Ralph Johnson Makes the Grade at Amherst College

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/3/2021, at 2:25 PM

Johnson, the College’s first director of procurement and shared services, is featured in Profile magazine. He and his team “see measurable results in terms of how we are improving things for the college,” he says. “I do it because I love it.” 

The article, by Don Liebenson, focuses mainly on Johnson’s work at Amherst. “I make sure from a customer service perspective that business transactions operate seamlessly and ensure that employees and business partners are paid on time,” Johnson says. It describes his role in the implementation of the Workday ERP system and a travel portal for College staff, as well as aspects of the College’s culture that he appreciates, such as “the diversity of the student base” and his colleagues’ willingness to listen and collaborate.

The article also delves into the influence of Johnson’s parents, who were schoolteachers; his education in electrical engineering at Howard University; and his years as the inaugural procurement officer at Morehouse College.

Professor Rowland Abiodun: "My Upbringing Shaped My Foray into the Study of African Art"

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/3/2021, at 12:18 PM

In an interview for the Nigerian blog CompassNG, Abiodun, the John C. Newton Professor of the History of Art and Black Studies, discusses "new, holistic perspectives for the critical interpretation of African art as exemplified by the interrelationship of the visual and verbal arts among the Yorùbá of West Africa."

Abiodun talks about “the quintessential role of language in understanding and teaching Yorùbá art – in particular, the interdependence of the verbal and visual arts through oríkì.” He continues: "While oríkì has been generally translated as 'praise poetry' or 'citation poetry,' broadly speaking, all verbal and visual invocations qualify as oríkì in Yorùbá culture." He points out that colonialism and racism have caused scholars to "drift more towards studying African art solely through the colonizers’ languages ... [and] there is a real danger that Africa’s intellectual contributions through African languages to the study of art in the world might be lost forever." Therefore, in his own scholarship, he seeks to center oríkì and other African linguistics as a key to understanding African art.

Other topics addressed in the interview include  the 80-year-old professor’s upbringing among "artistically gifted relatives and knowledge practitioners"; his cultural education in many different Nigerian towns and cities; his teaching at the University of Ifẹ̀ starting in the 1980s; and his thoughts on Nigeria's "brain drain."

Professor Sonya Clark ’89 on the Confederate Truce Flag and Creating a Collective Work of Healing

Submitted on Tuesday, 7/27/2021, at 3:31 PM

A PBS NewsHour segment features Clark, the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and Professor of Art and the History of Art, and her exhibits Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know and Heavenly Bound, currently on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass. 

One exhibit centers on the plain white towel that Confederate troops used as a truce flag to signal Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. “My thought was, what would this nation be like if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured, that something was surrendered?” says Clark. “But, instead, we have the Confederate Battle Flag in our consciousness.” Museum visitors are invited to help weave a replica of the truce flag.

The other showcases a sky dotted with stars made from Clark’s own hair, “honoring the guidance [the stars] provided enslaved people escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad,” says reporter Jared Bowen. 

Caelen McQuilkin ’23 Reports on Young Neighbors’ Views on Independence Day

Submitted on Thursday, 7/22/2021, at 1:39 PM

Writing for The Mammoth Times of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., McQuilkin interviews diverse young residents of her hometown of Bridgeport about the town’s famous Fourth of July celebration and the holiday itself. Their answers challenge the simplistic image of Bridgeport as a predominantly white, conservative, patriotic community. 

The article, and several of the interview subjects, acknowledge the importance of the annual celebration to the town’s economy. However, McQuilken writes, “[n]ot everyone believes in the ‘hyper-patriotism’ exhibited by so many on the Fourth of July. Instead, many believe that the holiday represents much of what flaws our nation, and they say, the day should instead be a day focused on education about the violence and oppression that are also part of the history of America, as well as what a path towards a more just and equal future could look like.”

“Layered and complex, these reflections on the Fourth of July overlap and diverge, and present a multitude of paradoxes,” McQuilken continues. “For the newest generation of Bridgeport locals who grew up within that paradox, radically rethinking the very purpose of that celebration, I think, provides many with something like hope.”

Blair Sadler ’62 is “Flunking” Retirement as He Helps Students Through Squash

Submitted on Wednesday, 7/21/2021, at 1:57 PM

California’s La Jolla Light profiles Sadler as a co-founder and board chair of the nonprofit Access Youth Academy, through which middle and high school students from underserved communities receive academic mentorship and coaching in the sport of squash to help them succeed in college and careers.

The article, by Elisabeth Frausto, notes that Sadler “learned squash at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where his team was rated fourth in the country.” Sadler is quoted as he reflects on his love for the game, the skills it taught him and the advantages it can convey to young players, especially as “an in-demand sport” among East Coast colleges.

About 15 years ago, “Sadler started Access with co-founder Greg Scherman after Sadler retired from his 26-year position as president of San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital,” the article says. “So far, the program’s graduates have attended a variety of colleges and universities, among them UCSD, Princeton, Amherst, Dartmouth and Columbia. ‘It gives me joy’ to see where the students have ended up, Sadler said.”

Professor Edward D. Melillo Discusses His Book “The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World”

Submitted on Tuesday, 7/20/2021, at 2:38 PM

“This is an insect planet that we’re just happening to live upon at this moment,” says Melillo, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History and Environmental Studies, in a recent edition of public radio’s Living on Earth series.  

Melillo speaks with host Bobby Bascomb about the astonishing number and variety of insects in the world, and goes into detail about three types that are vital to the human economy and are the subjects of his 2020 book: worms that produce silk, Kerria lacca insects that secrete a substance used to make shellac and cochineal insects that are crushed to make red dye.

Other topics explored in the interview include the sacred roles of insects in some world religions; the human consumption of insects as food; the career of Charles Henry Turner, a late-19th-century African American zoologist who advanced the scientific understanding of bees; and fun ways to engage children in the study of insects.

Margot Lurie ’21: “Protecting 30 Percent of the Earth by 2030 Would Threaten Indigenous Peoples”

Submitted on Tuesday, 6/29/2021, at 4:42 PM

In an opinion piece originally published on OpenDemocracy.net, Lurie criticizes calls from scientists and politicians to designate 30 percent of the planet’s lands and waters as protected areas by 2030 in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Instead, she argues, the world’s Indigenous peoples should be allowed to continue to inhabit and manage the land as they have for generations.

“Most of the places we now call national parks, game reserves, and national monuments were once occupied and managed by humans,” Lurie points out. “Scientists have shown that indigenous management provides the same level of ecosystem support and protection as any imposed protected area. Conservation via dispossession removes the very people who take care of our most important ecosystems.”

“The prospect of widespread displacement for conservation is not only a humanitarian outrage, but also an ecological affront,” Lurie says, touching upon not only the history of the practice but also its present-day effects, as well as ongoing Indigenous struggles to retain or regain control of the land. Chosen as a 2021 Watson Fellow, Lurie wrote her senior environmental studies thesis on connections between environmental movements and Indigenous resistance movements in the southwestern United States.

How Clarence Birdseye, Class of 1910, Created the Frozen Food Aisle

Submitted on Friday, 6/25/2021, at 1:18 PM

In a recent episode of the Everything Everywhere Daily history podcast, host Gary Arndt explains the key role Birdseye played in developing technology to flash-freeze and transport  food, leading to today’s multi-billion-dollar global frozen food industry.

“Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn in 1886. He had an interest in science and nature throughout his life. He attended Amherst College but had to drop out due to finances,” Arndt says. “In 1912 he joined a [research] project which took him to Labrador in what is today Canada.” There, Birdseye learned how the Inuit people preserved fish by throwing it on ice, where it would quickly freeze at extremely low temperatures. Unlike other food-freezing practices in the United States and Europe at that time, this flash-freezing method wouldn’t ruin the food’s texture or flavor.

Birdseye returned to the United States and set out to artificially replicate the Inuit food-freezing practice. “He developed the double belt freezer, which was two extremely cold plates that would flash-freeze packages of fish and vegetables quickly,” says Arndt. “Clarence Birdseye eventually developed freezers for trains, trucks, and retail stores.” The Birds Eye frozen food company still bears his name today.

New Maryland Law Named in Memory of Tommy Raskin ’17 Provides Call-In Program for People Experiencing Mental Health Issues

Submitted on Thursday, 6/24/2021, at 4:08 PM

A Montgomery Community Media article announces Maryland’s Thomas Bloom Raskin Act, which was signed into law in April and will go into effect July 1, establishing an opt-in mental health services program through which people can “receive regular wellness calls or texts.” 

Tommy Raskin ’17 was a Harvard Law student at the time of his death by suicide in December 2020. The article describes him as “a poet, an enthusiastic Boggle player, a vegan and a political person who cared [for] all people and animals.” Raskin was the son of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin and Amherst Trustee Sarah Bloom Raskin ’83, as well as the brother of Hannah Raskin ’14 and Tabitha Raskin ’20.

“I know countless lives will be saved because of this law that now bears your son’s name,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told Jamie Raskin, thanking him “for your willingness to channel your own grief in order to help address the mental health crises in Maryland and across America.”

“Inside Higher Ed” Article Highlights Amherst’s Success at Attracting Diverse Students

Submitted on Tuesday, 6/8/2021, at 4:03 PM

An article by Scott Jaschik notes that U.S. students of color constitute 50.2 percent of the class admitted to enroll at Amherst in the fall of 2021. It explores Amherst’s fruitful long-term efforts to diversify the student body under presidents Tony Marx and Biddy Martin, with comments from Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matthew L. McGann and recent graduates Bella Edo ’21 and Sabrina Lin ’21.

“At Amherst 18 percent of the new American students are Asian American, 17 percent are Black, 17 percent are Latinx and 3 percent are Native American,” Jaschik writes. In addition, 12 percent of the incoming class are international students. About 4 percent are gender-nonbinary.

The article links to the College’s antiracism plan and notes the ways in which active outreach to prospective students, financial aid, faculty hiring and student activism all support diversity, as do recently increased opportunities to focus on Native studies and Asian American studies. Both Edo and Lin, however, point out how athletics felt to them like an area of student life still dominated by whiteness and wealth, not always inclusive or supportive of students of color. 

Professor Amrita Basu: “Many Right-Wing Populists Strut Their Manliness. Why Does India’s Modi Stress His Softer Side?”

Submitted on Friday, 6/4/2021, at 3:01 PM

Basu, the Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies, writes for The Washington Post, contrasting the public persona and gender presentation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the “aggressive masculine style” of other populist world leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump.

“Unlike these populist strongmen, Modi has sometimes venerated femininity and women, drawing on his interpretation of Hindu values. Modi’s leadership style involves displaying feminine-identified traits such as selflessness, humility, and devotion,” writes Basu. “This gender-ambiguous identity means his political allies can describe him as ‘a god’s gift for India’ and ‘a messiah for the poor,’ while also allowing Modi to imply he is deferentially yielding power to the people when he wants to deflect responsibility for failed policies.”

The professor notes that Modi’s image is partially based on that of Mohandas Gandhi, “the founder of modern Indian nationalism, despite their radically divergent views; for example, Gandhi abhorred violence against Muslims while Modi has encouraged it.” She also points out how some female populist leaders, such as India’s Mamata Bannerjee, blend feminine and masculine traits to build their political reputations.

Chimaway Lopez ’20 Featured in Local Photo Exhibition About Indigenous Identity

Submitted on Friday, 6/4/2021, at 1:19 PM

An article in the Greenfield Recorder describes Vital.Vibrant.Visible: Local Indigenous Identity Through Portraiture, on view at the Athol [Mass.] Public Library until June 30. One photo shows Lopez smiling as he stands near the Amherst College Sanctuary Trail Pond.

The exhibition, a collaboration between Rhonda Anderson, the Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs, and local photographer Sara K. Lyons, highlights “Indigenous people who live and work in the region [and who] were photographed in a location meaningful to them and each had control over how they chose to represent themselves,” writes reporter Domenic Poli. “The Athol Public Library is the third stop for the exhibit, which was on display at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls in 2019 and later in the Mohawk Trail Regional School library.”

Lopez, who is Chumash and from California, was photographed while still a student at Amherst. He double-majored in American studies and environmental studies and was a Mellow Mays Undergraduate Fellow.

Professor Jallicia A. Jolly on Surviving Childbirth Amid COVID, Racism and the Black Maternal Health Crisis

Submitted on Thursday, 6/3/2021, at 3:38 PM

Jolly, a postdoctoral fellow and visiting assistant professor in American studies and Black studies, writes in USA Today: “In looking back at my own experience giving birth to my healthy daughter, I am reminded of the stories of Black women who have received substandard care in health care systems and whose needs are deprioritized—and didn’t live to tell their own stories.” 

Jolly describes her own mistreatment at the hands of an anesthesiologist while she was in labor, and then places her experience in the context of maternal health care across the United States: “Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. The heightened risk of pregnancy-related death for Black women spans income and education levels. The inadequate care Black women often receive is rooted in unconscious and conscious bias, structural racism, and gender discrimination.” She writes that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed and burdened Black communities, has “laid bare these pre-existing inequities” and exacerbated them.

Jolly tells the names and stories of several Black women who have died from complications of childbirth. She also notes the irony that not even she herself, as someone who researches and teaches about reproductive justice and Black women’s health, was prepared for the risk that the same might have happened to her.

Who Is Juliet Mayer ’18? Amherst Alumna Wins Big on "Jeopardy!"

Submitted on Wednesday, 5/12/2021, at 1:31 PM

Virginia’s Fauquier Times newspaper profiles Mayer, who recently appeared on three episodes of the game show and emerged as champion on two of them, accumulating winnings of more than $53,200.

Mayer graduated from Wakefield School in her hometown of The Plains, Va., before majoring in biology and history at Amherst, where she was also a member of the Quiz Bowl team and equestrian club. She is now working toward a graduate degree at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Times article describes Mayer’s Jeopardy! experience, from the online test and Zoom interview, to her decision not to study very much for the competition, to her mindset while in the studio and the categories she chose during her episodes. In addition to quoting Mayer herself, the article includes comments from her father and from Wakefield’s director of development and community relations.

Professor Jonathan Obert on “the Million-Dollar Question” in U.S. Gun Culture

Submitted on Wednesday, 5/12/2021, at 1:30 PM

Assistant Professor of Political Science Jonathan Obert is one of several people quoted in a Boulder Weekly article about (white) American gun culture, which he describes as “people really seeing something of their own identity in the possession and use of guns.”

The article, by Angela K. Evans, notes that Obert was born and raised in the Boulder, Colo., area, near Columbine High School and other sites of mass shootings. He now studies and writes about firearms laws and violence and is at work on a book titled Arming the Body Politic: The Economic Origins of American Gun Rights.

The professor comments on the United States’ long and distinctive history as a nation where guns have been “sold and marketed toward private individuals” and have represented control of frontier communities over Indigenous populations and enslaved Black people. He also mentions the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association’s role in shaping the idea of gun ownership as a constitutional right and an aspect of many Americans’ personal and political identity, and the resulting “polarization” of gun-rights advocates versus those who call for gun control and safety measures.