On various blogs and forums that have been linking to Wesleying over the past day, I’ve seen tons of discussions with hundreds of comments. The overwhelming trend seems to be to say “Awwww, poor spoiled Wesleyan students; they can’t listen to authority” and to mock the Wesleyan students’ “fighting for the right to party.” These comments appear on the Courant website, on a Williams blog, on SomethingAwful forums – all over.
I’d like to offer an alternative perspective, which should represent only myself (Madeline, Wesleyan ’09) and not Wesleying as a whole or the entire Wesleyan student body. This perspective is especially directed at individuals coming from outside the Wesleyan community who are less familiar with campus:
Tension about police brutality has been brewing on the Wesleyan campus for a while. Issues came to a head last year about racial profiling on campus, but died down over the summer. With the Sean Bell case coming to the fore a few weeks ago, questions about police brutality and racial profiling were again brought into everyday campus dialogue. So when events on Fountain Ave exploded the other night, pre-existing tensions boiled over and students got angry.
The “wild, unruly” party on a “public street” actually took place on Fountain Ave., which is comprised entirely of Wesleyan-owned student houses for seniors. The two nearby streets, Pine and Warren, with which Fountain houses share yard space, are also both comprised entirely of Wesleyan-owned student houses. So the claim that it’s terrible for students to be making so much noise at 1 am is fairly unfounded, since Thursday, May 15th was the last day of final exams, and the vast majority of Wesleyan students were ready to celebrate – especially on these streets, which are entirely inhabited by Wes seniors.
The incredibly frustrating thing is that the “incitement to riot” danger occurredonly after police arrived. The most gruesome violations which cyberspace seems to be complaining about were not a cause, but rather a result of the police presence.
One of the major reasons students were in the streets was because the houses on the street holding parties were told they couldn’t allow anyone else into their houses. On the last day before the semester ends and everyone leaves for the summer, and underclassmen won’t see their senior friends again, students aren’t going to just go home and go to sleep at 1 am. If students aren’t allowed to go into student houses for parties, they start to congregate in the street. This is just poor crowd control, and the result should have been expected. This seems to be what initially started problems from last night.
The Wesleyan student body is certainly not defending the actions of belligerent drunks. There is almost universal agreement that students who know they get belligerent when drunk, obviously should not get drunk. There is also almost universal agreement that students who are belligerent drunks are responsible for their own actions, especially if they verbally abuse or physically abuse any other people, including but not limited to police officers. No one is defending the right of students to throw beer bottles at police cars (though the students who are alleged to throw beer bottles at police cars say they didn’t.)
It seems highly unlikely that the police’s primary actual goal was dispersal – initially sending 10 police cars created a spectacle that actually drew more people, most of whom wanted to try to figure out what was going on. There have been various other incidents involving Middletown police, some of whom seem to have some kind of vendetta against Wesleyan students. I point out this Argus article from earlier this semester, which highlights some of the cases a particular officer, Officer Clark, has been allegedly involved in. (He wrote a Wespeak in response to defend himself against the negative claims.) Again, this is just poor crowd control. Additionally, many students who weren’t right nearby the loudspeaker say they couldn’t hear the requests for dispersal that, according to police, were made thirty-forty minutes before more extreme action was taken – but students disagree that this timeline is accurate.
Some of the resentment coming from the Internet seems to be targeted at Wesleyan students because they are privileged. Wesleyan students are stereotyped as having “rich mommies and daddies” who they can come crying to whenever something goes wrong (for example, they’re tased/bitten by a K9 dog/shot with rubber bullets/pepper sprayed). However, while certainly many students do come from privileged backgrounds, there is a hugely diverse population here. Students come from all kinds of geographic, ethnic, racial, and class backgrounds. There is certainly a general trend within higher education that students from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to attend college. This is a problem, and one that Wesleyan students, administration, and faculty are deeply committed to reducing. Wesleyan students and faculty are both deeply committed to reducing inequality, especially in education, and to maintaining a need-blind admissions policy. One of Wesleying’s own founders, Holly, just finished her senior thesis analyzing the role of class and cultural capital in college admissions.
In conclusion, Wesleyan students are college students. They like to learn, they like to participate in intellectual discourse, and at the end of the day (or the semester), they like to hang out with friends and perhaps even – gasp – throw a party. But perhaps more so than at many other colleges, they are also deeply committed to both social justice and serving the larger local & global communities. The events from last night are not just about students being upset about a party being busted, or their friends being tased (though they’re certainly upset about that, too). Students are upset about the larger issues of police brutality, and the use of excessive force when it is unnecessary. The breakup of the party on Fountain obviously doesn’t compare in scale to the cases of Rodney King or of Sean Bell, but similar issues are brought to the fore in both cases. How much should we trust the discretion of authority, and should we do so blindly? When is violence a legitimate reaction by authority to perceived threats? Is a previously-not-out-of-hand campus party cause for shooting an entire crowd of hundreds of students in the face with pepperballs? Is a drunk man accidentally hitting an unmarked police car – and his being black, oh no – cause for shooting him to death? Obviously the scope of these two cases is very different, and in this particular Fountain party, there are no reports of racial profiling. But police are supposed to protect and make people feel safe, and in both these instances, police represented the threat and not the solution. My plea is that you please understand that this is not a simple case of spoiled students who only want to “fight for their right to party.”
Wesleyan students don’t want to be divided from Middletown residents on this issue. We don’t want non-Wesleyan Middletown residents to bear the brunt of police violence; we want police violence to end. But we’re part of Middletown, too, and just because we aren’t living here permanently doesn’t mean we aren’t deeply invested in the community. Please give us the benefit of the doubt here. We don’t think all police are stupid, and we don’t think Middletown residents are stupid. We just think violence is not the solution to all problems… especially the non-threatening problems.