Editor’s Note: Difficult Problems and Creative Solutions

Despite growing up in Connecticut, most of what I knew about Wesleyan as an adolescent was that a very bright friend of mine—Nick Encalada-Malinowski ’04—chose it from many other impressive collegiate options.

Aside from preternatural ultimate frisbee chops, my clearest memory of Nick is from high school geometry. We were tasked with learning certain theorems and then applying them to solve proofs. Nick skipped the theorems and proceeded directly to solving the proofs on his own. It took him the better part of one of those light blue exam booklets with the flimsy covers and the strangely wide ruling.

Our teacher grudgingly admitted that as much as Nick had neglected the rules of the assignment, his proofs were correct. Beautifully so. The steps he’d linked together showed such intelligence and conceptual agility that our teacher ended up asking him to walk the rest of the class through his logic on the blackboard. With chalk and everything.

What I didn’t know then, but have come to understand since, is how good a fit Nick was for the university he’d go on to attend. Today, he is the civil rights campaign director for VOCAL-NY, which helps create healthy and just communities for low-income New York residents affected by issues like mass incarceration, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS. He continues to question the status quo, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and willingly share and implement those solutions to benefit others. Typical Nick. And, I’m learning, very Wesleyan.

This past August, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job at Wes, following in the footsteps of former editor Bill Holder ’75, P’05, ’05, ’08 and joining a talented team of writers and designers, including Managing Editor Cynthia Rockwell MALS ’19, P’11 and Art Director Steven Jacaruso. It is equal parts inspiring and humbling to work with the kind of people Wesleyan attracts. You’re often forced to question most of what you thought you knew. The upshot is that you never stop learning.

This issue of the magazine has been that kind of exercise. We entered hoping to look at Wesleyan “by the numbers” but quickly learned the critical underpinning of quantitative studies at Wes: numbers are rarely an end unto themselves. Instead, they should act as springboards, can be prone to bias, and are best considered an answer rather than the answer.

In Sam Raby ’17 and Professor Kim Diver’s work, for example, we see how data visualization tools can democratize information, as well as the heavy responsibility mapmakers bear in prioritizing clarity and objectivity. While reporting on the innovative ways faculty are integrating data analysis across the curriculum, it was striking to see them emphasizing both foundational principles and the need to question those same methodologies. It is also important to note that in December, Wesleyan faculty voted to give department status to African American Studies. This fittingly coincided with the 50th anniversary of the landmark Fisk Hall Takeover of 1969, when Black student protests led to the founding of the Center for African American Studies, the Malcolm X House, and the Black student group Ujamaa at the University. To add further context to these significant events, we’ve compiled a history of African American students at Wesleyan with the generous assistance of Jocelyn Maeyama ’22 and Visiting Professor Jesse Nasta ’07.

We hope this issue highlights a few of the many ways the Wesleyan community courageously takes on difficult problems in search of creative solutions, and we hope it serves as a springboard for readers to do the same.