It was last week, I believe, when one (VP) Sam Ebb ’13 lumbered over to me and requested to be interviewed by Wesleying. A boyish-looking ragamuffin with the beady, ever-searching eyes of a raccoon, Ebb revealed himself to be one of the WSA VP candidates in the upcoming elections cycle. He was running with one (P) Arya Alizadeh ’13 on the Presidential ticket—the rather large, animalistic-looking man often seen with a hat and an American flag. Their respective candidacies were news to me—unsurprisingly, actually, as I really didn’t care all that much. Further exacerbating my lack of care was the fact that Ebb approached me in the backyards of Fountain on a Thursday night. It was misty, cold, and miserable, and having just submitted my senior thesis earlier that afternoon, I was drunk, headachy, and struggling to maintain verticality. Needless to say, I was grumpy.
But for some reason I agreed, and because of Wesleying’s policy not to take sides in WSA elections (except where Giant Joint is concerned), I agreed to drag the other two candidates into the interview.
And so when I woke up this wet, rainy Saturday morning—this time hungover and dehydrated, and still grumpy like a mofo—I wondered of my purpose for going through with this. I am, after all, graduating in a few brief weeks. What do these people have that would in any way interest me? (Also, didn’t the Argus already do some stupid interview with all the candidates?)
I pondered this as I sat in Usdan 136, waiting to start the interview, listening to Arya and Sam banter about constitutional reviews and other important-sounding shit and watching the other candidates—(P) Zach Malter ’13, the straight-laced Presidential incumbent, and (VP) Mari Jarris ’14, his gummi-bear lookalike running mate—tinker with their iPhones.
And then I remembered what dear leader Zach instructed me to do going into it: “The challenge will be striking a balance between serious conversation about campus issues (don’t hold back) and total irreverence.” Alright, boss. I’ll try my best.
Click on to read the group interview, guest starring A-Batte, where we talk about chalking, tuition fees, campaigning, and horndoggery (oh wait, we cut that out?). It’s a little long, so watch out.
frostedmoose [f-m]: Just letting you know—I reserve the complete and full right to use this information however I want, and I reserve the right to pull it as well.
Zach Malter ’13 [Zach]: What does that mean?
[f-m]: I will try to guarantee that whatever you say—and the exact way and context in which you said it—will be printed as it is said. Is that fine?
[Zach]: (pause) Yes.
[f-m]: Arya, first question to you. How does it feel to be the only non-CSS candidate in this masturbatory pool of pretentious people?
Arya Alizadeh ’13 [Arya]: (emits sounds of agreement with the characterization) Mmm… yeah. So, Prof. (Joyce) Jacobsen was joking with me that she’s like…
[f-m]: Did you just name drop? You think that’s going to win you points?
[Arya]: (I assume jokingly) Oh yeah, well, I was talking to Michael Roth earlier about that… and, uh, my boy [unintelligible name] comes in and, uh… (laughs) Anyway, I’m History and Econ, so I’m like halfway there (re: CSS). But minus the craziness. (pause) Sorry if I just insulted you.
[f-m]: Nah, it just shows your clear inability to grasp things that exist on campus.
[Arya]: Maybe, maybe.
[f-m]: Anyway, Mari, how does it feel to be the only woman in a pool with three probably very hormonal young men in a small liberal arts college?
Mari Jarris ’14 [Mari]: Um, it’s great because it feels like I have the most power, so… I think I’ll win because of that.
[Arya]: I want to interject, cuz’ she’s a bro.
[f-m]: She’s a bro?
[Arya]: We established this last year.
[Anwar]: Do you feel that by trying to attach a male identified descriptor to Mari, you’re actually just reinforcing patriarchal norms of dominance?
[Arya]: Hmm… nah. I’m just bros with everybody.
[f-m]: That’s a bit of a bold-ass statement, Arya.
[Arya]: Well, listen to the way I talk.
[f-m]: Do you believe that everybody likes you?
[Arya]: (pauses, thinks) No, but I say, “Mah bro,” and that guy’s a bro, and then somebody’s says like, “No, that guy’s totally not a bro.”
[f-m]: So you lay judgment on people socially?
[f-m]: Zach, you have developed the reputation of being a bit of what one would call… “vanilla” on campus.
[f-m]: If you were to attempt to spice up your persona, what would that attempt be?
[Zach]: I don’t think you’ve spent time with me at night.
[Anwar]: The reason why I don’t spend time with Zach at night too much is because vanilla’s my favorite flavor. Just putting that out there.
[f-m]: I’m going to start by talking chalking. Let’s go down the table see how you folks feel about it. Zach, starting with you – what are your views on chalking, what do you think is the logic behind the administration’s resistance against chalking, and do you think chalking is a vibrant part of student expression?
[Zach]: Yeah, I support the lift of the ban on chalking. I like the idea of being in a school where students can chalk and express themselves and I think it’s a community-building activity, and it’s a great outlet for people who don’t feel comfortable with other outlets. So, I support chalking, and I think that a few inappropriate uses of chalking shouldn’t justify eliminating chalking entirely.
[f-m]: What is the logic of the administration right now to ban chalking?
[Mari]: I mean, it’s basically because there were instances of personal attacks on specific faculty members, and students as well.
[f-m]: So why didn’t they only wash off those with personal attacks and not anything else, like ads or funny little slogans?
[Mari]: They tried a system like that, and it just wasn’t effective. They said it took too much administrative oversight…
[f-m]: Who is “they”?
[Zach]: Dean Mike Whaley.
[Mari]: But I absolutely support the lift on the ban. And I think that their argument is that it takes too much administrative oversight, but right now I think they’re spending 400 hours a year just washing the chalk away, and what it really will take is something of an honor code among students so that there is an agreement that they will not chalk personal attacks. And I’m sure that that will happen once in a while—like cheating happens sometimes, too.
[f-m]: Sam, thoughts on chalking?
[Sam]: So, since you let these guys go first that kind of stole all the big points…
[f-m]: Yeah, so, I don’t really care at this point about the objective facts of the matter, I only care what’s your position on it and what you think about it and do you think that the administration’s approach to it is reasonable.
[Sam]: Well, I mean, I think the ban should be lifted. It’s a really great means of communicating and especially advertising events, because not everyone can go to Wesleying and spend their time…
[f-m]: That’s a damn lie.
[Anwar]: Everyone can go to Wesleying, for the record. I just…
[Sam]: (cuts in) Not everyone chooses to, uhm… spending time go through your illustrious publications.
[f-m]: Dude, stop kissing ass.
[Sam]: So, anyway, I think [chalking] is a great means of communication and getting your message out there.
[f-m]: So let’s switch topics here..
[Arya]: Oh sure, leave the discussion with me.
[f-m]: Oh? Cuz’ I figured I know exactly what you’re going to say based on what your VP just..
[Arya]: (loud protesting sounds)
[f-m]: Oh, alright. Please, please, go right ahead.
[Arya]: So, I think chalking is like… like these guys said, it’s a really cool way of getting shit out. But, quick anecdote: I was having a great day one Monday morning, walking up from Hi-Rise to Usdan, like I always do for breakfast. And I’m sorry, but walking through the power plant… like I don’t like to see the words [a really vulgar expletive] and [another really vulgar expletive] written there, and in whatever context, that kind of ticks me off. That being said, I like what Mari said, it’s equally our duty as students—and as it is the duty of our administration—to allow chalking but also to police ourselves.
[f-m]: Could you give me clear plans of action of how such a system would work?
[Arya]: Hmm. Not yet.
[f-m]: So, there’s an interesting split between in the way in which both your campaigns have attempted to market yourselves. Zach and Mari, you guys seem to be going with like a very sort of “vanilla” approach—”look, we got you academic minors, achievements, other stuff!”—but Arya and Sam, you guys seem to be running solely on your likability. All I see of you guys are pictures of Arya carrying Sam, and all these frivolous little things, and your [Arya] attempts to sway my colleague and myself with the gusto and charm in your speech. What would you say to a comment like that?
[Sam]: Well, okay. I think there’s nothing wrong with trying to be likable, and trying to get out there with the student body and not appear like we’re this insular little government on a hill…
[Anwar]: Sorry, I just thought you were going to say that there’s nothing wrong with a “little bump and grind…” (awkward laughter from everybody)
[Ed. Note: Sam’s speech patterns catered to this misinterpretation. It’s hard to convey this in text.]
[Sam]: (cutting the laughter) So, you know, just putting yourself out there, have people just wanna come up to us. Why? Because we do have fun.
[Arya]: Oh yeah. I mean, it is fun to carry Sam around, but uhm, I think… first of all, the reason why we’re not running a cookie-cutter campaign or whatever is that we haven’t exactly had typical experiences with the WSA. Sam hasn’t been on the WSA his whole time here, and I think that gives him a very different perspective, and similarly, I haven’t been in the “projects”-role on the WSA. I’ve been in the more administrative role of the WSA.
[f-m]: You do realize that distinction probably wouldn’t translate to maybe 70% of this campus?
[Arya]: Yeah, so, I do more of the work that a Chief of Staff does. No one knows who, like, what the Chief of Staff or important offices are. But the Chief of Staff knows everything that’s going on. That’s more of what I’ve been doing on the WSA.
[Mari]: Uhm, so, are we answering the question now?
[f-m]: Sure, go ahead.
[Zach]: So, I guess, Mari and I—you know, Wesleyan students are smart…
(Anwar gives me a look).
[Zach]: So we think each Wesleyan student is going to ask which candidate is going to work to get things done for students, has a track record for getting things done for students, what have they done… Whether they’re not just talk. And so we’ve put out there all our past work, all our substantive plans for next year, and we’re asking people “do you want this?”
On the Art Library
[f-m]: Let’s talk about the whole Art Library issue. Arya, could you explain to us what’s the problem here?
[Arya]: Uhm, my understanding of it is that the Art Library is being moved into Olin, and people are upset because people like that the Art Library has its own facility.
[f-m]: Do you think that’s the only argument for their upset over the art library?
[Arya]: Uh… well, I’m sure there are a lot more nuances…
[Sam]: I can jump in.
[f-m]: So you’re going to pass this off to Sam?
[Arya]: Yes, we’re a team.
[Sam]: There are a couple main concerns. The first of which being, kind of, a coherence of a Center for the Arts. So you want to have the resources for the arts in the same places where you have classes… Furthermore, the art library is the closest library to the portion of campus that lives on Washington street, and is farther away from Olin and Sci Li. Uhm, also, students believe that it will increase the already problematic problem of overcrowding in Olin, especially around finals time.
[f-m]: And what’s your perspective on… (Anwar physically interjects. A long pause.)
[Anwar]: I just wanted the silence to be on the record.
[Sam]: So, I agree with the idea that we do need more studio space, because there is only one functional dance studio on campus with way too may groups trying to get space in it. But, I do still think that we need to maintain a coherent space for the Center of the Arts.
[Anwar]: Mari, don’t you think it’s an issue that maintaining the Art Library where it is requires that a building that is literally falling apart—if you ask people who work there—be maintained and that it would be more costly to retrofit it with appropriate ventilation technology for some of the art library’s books? And since part of the art library’s collection is already in Olin, doesn’t it make it more cohesive to move it over there?
[Mari]: Well, I think in this whole discussion, this is a time where the WSA has to play a facilitating role, so it needs to set up the communication between the students involved and the administration. But I don’t think I’ve ever taken an art course here, and I don’t I’m qualified to make that decision—I’ve never worked in the art library. So, I really do think it’s the students and faculty involved that need to be making this decision. At this point, the administration has basically just said “We’re moving the art library,” and it hasn’t been a discussion, and I think it is absolutely essential that the students and faculty who have the best interests of the community in this is making the decision.
On Roth and Communication
[f-m]: Zach, maybe you should take this next one. This Art Library issue is a reflection—or supports a recurring theme—that has been apparent with President Roth, and that’s the lack of communication between him and the student body. So, we saw this last year with the Beta problem, and now here with the Art Library, and I’m probably guessing that there are a lot of other issues that we just don’t hear about where there’s a lack of communication. I’ve also heard some talk around faculty that there is a lack of solid, productive communication between various parts of the campus body (including faculty) with the president. What are your thoughts about this lack of communication?
[Zach]: Yeah, I do think there is some disconnect. I think the administration needs to give students and faculty an ear…
[f-m]: Can you give me concrete ways of how such a thing would work?
[Zach]: I mean, Mari and I have consistently advocated to have students in the room for every major conversation. So in terms of the Art Library, I scheduled a meeting with Dean Curran to discuss that. In terms of the issue of visiting professors, well, Mari was the one who set up an open public meeting with the provost Rob Rosenthal this week to open up those lines of communication. And this year, under my presidency, we have had an open forum…
[f-m]: But are open forums effective? Because, it seems like he (Roth) just comes in sometimes and it seems just aesthetic—that he just shows up and there’s no real input taken into consideration…
[Mari]: I mean, you were at the open forum on minors. So you know it’s just one of the ways that we can help communicate information between the administration and students, and we can play that facilitating role. Another good example I think is during the blackout. Decisions had to be made immediately, uhm, so it was difficult to really sit down and think things through. But we immediately when to the president’s office, went to Student Life, and made sure they were listening to what the student experience was, and we have a student now sitting on the cabinet during these emergency situations.
[Zach]: Yeah, and as a result of that, Sci Li, for example, was open later— for 24 hours.
[f-m]: Yeah, but that’s not really the issue here that I’m wondering about, and I’ll drag you guys (Arya and Sam) into this. So, uhm, there seems to be this perception out there that President Roth is… difficult to work with, especially with the student body. Would you agree with this perception?
[Arya]: I think it appears that way. Because… the administration has lost faith in the WSA to adequately represent the whole student view.
[Anwar]: When have they ever had faith in the WSA?
[Arya]: I think our freshman year had a lot more trust… Not only would the administration come to us, but also other students would. And I think we’ve lost that sort of fluidity between those two channels.
[f-m]: But seriously, how would you fix that?
[Arya]: I think running a really, really solid WSA—enabling each member to… uh, sort of go out into the community, where they live, in their classes.
[f-m]: But they already are part of the community. That’s the point.
[Arya]: No, but they… it’s kind of like bringing the WSA home with you when you leave our meetings. A WSA member leaves a 7 o’clock meeting on Sunday, goes home to the dorm, and hang out with their hallmates, and say like, “Yup, this is the stuff we talked about. There’s some crazy issue here.” And that’s where you call for student opinions. At the moment, I don’t see that happening.
[f-m]: You want WSA members to be WSA members 100% of the time?
[Arya]: I think WSA members can be WSA members 100% of the time at the time as being a student 100% of the time. As well as, sort of, being an athlete, or an artist, or a… you know, whatever.
[f-m]: It seems like you have a suspicious interpretation of social existence.
[Arya]: I mean, I’m a rower, I’m a tour guide 100% of the time.
[f-m]: Sure, give yourself those labels.
[Anwar]: I just want you to know I’m having fun right now.
On Visiting Professors Issues, and Tuition Increases
[f-m]: So, this is sort of two big separate issues that in my mind are joined together at the hip in some places. On the one hand, there’s the problem with the Visiting Professors being made to teach 5 classes without extra pay—there’s a petition going around about it—and on the other hand, there’s the whole issue about rising tuition fees. Since we are being made to pay exponentially a lot more money, and to be completely honest with you, it’s not easily visible to me where all this money is going to. All I see are P-Safe segways, which are ridiculous. And I cannot understand how that would help the P-Safe’s duties. So I guess I have two sets of questions: 1) what are your thoughts on the Visiting Professors issue, and how do you think this could best be alleviated? And 2) where are these rising tuition fees going?
[Mari]: Mostly financial aid…
[Zach]: Yeah, uhm, so I definitely oppose the recent decision to increase course loads for visiting professors. I think that will compromise the quality of the academic experience, and I think it might cause us to lose some of our strongest professors—and I think some of them have already pledged to leave because of it. So I think the reason that this decision was made is to save money, obviously. This school is not wealthy, its endowment is per student lower than virtually all its peers. And the reason tuition keeps going up is in large part is due to personnel costs— staff salaries, faculty salaries are rising. And so, I think the administration needs to take a serious look at what the budget priorities are, what are the things we need to preserve. Like the Segways, that’s something we should cut. And we should cut even bigger ticket items so that we can ensure that tuition doesn’t go up, and that we don’t have to make faculty do so much work that they would want to leave. I think we need to have a serious conversation about our priorities.
[f-m]: Mari, could you contribute to the question without echoing what Zach just said?
[Mari]: Yeah, so, I think the biggest problem with this policy is that it wasn’t a discussion that was brought to students—it really only brought to faculty. Yes, we’re not a wealthy institution;yes, we do need to make budget cuts, but the negative consequences of this is not fully thought—especially with respect to the Writing Department. So, I think we do have to make some sacrifices, or if we can think about some innovative solutions for making money here… but it has to be a discussion that everybody is involved with.
[Sam]: Uhm, yeah. I think it needs to be a discussion that everybody is involved with, and I think this forum that’s being planned is a great idea. I think it would be cool to get faculty into the room for that. I’d like to talk to them about what their priorities are as faculty members. So they can work with students to say, okay, this is why we think this way about certain things. So it’s not necessarily just about students making incorrect assumptions about how the faculty feels – they can hear from the faculty themselves, they can work with faculty and administrators to figure out what our preferences are.
[Arya]: I really agree with Sam on that. I think with these decisions that are made, yeah, it’s important to know the facts. And to know who’s this going to impact primarily right off the bat.
[interview was briefly interrupted by Mansoor Alam ’15 wandering into the room.]
[Arya]: So.. anyway, what I was saying. I think one thing that’s really good about Wesleyan and that what we hope to do is to get more information, and we can get with student reps and faculty working together. And then it’ll trickle down and affect the rest of the students. I think what we can do about that, though, it’s like what Mari was saying, let students know. Because, honestly, it takes people a couple of weeks to rally around an issue, and really wrap their head around what different creative solutions might be, and I think that is what the administration has failed to do, and I think that’s because they simply don’t see the WSA or the student body as the place to get the best answers out of.
On the Prospect of Failure
[Anwar]: Give me a really quick answer: If you don’t get elected, how would you work to further the goals you have?
[Arya]: I’d most likely run for a position in the WSA, which would allow me to achieve my goal of making the WSA into an enabling body. And most likely it would entail running as coordinator again, but I think there’s a lot of other interesting roles that I would be good at.
[Sam]: I’ll be on the WSA for the first semester of next year, because whatever happens that’s where my term goes. I’d probably run for one of the leadership positions with the Community Outreach committee, to further the communication between the WSA and student groups, and between students groups and administrators.
[Mari]: I would continue to work on the Academic Affairs committee. I’ve worked on it for two years, and that’s what I’m passionate about.
[Zach]: I think would stick with the WSA and focus my efforts on fostering the relationship between Wesleyan and Middletown, which I think is unduly disconnected, if not strained. And I think the WSA could be a real force in bridging that gap.
Well, that’s about it. I’m tired now. Going to take a nap. Remind me never to waste another Sunday on this, ever again.
frostedmoose + A-Batte