A Wesleyan Student’s Perspective

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.

142 thoughts on “A Wesleyan Student’s Perspective

  1. Anonymous

    Why are we defending a bunch of hippie students who are an embarrassment to our school? Think about what something like this does to Wesleyan’s reputation. You don’t see kids our competitor schools like Swarthmore or Vassar pulling shit like this. This is embarrassing, and those kids should be expelled.

  2. Anonymous

    Why are we defending a bunch of hippie students who are an embarrassment to our school? Think about what something like this does to Wesleyan’s reputation. You don’t see kids our competitor schools like Swarthmore or Vassar pulling shit like this. This is embarrassing, and those kids should be expelled.

  3. Anonymous

    I thought this was an extremely well-written article. You changed my mind.- Middletown resident

  4. Anonymous

    I thought this was an extremely well-written article. You changed my mind.
    – Middletown resident

  5. Anonymous

    (this is 8:07)mad – that’s a good point, but how can a party get out of control because of the police? i can only see two possibilities: either the party was out of control before the police arrived but was made manifest by the act of trying to control it, OR, the students were so belligerent that the presence of police incited the disobedience. in either case, the students are in the wrong, not the cops. that’s the thing about law enforcement.. they don’t have to be wrong to be total assholes but students (especially drunk ones) need to realize that that doesn’t mean they have any less power.

  6. Anonymous

    (this is 8:07)

    mad – that’s a good point, but how can a party get out of control because of the police? i can only see two possibilities: either the party was out of control before the police arrived but was made manifest by the act of trying to control it, OR, the students were so belligerent that the presence of police incited the disobedience. in either case, the students are in the wrong, not the cops. that’s the thing about law enforcement.. they don’t have to be wrong to be total assholes but students (especially drunk ones) need to realize that that doesn’t mean they have any less power.

  7. Anonymous

    Maybe the kids at this school need to learn to respect authority more. Not everything needs to be a liberal philosophical debate. If a cop tells you to do something, just do it. Nine out of ten times, cops are doing their jobs and have the community’s best interest at heart. Stop being whiny elitist pricks.

  8. Anonymous

    Maybe the kids at this school need to learn to respect authority more. Not everything needs to be a liberal philosophical debate. If a cop tells you to do something, just do it. Nine out of ten times, cops are doing their jobs and have the community’s best interest at heart. Stop being whiny elitist pricks.

  9. Mad Joy

    8:07: you are conflating cause and effect. 10 police cars arriving and riot tactics doesn’t mean that the party was necessarily out of control. It means that 10 police cars and riot tactics were used; was the party so out of control that it deserved it? That’s the key question, isn’t it?It seems to me that the party was not at all out of control, and not any more out of control than a typical Wesleyan party (which is, in itself, probably less out of control than parties at most colleges) until the police arrived.I can’t find the link, but I read one report that said a girl was trying to find out what was said in the loudspeaker, and asked another nearby cop, and he told her to “fuck off.” I might be misquoting; I wish I could find the link.Still, the recently posted video makes me sad. It definitely portrays some students as belligerent drunken assholes. I would have hoped better from them. (I’m not saying this excuses the police – especially their actions before this video was shot)

  10. Mad Joy

    8:07: you are conflating cause and effect. 10 police cars arriving and riot tactics doesn’t mean that the party was necessarily out of control. It means that 10 police cars and riot tactics were used; was the party so out of control that it deserved it? That’s the key question, isn’t it?

    It seems to me that the party was not at all out of control, and not any more out of control than a typical Wesleyan party (which is, in itself, probably less out of control than parties at most colleges) until the police arrived.

    I can’t find the link, but I read one report that said a girl was trying to find out what was said in the loudspeaker, and asked another nearby cop, and he told her to “fuck off.” I might be misquoting; I wish I could find the link.

    Still, the recently posted video makes me sad. It definitely portrays some students as belligerent drunken assholes. I would have hoped better from them. (I’m not saying this excuses the police – especially their actions before this video was shot)

  11. Anonymous

    it doesn’t matter why the police wanted the party to be dispersed… from what i heard, psafe called the police for help. what matters is that the students didn’t listen. being too shitfaced or loud to hear the cops isn’t a legitimate reason not to comply with the law — or whatever they say is the law, for that matter. if a cop is shouting at you with a megaphone, you make an effort to find out what he’s saying, even if you can’t understand it initially. the circumstances surrounding this issue, including whether or not the cops should have been there, is debatable; the fact that the students acted like idiots is not, and this undermines any argument we could have against the police. if a party is so out of control that it requires 10 patrol cars and riot tactics to disperse, it deserves to be dispersed. this whole incident is absolutely disgusting.

  12. Anonymous

    it doesn’t matter why the police wanted the party to be dispersed… from what i heard, psafe called the police for help. what matters is that the students didn’t listen. being too shitfaced or loud to hear the cops isn’t a legitimate reason not to comply with the law — or whatever they say is the law, for that matter. if a cop is shouting at you with a megaphone, you make an effort to find out what he’s saying, even if you can’t understand it initially. the circumstances surrounding this issue, including whether or not the cops should have been there, is debatable; the fact that the students acted like idiots is not, and this undermines any argument we could have against the police. if a party is so out of control that it requires 10 patrol cars and riot tactics to disperse, it deserves to be dispersed. this whole incident is absolutely disgusting.

  13. Anonymous

    Our students that got arrested were white males; otherwise the police would be accused of racism and sexism. Has anyone thought that perhaps they did not arrest women and minorities to avoid such accusations? Arresting white males would be “safe” arrests. Perhaps white male students should protest reverse discrimination. It all madness!

  14. Anonymous

    Our students that got arrested were white males; otherwise the police would be accused of racism and sexism. Has anyone thought that perhaps they did not arrest women and minorities to avoid such accusations? Arresting white males would be “safe” arrests. Perhaps white male students should protest reverse discrimination. It all madness!

  15. Anonymous

    Some posters are alluding to the fact that Fountain Avenue is Wesleyan property. It is in fact not. It is a public street.

  16. Anonymous

    Some posters are alluding to the fact that Fountain Avenue is Wesleyan property. It is in fact not. It is a public street.

  17. Anonymous

    anon 5:07the issue of whether or not the students had “the right” to be on the street or whether the police had “the right” to tell people to get off the street is moot at this point. There are multiple points of view, and ultimately, they don’t address the main issue:the majority of the people who were hit with pepper spray, rubber bullets, etc were NOT on the street. as this post explained, people filed out of their homes to see what was going on when this began happening. These people, along with the MAJORITY of the people present on fountain avenue were on sidewalks or yards of homes, NOT the street. when the police began reacting, they not only thought it necessary to violently attack those who were on the street (the legitimacy of which could be argued indefinitely) but attacked people WHO WERE NOT on the streets – innocent bystanders who were in no way not complying with the demands of the police. i personally saw the police officer with the paintball gun full of pepper spray shooting onto the sidewalk, onto the front yards of homes. THIS is the issue, more than anything, that cannot be legitimized in ANY way and truly needs to be addressed.

  18. Anonymous

    anon 5:07

    the issue of whether or not the students had “the right” to be on the street or whether the police had “the right” to tell people to get off the street is moot at this point. There are multiple points of view, and ultimately, they don’t address the main issue:

    the majority of the people who were hit with pepper spray, rubber bullets, etc were NOT on the street. as this post explained, people filed out of their homes to see what was going on when this began happening. These people, along with the MAJORITY of the people present on fountain avenue were on sidewalks or yards of homes, NOT the street. when the police began reacting, they not only thought it necessary to violently attack those who were on the street (the legitimacy of which could be argued indefinitely) but attacked people WHO WERE NOT on the streets – innocent bystanders who were in no way not complying with the demands of the police. i personally saw the police officer with the paintball gun full of pepper spray shooting onto the sidewalk, onto the front yards of homes. THIS is the issue, more than anything, that cannot be legitimized in ANY way and truly needs to be addressed.

  19. Anonymous

    Don’t the cops have more important things to do than to break up parties that are disturbing no one?One point that keeps getting ignored: there have been several parties much bigger than this, this year. What made this one such a threat to the public good that police felt they needed to violently break it up?

  20. Anonymous

    Don’t the cops have more important things to do than to break up parties that are disturbing no one?

    One point that keeps getting ignored: there have been several parties much bigger than this, this year. What made this one such a threat to the public good that police felt they needed to violently break it up?

  21. Anonymous

    Not that I think noise was the issue, there are non-students living on Fountain and Warren.

  22. Anonymous

    Not that I think noise was the issue, there are non-students living on Fountain and Warren.

  23. Anonymous

    Look, this comment won’t be popular, so I’m just going to say it: some Wesleyan students are acting like elitist, liberal children. Do you really think you’re above the law? You would think that as educated people you would realize that a CITY street is not your personal playground. I applaud the Middletown Police Department for a great job. After veiwing the students own photos posted on the Wesleyan website, more students should have been arrested and held on bond. I hope the university will take some action against those students involved and expell them.”But they’re infringing on my personal space!” Bullshit, they’re cops. Their job is to maintain order, now listen to liberal hippies complaining that the power of the state is infringing on their alcohol dependencies. You should all grow up. Hopefully you won’t be quite such libertarian nutjobs when you enter the real world. I guess I’m one of the few Wesleyan students who is embarrassed by the actions of my selfish peers.

  24. Anonymous

    Look, this comment won’t be popular, so I’m just going to say it: some Wesleyan students are acting like elitist, liberal children. Do you really think you’re above the law? You would think that as educated people you would realize that a CITY street is not your personal playground. I applaud the Middletown Police Department for a great job. After veiwing the students own photos posted on the Wesleyan website, more students should have been arrested and held on bond. I hope the university will take some action against those students involved and expell them.

    “But they’re infringing on my personal space!” Bullshit, they’re cops. Their job is to maintain order, now listen to liberal hippies complaining that the power of the state is infringing on their alcohol dependencies. You should all grow up. Hopefully you won’t be quite such libertarian nutjobs when you enter the real world. I guess I’m one of the few Wesleyan students who is embarrassed by the actions of my selfish peers.

  25. Anonymous

    ok, from a personal safety perspective, it is definitely a good idea to disperse when 8 police cars show up and order you to disperse. but, generally speaking, if you are not breaking the law, you shouldn’t be yelled at, ordered, and roughed up by police officers, no matter your race, your income, or any other factor. labeling students as spoiled and painting the incident or the cause as trivial hides a certain truth, which is that police officers are supposed to preserve citizens’ safety, and are not supposed to violently break up peaceful groups of people.

  26. Anonymous

    ok, from a personal safety perspective, it is definitely a good idea to disperse when 8 police cars show up and order you to disperse. but, generally speaking, if you are not breaking the law, you shouldn’t be yelled at, ordered, and roughed up by police officers, no matter your race, your income, or any other factor. labeling students as spoiled and painting the incident or the cause as trivial hides a certain truth, which is that police officers are supposed to preserve citizens’ safety, and are not supposed to violently break up peaceful groups of people.

  27. Anonymous

    “when the police tell you to disperse, you fucking disperse.”That is in itself part of the issue! Don’t you understand? Amid all the chaos of the people, the cop cars, and many students on the sidewalk, it was hard, if not, close to inaudible to hear what they were telling us from certain parts of the street. The confusion results from the fact that it was NOT OUT OF CONTROL. Yes, we were partying, yes we AREN’T supposed to be in the street, but it was completely preposterous that 12 cop cars were needed to stop a fucking party. And then when they started shooting, everything just got ridiculous.I also agree that this is a good post and am glad that it was posted.

  28. Anonymous

    “when the police tell you to disperse, you fucking disperse.”

    That is in itself part of the issue! Don’t you understand? Amid all the chaos of the people, the cop cars, and many students on the sidewalk, it was hard, if not, close to inaudible to hear what they were telling us from certain parts of the street. The confusion results from the fact that it was NOT OUT OF CONTROL. Yes, we were partying, yes we AREN’T supposed to be in the street, but it was completely preposterous that 12 cop cars were needed to stop a fucking party. And then when they started shooting, everything just got ridiculous.

    I also agree that this is a good post and am glad that it was posted.

  29. Anonymous

    why would we leave when we haven’t done anything wrong?this sums up the absurdity of a lot of the student response to this event. if you’re going to criticize the police (as you certainly should) you need to own up to what you did wrong. of course the response was unwarranted, but many wesleyan students were acting like idiots.when the police tell you to disperse, you fucking disperse. anyone who doesn’t understand this has been leading a ridiculously sheltered existence. you were on public property and laws were being violated. you were not involved in a meaningful protest. you were at a party.the idea that people called 911 to be protected from police whose orders were not being followed is just…

  30. Anonymous

    why would we leave when we haven’t done anything wrong?

    this sums up the absurdity of a lot of the student response to this event. if you’re going to criticize the police (as you certainly should) you need to own up to what you did wrong. of course the response was unwarranted, but many wesleyan students were acting like idiots.

    when the police tell you to disperse, you fucking disperse. anyone who doesn’t understand this has been leading a ridiculously sheltered existence. you were on public property and laws were being violated. you were not involved in a meaningful protest. you were at a party.

    the idea that people called 911 to be protected from police whose orders were not being followed is just…

  31. Sam

    Anon 3:39, the general sentiment was- and still is- that we had not done anything wrong. This was a party just like any other party we have on fountain. we were not a “riot” until they came and labeled us a “riot.” why would we leave when we haven’t done anything wrong? Therefore, if anything was a problem, the presence of the police was a problem. Numerous people called 911 because we were in danger and it was the police who were endangering us. Personally, I was tired as shit and was making myself stay out just to make that point- that we had not done anything wrong.

  32. Sam

    Anon 3:39, the general sentiment was- and still is- that we had not done anything wrong. This was a party just like any other party we have on fountain. we were not a “riot” until they came and labeled us a “riot.” why would we leave when we haven’t done anything wrong? Therefore, if anything was a problem, the presence of the police was a problem. Numerous people called 911 because we were in danger and it was the police who were endangering us. Personally, I was tired as shit and was making myself stay out just to make that point- that we had not done anything wrong.

  33. Mad Joy

    3:34: My perspective is of a Wesleyan student who was up late writing an overdue paper in HasLab who was still affected by what happened – as was everyone on campus.3:39: From what I understand (I wasn’t there), many students started showing up because they were curious about what was going on. Also, this is why PSAFE should be responding to these situations instead of the Middletown police; PSAFE understands that on the last night, after they’ve finally finished all their stressful finals, and before all the undergraduates have to leave campus by noon the next day and never see the seniors again, students aren’t just going to go home and go to sleep at 1 am. They will look for another party to go to. Expecting students to “mosey on home” is just… unrealistic. Students have also been reporting that they didn’t hear the orders for dispersal.3:49: Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I have a horrible tendency to speak in “we’s” which is why I put my disclaimer at the beginning; this is *my* understanding of how Wesleyan students feel, which is certainly not actually representative of how Wesleyan students really feel. Again, this is poor on my part. I won’t go back and edit it, though, since it’s already published and responded to. If you have a different perspective, I highly encourage you to post it here.

  34. Mad Joy

    3:34: My perspective is of a Wesleyan student who was up late writing an overdue paper in HasLab who was still affected by what happened – as was everyone on campus.

    3:39: From what I understand (I wasn’t there), many students started showing up because they were curious about what was going on. Also, this is why PSAFE should be responding to these situations instead of the Middletown police; PSAFE understands that on the last night, after they’ve finally finished all their stressful finals, and before all the undergraduates have to leave campus by noon the next day and never see the seniors again, students aren’t just going to go home and go to sleep at 1 am. They will look for another party to go to. Expecting students to “mosey on home” is just… unrealistic. Students have also been reporting that they didn’t hear the orders for dispersal.

    3:49: Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I have a horrible tendency to speak in “we’s” which is why I put my disclaimer at the beginning; this is *my* understanding of how Wesleyan students feel, which is certainly not actually representative of how Wesleyan students really feel. Again, this is poor on my part. I won’t go back and edit it, though, since it’s already published and responded to. If you have a different perspective, I highly encourage you to post it here.

  35. Anonymous

    you say this is only your perspective, but by the end you repeatedly try to speak for all of us.

  36. Anonymous

    you say this is only your perspective, but by the end you repeatedly try to speak for all of us.

  37. Anonymous

    What I don’t get is why, after being asked repeatedly by police to leave, the students didn’t leave? The sight of large numbers of police with dogs and guns is generally a good indication that it’s time to mosey on home. Or was everyone too shitfaced to act with a shred of common sense?

  38. Anonymous

    What I don’t get is why, after being asked repeatedly by police to leave, the students didn’t leave? The sight of large numbers of police with dogs and guns is generally a good indication that it’s time to mosey on home. Or was everyone too shitfaced to act with a shred of common sense?

  39. Anonymous

    I appreciate your effort to put out the student perspective, but what’s your perspective? Don’t I remember you posting “xue all of us sitting here in haslab are sitting here refreshing the page” while the liveblogging was going on?

  40. Anonymous

    I appreciate your effort to put out the student perspective, but what’s your perspective? Don’t I remember you posting “xue all of us sitting here in haslab are sitting here refreshing the page” while the liveblogging was going on?

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