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  • U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III and President Hanno enjoyed lunch at the newly renovated Chase Dining Hall during the visit on December 4. (Credit: Courtney Roque '17) 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.

  • This meme created and shared by Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci shows Turkey's president alongside the Tolkien character Gollum. 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.”

  • The 1,700-year-old gold ring features a stone carved with the image of Cupid. Credit: K. Hinds; © K. Hinds and Hampshire Cultural Trust, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic 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 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.

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

  • Rana LaPine '16 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."

  • Fall foilage, Mary Lyon Hall The case for early birds

    Vice President of Enrollment Grant Gosselin was quoted in a recent Boston Globe piece on the benefits of applying Early Decision.

    Wheaton Vice President of Enrollment Grant Gosselin discusses the benefits of applying Early Decision in an article published recently in the Boston Globe.

    The piece, titled “Do early birds catch the college acceptance?” weighs the pros and cons of applying Early Decision—in which individuals commit to one college early in the admission season—and Early Action—in which they can apply and receive admission decision early but still have several months to commit. The Globe interviewed admissions officials from Wheaton, Stonehill, Babson and Boston colleges.

    Gosselin, who also serves as dean of admission and student aid, tells the Globe that students who apply Early Decision receive more focused attention and are admitted at a higher rate than those who apply later.

    “These are a self-selected group of students who have already done the work, and who have already decided that Wheaton is a good match for them,” Gosselin says.

    About 80 percent of students who apply Early Decision are admitted to Wheaton versus about 57 percent for regular decision.

    Wheaton applicants have two deadlines available to them for Early Decision—ED 1 and ED 2. ED 1 applications are due November 15, while ED 2 applications are due January 1. Students also have the option of applying Early Action, meaning they receive the college’s decision by mid-January but do not have to commit to attending until May. Regular Decision applications are due January 1.

    Though the Globe article suggests that Early Decision might be less attractive to applicants who depend on financial aid, Gosselin notes how Wheaton “works with students to determine the financial options available early in the process, so they are not forced to decide before they know what aid might be available.”

  • Elizabeth Bouchard '16 Unwanted travelers

    Elizabeth Bouchard ’16 co-authored a paper in an African journal that explores how tourists aid in the spread of alien plant species in protected national parks.

    Elizabeth Bouchard ’16 reveals how tourists unwittingly aid in the spread of non-native plant species in an article she co-authored in the October 2015 issue of Koedoe, a peer-reviewed journal focusing on biodiversity science and conservation in Africa.

    Bouchard, an environmental science major who is also minoring in public policy, got involved in this research while studying abroad last spring with the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in South Africa.

    “I chose to work with Dr. Kristi Maciejewski, investigating the role tourists play in the dispersal of non-native seeds into fynbos protected areas, an ecosystem unique to the Western Cape,” Bouchard said. “Currently, there is limited scientific research regarding seed dispersal by human activities, and only one previous study on seed dispersal by tourists has been conducted in Africa. Since our results were intriguing and novel, we decided to publish our paper.”

    Bouchard designed the study and performed fieldwork with Maciejewski and four other OTS students. The study involved using long-bristle brushes to scrape seeds off visitors’ shoes and off bicycle wheels and dogs that were being walked in the Silvermine Nature Reserve in South Africa. In addition, the group surveyed vegetation in the park, identifying the alien plant species that raised the greatest concern.

    They found that many of these species were located along dog paths and that dog walkers were more likely to have seeds on their shoes than hikers and cyclists.

    Bouchard said she is pleased that her work will have real, immediate applications.

    “The data I collected will help inform management decisions of invasive species in South Africa's protected areas, preventing the introduction and spread of non-native species,” she said.

    The Cumberland, Maine, native, who will graduate this spring, hopes to use her skills as a scientist to bridge the information gap between scientists, policymakers and the public.

    “My ideal career will enable me to inspire change that will help to protect and preserve the environment through scientific knowledge, public policy development and education,” she said.

  • An image produced by NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera reveals one of thousands of ridges, or lobate scarps, on the moon’s surface. (Credit: NASA) Earth's influence on the moon

    Geology professor Geoffrey Collins has co-authored a paper that reveals how ridges on the moon’s surface form a pattern matching Earth’s gravitational pull on the young satellite planet.

    Though scientists have known since 2010 that the moon is shrinking over time, and forming surface ridges as it does, new research conducted by Wheaton Professor of Geology Geoffrey Collins and six others suggests that these ridges are actually affected by Earth’s gravitational pull.

    Using images produced by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Collins and his colleagues have evaluated more than 3,000 ridges, known as “lobate scarps,” on the moon’s surface. Though these scarps form naturally when the molten core of the moon cools and contracts, their placement would be random without the influence of outside forces. But extensive study of the scarps reveals a distinct pattern that fits with Earth’s tidal force on the moon—a discovery outlined in the paper “Global thrust faulting on the Moon and the influence of tidal stresses,” published in the October 2015 issue of Geology.

    These findings were highlighted recently in an article published by The Washington Post and in a press release on the NASA website.

    Collins, a planetary scientist who has been involved with several NASA projects, has investigated geological features on the planets and moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Pluto as well as his recent study of the Earth’s moon.

    “My role in this project was to run some of the tidal stress models and compare them to the observed patterns on the moon,” Collins said.

    Tom Watters, Smithsonian senior scientist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, was lead author on the paper. Co-authors included Collins; Maria Banks, Katie Daud and Michelle Selvans, Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum; and Mark Robinson and Nathan Williams, School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

  • Hannah Zack '18 Reshaping the conversation

    Hannah Zack ’18 asks people to reconsider how they think about individuals with disabilities in an essay featured on the Huffington Post college page.

    Wheaton sophomore Hannah Zack ’18 has been sharing her written thoughts in a public forum since she was in high school, and her latest piece was featured recently on the Huffington Post college page.

    The blog post, titled “Why We Need to Reshape What It Means to Be a Person With a Disability,” explores Zack’s personal experiences and questions the way people with disabilities are judged by others. She shares two instances in particular where she was made to feel uncomfortable by others because of her disability—one in which a parking official thought she might be committing “parking fraud” by using a handicap placard.

    As a young person who continuously struggles with my identity, I find it tough to be fed different narratives of who I am supposed to be based on the way I look—visibly healthy and able-bodied—or who I am based on my body's physical composition,” writes Zack, a sociology major from Brookline, Mass.

    She argues that individuals who disclose a disability should not be viewed or judged merely on that characteristic.

    “I identify myself as a person with a physical disability; I may be partially paralyzed, but it is a physical abnormality that affects the way I move my body,” Zack writes. “This trait does not discredit me or make me less of a human. It hasn't stopped me from driving a car, binge-watching Netflix, succeeding in my first year of college or even jumping out of an airplane.”

    Zack wrote about that last experience—skydiving—in her first article for the Huffington Post, “Be Your Own Rule Breaker,” in August 2014.

    “A ton of people asked me to describe my experience, but I didn't have the words to encompass how I felt. Instead, I wrote my thoughts down and it turned into a published article,” she said. “I e-mailed a few people and eventually got a blogger log-in to HuffPost. I submitted it, and a few days later I was featured on the HuffPost teen page.”

    Zack had begun sharing her writing publicly a few years prior when during her junior year of high school her English teacher assigned a narrative essay that students would submit “to the world.” Hack posted her essay to TeenInk.com, a national website devoted to teenage writing.

    “I used the essay to shine a light on cyberbullying—an issue that personally affected me,” she said. “I began getting messages from strangers telling me how much my story resonated with them. I know this is cliché, but that article set me free; I found peace with my situation.”

    Zack’s most recent post was inspired by a Ted Talk delivered by Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins and by the two negative encounters Zack mentions in the piece.

    “Societal misconceptions of people with disabilities are so common, and I hadn't seen an article that explored the topic,” she said.

    The blog post, published on September 4, has been shared by others on Facebook and Twitter and garnered a positive response overall.

    “I got a flurry of text messages from friends congratulating me,” Zack said. “I was truly moved when I received a Facebook message from a man whose partner has a disability. He told me how it touched both of them, and a correspondence began.”

    Zack said she plans to continue writing for the Huffington Post, as topics inspire her.

    “My writing process has been an organic process, and I intend to keep it that way,” she said.