Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

Departmental News Archive

  • Rachael Barbaresi '18 How Widespread is Poor Mental Health in the United States?

    Have you ever spent any amount of time worrying about mental illness in people around you? Well, you’re not alone. By Rachael Barbaresi ’18

    How Widespread is Poor Mental Health in the United States

    By Rachel Barbaresi '18

    Have you ever spent any amount of time worrying about a loved one who suffers from a mental illness? Have you ever felt alone in wondering why, with all the people in the world, your loved one has been burdened with the challenge of facing the destructiveness of clinical depression? Well, in fact, you are not alone. Based on data gathered from the General Social Survey (GSS), in 2002, 80% of people in the United States reported knowing someone who has seen a psychologist, mental health professional, social worker or other counselor in attempts to improve their mental health status. Additionally also in 2002, over three fifths (61%) of the population reported knowing someone who had been hospitalized due to a mental illness. These are shocking to most people who perceive their troubled loved one constituting only a very small proportion of the population. However, it is important to realize that if other people have not confided in you about their mental illness, it does not mean that they are not struggling. It is a very distinct possibility that they are simply limiting the size of their support system in order to conform to our society’s norms of not discussing poor mental health. With such a strong stigma associated with admitting to depression or anxiety, we can understand why people believe that issues related to poor mental health in the U.S. are much less prevalent than they actually are. However, even with this stigma, in 2014, 52% - over half the population – reported that during the past year, they often spent time talking with someone they knew personally who was a bit down or depressed. Therefore, just because someone is not specifically telling you about their anxiety or depression doesn’t mean that they aren’t telling someone else - just because you aren’t hearing about someone’s struggles, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    In addition to not hearing about someone’s poor mental health, not seeing someone struggling with poor mental health also does not allow you to conclude that they are mentally healthy. In 2006, 51% of the U.S. citizens surveyed by the GSS indicated that they frequently or occasionally see someone in public who looks like they have a serious mental health problem. However, how can you look at someone and make an accurate snap judgment about his or her mental health status? Many people who have struggled with anxiety or depression for years have become experts in hiding their symptoms in public to avoid being negatively labeled as mentally unstable. Because of this, the proportion of individuals who struggle with mental health issues and are seen in public is most likely substantially higher than 51%. It is also important to remember that there does exist a subgroup of the population whose mental health is so poor that they choose not go out in public at all. In addition to these individuals, there are people who struggle with poor mental health but physically cannot go out in the public, such as prisoners, patients, and individuals who are controlled by abusive relationships. However, all of these types of individuals who are not necessarily seen in public are still there and part of the story of poor mental health in the United States.

    Hopefully, after taking all of this eye opening information into consideration, you are able to see that whether you are dealing with a mental illness or know someone who is struggling with poor mental health, you are not alone. In fact, based on all of these statistics, you are actually a minority if mental health issues are completely irrelevant to your life. And, if you do happen to be in this minority, chances are that even though no one has disclosed their mental status to you, you, without knowing it, do know or have seen someone, most likely more than one person, who suffers from poor mental health.

    If you’re like me you might worry that you have been oblivious to your loved one’s unspoken struggles. My advice? Reach out. Although you may feel overwhelmingly close with someone, it is not easy for anyone to admit to having a problem and wanting help. Now that we know just how prevalent these issues are in our society, we cannot pretend that we don’t know what to do.



  • Anna VanRemoortel '18 Examining the Politics of the "Wheaton Bubble"

    Does being at a liberal arts college like Wheaton require an implicit allegiance to political liberalism, and is so just what sort of liberalism is it? A Babe Lincoln Publication. By Anna VanRemoortel ’18

     Examining the Politics of the “Wheaton Bubble”

    By Anna VanRemoortel '18

    (This essay was first published in the first issue of Babe Lincoln, a new journal of political commentary, created and produced by Wheaton students. For more information about Babe Lincoln, contact its editor Pia Parisi-Marcoux ’19 at


    Last semester in my Sociology class, I was assigned to write a paper that addressed the political culture of Wheaton and how the structure of the school affects our chosen form of activism. As most people know, Wheaton is a fairly liberal school. In fact, a few years ago, Niche ranked us as the tenth most liberal college in the United States. Wheaton’s Facebook page shared the article with the line “According to Niche, we're putting the ‘liberal’ in Liberal Arts.” Our school is proud of its liberal student body as it lines up with many of the school’s core values including diversity and inclusion of all identities. While many students enjoy the safety and comfort of the “Wheaton Bubble” and the school’s collective stance on social justice and political issues, the bubble tends to exclude those with more conservative views.

    When looking at this rank, many people may conclude that Wheaton attracts some of the most liberal students in America. But this is difficult to prove as the school resembles many other small New England liberal arts colleges with a student body made up of mostly young, middle class Americans coming from areas around the North East. For my paper, I argued that the true reason Wheaton students express mostly liberal views goes back to the school’s structure and the specific liberal issues we choose to address.

    To start my research, I did what any young scholar would do. I posted on YikYak. I asked the anonymous cyberspace if they felt Wheaton was too liberal or if they liked it that way. I got a range of responses. Many people said they enjoyed the liberal environment, while some said they felt that being immersed with people who all agreed with each other was not the way to learn. Some people commented and said that, as conservatives, they felt they should keep their opinions to themselves because they didn’t want to start any arguments or come across as “ignorant”. Some even went as far as to say that they were afraid of how their professors would grade them if they voiced their true opinions. For a school that prides itself in diversity, our homogenous political views are very exclusive, and some may argue, hurtful.

    Wheaton’s small size and residential campus proves to be ideal for discussion-based activism because of the constant interaction between students. Discussion based activism can be found all over campus, from student clubs based around dialogue, to classroom learning, to casual conversations in the dining hall. Though Wheaton students participate in discussion, I (and the anonymous yakers) have noticed that it is a bounded discourse where all discussions have an underlying answer based in the liberal perspective. In the classrooms, students are encouraged to participate in discussion based lessons where they connect their own opinion and experiences to the class material. Some students may use their own personal experience with an issue such as racism or sexism to add to the class discussion. Including these personal experiences changes the tone of the discussion from one about politics to one about morals. When discussing such personal and emotional values within the liberal perspective, many students will hesitate to bring up opposing views to avoid offending classmates or professors. Some students even choose to not speak in fear that their professor will grade harsher if they disagree with the student’s values or beliefs.

    The Wheaton Bubble doesn’t simply enforce liberalism on campus, it enforces the idea that liberalism is morally right. As students, faculty and staff, we select specific liberal ideas to practice, labeling them as social justice causes rather than politics. The main ideas we focus on include issues of diversity, identity, and privilege. These values hold more emotional meaning to students compared to other liberal ideas such as supporting welfare or taxing the rich. Leaving out the factors of liberalism with fewer emotional ties, such as economic views or the responsibility of government, defines liberalism in a narrow but moral light. This causes liberalism at Wheaton College to mean something different than liberalism in other parts of the world and makes it difficult for people with conservative views to voice their opinion without coming across as offensive. By selecting specific liberal ideas to focus on we moralize our politics, enforcing the idea that the liberal view is “right.”

    Taking this into consideration, we can start to understand Niche’s ranking from a sociological standpoint. The rank was determined by a poll of students at various schools who had been living on their campus, or “bubble,” for various amounts of time. Living in a campus bubble doesn’t only affect how students voice their political perspective, but also how they view a specific political perspective in general. It can affect how students view themselves as liberals and how they view others as conservatives. And when this view is put in a perspective of morality, the minority group of students with different perspectives are labeled not only as “conservative” or “republican,” but “immoral.”












  • Pia Parisi-Marcoux '19 The Evolving Linkages between Parenthood and Marriage

    If marriage is no longer the context for child-rearing and sexual expression, does it have a future. It’s for us to decide. By Pia Parisi-Marcoux ’19

    The Evolving Linkages between Parenthood and Marriage

    By Pia Parisi-Marcoux ‘19

    Like Jesus or Wonder-bread, marriage – and more specifically, marriage characterized by cozy, picket-fence domesticity – is deeply woven into American life and consciousness. Few traditions are as discussed and disputed; few are so loathed and so loved.

    While marriage retains its significance, even if only symbolically, among Americans today, the institution itself is evolving, and rapid social and demographic changes are to blame. What once so forcefully organized American life no longer does, and arguably has not for several decades. As a consequence, marriage has become no stranger to national debate, in which we bemoan out-of-wedlock births, skyrocketing divorce and premarital sex, and wax rhapsodic about the good ol’ days – when men were men, women were women and marriage was just how things were done. At the crux of this debate is the question of whether marriage is ostensibly suited for the modern age, or whether it sits at the threshold of insignificance. And at the crux of this, like most issues, is fear – of change, of the future, of becoming irrelevant, of shifts in power.

    As far as reproduction goes, marriage has seen a dramatic shift. Americans postpone marriage, and live in their parents’ homes, with friends, or with unmarried partners. More Americans live together without getting married, either as a precursor to marriage or an alternative to living alone; these alternatives make marriage less central to domestic life. Divorce is, as I wrote earlier, ‘skyrocketing’, as are births to un-married mothers, leaving more households headed by single parents. More women participate in the labor force, leading to a decline in the prevalence of ‘traditional’ one wage-earner, two-parent families. Americans are, since the advent of reliable and effective birth control, able to control their fertility, and do not have to choose between abstinence and unplanned pregnancy. Americans are also increasingly tolerant of gay marriage. All of these demographic and behavioral trends can inform how we make sense of marriage.

    We can look at demographic trends to make sense of patterns, and to declare in which direction we think the country is shifting, both behaviorally and attitudinally (which do not always correlate). The following two examples illustrate these trends.


    Trends in age at first marriage for men and women in the USA, 1890-2014. Source: US Census Bureau

    Trends in age at first marriage for men and women in the USA, 1890-2014.
    Source: US Census Bureau

    First, today, men on average marry at 29, while women marry at 27. This is a seismic shift, compared with 23 and 20 in 1950 for men and women respectively. That men and women are marrying older may indicate a reduced urgency to produce children quickly and en masse. This does not necessarily indicate that married couples are eschewing children altogether. Rather, opting to marry even at an age when biological fertility in women is reduced indicates that such unions are entered into for reasons other than procreation.

    Second, a growing plurality of Americans not only agree, but also identify, as “strongly in favor” of gay couples’ right to enter into marital unions, a right previously only enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This indicates that a preponderance of Americans is progressively amenable to changes in marriage as it is traditionally defined and structured. This of course means that for many Americans, a fertility-based explanation of marriage is no longer the only legitimate one.

    Also important to consider is the history. For example, absolutely singular to this discussion, at least as far as parenthood is concerned, is understanding birth control and its effect on American society.

    According to Stephen Nock, "the centrality of marriage in American culture can be understood, in part, as a consequence of poorly controlled fertility”. Before the advent of effective and reliable contraception, children were an almost unavoidable byproduct of sex. Consideration of this possibility was, as a consequence, a large part of navigating intimate relationships, in that marriage functioned as a partnership that allocated responsibility for offspring. It is for this reason that communities have attempted to regulate adultery and illegitimacy: if children are not born to two parents, responsibility cannot so neatly be designated, sometimes creating, in Stephen Nock's words, “collective obligations for the care of offspring”. Because of potential public consequences, sex has never been solely in the purview of individuals. Birth control, however, stripped sex of (previously inevitable) reproductive outcomes, and in doing so, allowed sex to be just that: sex.

    Once sex was uncoupled from fertility, emphasis on parenthood and marriage as building blocs of social order decreased. If the circumstances through which one entered into parenthood could be controlled, so too could the circumstances through which one entered into marriage. Advances technology and law, together with changes in culture (namely the weakening of social norms that vilified premarital sex and out-of-wedlock child rearing) allowed young people to delay union formation without having to choose between abstinence and unplanned pregnancy.

    Ultimately, America appears to be shifting away from traditional marriage – but it’s up to us to determine if that’s necessarily a social problem, and if it is, whether it’s one we can – or should – fix.

  • Rachel Iafolla '18 Race, Class and Public Opinion: How America Fails to Tell the Whole Story

    What happens if you don’t look for variation when you make empirical generalization? Here’s what you can miss. By Rachel Iafolla ’18

    Race, Class and Public Opinion: How America Fails to Tell the Whole Story
    By Rachel Iafolla ‘18

    The American Dream. We preach and even rave about the land of opportunity and equality we have created. Under such assumptions, we tend to think that those of the same social class experience similar hardships and thus express similar views as though they were a homogenous group.

    Police Brutality. Cases of racially charged brutality against black citizens have dominated the media over the past few years. The names Michael Brown and Sandra Bland have come to represent how we perceive racial injustice. Young blacks have been killed in startling numbers by the police while white men who shoot up black churches live to tell the tale.

    But are these two topics connected? One way this can happen is when the statistical over-simplification of public opinion muffles the voices of those who have experiences different than the mainstream. While looking for commonalities is not always a bad thing, exploring variance in public opinion on the criminal justice system sheds light on how that data can get skewed in distorting ways. More specifically, by breaking down public opinion on the criminal justice system just by social class and comparing these trends to opinions modified by social class and race, we can see that how we choose to define public opinion can provide us with drastically different stories about contemporary America.

    Only controlled for social class, data from the General Social Survey 1972-2014 (GSS) shows that in 2014, a solid majority of middle class people (59%) believe that the U.S should spend more to halt crime levels that they believe are rising. Not surprisingly, this number is very similar to the views of those whites who compose by far the largest proportion of the middle class; 57% of them believe we should spend more. However, a startling 81% of the black middle class believes we need to be spending more. This 22 percentage point difference between the white and black middle classes would be missed by only looking at class differences in America and makes it clear why we shouldn't be surprised by the variation in black and white responses to criminal justice issues that we often encounter in our communities and interactions.

    There is even a more marked divergence when it comes to public opinion on police behavior. When asked if there was a situation where they thought it would be OK for a police officer to hit an adult male, 72% of the middle class as a whole said yes. Nevertheless, whereas 79% of white middle class citizens held this view, only 38% of middle class blacks did -- or less than half as many.

    The above data shows how easy it is for some ways of measuring public opinion to leave out certain subgroups of the population. Thus when politicians and policy makers make blanket statements such as “middle class America” and claims about “the 99%”, their perhaps laudable intention to create a sense of national unity seldom tells the whole story, and may be quite misleading as well. Arguably, blacks experience the most interaction with the criminal justice system in the U.S and probably have the most nuanced views. Clumping black voices in with the rest of the society on issues that are often particularly salient for black Americans lessens their power and stifles their voices.

    Moreover, our belief that access to similar resources and standards of living is enough to put everyone on a similar playing field is not supported by this data. Even when placed on the “same” playing field blacks and whites hold differing opinions. It appears that race is a decisive factor when it comes to opinions on the criminal justice system and its practices, and suggests that making it to the middle class in the present does not necessarily make up for the inequalities of the past. What this data from the General Social Survey demonstrates is that when it comes to certain areas of public opinion racial identity trumps socioeconomic standing.

  • helen hassan photo Pained to be an American? A Malady that Only Social and Political Reform Can Remedy

    Don’t be surprised at the eruption of anger and outrage in today’s electorate. It’s been building for a long time and it is something that only social and political reform can assuage. By Helen Hassan ’18

     Pained to be an American:

    A Malady that Only Social and Political Reform Can Remedy

    By Helen Hassan ‘18

    American nationalism is past its heyday, and the phrase “proud to be an American” is becoming increasingly irrelevant, an archaic notion left over from the Kennedy era, and hardly describes popular opinion in contemporary America. Since the 1970s, attitudes on what it means to be American in both domestic and global spheres have been becoming increasingly self-critical.

    In terms of how we position ourselves in a global context, over time we are becoming significantly more cynical about our society and culture -- our national identity -- in relation to the rest of the world. According to the General Social Survey, Americans were 33% less likely to agree that America is better than most countries in 2014 as they were in 1996; and Americans were twice as likely in 1996 than they were in 2014 to say that if other countries were more like America, the world would be a better place.

    From a more politically minded vantage point, the same pattern unfolds. According to the GSS, the number of American citizens who have “hardly any” confidence in our executive branch has doubled since 1973, while those who have “hardly any” confidence in our legislative branch has tripled within the same time period.

    But does this diminishing faith in the government’s capabilities translate into the voting booth? Looking at voting statistics, it becomes evident that since the 1970s, political participation in presidential elections has decreased substantially compared to previous years. The average voter turnout of the eleven elections between 1928 and 1968 was 60%, while in the following eleven election years, from 1972 to 2012, the average voter turnout was only 54%[1]. If this question of competency isn’t enough to convince you of America’s increasingly negative perception of its government, the following graph from the American National Election Studies (ANES) illustrates increasing doubts about the government’s integrity as well.

    Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 10.24.08 AM

    What we’ve been experiencing in recent decades is a comedown from the Post-WII high, or a correctional phase in which we Americans are trying to rectify our egos and redefine our place in the world. Since the late 1960s, this corrective mindset has been motivated by any number of things. To name a few: the Vietnam war and its unprecedented press coverage (the first “television war”); Watergate and Nixon’s impeachment; the invention of the internet, a proliferation of personalized (unfiltered) media, and ever-increasing globalization.

    So, what happens when a country founded on a narrative of free speech and representation becomes increasing cynical about the state of American society? Most likely, we are seeing the implications of this attitudinal shift right now, in this year’s campaigns. Citizens are eagerly, passionately, and very deliberately ready to rally behind a political outsider, whether Trump or Sanders. My inclination is to say that these developments are harbingers of social and political unrest in America’s near future, and quite possibly will lead to radical reform of one kind or another. For now, I will let the phrase make America great again plastered across billboards and countless front lawns speak for itself.

    [1] “Voter Turnout in U.S. Presidential Elections since 1908.” Statista. N.p. n.d. Web. May 08, 2016.




  • Mary Margaret Yancey '19 Tumblr and the Alternative Hyper-Reality

    When your dreams become realities, do your realities become dreams? A Babe Lincoln Publication. By Mary Margaret Yancey ’19

    Tumblr and The Alternative Hyper-Reality

    by Mary Margaret Yancey ‘19

    (This essay was first published in the first issue of Babe Lincoln, a new journal of political commentary, created and produced by Wheaton students. For more information about Babe Lincoln, contact its editor Pia Parisi-Marcoux ’19 at



    If you could boil Tumblr down and compress it into a singular phrase, it would be “here are the things I worship as an expression of myself”. Tumblr is a social microblogging platform that has made its way into our daily vernacular, with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and has evolved with these other platforms to create a virtual experience. For many young adults and teenagers, Tumblr provides a sanctuary outside of their real lives, a bubble in which they can self-express without consequence.

    Tumblr put me through a loop. I was eleven when I first signed up, but initially it was a relatively benign experience. I logged on maybe once or twice a week, and scrolled through my dashboard for maybe 10 minutes. But as we all very well know, social media can take you by the balls and suck you in. Suddenly, I was spending all of my time on Tumblr, madly attempting to create the perfect aesthetic blog. I secluded myself all day from all social interaction, inside and outside of school, including with my own family. The tipping point finally came when my dad confronted me about the issue when I was barely fourteen - I see my dad about eight times a year, so the fact he picked up on my obsession with my computer screen was very telling of my plight. He told me, “It isn’t real, what’s on your computer. What’s real is me and your sister, who are right there in front of you.”

    I know I’m not the only person whose been sucked into the world of aesthetic blogs or, as I dub them for these purposes, alternative hyper-realities. For those who don’t know what an aesthetic blog is, it is a type of blog that correlates with a specific theme, such as soft-grunge or fandoms. My aesthetic blog, like many others, was one dedicated to a photographic romanticization of adolescence. Carefree, happy photos of friends in the back of a pick up truck, consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes in a low-lit bedroom, running in a field, lying naked in a bed with one white sheet, drinking milkshakes in a treehouse… I’m extrapolating on the last one, but you get the gist of what kinds of photos you’d find on my blog. They all share a common theme: an emphasis on coolness and being carefree. All the photos were ludicrously edited to be less saturated, more highlighted, increased exposure, and contrasted slightly to create this aesthetic, an aesthetic that captured my attention and the attention of potentially thousands of other young adults.

    Alternative hyper-realities are something different and seemingly better than the reality of the person behind the screen; this kind of imagery has created new normative styles and ideals for them to express through click ‘reblog’. Alternative hyper-realities, therefore, produced an expected context for what life should be like, whether it’s a fantasy about an ideal romantic context like camaraderie or love, or just what one encounters on a daily basis, it’s a rift in one’s reality. And since they cannot seek out this reality in real life, they stick to their laptops and -- like me -- socially isolating themselves and becoming more miserable with their own lives and more attached to the life they’ve created online. They’re not seeing what’s real, and what’s right there in front of them.

  • Rachel Iafolla '18 Super Pacs: Buying Influence, not Elections

    SuperPacs seem quite frightening, but are they as scary as we think? A Babe Lincoln Publication. By Rachel Iafolla ’18

    Super PACs: Buying Influence, Not Elections

    By Rachel Iafolla ‘18

    (This essay was first published in the first issue of Babe Lincoln, a new journal of political commentary, created and produced by Wheaton students. For more information about Babe Lincoln, contact its editor Pia Parisi-Marcoux ’19 at


    Super Political Action Committees (PACs). They seem pretty frightening; the idea of big money buying elections is not one that sits well with some citizens. However, maybe they are not as scary as we think. “We”, in this case, refers mostly to self-identified Democrats, a group which is more likely to dislike Super PACS, when compared to their Republican counterparts[1]. While Super PACs are able to advertise, make calls, and raise unlimited funds for a given candidate, a look at their success rates may calm some liberal nerves.

    Prior to 2010, Super PACs were not an issue; unions and corporations did not have the power to independently spend money to influence elections on the federal level. This all changed when the Supreme Court deemed that fact unconstitutional Citizens United v. FEC, and in the subsequent case of SpeechNow.org v. FEC., the Super PAC was born[2]. While some feared the Super PACs would give power to the wealthy to “buy elections”, did they succeed in doing so?

    In the 2012 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, the Super PAC made its debut. As a result, more than $840 million was spent on the election (as of October 30, 2012), and of the money, a majority went to conservatives[3] Romney received more monetary support from Super PACs than Obama, but did he win the election? Well, obviously not. While both parties utilized Super PACs, if they really bought elections, Romney would have won due to his greater source of funding. In this case, the power of grassroots supporters, smaller donations, and the voice of the American people proved stronger than that of wealthy donors.

    In the current election, Super PACs are once again a big topic of discussion. Most notably, Democratic candidate Bernie Sander’s campaign has managed unimaginable success without the help of a Super PAC. On the opposite side, Republican candidate Jeb Bush has a massive Super PAC, but is currently last in the national polls. The belief in the decisiveness of Super PACs in buying elections is clearly up for questioning.

    Perhaps the true power of Super PACs was best summed up by presidential candidate Donald Trump when he said that, “when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.” The influence that donating to a Super PAC can give to someone is the truly scary thing about them. It is when a huge Super PAC candidate wins that the wealthy have their power. The focus on “buying elections” may take away from the greater issue for the average citizen; it is the matter of buying influence which is truly frightening. If one keeps all of the focus on what happens on the national stage, one may overlook what is happening behind the scenes. Looking at Super PACs as something more complex than simply buying elections is a critical viewpoint we must adopt if we wish to understand what is happening within our government.

    [1] http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/february_2016/voters_say_money_media_have_too_much_political_clout?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DailyNewsletter

    [2] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-money-drew-hillary-clinton-wedding/story?id=32936868

    [3] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cheat-sheet-super-pacs-work-controversial-article-1.1005804



    Retiring Professor of Sociology, Kersti Yllo, talks about what students should prize in the Wheaton tradition of education and why a sense of purpose should be more important than finding your passion.

    “Deep Wheaton”

    Honors Convocation

    Wheaton College

    May 5, 2016


    Kersti Yllö

    Professor of Sociology

    Hello Everyone!

    I’ve spent a surprising amount of time thinking about this talk, this ceremony and this place - and I’m honored to be here. This is quite an important place and it’s a beautiful space. And as I thought about it, I realized that I see this chapel as a sacred space. But I don’t mean sacred in the traditional, religious sense of the word.   I definitely don’t think of it as sacred in the way I’m sure the other Wheaton sees their chapel as sacred. I mean “sacred” in the sense that Emile Durkheim – French founding father of Sociology – conceived it. Durkheim distinguished between the sacred and the profane; profane - not like swearing is profane- but profane meaning the everyday, mundane aspects of our lives: classes, cell phones, workouts, laundry. But the sacred is a space apart - one that has real meaning for us and inspires a sense of awe and deeply felt community. That’s why we gather here today - in this important place.

    We gather here for rites of passage that honor the academic freedom, inquiry and excellence that we value. Seniors, you began here on your first night at Wheaton for an initiation ceremony. We joined together here to welcome President Hanno into our academic community. And today we honor the wonderful work that you all have done.

    We also gather here for the joy of musical performances – from our acappella groups to President Crutcher’s Klemperer Trio to Yo Yo Ma.

    We also come together here in sorrow. I’ve been to many memorial services here. And you gathered here just a few months ago to remember your classmate Brandon Williams who was lost to us much too soon. Sharing the sadness of our losses here - together – helps, and makes us all stronger.

    At other times we gather here when we are hurt and angry. A few years ago we had a painful and contentious community meeting here in response to a controversial sexual assault case. That led to a full transformation of our approach to rape. More recently, we’ve joined together here to express our outrage over racist and xenophobic graffiti and leaflets.   Coming together doesn’t automatically fix things, but it does let us express our support for those who are violated and reaffirm the values we believe in. We’re a community committed to gender equality, racial justice and the sustainability of this planet. This space, more than any other, holds Wheaton’s values and collective emotions – its soul.

    You may be wondering at this point why this talk is titled “Deep Wheaton”. For you techies out there – this isn’t a reference to the deep web. Deep Wheaton is a phrase coined by Dean Jack Kuzaj in his retirement talk last year – and I’ve thought about it quite a bit since then. I think “Deep Wheaton” incorporates all the values I’ve been talking about - but it is more than that. Deep Wheaton isn’t an abstraction – it’s all of the relationships we have that embody our values and our special sense of community. And I think it’s a community where friendship is the model and we generally prefer to be linked rather than ranked. Deep Wheaton is lived experience.

    Now some of you are probably thinking that this whole “Deep Wheaton” idea is just too sappy, (Dean Jack does sometimes have sappy ideas) so let me be clear that I’m not naïve or nostalgic about it.

    There’s no question that ours is not an ideal community, there’s a lot of “shallow Wheaton” for sure: gossip, yikyak, micro-aggressions and physical aggressions, misogyny, racism, homophobia. Sometimes it feels like it’s all over the place. But we stand against it. It’s shallow and it’s not who we are.

    I’m also not nostalgic for some old “Wheaton Way” – the good old days. I’m not saying “make Wheaton great again!” I am proud of much of Wheaton’s history – after all, we were founded on the radical feminist idea that women can and should be educated. That’s still a great idea! But – back in 1835 - that meant young white women who knew how to act like “ladies”. Despite their education, they were expected to marry and find contentment as their husbands’ property. The lucky ones got to be Wheaton faculty.

    Deep Wheaton does not mean yesterday’s Wheaton, even as we honor our liberal arts heritage - which is also our future. I do think that Deep Wheaton stands against the corporatization of higher education. I think faculty feel strongly that education is not a commodity, not a product that we are selling to consumers. Seniors – you didn’t buy a Wheaton degree, you earned it!

    But that doesn’t mean that Deep Wheaton is an impediment to change – not at all! In fact, I think our deep Wheaton values and relationships are the main reason we are so good at change. Deep Wheaton fosters our resilience and flexibility, our creativity and ability to adapt and to change.

    From the beginning we were committed to women’s education – yes - but we were a pretty parochial white “girls’ school”. We were wrong when we denied admission to Booker T. Washington’s daughter. And we were wrong when we had a quota on Jewish students. One of my students working in the archives even found a letter from President Cole’s wife to the admissions office warning against letting in too many Jewish students because, she wrote, “they’re just as bad as Methodists”! Say What?

    Fortunately, Wheaton has changed - a lot. Our “girl’s school” became a women’s college with a feminist consciousness - and then became a coed college that recognized men as equals - who also had gender. And we’ve worked to become a more diverse, international and inclusive community - and in that process we’ve become better, much better. Change keeps an institution alive. I think that the many changes that are ahead – like the new curriculum - will be more powerful and productive if they are grounded in Deep Wheaton - in our values and our relationships.

    But here’s the thing – Deep Wheaton isn’t a given; it’s not permanent; it’s not engraved on a plaque. As I said, Deep Wheaton is lived experience. It has to be created by faculty and students and staff in collaboration as we go about our daily lives here. We create this community every day in our mundane – or in Durkeheim’s term ‘profane’ – activities. And then we come together here, in this sacred space, to honor and celebrate what we’ve created.

    So, it’s the end of the semester and here we are, together again, to celebrate academic achievement and, especially, the accomplishments of the senior class. And that means that change is ahead for you – and for me. You’ll be graduating and I’ll be retiring, along with my colleagues John Grady and Ed Gallagher. Prof. Gallagher is skipping these end-of-year celebrations. Apparently, he has an aversion to hearing people say nice things about him. And I’m afraid that Ed may be the last of the great Wheaton curmudgeons. (Newer faculty: think about filling this vacuum. I see some potential out there!)

    And Seniors: We’re in the same boat – and that boat is leaving Wheaton. I’ve been teaching here for 35 years (ever since I was 11- a child prodigy.) And you all have been in school for 16 years - or more. And every year you pretty much knew what you were going to do the next year: go back to school. And now it ends – and I feel some real trepidation about that. But some trepidation in the face of change is normal and healthy (at least I hope it is, otherwise I’m in serious trouble.) It’s not easy when lots of well meaning people ask you ‘What are your plans? What are you going to do? You’re going to do what?’

    You seniors know what I’m talking about.

    I do admit that leaving Wheaton is a bit easier for me than for you. I don’t have to find a job. But, like you, I have to figure out what’s next.

    Speeches like this one often end with the cliché of ‘follow your passion’. I’m not sure that’s always a good idea. Donald Trump is following his passion and I shudder to think where that may lead us! And I know exactly one person who was able to turn his passion for weed into an actual, legitimate career.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of passion – but not necessarily as a life guide. Instead of following a passion, find a purpose. Take your values and your talents and turn them into action in the world. As the great philosopher Mae West once said, ‘You only live once. But if you do it right – that’s enough!’

    As we move on from Wheaton - this place we love - we can draw on the wellspring of Deep Wheaton. And we’ll be fine.

    We’ll find out where we need to go by going.

    Thank you!

  • Elise McGovern '18 is from Livingston, New Jersey The Importance of Being Uncomfortable

    Why look at images that make you uncomfortable? Sometimes it’s the only way to really understand what happened. By Elise McGovern ’18 from Livingston, New Jersey

     "The Importance of Being Uncomfortable" by Elise McGovern '18

    Elise is from Livingston, New Jersey.


    Man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, New York City, at 9:41:15 AM, September 11, 2001. Source: Richard Drew, Associated Press

    Figure 1. Man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, New York City, at 9:41:15 AM, September 11, 2001.
    Source: Richard Drew, Associated Press


    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel written by Jonathan Safran Foer. The main character, Oscar, is a nine-year-old boy living in New York City. He is on a quest for the owner of a mysterious key, that he believes contains a hidden message -- or lost memory -- of his father who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Oscar is obsessed with his father’s last moments, and wants to know what exactly happened to him and how he felt. One of the many possibilities that Oscar contemplates is that his father was one of the “jumpers” like the falling man in the picture taken on 9/11 (Figure 1), an image that is woven into the book’s narrative. Oscar, however, likes to look at the pictures in reverse order to imagine that the man is flying upward back into the building.

    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close displays the image in a sequence of photos, each taking up a page. The effect is like a flip book (Figure 2). The man is shown jumping from the burning, smoke filled north tower of the World Trade Center. As the reader flips through the pages the man slowly falls down, and finally off, the page.

    Figure 2. Turning pages of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. Source: graphicinterventions.blogspot.com

    Figure 2. Turning pages of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.
    Source: graphicinterventions.blogspot.com

    This image is iconic and has come to represent the unimaginable events that took place above the impact zones of each tower. Accounts from this day describe intense heat and smoke. Floors were buckling, ceiling pieces were falling, and smoke was everywhere. All the stairwells and elevators were blocked or broken. People were trapped. Phone calls to loved ones and police dispatchers from those trapped in the World Trade Center tell stories of not being able to see more than a few feet or even being able to breathe. Many were driven to the edge of the buildings by the intense heat and smoke. Some hung from the sides trying to escape the inferno; some were blown out of the windows, and others just jumped. In all, some 200 people fell to their death from the burning building before it finally collapsed, imploding upon itself.

    There is an interesting history to the image of the falling man. It appeared in the New York Times the day after the attack and was immediately criticized for being inappropriate. Periodically, the image is published in one context or another. There are many photos similar to this one readily available on the Internet, but generally it has not been enshrined in the publicized memories of 9/11.

    Images of falling people make others uncomfortable, and are disturbing because they tell of the reality of death and horror that took place on that day. The horrific images of 9/11 are not talked about or published for fear they are insensitive to the memory of those who died or for the disturbance it might cause the reader. These images are unsettling and a concern over their impact most certainly should not be disregarded. However, by not showing the images of death and horror we forget those who died as well as those who are forever affected by that day. There is no way to sugarcoat these photos to not show death and horror and still remember everyone who lost their life or health that day. Many media sources and individuals choose to focus almost entirely on the community support that formed in the aftermath of 9/11. While it is important to always see the positive points of a negative, horrific situation that negative, horrific situation must not be forgotten. In the case of 9/11 the loss of life and health, newfound fears about security and the lasting impact of trauma should not be overlooked. These stories and images might make readers and viewers feel uncomfortable and that’s okay. To feel pain and hurt is uncomfortable but it is also necessary for a greater understanding of 9/11 and other horrific events that happen around the world every day and throughout history. When photos, stories and events are sugarcoated they disconnect us from what these events mean to those who lived through them.

    Survivors in the south tower recall being told to stay in the building and that everything would be fine. However, the sight of people falling from the north tower created a sense of urgency that something was terribly wrong, causing many to ignore the announcements to stay, and flee instead. More than 1,400 people escaped from the upper floors of the south tower before the second plane hit.

    Stories and images of death, trauma, and horror, emotionally affect people even if they did not experience the actual trauma itself. To avoid awareness because it is uncomfortable is not okay because then there is never a chance to learn the full story or experience the world fully.

    The sensitization of horrific events goes beyond 9/11 and can also be seen in the way people talk about and view the holocaust, slavery, war, rape and other violence that takes place around the world every day and throughout history. ‘Shocking’ photos make the news become well known because they often cross the barrier of what is an acceptable topic of conversation. When images cross that barrier -- as long as it’s not for ‘shock value’ -- that is how individuals learn about the world and history.

    When images, stories and events are sugarcoated they change the existential narrative of the event from understanding the horror that took place to exclusively accentuating the positive. Discomfort is necessary to appreciate horror and its effect on people’s lives. We must never forget that the world is not all happy and good because otherwise how will we be able to prevent more horrors from happening in the future.

    Like Oscar, I was a young child on 9/11. Unlike him, I did not lose a parent that day, but I knew classmates who did and many who are forever affected by that day. I continue to be fascinated by the book not only because it recreates how a child tried to make sense of 9/11 and its images, but also because it reminds me as an adult of my responsibility to remember as much as I can of the terrors of life. Acknowledging the horror and power that images can convey and learning from them educates us about the world and can help us improve the future.

  • Colleen Doherty ’90 A hand up rather than a handout

    Colleen Shea Doherty ’90 influences public housing, from advocacy work to legislative reforms, to multi-million-dollar housing projects.