Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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  • Tax testimony

    Professor of Economics John Miller testified January 19 on a Massachusetts constitutional amendment that would increase the income tax for residents making over $1 million.

    Professor of Economics John Miller testified January 19 in support of a constitutional amendment aimed at creating a more equitable income tax system for Massachusetts residents.

    Miller and fellow economist Arthur MacEwan, co-authors of the book Economic Collapse, Economic Change: Getting to the Roots of the Crisis, were asked to testify at the Joint Committee on Revenue hearing by the lobbyist group MassBudget. Both have served the group as economic consultants in the past.

    The two also helped gather economists throughout the state to sign a statement supporting the amendment. In total, 71 experts have signed, including Miller and Wheaton economics professors Phoebe Chan, Russell Williams and Brenda Wyss.

    Some have dubbed the proposal, which would increase the income tax rate for residents who earn more than $1 million annually, the "millionaire tax." Miller refers to it instead as a “fair-share tax.”

    “The richest 1 percent of Massachusetts families—those with incomes above $860,000—paid out 4.9 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2015 after deducting from federal taxes,” Miller said. “In contrast, families in the middle, with incomes between $44,000 and $70,000, paid 9.3 percent of their income, while the poorest families, with income less than $22,000, paid 10.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes in 2015.”

    Experts estimate the new tax, which would add a 4 percent tax on incomes over $1 million, would raise about $1.5 billion a year in revenues for the state—money that, according to the amendment, would be earmarked for public education and transportation. Miller said that estimate accounts for the possibility of “tax flight”— residents and businesses leaving the state in search of lower taxes—and that without that movement, the revenues would be even higher.

    The Joint Committee on Revenue has until April 27 to decide whether to support the measure, though an earlier decision is anticipated, according to an article published by the NewBostonPost. The amendment needs approval from both the Massachusetts House and Senate to appear on the ballot in 2018. If voted in by the citizenry, the new tax would take effect in 2019.

    Opponents of the tax worry about the aforementioned tax flight, pointing to General Electric’s recent announcement of plans to move from Connecticut to Massachusetts to escape the former state’s tax system, among other examples.

    They also question whether a constitutional amendment can include earmarking of funds and whether the new tax revenues wouldn’t just end up in the state’s general fund.

    Miller said he feels confident the money could be earmarked for education and transportation but said ultimately the amendment’s efficacy does rely on politicians.

    “Many of them talked at the hearing about how concerned they were about the increasing inequality in the state,” Miller said, referencing a recent report that lists Boston as the No. 1 city in the United States for income inequality. “That makes this a far different atmosphere than the last time a graduated income tax got voted down.”

    According to the NewBostonPost, Massachusetts voters have defeated surtax proposals five times since 1962, most recently in 1994.

    But Miller said he thinks citizens and legislators alike seem ready for the change now. At the January 19 hearing, spectators and those testifying filled all the seats and were standing two rows deep throughout much of the 2 1/2-hour presentation.

    “There were a lot of really moving testimonies—people who rely on public transportation, public school principals, college administrators and staff,” Miller said.

    The committee members themselves delivered passionate testimony in favor of the amendment, he noted.

    “I walked away feeling optimistic about our chances,” Miller said.

    As for any future involvement in the process, Miller said he’d like to be part of the campaign if the amendment makes it on the ballot.

    “I think this amendment would be fantastic for Massachusetts. Massachusetts is a rich state, but it’s a really unequal state, and these investments are really needed. This is the best and fairest way to collect the monies.”

  • Identifying Wheaton

    The longstanding confusion that arises between the two Wheaton Colleges was highlighted in a January 15 Associated Press story and shared in newspapers around the country.

    The longstanding confusion that arises between the two Wheaton Colleges—our college in Norton, Mass., and the other institution in Illinois—was highlighted in a January 15 Associated Press story and shared in newspapers around the country.

    The article,  written by reporter Collin Binkley after a recent visit to campus, discusses the many cases of mistaken identity the Wheaton in Massachusetts has faced over the years, including misdirected applications, donations, criticisms and kudos.

    As President Dennis Hanno tells the AP: “The name confusion is a longstanding and deep-rooted problem. But it's one that we often just chuckle about."

    Though it has been an ongoing issue, the mix-up has caused a lot of ruckus in the past several weeks, after the other Wheaton College, the evangelical institution in Wheaton, Ill., first suspended and then moved to fire one of its professors after she wore a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, saying Muslims and Christians worshipped the same God. College officials have said the professor’s stance is in conflict with the school’s Statement of Faith, which all faculty are required to sign annually.

    President Hanno has responded to the recent controversy at the other institution, which has no affiliation with this Wheaton, with a series of letters and statements shared with the Wheaton community and in an op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post. In the Post essay, he remarks on not only the name confusion but also the larger problem of “reckless incivility” and a “growing culture of harassment and rage” in our society.

    The controversy in Illinois, and the resulting confusion, has also created an opportunity to highlight exactly how this Wheaton—the one in Norton, Mass.—is different from its counterpart and to express the values, goals and expectations of the secular Wheaton.

    As President Hanno wrote in a December 16 statement: “Our Wheaton affirms the freedom of faculty, staff and students to share their beliefs while respecting the human rights and dignity of others. … The Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., values an inclusive approach to education and the world, welcoming people from every race, ethnic or national background, religious tradition and sexual orientation.”

    The commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident at every level, from the Building Community Together initiative, led by the Wheaton College Council on Inclusion and Diversity, to student- and faculty-led celebrations of many faiths, including the Muslim holy day Eid Al-Adha, the Jewish harvest festival Sukkot and the Hindu festival Holi.

    Wheaton (Massachusetts) students come from all over—at last count, 39 states and 72 countries—and they go all over, choosing to study, volunteer and work in places around the world (in fact, President Hanno and 12 students are currently finishing up a two-week trip to Ghana where they taught entrepreneurship strategies and skills to high schoolers).

    This Wheaton’s passion for engaging with and contributing to the global community is further evident in the number of students who apply for and win prestigious national awards like the Rhodes, Marshall and Truman scholarships and the Fulbright and Watson fellowships—programs that encourage students to explore and have an impact on the world around them. For 10 consecutive years, Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. has been ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country for preparing students to win Fulbright awards.

  • Flight futures

    Steven Kimball ’18 had his article about a possible merger between Spirit and Frontier published by Airline Reporter.

    Wheaton sophomore Steven Kimball ’18 recently had an article about a potential airline merger published by Airline Reporter.

    The article, titled “Is a Merger Between Spirit and Frontier Inevitable?,” looks at the potential benefits and implications of a union between two of the top ultra discount airlines in the United States—Florida-based Spirit and Colorado-based Frontier, which together operate nearly 500 domestic flights daily, according to the piece.

    Steven Kimball

    Steven Kimball '18

    Kimball, an economics major minoring in English, has a strong interest in aviation, in particular airline finance, and plans to obtain his private pilot license after graduation.

    “The airline industry is so compelling to me because there has been so much consolidation over the past 15 years,” Kimball said. “I think that the major four carriers—Southwest, American, United and Delta—will have a hard time with mergers on the basis of antitrust, but there will most likely be a huge amount of consolidation among smaller carriers attempting to straighten their network.”

    The Clarksville, Tenn. native has written several articles on trends in the industry and said he was thrilled to have his latest piece accepted for publication.

    “Airline Reporter is one of the leading sources within the industry, and it’s frequently cited by Fox News, NBC and ABC, among others, so it was incredibly exciting,” he said.

  • National audience

    Professor Matthew Allen’s film about Irish musician Seán Ó Sé will air on Irish national television on New Year’s Day.

    A film produced by Wheaton Professor of Music Matthew Allen, featuring Irish musician Seán Ó Sé, will air on Irish national television this New Year’s Day.

    The film, first completed in 2010, will be shown on Ireland’s channel TG4 and will be available online at tg4.tv for 30 days after its airing.

    The film explores Ó Sé’s long and illustrious career in the Irish music business, going back to his work in the 1960s and on.

    “Seán’s musical life is explored within the contexts of his deep attachment to the Irish language, West Cork and Beara, and his passion for his career in teaching and education administration in Cork City,” Allen said. “The film features live performances and interviews with longtime associates from the worlds of music and education.”

    The project got its start in 2002 when Allen, as a junior member of the Wheaton faculty, received a Fulbright to teach in Ireland. He was walking through the main streets of Cork one day when he ran into Ó Sé—whose “unmistakable tenor voice” Allen immediately recognized. The idea for the film project grew from that initial conversation.

    Ó Sé has also performed, alongside Allen, on the Wheaton campus.

    After completing the film a few years ago, Allen shopped it around, hoping to find a distributor. He showed the film at a conference in the United States and at a theater in Cork that December. He was also in discussions with a television editor in Ireland, but nothing came of it.

    In the mean time, Allen returned to the cutting room to work on editing the 90-minute film down to 60 minutes, based on feedback he’d received.

    “As one person told me, ‘Queen Elizabeth only gets 60. Winston Churchill only gets 60,’” Allen said.

    This past summer, while teaching the Arts in Ireland course with Professor of Art Andy Howard, Allen discussed the film again with a colleague who was well known in the music business in Ireland. He passed it on to another television editor, which led to the New Year’s Day slot.

    While others have done short documentaries about Ó Sé over the past decade, they have mostly focused on the musician’s best-known work and what he’s doing now (he works in education). Allen’s film, however, delves deeper into Ó Sé’s opinions on Irish music and other topics.

    “I wanted this film to be his chance to get on his bully pulpit and say what he thinks,” Allen said. “This film explores the mind of a man who was not driven to be a national rock star but who was focused on the quality of life around family, community and education—and just happens to be a crackerjack singer and storyteller.”

    Allen said he hopes the promotion will lead to his ultimate goal: to have the film manufactured and distributed, with behind-the-scenes interviews and other extras.

    “Hopefully people will love it. Hopefully they’ll want to buy it, and then hopefully somebody in promotion and distribution will take an interest in it,” Allen said.

    But for now, having the film widely viewed is its own kind of gift.

    “I’m just enjoying it for the moment,” he said.

  • Congressional visit

    U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III had lunch with President Hanno and students on December 4.

    U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III visited Wheaton on Friday, Dec. 4 to talk about the college’s new partnership with MassChallenge and other topics. The visit was covered by The Sun Chronicle.

    Kennedy, a Democrat from Brookline, Mass., represents Wheaton’s legislative district. Kennedy also has a special connection to the college—his mother, Sheila Rauch Kennedy ’71, is a Wheaton alumna and has taught political science as an adjunct professor.

    Several Wheaton students have also worked with Kennedy, including Zachary Agush ’12, who helped with his congressional campaign, and Sara Maliki ’15, who interned in Kennedy’s office. In addition, Wheaton alum Lisa Nelson '76 serves as Kennedy's senior district representative in Attleboro.

    During his visit on December 4, Kennedy met with current students who had recently attended a special event at MassChallenge, the Boston-based startup accelerator. He also met with President Dennis Hanno and had lunch in the newly renovated Chase Dining Hall.

  • The case for Gollum

    English professor Michael Drout was interviewed about the complexities of J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Gollum, as it relates to a court case in Turkey.

    A man in Turkey is facing possible jail time over an Internet meme he shared that features images of Turkey’s president alongside the character Gollum from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

    Insulting the president is a crime according to Turkish law.

    But whether or not the meme was a true insult is under consideration, and the judge in the case has called in five literary experts to help him decide. The defendant, Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

    A prominent Tolkien expert himself, Wheaton Professor of English Michael Drout weighed in on the case in a recent New York Times article and in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered.

    “I don’t think there’s any consensus that Gollum is evil,” Drout told the New York Times. “He is the most tragic character in The Lord of the Rings.”

    Drout said he heard about the case about 24 hours before being contacted by media.

    “Every person who saw it posted it to me on Facebook or sent it to me in an email,” he said. “In some articles, they were referred to as ‘Tolkien experts,’ though the actual news out of Turkey calls them ‘literary experts,’ so people were asking if I was one of the experts.”

    Based purely on Gollum’s appearance, proving the comparison was not meant as an insult could be a tough sell, Drout said.

    But Drout also sees a possible argument in Ciftci's favor: In the end of the series, Gollum saves the entire world of Middle Earth by destroying the very ring whose influence led him do evil acts.

    Though Drout called the idea of being jailed over comments about a president "horrifying," he said the case does shed light on an aspect of Tolkien’s work that often gets misunderstood.

    “There’s a stereotype, often used by people who have not read The Lord of the Rings, that Tolkien’s characters are cardboard perfect and that everything in Tolkien is black and white,” Drout said. “But all Tolkien scholars realize that Gollum is unbelievably complex.”

  • Lost and found

    An article about a recently discovered 1,700-year-old ring featuring the image of Cupid draws insights about the god of love from a book written by Wheaton Professor of Classics Joel C. Relihan.

    An article about a recently discovered 1,700-year-old ring featuring the image of Cupid draws insights about the god of love from a book written by Wheaton Professor of Classics Joel C. Relihan.

    The gold ring, which was discovered in the English village of Tangley by an amateur using a metal detector, features in its center a piece of blue onyx with an image of a nude Cupid leaning on a column carved into it, according to the article posted on LiveScience.com and reposted on Yahoo News.

    The piece draws on research done by Relihan in his 2009 book, “The Tale of Cupid and Psyche,” which includes a translation and discussion of this most famous portion of the second-century book “The Golden Ass,” by Roman philosopher Apuleius.

    As the article notes, quoting Relihan’s book: “The earliest artistic depictions of Cupid and his love interest, Psyche, date back at least 2,500 years.”

    The ring was made at a time when the Roman Empire had control of England.

    The person who found the ring reported the discovery to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a project funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport that encourages the public to report archeological findings.

    The ring will be put on display at Andover Museum in the English town of Andover, according to the article.

  • Mouse tale

    English professor Lisa Lebduska’s short story was the November pick in the online literary magazine Animal.

    English professor Lisa Lebduska’s short story about a couple’s discovery of a mouse in their home was published this month in the literary magazine Animal.

    Each month, editors of the online publication select one story, one poem and one essay to share on the site, which explores the boundaries between humans and animals. Lebduska’s piece, titled “Mercy Mouse,” was their November story pick.

    In the story, Lebduska’s character Millie Gigio discovers that the chilly autumn weather has forced mice into her home, and she and her husband respond accordingly, browsing and buying “execution devices” at Home Depot. But how Millie feels about the situation turns out to be not so simple.

  • Dark forces

    Astronomy professor Dipankar Maitra co-authored a paper on the tidal forces around black holes in the October issue of Nature.

    Artist illustration of the tidal disruption. (Credit: NASA/CXC/U)

    Artist illustration of the tidal disruption. (Credit: NASA/CXC/U)

    Don’t get too close to a black hole.

    Recently, a group of astrophysicists including Assistant Professor of Astronomy Dipankar Maitra observed a star being ripped apart when it approached a supermassive black hole, which was estimated to weigh a few million times the mass of the sun. Using space telescopes operated by NASA and the European Space Agency, Maitra and his colleagues looked at a “tidal disruption event,” in which the intense gravity of the black hole caused tidal forces around it that pulled in the unfortunate nearby star.

    Their findings were published in the October 22 issue of the science journal Nature.

    Though the tidal disruption occurred about 290 million light years away, Maitra and his colleagues were able to study it by observing and analyzing bright x-ray and ultraviolet flares near the black hole. As the black hole ripped apart the star, some material was expelled outward, resulting in a distinct signature in the x-ray spectrum.

    Finding tidal disruptions is extremely rare, so getting a good look at one is an exciting learning opportunity for scientists like Maitra and his colleagues.

    “One of the biggest questions is whether all of the in-falling matter ends up getting eaten by the black hole, or whether some of the material somehow escapes the black hole's fatal attraction,” Maitra said. “Our x-ray observations have indicated that some of the matter indeed flows away from the black hole, as if there were a wind being blown by the black hole.”

    Their observations reveal that the wind speed is not fast enough to allow the star matter to completely escape the black hole, but it does seem to slow down the process.

    “While this is extremely exciting, it also opens up many questions such as what physical mechanisms propel this kind of wind and what fraction of the incoming matter is carried away by the wind,” Maitra said. “Now that we have some observational clues, we have to go back to our drawing boards and work out how all this can be fit together.”

  • Speaking up, one tweet at a time

    In responding to a celebrity tweet, Wheaton senior Rana LaPine ’16 started a social media conversation about cultural appropriation.

    Wheaton senior Rana LaPine’s gentle schooling of a celebrity on Twitter over the weekend landed her an interview with a pop culture blog—and some mixed attention on social media—and gave her the opportunity to talk about an issue that’s very important to her.

    LaPine ’16, an international relations major from Clinton, Mass., was on Twitter Saturday night when she saw a seemingly harmless tweet posted by actor Kerry Washington, whom LaPine follows:


    LaPine said she was frustrated at seeing the term “spirit animal” misused yet again and was especially disappointed by Washington’s tweet because of the actor’s history of advocating for marginalized communities. She responded immediately:





    As a member of the Kanien'keha:ka, or Mohawk tribe, LaPine felt she had to speak out on the “extremely limited representation of my people and culture” and the thoughtless use of co-opted Native American phrases such as pow wow, totem pole and rain dance.

    “Most people who say these things have no idea that they stem from important religious and cultural backgrounds, never mind the brutal history of political and violent oppression of expressing these beliefs,” LaPine said.

    Shortly following LaPine's tweet, and others echoing her concerns, Washington apologized on Twitter:



    LaPine said she was impressed by the actor’s response.

    “She did the perfect thing in that situation. Her recognition of the problematic nature of ‘spirit animal’ made me happy because she was using her platform to educate,” she said.

    Rana LaPine '16

    Rana LaPine '16

    Despite the quick resolution on the issue, LaPine was surprised by the amount of anger her tweet raised, particularly among some of Washington’s more passionate fans.

    “As happens to anyone who publicly voices their opinion, I found my Twitter filled with violent threats, insults and dismissive responses from her fans,” LaPine said. “However, I also had a handful of people who asked for clarification or agreed with me, and the positive effect of educating those individuals far outweighs the negative responses.”

    She also was contacted via direct message by a blogger on the pop culture website whatsthecelebritea.com. The blogger, Franco Borbon, said he was intrigued by the topic and wanted to talk to the person whose tweet led Washington to apologize.

    LaPine explained the issue to Borbon: “For those of us that do have something like a spirit animal, they’re holy, and they are beings which guide you through life. Some tribes have spirit animals that are individual animals which appear when needed, for others they’re one species of animal with which the individual has a bond.”

    She continued: “Most people don’t realize that traditional Native religions were banned until 1978, meaning that we could not speak publicly on these sorts of issues until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. As a result there are rampant misunderstandings and misrepresentations of our indigenous religions, which is why we speak out about them.”

    LaPine, who was thanked in Borbon's piece for her “stellar cooperation,” said she is grateful for the conversation.

    “I never anticipated that my simple tweet would create a conversation on the appropriation of the phrase, and I am appreciative that so many people have learned why using the term ‘spirit animal’ is problematic,” she said.

    In sharing the blog post with members of Wheaton’s Council on Inclusion and Diversity, psychology professor Peony Fhagen said the article was important on several levels.

    “First, it highlights the importance of speaking up (or tweeting back) when you see, read, or hear something culturally inappropriate," Fhagen said. "Second, it highlights how to respond in a sensitive and culturally competent way when your cultural inappropriateness has been called out by someone else."