March 2016 Archways

Campus Buzz


Toronto-based activist Janaya Khan

Black Lives Matter activist Janaya Khan

By Emily Schalk ’19

Janaya Khan, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter Toronto and international ambassador for the #BlackLivesMatter Network, spoke at Bryn Mawr College on Tuesday, February 2, as part of the College’s celebration of Black History Month.

Khan, known as Future within the Black Lives Matter movement, is a Toronto-based activist, social-justice educator, and boxer. Having graduated from York University with an English Honors degree, Khan has spent the past several years fighting for Black liberation and transfeminism on the academic and social justice circuit, at such universities as Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, and York University. Khan’s work uses insights taken from a background in English to study the way language, metaphor, and democratic discourse can become tools for change.

Khan spoke to the audience gathered in Thomas Great Hall about the way Bryn Mawr students could participate in social activism and gain insight from the Black Lives Matter movement. “Black Lives Matter was our intervention,” Khan said. “What will be yours?

“On a campus like this, for example, or a place like Canada, or even in your personal life, you’re not going to hit that critical mass. You’re not going to get thousands of people turning out. So you need to ask, where are your critical connections? And where are you, and your friends, and your peers and mentors? Because you might say that you aren’t enough, but all of the change that the world has seen has been wrought by a very few people. And that doesn’t just look like shutting things down; it’s looking at the conversations that you’re closing, and the conversations that you’re opening. I can’t do very much with your outrage. Your outrage will die down. But I can do something with your sense of responsibility. I’m not asking you to be fearless; I’m asking you to be courageous.”

Khan’s visit to Bryn Mawr was part of the Black History Month Speaker Series, organized as a collaboration among Sisterhood, the Tri-College Chapter of the NAACP, the Enid Cook Center Committee, and the Pensby Center and was free and open to the public. The first week of the series focused on gender and sexuality, explains Jonetta White ‘16, one of the event’s organizers.

“We wanted to focus on the unsung heroes and untold stories of black history” says White.

Past Black History Month presenters have included Nontombi Naomi Tutu, South American educator and social activist, and Marc Lamont Hill, academic, television personality, and native Philadelphian.



Photo courtesy NASA

Photo courtesy NASA


With funding from NASA, Assistant Professor of Geology Selby Cull-Hearth’s lab is synthesizing minerals that mimic those found on Mars.

“The minerals we’ll be synthesizing are rare on Earth. We’ll need to recreate ancient Mars conditions in Bryn Mawr’s Geochemistry Lab in order to form them,” says Cull-Hearth.

Once completed, their work will help researchers better understand data being collected through satellite-borne and ground-based instruments—including data that suggests the existence of liquid water in the Red Planet’s history.

“Minerals can tell us where liquid water was, and when, but only if we know how to read them,” she says. “If we know where the water was, we know where to search for signs of past life.”



Bryn Mawr is among the group of private, highly selective liberal arts institutions that have filed an amicus brief opposing a challenge before the Supreme Court regarding the use of race in college admissions.

The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was filed on behalf of a White student who believes she was denied admission on the basis of race. Joining Bryn Mawr are fellow Tri-Co members Swarthmore and Haverford; sister schools Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley; and 31 other institutions.

There are, the brief argues, sound educational reasons why virtually all of America’s colleges and universities have concluded that many different kinds of diversity, including (but not limited to) racial and ethnic diversity, create the best learning environment.

The brief states, “Private colleges were created and are funded as engines of social change, and the Court should consider the realities of selecting students in a society in which race still matters and the effects of discrimination and entrenched segregation still linger.”

In discussing the importance of the case, Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy says, “Our goal is to build the most academically excellent class possible each year, in which varied interests, backgrounds, identities, and perspectives will contribute to creating an intellectually rich learning community.”



“Part science, part black magic” is how Assistant Professor of Chemistry Yan Kung describes the process of crystallizing purified enzymes. Until recently, that work has been painstaking for BMC students, but with a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, they’re now able to do the same job in a matter of minutes—and get on with the important work of mapping the enzymes’ molecular structure.

According to Kung, “The eventual application of this research may allow microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast to make drugs using encoded enzymes without the potentially toxic chemical waste associated with some current manufacturing processes.“



The U.S. Department of Agriculture is supporting Professor of Social Work and Social Research Thomas Vartanian’s latest research on SNAP (aka, the food stamp program).

Drawing on longitudinal data, Vartanian will examine whether SNAP assists children in low-income families in achieving healthy weight relative to those who are poor but do not receive such food assistance. He’ll be looking at differences by neighborhood condition and by location (rural/urban) and examining whether living near or far from grocery stores, convenience stores, and other food outlets affects healthy weight for children and adults. Funding is administered through the RIDGE Center for Targeted Studies at Purdue University.



As an academic partner of the Center for Science of Information, Bryn Mawr is receiving National Science Foundation funding to support undergraduate fellowships, faculty and student research, and on-campus programming.

Founded in 2010 and headquartered at Purdue University, the center aims to advance the next generation of information theory through collaborative research and teaching.

Led by Computer Science Professor Deepak Kumar, Bryn Mawr’s involvement focuses on the creation of courses and educational materials that introduce the emerging field of science of information.



The National Science Foundation has made a five-year $2.1 million grant to a team of faculty from Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Trinity, Vassar, and Brown for a new summer program that will help answer the call for science and mathematics teachers in the public schools. Each year, the Teaching Experience for Undergraduates (TEU) program will send 12 undergraduates majoring in Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics (STEM) fields to both Brown and Trinity, where they will work directly with high school students and gain valuable teaching experience.

“The nation needs high-quality math and science teachers,” says Professor of Mathematics Victor Donnay, one of the co-investigators for the grant. “If the TEU program succeeds in its goal of attracting more of these STEM students into the teaching profession, it could be expanded on a national scale.”



Does learning change the way we perceive the world? Assistant Professor of Philosophy Adrienne Prettyman has won a $75,000 grant along with Kevin Connolly, of the University of Pennsylvania, to investigate this question in a project titled “The Interdisciplinary Study of Perceptual Learning.”

Prettyman’s research will bring together philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists at international workshops to discuss cases where people (often experts) perceive the world in an improved way due to learning and changes in attention.

The award is a subgrant from the Cambridge New Directions project.



Fusion energy is back in the news, with the hope that it can be harnessed to provide long-term energy solutions. And Bryn Mawr’s David Schaffner is on the case.

The newly appointed assistant professor in the physics department traveled recently to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the kickoff meeting of the ALPHA project aimed at developing technology for possible fusion energy reactors.

Sponsored by ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy), the project brings together nine diverse research groups—from national laboratories, private companies, universities, and colleges—to tackle problems encountered in magneto-inertial fusion reactors with solutions that keep an eye toward developing marketable technology.