed by the medical profession.”

Professor Amrita Basu Comments on Indian Farmers' Democratic Dissent

Submitted on Wednesday, 2/3/2021, at 12:18 PM

In a piece distributed by the Tribune News Service, Basu describes the farmers’ protest movement that has been underway in India in recent months, and argues that the movement has been egalitarian, inclusive and mostly peaceful—“a democratic response to democratic erosion.”

“Farmers’ protests erupted in September in the state of Punjab after parliament hurriedly passed three agrarian laws which eliminate guaranteed prices for certain crops and increase their vulnerability to corporate exploitation,” writes Basu, the Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science, and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies. “But their grievances and demands go beyond farm policy. They claim that the government has capitulated to business elites .... They criticize the Bharatiya Janata Party government for decreeing major policy changes, some of which violate federal and constitutional principles, with little deliberation and consultation. They reproach the government for censoring the press and using draconian laws to incarcerate critics without trial ....”

“The farmers’ movement has not simply advocated democratic policies and procedures; it has also engaged in democratic practices,” the professor continues. “The Punjabi Sikhs who lead the movement oppose state persecution of religious minorities. They express solidarity with Muslims who are the target of recent discriminatory citizenship laws.” They have also, she notes, included and supported female farmers, provided food and other services to the poor, and upheld transparency and autonomy in their negotiations with government officials.

Professor Kiara M. Vigil on the Complicated Legacy of Charles Curtis

Submitted on Friday, 1/22/2021, at 11:50 AM

Did you know that Kamala Harris is not the first person of color to serve as U.S. vice president? Vigil writes for the History News Network about Charles Curtis, a member of the Indigenous Kaw Nation who became Herbert Hoover’s vice president in 1928.

Vigil, associate professor of American studies, writes that Curtis’s political career “spanned six terms as a congressman (1892–1907) and 20 years as a senator (1907–13, 1915–29), where he served as the Republican Party whip and majority leader” before becoming VP.

“Curtis’s most lasting legacy, certainly for scholars of American Indian history, is the Curtis Act,” she continues. “The 1898 Curtis Act amended the Dawes Act of 1887, which gave the federal government the power to break up tribally held lands.” Charles Curtis later wrote in his autobiography that he had written the act in the hope that it would help Native nations transition to private land ownership. “Instead, it was far more radical,” writes Vigil, “as it abolished tribal courts and instituted civil governments in an attempt to merge Indian territory with the new state of Oklahoma.”

Four Things to Know from Inauguration Day with Jim Warren ’74

Submitted on Friday, 1/22/2021, at 11:19 AM

Warren, longtime Chicago journalist and current executive editor of NewsGuard, appeared on the WGN9 Morning News on Jan. 21 to discuss key points from the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Warren talked about the “not so peaceful transfer of power” between the Trump and Biden administrations and the virtual, rather than in-person, format of some parts of the inauguration. He said Biden “symbolized, in theory, a return to normalcy”--but he also pointed out some exciting “firsts” in the ceremony, such as the swearing-in of Harris (the first female, first African American and first Indian American U.S. vice president) “by the first Latina Supreme Court justice, using the bible of the first African American justice.”  Warren then outlined the big questions of the start of Biden’s term, regarding coronavirus relief, Trump’s second impeachment and the widespread (but “absolutely dead wrong”) belief that Biden’s election victory was illegitimate.    

He closed by praising the “astonishing grace” of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, whose poetry reading at the inauguration “really gives one hope about the future, if there are young people like that out there.”

Professor Khary Oronde Polk on His Book "Contagions of Empire"

Submitted on Monday, 1/11/2021, at 4:09 PM

“I began this project as a racial and sexual history of the U.S. military abroad,” says the professor in a Q&A for Black Agenda Report. “It soon became a study in which race and sexuality became the optics through which Black people, conscripted into imperial service, wrestled with notions of death and honor.”

Polk’s book, Contagions of Empire: Scientific Racism, Sexuality, and Black Military Workers Abroad, 1898–1948, was published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2020.

The historical parallels between the moment of black sacrifice I study and today are pretty shocking,” says Polk, an associate professor of Black studies and sexuality, women's and gender studies at Amherst. “In 1898, Black men and women signed up to serve as ‘immune’ soldiers and nurses in the U.S. military due to a belief that Black people were immune to tropical diseases. Like essential workers today, these military workers were seen as indispensable for their grunt and care labor during the yellow fever epidemic in Cuba, but their lives and sacrifices were ultimately expendable to the larger project of American imperialism.”