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Trinity, Community Grow Closer through the Arts

Committed to using the arts as a means to build bridges between communities, Pablo Delano, professor of fine arts, invited internationally-recognized luthier William Cumpiano to teach a stringed instrument-building workshop open to Trinity students and the general public from Hartford and beyond.

Nicole Muto-Graves '15, building her tiple.

Nicole Muto-Graves ’15, working on her tiple.

Nine students participated in the week-long workshop, which took place in Trinity’s Wiggins Sculpture Studio. Most had no prior woodworking experience, yet with Cumpiano’s expert instruction, each built his or her own tiple (pronounced tee-play), a traditional Puerto Rican five-stringed instrument. Cumpiano hopes the workshop, which he has also offered in Chicago for the past eight years, will help revive interest in the instrument, which is overshadowed by its bigger brother, the Puerto Rican cuatro.

Through a partnership with Center Church, whose community outreach efforts were a key to the program’s success, the workshop attracted a diverse array of students. Trinity’s Center for Urban and Global Studies was also instrumental in funding the project.

The Reverend Damaris Whittaker (Right) of Center Church works with Hartford resident Jose Capeles.

The Reverend Damaris Whittaker (Right) of Center Church collaborates with Hartford resident Jose Capeles.

“I felt this workshop would offer a life-changing opportunity for our students as well as community members,” Delano said. “I believe in reciprocal learning. I think it’s important that we acknowledge  that, while Trinity may have a lot to teach, we also have a lot to learn from our community.”

Nicole Muto-Graves ’15, an ethnomusicology major, was among the participants.

“It was nice to get perspectives from people throughout the city,” she said. “Any time you’re doing something creative with other people, it bonds you together.”

Delano, who teaches photography at Trinity, captured the process on camera.

“Documenting how you build [the instrument] is valuable and worthwhile, but what I enjoyed most was watching the interactions among people,” he said. “People who would never otherwise meet developed friendships and helped each other with the shared mission of completing the instrument. I hope to evoke something of that human bond in my pictures.”

Workshop participants with their completed instruments.

Workshop participants with their completed instruments.

Chemistry of Wine Gives Students and Faculty One Last Opportunity to Learn Together

With their Trinity careers coming to a close, several senior chemistry and biochemistry majors approached their department last fall about collaborating with faculty members one last time in a seminar on wine. Michelle Kovarik, assistant professor of chemistry, volunteered to help coordinate the seminar, a 0.5 credit independent study, and proposed a “journal club” course.

Their semester started with an introduction to studying wine: librarian Jennifer van Sickle introduced the seminar to the resources for researching the chemistry of wine, sommelier Marshall Bass led a wine-tasting seminar, and the students viewed a video on the basics of wine chemistry.

The group meets weekly, and topics are driven largely by students. Each week, a student selects a peer-reviewed article about the chemistry of wine and works with a faculty sponsor to help answer questions about the article and facilitate discussion among the students. Topics have ranged from the physical chemistry of bubbles in champagne to the synthesis of proanthocyanidins. Because the subjects include many subdisciplines of chemistry, several faculty members have worked with the students.

Those who have served as faculty sponsors of student presentations are Richard Prigodich, dean of academic planning and professor of chemistry; Cheyenne Brindle, assistant professor of chemistry; Timothy Curran, professor of chemistry; Janet Morrison, principal lecturer in chemistry; and Maria Krisch, assistant professor of chemistry. Other faculty who have participated are Bill Church, associate professor of chemistry and neuroscience, and Denise Rau, laboratory coordinator and lecturer in chemistry.

Following each student presentation, the group tastes a series of wines and compares tasting notes. But this is far more than a wine-tasting course; the students are studying serious chemistry, and the faculty members are putting the students’ chemistry knowledge to the test.

By all accounts, the seminar has been a great success. The seniors are taking full advantage of their last experience as students with the Chemistry Department faculty. Both students and faculty have enjoyed bringing their own interests and expertise to the group while they collaborate and learn, Kovarik says.

“We have wonderful faculty-student interaction,” she adds, “since we as faculty are often learning at the same time.”

Sarah Raskin speaks in favor of gun control measures

Room 2C at the Legislative Office Building was packed Thursday as nearly 200 people from all corners of Connecticut made their views known – with passion and fervor – regarding a package of 11 bills that would tighten state laws regarding the ability to own and use guns.

The public hearing before the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee was held three months after the deadly massacre in Newtown, where Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before brutally mowing down six adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since that time, gun-control advocates, both at the state and federal levels, have introduced legislation that would, among other things, make it harder to purchase firearms, ban assault weapons, establish gun offender registries, prohibit the possession of ammunition magazines capable of holding 10 bullets or more, require universal background checks, require the annual registration of handguns and set new rules on the storage of guns.

Many advocates in Connecticut, including those affiliated with the group, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, would also like to see new laws enacted dealing with mental health and school security. And a Quinnipiac University poll recently showed that there is strong support for stricter gun controls in Connecticut.

Although gun-control supporters – among them Sarah Raskin, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Trinity – swarmed the Capitol Wednesday, buttonholing legislators, Thursday’s public hearing brought out scores of NRA members, gun industry representatives and Second Amendment defenders. Indeed, buses carrying workers from Colt Defense LLC and Colt’s Manufacturing Co. arrived with signs reading, “Save Our Jobs.”

On Thursday, Raskin was clearly swimming against the tide.

“My work involves research to improve the lives of people with brain injury,” she told the panel of legislators. “I see every day the interplay of guns and mental illness. I would like to submit testimony in favor of greater safety regulations on gun ownership and use.”

Although the gun owners argued that it is the criminals and not law-abiding citizens whom society needs to crack down on and that firearms are necessary for self-defense and permitted by the Second Amendment, Raskin took a different tack.

“Our children are falling through the cracks and ending up with no help, killing themselves, or killing innocent people. Instead of treatment, we make it easy for them to access guns and then incarcerate them when they use them.”

Continuing, she noted, “20,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds to the brain. Unlike other brain injuries, only 5 percent of those who sustain a gunshot wound to the brain will survive. And when a gun is in the home, it is 65 percent more likely to be used on a family member or someone known to the family than in a home invasion.”

That statistic seemed to rebut the argument that guns are successfully used in cases of self-defense against armed robbers and burglars.

Perhaps surprisingly, violence-related deaths have now, for the first time, surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of brain injury-related death. “Firearm-related incidents now account for 40 percent of brain injury-related deaths,” said Raskin, “while motor vehicle crashes accounted for 34 percent of fatalities….20,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds to the brain.”

Why is that? Raskin had an answer. “We require a license to drive a car, a safety test, insurance and registration for all cars. [Vehicles] must pass safety tests, too. And [a motorist’s] license and registration must be regularly renewed. So, let’s require registration of handguns with an annual renewal, require a permit or license to purchase or carry a gun, require liability insurance and require universal background checks on all guns.”

Moreover, Raskin said there is no need for citizens to own guns designed for the military. She encouraged lawmakers to adopt a ban on the sale and possession of all high capacity ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

Read the full story here

Lucy Ferriss delves into life in Peshawar, Pakistan

Fresh off the success of her most recent novel, The Lost Daughter, Trinity’s Writer-in-Residence, Lucy Ferriss, earlier this year spent a month in Peshawar, Pakistan, conducting research for her next book, tentatively titled Honor.

Her experience in the Pakistani city of 2 million was the subject of a Common Hour Talk on Thursday, September 27, one in which she said some of her assumptions about that country’s culture – its rituals, taboos, and customs – were affirmed and some of which were debunked, but all of which will shape the writing of her book.

Her talk gave her audience insights into how a successful novelist goes about researching and writing a book, testing theories and hypotheses to see which ones have merit and which should be jettisoned. And her lecture also provided an insider’s look at a society that is largely enigmatic to most Americans.

Squash is what led Ferriss to Pakistan. “Trinity’s had that effect on me. I wanted, first, to write a story about a female jock, a coach, who possesses the particular confidence of coaches,” said Ferriss. “I wanted to challenge her in an unexpected way and see what would happen. Because I teach at Trinity, squash became my coach’s sport. And because squash can draw, as we all know, a veritable U.N. of players to a small college, the challenge lay somewhere in a clash of cultures.”

Read more about Ferriss’s Common Hour talk and new book  here

Mark Silk Participates in White House Conference

By almost any measure, this has been an incredibly gratifying, if not extraordinary, year for Mark Silk, director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity and professor of religion.

It was only about a few months ago that Silk, who has been at the College since 1996, was dubbed “one of the smartest commentators on American politics and religion [that] you’ve probably never heard of,” by a reporter with The Washington Post. She went on to say, “His wry and careful handling of flammable subjects is always admirable. But a recent blog post, which brought together three culture-wars figureheads…in a virtual sparring match was so ingenious that it merits a column of its own.”

And so, Lisa Miller devoted a column to the so-called sparring match. Silk’s blog, which he has been writing since 2007, is so widely respected that earlier this year he was invited to permanently locate the blog, Spiritual Politics, on the Web site of the Religion News Service (RNS), which claims to be the largest single source of news about religion, spirituality and ideas.

All of the attendant publicity that Silk has received resulted in his being one of 90 scholars invited to the annual White House Religion Scholars Briefing in May, which was off-limits to the news media. However, among the issues discussed were economic policy and the federal budget, domestic policy priorities and global peace building, and human-rights efforts, as well as an update from the staff of the Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Read more here.

Welcome to Faculty Highlights

Welcome to Faculty Highlights, a blog that features the scholarship and achievements of Trinity College faculty. The College’s mission states that several elements are central to the quest for excellence in liberal arts education, among them:

  • An outstanding and diverse faculty who excel in their roles as teachers and scholars, bringing to the classroom the insight and enthusiasm of people actively engaged in intellectual inquiry.
  • A rigorous curriculum firmly rooted in the traditional liberal arts, but one that also integrates new fields of study and interdisciplinary approaches to learning.

In an effort to emphasize these points, Faculty Highlights will explore and promote the groundbreaking and often interdisciplinary research interests of our faculty members, as well faculty in the news. We hope to cover a wide range of individuals, topics, projects, and accomplishments of Trinity’s remarkable faculty.