From Under the Tree, to the Heads of State

Submitted on Friday, 2/21/2020, at 4:15 PM

Business Daily Africa recently ran a profile about Edwin Macharia '01, a partner at Dalberg Advisors, a strategy and policy advisory firm specializing in global development. The regional director for Dalberg in Africa, Macharia spoke with the business journal about the impact his youth had on what he does today.

His path to martialing data to advise firms and governments started under a tree in Kenya’s Homa Bay. It would take him to Amherst, where he majored in biology.

“We moved around a lot as a family. My dad worked for Barclays, my mom was a high schoolteacher. Therefore, every three or so years we’d move to a different place. I ended up in Homa Bay, learning in Dholuo under a tree because the wind had taken off the classroom roof and there was no money to get another one,” he said. “Learning under a tree allowed me to see that people are the same. Your history, your culture, the people around you, and your influences construct your moral universe. But your moral universe is a construct, so how do you deconstruct it? There was value in learning under a tree, look where I am today, I sit across heads of state.”

Will the India Trip Bring Votes Home: Pawan Dhingra

Submitted on Friday, 2/21/2020, at 4:12 PM

Looking at President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to India, China Daily turned to Pawan Dhingra, professor of American studies, to ponder whether the Feb. 24 visit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat would help get Trump the Indian-American vote in the fall election.

"There is a great affection for Modi among many – not all –- Indian Americans, especially Hindus, but that does not translate into a similar affection for Trump,” Dhingra told China Daily.

"However, if Modi can make the case that Trump is good for India and for what Modi wants to accomplish both in India and for India worldwide, then that could matter for Indian Americans," he added. Still, he concluded, “I do not think most Indian Americans will vote for him.”

From Campus to the House of Correction

Submitted on Friday, 2/7/2020, at 4:33 PM

The Daily Hampshire Gazette recently published a piece on the Inside-Out program, in which “men incarcerated in the Hampshire County Jail in Northampton can take a number of tuition-free credit-bearing courses taught by UMass and Amherst College professors, often alongside matriculated college students who travel to the jail for the classes,” wrote UMass journalism professor Razvan Sibii.

“In a country where one-third of adults under the age of 30 struggle with student loan debt, why would you go out of your way to provide free college classes to people who have been locked up after being found guilty of breaking the law?” Sibii wrote. “Because it makes our communities safer, because it chips away at systemic inequality, and because we can, and should, walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“A decade’ worth of scientific research has left no doubt that educational programs significantly decrease one’s risk of recidivating (by up to 43%!), improve one’s chances of getting a job after release, and even help one’s children avoid falling into the same traps as their parents,” she wrote.

Dementia and the Death Penalty: Sarat

Submitted on Wednesday, 2/5/2020, at 4:37 PM

The case of Vernon Madison, convicted for the 1985 murder of police officer and now on death row in Alabama and suffering from dementia, is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. For a piece examining the law and ethics of executing inmates with dementia, MSN turned to a group of experts which included Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science.

Sarat argued that the increasing length of death row stays, which result in dilemmas about executing the elderly, is possibly because of an increasing distaste with the death penalty itself.

“The usual hypothesis is excessive litigation and people pursuing every avenue of appeals,” he said. Noting that the Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act of 1996 made it harder to exploit loopholes and delay the process, the more likely scenario is that states don’t go through with these executions because of their questionable popularity, he said.

“When we think of death cases now, we think of DNA and exonerations, disparities in racial justice, botched executions,” Sarat said. “In that context, executing them may seem like less of an imperative.”

Pete Lalor '94 Among the Irish Ice Warriors

Submitted on Monday, 1/13/2020, at 12:37 PM

The Irish sports journal The 42 recently ran a piece chronicling the growth of hockey in Dublin, featuring Pete Lalor '94.

“I played hockey at Amherst College and then played a year in Holland in a place called Dordrecht,” Lalor told The 42. It was during a six-year medical school stint in Dublin that he connected with a group of players meeting at the Phibsboro rink.

“I’m not sure I’d even call it a rink, to be honest. So it was a dark and dingy building and didn’t look like a rink at all. It was a converted movie theatre. It was fairly barren, not very clean and the ice surface was maybe about a third of a proper rink. The ice was poor quality, almost like pond ice,” he said. “But I was just glad to be skating. Hockey is one of those sports that you just obsess over. I loved the people involved. And the Irish guys were the same.”

They put together a team, the Dublin Flyers, which went to Scotland to play in tournaments, and they played well.

“They were just athletes and they loved the game. At every opportunity they would skate and knock the puck around,” he said.

Barba: When Your Pastor Endorses a Politican

Submitted on Monday, 1/13/2020, at 12:36 PM

a Religious News Service piece on President Trump's outreach to evangelical Christians, writer Alejandra Molina consulted religion professor Lloyd Barba as an expert source.

Trump recently launched an “Evangelicals for Trump” initiative by visiting El Rey Jesús Global, a megachurch in Miami led by a Latino pastor who has visited the White House and publicly praised the president. The initiative came shortly after the magazine Christianity Today published an editorial supporting impeachment.

Barba spoke about El Rey Jesús Global’s official stance, that it is nonpartisan, not meshing with the pastor’s endorsement of Trump.

"While that church itself may not endorse a political candidate, or political party, the leaders of the church often do," Barba said, noting that in Pentecostal churches, pastors are not questioned.

"When you say you support a particular candidate because of your biblical conviction, for many congregants that will register as religious, as something that they're preaching," Barba added.

From the White Shadow to Uncut Gems

Submitted on Monday, 1/13/2020, at 12:33 PM

Writing about NBA All Star Kevin Garnett’s performance in the Adam Sandler film, "Uncut Gems,” Berkshire Eagle sports columnist Howard Herman got to thinking about athletes that took on chances with Hollywood roles.

Of course, Ken Howard ’66 came to mind.

Herman wrote, “Perhaps the best basketball player to act was the late Ken Howard. Howard, a regular at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the star of the classic TV series White Shadow, was the captain of the Amherst College basketball team back in 1966.”

“Howard's career was much, much more than just playing Coach Ken Reeves. But when you ask me, that role is the first one that comes to mind,” Herman added.

Shipping Jo/Laurie With Margaret Stohl '89

Submitted on Friday, 1/3/2020, at 2:57 PM

With a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women currently in theaters, fans recently got a preview of a new twist on the classic, co-written by Margaret Stohl '89.

Stohl and her collaborator Melissa de la Cruz recently spoke with Paste about about their upcoming YA novel Jo & Laurie, which provides, in the words of the publisher, “the story generations of Little Women fans have always wanted–a romance starring Jo March and her best friend Laurie.”

In the 1868 novel, (spoiler alert) Jo marries Professor Bhaer and Laurie marries Jo’s younger sister Amy. But many readers over the years have wished for a different ending. Stohl and de la Cruz went there.

“This is the fan fiction of fan fictions, and we honestly wrote it for ourselves more than anyone else,” Stohl said. “But also, our book is about what it is to be a girl and a writer when you are also a sister and a daughter, in mourning and in love, in success and in failure.”

“[M}y real fascination with 19th century American Literature began at Amherst College, where Emily Dickinson’s home was just a few doors down from my dormitory,” she said. “By the time I went on to Stanford and Yale, I was obsessed with the entire period—not just with its stories, but also with how they were read, with who was reading them, with the popular culture surrounding them—especially when a woman’s voice was involved.”

Penguin Teen releases Jo & Laurie on June 2th.

Vanessa Walker on the Death of Privacy

Submitted on Friday, 1/3/2020, at 2:52 PM

With the 2010s heading out the door, Politico recently assembled a group of thinkers to consider how the history books will treat the decade. For Vanessa Walker, the Morgan Assistant Professor in Diplomatic History, the decade signaled the death knell for privacy.

“The war on terror in the aughts had already ushered in new invasive profiling practices,” she wrote, “but the pervasive, hyper-individualized, corporate-based collection and aggregation of personal data in partnership with government marked a new frontier in surveillance. The collection of personal information through individuals’ phones, computers and virtual assistants—and the social media and online platforms they utilized—informed almost every aspect of social and political interactions.”

“Like the proverbial frog being boiled alive, people became accustomed not only to trading their personal information for basic services, but also the idea that they were always being watched,” she continued. “As the decade drew to a close, law enforcement officials, political campaigns and foreign governments increasingly used information gathered for commercial purposes in ways completely at odds with the assurances of privacy and consent. As scandals like Cambridge Analytica revealed, the use of this data was also at odds with the integrity of democratic institutions and confidence in the electoral process.”

Reading "The Limits of the World"

Submitted on Friday, 1/3/2020, at 2:50 PM

Citing it as a 2019 novel that should be on people’s 2020 reading list, Krupa Shandilya, associate professor of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies, recently penned a review for The Los Angeles Review of Books about Jennifer Acker’s debut novel, The Limits of the World.

In the novel, Acker, a member of Amherst’s Class of 2000 and founder and editor in chief of the Amherst-based literary journal The Common, tells the story of multiple migrations of the Chandaria family from India to Kenya, and then to the United States, as each subsequent generation seeks a better life elsewhere.

“What is home? In another, less accomplished novel, this question might be answered by heavy-handed expositions on intersectional identity positions. But in Acker’s novel, the question lingers like the scent of a departed lover, illuminating the past through the warm flow of memory and pressing on the conflicts of the present like the dull ache of a forgotten wound,” Shandilya wrote.

“It’s very rare to see a white novelist take on the lives of immigrants with such sensitivity and insight,” she continued. “Acker’s formidable research into the little-known world of Indian immigrants in Kenya is apparent in the many small details of her novel … It’s an act of great courage to write a story that is not one’s own, and to write it with dexterity and finesse is simply a magnificent achievement.”

Coping With Loss Over the Holidays: Sanderson

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:51 PM

Insider recently spoke with a group of experts about how to make it through the holidays when you’re still reeling from the death of a loved one.

Catherine Sanderson, Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences (Psychology) and author of The Positive Shift, said it’s important to remember that many people have this struggle.

“It’s important to recognize that the glowing holiday portrayals on social media don’t necessarily represent reality,” she said. “You are not alone in feeling sadness, grief, and loss – in fact, many people find the holidays really difficult, even if they aren’t sharing those feelings openly on social media.”

Jen Manion on the Rich History of "They"

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:50 PM

This year, the Merriam-Webster dictionary introduced a new definition of "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and named the word its 2019 word of the year. The recognition of "they" in such a manner in contemporary writing has been a long time coming, history professor Jen Manion wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

“For decades, transgender rights advocates have noted that literary giants Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Geoffrey Chaucer all used singular they in their writing. In a letter dated Sept. 24, 1881, Dickinson wrote: ‘Almost anyone under the circumstances would have doubted if [the letter] were theirs, or indeed if they were themself — but to us it was clear,’” Manion wrote.

“The dictionary matters because language matters,” Manion concluded. “As history shows, language is a very powerful tool. It can dehumanize and erase. It can empower and render visible. It doesn’t take much to get it right. I’m sure Emily Dickinson would approve.”

Boucher: Greta is Correct, But No Prophet

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:46 PM

Asking, “is a climate messiah even necessary?” Ellen Boucher, associate professor of history wrote in The Conversation that the personality cult surrounding teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg, characterizing her as a prophet, does a disservice to Thunberg and her cause.

“As a researcher on the history of childhood, I’ve been disturbed to see Thunberg described and depicted as a prophet. To me, it risks distorting her message. And it can easily be exploited by climate deniers seeking to counter the appeal of her activism,” she wrote.

“Classically, prophets are messengers who communicate the voice of God,” she wrote. “Thunberg, on the other hand, is simply telling us what we already know. Within the scientific community, there is an overwhelming consensus – going back decades – that humans are causing global warming.

“Thunberg is not unraveling the mysteries of our era, or a time traveler sent to stop climate change. Rather, she is a child admonishing selfishness and pleading for fairness,” she concluded. “That’s not prophetic. It’s common sense.”

Manuela Picq on the Fall of Morales

Submitted on Friday, 12/13/2019, at 11:45 AM

For a recent  piece on the rise and fall Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, National Public Radio spoke with Manuela Picq, Loewenstein Fellow and visiting associate professor in political science, who cast similarities between Morales' story and the story former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

“Like Morales, says Picq, Correa established safety nets for lower-income families, invested in education and raised the minimum wage,” NPR reported. “But other interests got in the way of the promise to help marginalized populations. Little by little, Picq says, both Correa and Morales went back on commitments to safeguard the environment, giving priority to economic growth over the well-being of protected lands and the people who live there.”

Morales “encouraged slash-and-burn practices in forested areas as a means to clearing land for more cattle ranching and farming. But a spike in slashing and burning was linked to the fires that blazed throughout the Chiquitania region earlier this year,” NPR reported.

"The cost for the ecosystem is huge," said Picq, "and the cost for Indigenous people is enormous."

But it was attempts to remain in office at all costs and to repress their critics that hurt these leaders the most in the end, Picq and others told NPR.

“In 2015, Picq was jailed during a protest against Ecuador's lifting of term limits for elected officials and had her visa revoked overnight. She likens this to Morales' maneuvering the legal system to run for a fourth term even after 51% of voters rejected a referendum that would have allowed him to do so,” NPR reported.

Alex Bernstein '97 on Staying in the Game

Submitted on Friday, 12/13/2019, at 11:44 AM

“I’ve always been a high-energy person, I don’t sleep a ton, I have a lot of nervous energy, so I always want to keep busy, and playing sports is a great outlet for this energy and emotion,” Alex Bernstein '97 told The Boston Globe recently, about the early morning hockey games he plays for the Hingham (Mass.) Pilgrim Skating Arena’s "Has-Been Hockey League.”

Bernstein, a former NFL offensive lineman turned investor and entrepreneur, is among a group of former collegiate and professional athletes who meet at 6:30 a.m. to play, “and afterward the players mingle over coffee, juice, peanut butter and bananas, and bagels and cream cheese before heading to work.”

“You always miss that locker room thing, busting people’s chops before and after the game,” said Bernstein, who played four seasons for the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Atlanta Falcons.

Getting back those locker room wisecracks helps keep him young, he said.