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Letters From the Dean

Check back here every Sunday for Dean Rifkin’s timely message to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences!


This Week –   March 22, 2015

Dear Students:

I hope you all enjoyed a break from the routine for spring week.  I’d like to give a special shout out to all those members of our community who spent part or some of their spring break volunteering to help another community.  Some of our juniors were in Atlanta over spring break, learning about the Civil Rights movement and volunteering (through the Bonner Institute, with other Bonner volunteers from other campuses).  You can read more about our Bonner Institute service trips at this link:  Six other students volunteered in a school in Vladimir, Russia this past week, as part of a larger grant program (with generous funding from the US Department of Education.  As you read these words, they are in a plane approaching JFK (and about to experience all the joys of jet lag, I’m afraid).  You can read more about the Russian Experience here: 

Some of our students have been working hard to prepare a special celebration to be held on our campus tomorrow evening:  Nowruz, Persian New Year.  With food and song and dance, this is a very special evening – and it’s right here for you to enjoy.  (It will never be easier for you to get a taste of a beautiful world culture.)  See the “events” listings below for more details.

In my last weekly message before spring break, I wrote about the bravery it takes to stand up against incivility, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and any other manifestation of hatred.  Since then, we have seen the video of the racist chant on the bus in Oklahoma:  to the best of my knowledge, no one on that bus stood up to say, “This is hatred. We shouldn’t be doing this.”  It’s really hard to be brave, but it’s much harder to deal with shame after the fact.

I’d like to write you this week about bravery in a different context – virtual bravery.  For some reason, far too many people feel comfortable spewing hatred on line, sometimes from the “protection” of anonymous usernames.  The hatred you see on line – in blog fora, twitter feeds, Facebook comments, and in Yik Yak, as well as other social media platforms – is just as vicious, and in some ways more vicious, than hatred spewed face to face.  We all know stories of such attacks leading to suicide.

I ask you to be brave in on line contexts, too:  I encourage you develop “virtual bravery”.  If you read something you deem hateful, say so:  be supportive of the victims of such attacks.  Speak up for civility, respect, and compassion.  Remember that things aren’t always what they seem to be.  Give others the benefit of the doubt you would want to have for yourself.

About a dozen years ago, I was working in Wisconsin and knew a staff member at my university who was diagnosed with a very frightening cardiac condition. She needed a heart transplant desperately (and she ultimately got it).  But before she got her new heart, she had a handicapped placard for her car because she could barely walk 50 feet without exhaustion: she couldn’t strain her heart so much.  So she parked, of course, in handicapped spots.  However, she had no externally visible signs of any disability.  She told me how people were often very rude to her, assuming that she was cheating a system designed to protect others.  Her car was egged and she was even threatened with physical assault once.  I share this story to remind you: things aren’t always what they seem.  It never hurts to engage in interaction with others on the basis of the assumption of the dignity of that other person, proceeding from a perspective of compassion, civility, and respect.

Recently there was an episode on another campus in which a police officer detained a student at gunpoint, claiming that the student resembled a suspect in a burglary in the area.  The student was African-American; the police officer – also African-American.  The student’s father?  Charles Blow, a NY Times Columnist who writes about hot button issues including teen pregnancy, the national debt, gender roles, presidential politics, and, yes, race relations.  As it happens Charles Blow will be speaking on campus this week: Tuesday, March 24, “Race and Policing in America,” at 7 pm in Education 212.  Don’t miss it: Blow is an extraordinary analyst, an excellent writer, and one of America’s greatest public intellectuals.  This is a very special opportunity for our campus community and we are all grateful to the many offices on campus that have co-sponsored this talk to make it possible for us.





Congratulations to all the HSS students who worked on the latest issue of The Wall, a newspaper “written with and for individuals experiencing homeless to break down the walls.”  Great job!

Congratulations to Jack Meyers, HSS senior (and our webmaster) who had a front page story at The Trenton Times:

Congratulations to HSS student and TCNJ debater Rishabh Sharma who did very well as a novice debater in a recent tournament at West Point.  If you’re interested in joining our college’s debate team, contact  this year’s season is almost over, but now is a great time to get involved and learn about debate to be ready to participate next year.  Our debate team is eager to have volunteers to help out at this year’s national collegiate debate tournament which will be hosted right here at TCNJ on April 17-18.

Congratulations to the following JPW majors who have won scholarships to attend Biotech University, a one-day seminar, held this Friday at Arizona State University, where they will learn about Biotechnology and reporting about it:  Alison Graves, Emma Colton, Gabrielle Urciuoli, and Gabrielle Beacken.

Congratulations to HSS Alumna Sarah Blake Schoenholtz who just published her first book, with a great buzz, like this review in the Chicago Tribune:

Recently, several JPW alumni have had significantly prominent publications: 

Andrew Grant (JPW minor) in Science News Magazine:

Matt Huston (JPW major) in Psychology Today:

James Queally (JPW major) in The LA Times

Tom Dunford (JPW major) in The Wall Street Journal:

Congratulations to all these JPW alumni (and many others not mentioned here) who make us so proud.



Graduating HSS seniors as well as current HSS juniors and sophomores are invited to consider participating in the inaugural session of TCNJ’s Business Institute for Non-Business Majors, an intensive summer program for individuals looking to combine their area of specialization with Business fundamentals, to better compete for jobs in the private sector or start their own businesses. You can also earn eight academic credits by successfully completing the Business Institute.   You can learn more about it here: or by contacting George Hefelle (; 609-771-2540).  First-year students:  Look at this now and plan ahead!



Mon., March 23            The 6th Annual Persian New Year (Nowruz) Celebration sponsored by the Eurasia/Middle East Society at 7:30 with a concert of Persian and Central Asian music by Amir Vahab and his ensemble, and free Middle Eastern dinner and desserts. 

Tues., March 24          TCNJ Annual Wellness Expo from 11:30 am to 2 pm in Brower Student Center 202 East and West, as well as other locations, with giveaways and fun activities.  See for full information

Tues., March 24          Peace Corps Information Session at noon to 1 pm in Roscoe West 202

Tues., March 24          Presentation by Provost Jackie Taylor, “Waiting for the Call:  From Preacher’s Daughter to Lesbian Mom” at 12:30 to 1:50 in the Library Auditorium

Tues., March 24          Politics Forum:  Dr. John Pollock will speak about “Illuminating Human Rights:  How Demographics Drive Media Coverage” in 223 Social Science from 12:30 to 1:30 pm 

Tues., March 24          “Race and Policing, “ by NYT Columnist Charles Blow from 7 to 8 pm in Education 212

Wed., March 25           Lecture by Dr. Brian Rose, “Past Imperfect:  Archaeology, Museums, and War” at 11 am in Mayo Concert Hall

Wed., March 25           Study Abroad 101 for those thinking about and planning for study abroad in the future:  2 to 2:30 pm in 130 Social Science

Wed., March 25           Celebration of Culture at 3:30 to 5 pm in the Social Sciences Atrium

Wed., March 25           Exhibit Reception:  “Remixing Revolution:  Contemporary Culture in Cuba” at 5 to 7 pm in the College Art Gallery

Wed., March 25           WGS Alumni will speak on a panel about reproductive issues:  Roscoe West 201 from 5 to 7 pm

Thurs., March 26         TCNJ’s Student Government is sponsoring a multicultural festival called TCNJ Epcot with more than 26 cultural clubs and organizations with activities, food, and performances, from 8 to 11 pm in the Student Center.

Thurs., March 26         Film Screening:  “Mothers of Bedford” at 6 to 8 pm in the Library Auditorium, about women who are both prisoners and mothers.  Screening will be followed by a Q&A featuring former inmates featured in the film 

Thurs., March 26         Lecture by Dr. Hank Fradella , “Sex, Sexuality, Crime, and (In)Justice:  A Look at the Evolution of the Social Control of Rape” at 6:30 in Education 212