Diversity at the Head of the Classroom: Travis Bristol '03

Submitted on Thursday, 11/1/2018, at 12:11 PM

Travis Bristol ’03 recently spoke with Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers Podcast about the importance of attracting, hiring, and supporting teachers of color.

“[The] research is pretty convincing that children of color benefit and perform better in school when they have a teacher of color,” said Bristol a former public high school English teacher in New York City, currently assistant professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. 

“Not only do children of color benefit from having a teacher of color, but white children who are going to be global citizens deserve and are missing out on the opportunity to have a teacher of color teach them,” he said. “We are living in a global society, and if we are preparing children to be global citizens, then we have to have people in front of them who do not look like them, who bring different perspectives to the world, who can prepare them to be global competitors.”

Pawan Dhingra Gives "Dear Abby" Some Advice

Submitted on Thursday, 11/1/2018, at 12:08 PM

When “Dear Abby” columnist Jeanne Phillips recently advised a reader against giving their child a “foreign” name, Boston Globe writer Jeneé Osterheldt spoke with Pawan Dhingra, professor of American Studies at Amherst, to call this out.

“Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully,” Phillips wrote, responding to a parent who had misgivings about giving their new baby a traditional Indian name. Phillips urged the parent not to, adding, “Sometimes the name can be a problematic word in the English language. And one that sounds beautiful in a foreign language can be grating in English.”

Sikh activist Simran Jeet Singh called out the advice as “whitewashing,” and Pawan Dhingra agreed.

Dear Abby is encouraging a world that denies us our individualism, our differences, and our right for self identity,” he said. “People who cannot name themselves lose who they are. And it’s very sad that America is a place where you are told by some reputable elite, Dear Abby, that America is a place you have to give up who you are to be told you belong.”

“I don’t regret my name,” he said. “In some ways, it is a hassle. In other ways, it is my opportunity to share. That’s how I carry it. Names are a really important part of your culture, and to deny someone their name is oppressive.”

Amherst Week on The Academic Minute

Submitted on Thursday, 10/25/2018, at 3:00 PM

Amherst College was recently the featured institution on WAMC’s The Academic Minute, and included brief talks by some of our faculty:

The Academic Minute features researchers from colleges and universities around the world, keeping listeners abreast of what's new and exciting in the academy.

When Professor Todd Listened to Mars

Submitted on Thursday, 10/25/2018, at 2:58 PM

For an article about the ongoing Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program, Venture Beat related the story about the very first modern SETI experiment, carried out in 1924 by astronomer David Peck Todd, Amherst College Class of 1875, and who taught astronomy and served as director of the observatory here from 1881 to 1917.

Todd set about on the endeavor with inventor Charles Jenkins, who had invented a “radio photo message machine … an early version of a television transmitter and receiver, a device that could transmit photos over radio waves,” Venture Beat wrote.

The pair set out to aim the device at Mars, and listen.

“Their search was conducted at too low of a frequency to see through the ionosphere, which they didn’t know at the time. But it speaks to this partnership which continued to develop throughout the 50s and 60s, and continues to this day, between electrical engineering and astronomy in searching for technology beyond the earth,” the article summed up.

Stavans, Suarez Dissect "Fake News" in Podcast Series

Submitted on Thursday, 10/25/2018, at 2:55 PM

Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, and veteran journalist (and former visiting professor in American Studies at Amherst) Ray Suarez, are tackling “fake news” for a seven-part podcast series that premiered mid-October on the NEPR News Network, NEPR reported.

The series, ”What's Wrong with American Media,” started Oct. 15 as part of a special for Stavans’ podcast In Contrast.

"At a time when the news is said to no longer deliver its message 'objectively,' but in polarized form by outfits defined by partisan loyalty, and as concepts like 'fake news' take hold in the collective consciousness, the role of a responsible media in the United States is today more embittered than ever," said Stavans. "This special is an attempt to assess if the wires and lights in a box still have the capacity to awaken civic responsibility."

Folger's Passion

Submitted on Thursday, 10/18/2018, at 2:28 PM

“Donors often come up with useful ideas that no program officer or foundation president could imagine,” wrote Martin Morse Wooster in a recent article for Philanthropy Daily, citing the particular example of Henry Clay Folger, Amherst Class of 1879, founder of the College’s Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Wooster cites Andrea Mays’ The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio, in showing how “Folger’s passion for Shakespeare led to the creation of one of America’s great libraries.”

“The Folger Shakespeare Library wasn’t created by exquisitely credentialed foundation professionals. It is the result of one donor’s passion,” Wooster wrote.

Considered the premier research library in the world for the study of Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, the Folger holds major collections for research in European arts, culture and history from the early 15th century to the end of the 18th century. Folger left the library to the College upon his death in 1930.

Bill Jones '59 In The Swim

Submitted on Thursday, 10/18/2018, at 2:27 PM

Swimming World recently spoke with Bill Jones ’59 for a piece on swimmers in their 80s competing in the U.S. Masters Swimming Championship.

“Frankly, the only way I can keep swimming is to have a goal,” said Jones. 

“After Jones didn’t quite make the Olympics (he was ranked third and fourth in the 200 breaststroke) and completed his collegiate swimming career at Amherst College, he said he never wanted to swim again. He didn’t for 17 years. Then, at age 44, Jones was laid up in bed with lower back trouble, and doctors recommended he get back in the pool,” Swimming World wrote.

Jones went on to win a National Championship at age 55 in the 200 breaststroke. Last year, at age 80, “Jones completed all 53 races available in swimming within the year – 18 short course yards events, 18 short course meters events, and 17 long course meters events. He traveled all around the country to meets where he could compete in the various events. He is ranked top 10 in 49 out of 53 of those events in the 80-84 age group.”

Dementia and the Death Penalty: Sarat

Submitted on Thursday, 10/11/2018, at 4:26 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.”

Sen. Chris Coons '85, the Man in the Middle

Submitted on Thursday, 10/11/2018, at 4:22 PM

A recent profile in USA Today described Sen. Chris Coons ’85 as a “Republican whisperer” often caught in the middle of partisan debate, especially the fiercest one to date.

“It’s no surprise to those who know Coons that he was in the middle of the Senate’s singular bipartisan moment during the spectacle that has been Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing,” USA Today wrote. “Coons, a Delaware Democrat, is a one-time college Republican who has made a point of building relationships across the aisle, through travel, prayer meetings and work on legislation.”

“I would say it’s my mother tongue,” Coons joked, responding to the assertion that he can “speak Republican.”

“Coons once described himself, during his early years at Amherst College, as ‘sort of an Alex P. Keaton,’ the fictional, Ronald Reagan-loving teenager from the 1980s sitcom ‘Family Ties.’”

George Will was one of my heroes when I was an undergraduate,” he said. 

“His political conversion came after he grew disillusioned with U.S. policy in South Africa and was exposed to extreme poverty while studying in Kenya. Within a year of founding a college Republican group, he was arguing the Democratic side in a debate and setting a new life course,” USA Today wrote. Coons has represented Delaware as senator since 2010.

Jared Kass '68 and the Birth of Ultimate Frisbee

Submitted on Thursday, 10/11/2018, at 3:38 PM

"I didn't know that we were creating a game that was going to be on going to have a life of its own," Jared Kass ’68, who recently spoke with National Public Radio about his role in the creation of Ultimate, the soccer-like sport played with a Frisbee.

Working at a camp for high school students the summer before his senior year at Amherst, he taught a group of students a Frisbee game that he'd learned at Amherst. One of those kids was Joel Silver (who would later become a producer of Hollywood blockbuster films), who returned to his high school in New Jersey, where he and his friends developed a set of rules for Ultimate.

The game is now played worldwide, and in 2015 was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee, and more recently there's been talk of adding the free-flying sport to the Games. Kass is now a professor of psychology at Lesley University in Boston.

UPDATE: Kass and the history of Ultimate were the subject of an extensive article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “The whole thing happened to me as a big surprise,” Kass says of the game in the story. “It’s wonderful the way it all kind of happened in an organic sort of way.”