HIST398: Need Blind Admissions and the Modern Production of the History of Activism

Happy “Why is Water on Everything Outside?” Day, dear readers.

Sunday’s informational and planning meeting concerning the upcoming need blind policy change totally happened. To briefly summarize: the meeting began with a summary of the proposed rollback and the logic behind it, and was then followed by elaborations, connections, and a range of perspectives from students involved at the end of last semester. Then things transitioned into a brainstorming phase for potential routes of action, documented using the high-tech methods seen in the photo above. Afterwards, the group hashed out loose main categories – Outreach, Media, and Direct Action – under which future work should be divvied out. Each of these groups has a couple point people charged with coordinating those areas at the moment – for their contact information, or to find out how to get involved in general, click past the jump for the full post.

If you want to know exactly what was said, you might want to try watching (or just listening to) video of the meeting, recorded by established campus beard Ben Doernberg ’13. Skip to 1:20 into the first video if, for some strange reason, you don’t want to hear several dozen people recite their names in rapid succession.

If you’d prefer to just read up, click through the jump  for selections from the notes dutifully taken by Campus Menace Wesleying Zach ’13, information on how to get involved, and photos of a bunch of college kids sitting around a table on a Sunday night. If you’re looking to join the general listserv for organizing, use this link and hit “Subscribe” on the left menu bar to sign up. You can catch up on the discussion using the archives, found here.

Disclaimer: these notes were taken live, so if you feel Zachariah may have made some errors in describing the sayings at the time (beyond omission of minor supporting words), he extends his apologies and I extend an offer to amend this post.

A brief summary of events, delivered by Zach Malter ’13: “Look around you in this room. Think about all the people who just introduced themselves — if the current policy was in place when you were applying, some of those people probably wouldn’t have been accepted. I think that’s the most tangible way to understand the impasse of the policy. Roth is proposing a cap on the financial aid budget — after that cap is reached, they will only accept those students they can accommodate. Will only affect a portion of the application pool.”

How did we get there? “About two years ago, realized we were in a bad position. Endowment was lower than our peers. And tuition was rising at an unsustainable level. Endowment in a bad position because of money spent by previous presidents on projects — and the financial crisis. The school had already made major cutbacks and canceled building projects.”

“So I decided to set up a task force. I think that would compromise the quality of applicants who come here. It’s unfair and unethical and compromises what Wesleyan is. I’m not sue whether it’s necessary or not, so the WSA is going to create this group to help determine whether it’s necessary or not and finding other solutions so we don’t have to go down that road.”

“The president is very intent on creating the policy as I described.”

Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13 adds some perspective:

“This is the only thing proposed that would increase revenue and contain costs. The only thing that would make Wesleyan’s financial model more sustainable. […] President Roth has said it’s not up to any individual person to decide what aspect of the Wesleyan experience we can just do away with. I think the socioeconomic diversity aspect of what need-blind means should be a core institutional value of the university itself.”

“Need blind is not unsustainable—it’s unsustainable if you’re not doing anything else to contain the budget.”

Benny Docter ’14: “It represents a shift in values…. Philosophically, what you’re doing is saying, ‘Here’s what our costs are—now how fair, ethical, and moral can we be?’”

Lina Mamut ’13 single-handedly attacks the “CSS Bro Domination” paradigm while challenging the narrative of necessity: “I was an orientation intern this summer, and I saw firsthand how much negligence there is and how much money is wasted.”

Cesar Chavez ’15: “[The decision] didn’t take into consideration the perspectives of the low income students who are already here.” … “This campus doesn’t talk about class or race. There’s this attitude that ‘if we talk about it, we’re going to divide ourselves.’”  … “This is an extravagant school. What are going to be our priorities.”

Leo Liu ’14:  “I probably wouldn’t have applied to Wesleyan if this policy was in place. The culture that I really liked about the school that I read a lot about was one of inclusivity.”

“It changes the atmosphere of the school—for low-income people especially, but for wealthy people as well.”

Daniel “Check Ya Self” Plafker ’15: “Where we’re at now isn’t some model or gem of inclusiveness. This isn’t really an ideal. I do want to push for a more broad-based, intersectional understanding.”

Wesleying Zach: Basically this.

Malter (the current WSA President) on the administration’s viewpoint: “I met with Roth’s chief of staff, and he said, ‘well, it doesn’t really look like a lot of students are talking about this.’ We need to really show the administration that this is something that a lot of people care about. We need to show some of the flashy activism that we’ve had in the past, because the administration has really been controlling the conversation in the media and that’s something that needs to change.” Piggybacking on this, Andrew Trexler ’14 pointed out that Roth has office hours where students are welcome to express concerns. From the Office of the President website:

Fall 2012 Office Hours

Most Mondays from 4-5:30pm. 
(Please call x. 3500 to ensure there are openings available. It’s best to make an appointment to avoid a long wait.)

Here are some highlights from the proposals end:

  • Lina suggests a reading of names of people who would be potentially affected by the degradation of need blind admissions (and those standing in solidarity with them), hopefully evoking a symbolic power.
  • Jason Shatz ’14: “I think that we should wait for the drastic actions and signs of solidarity that may transcend peaceful, diplomatic discussion. The power of ideas is most massive, and that should come first. […] We should hold open meetings as soon as possible.”
  • Myself – apologies for the egotism: “Educational institutions in the US and elsewhere in the world have similarly been justifying budget cuts using financially based explanations—esp. in the last 10 or 15 years. [We should be] connecting with people of these other institutions who are also trying to fight similar things and finding common points between struggles of other schools and [ours].”
  • Daniel: “Chalk, posters, speak-outs, banner drops. There already were some actions. We need more. We need to be loud.” (Zach Malter adds: “Things like chalking, Wespeaks, Wesleying press. Visible things that the administration reads.”)
  • The Doernbeard: “Maybe have a mass funeral and have people where black? I know Dar Williams is teaching a course, and maybe Das Racist would express their discontent.”
  • Somebody: “I made the Rothtastic meme Tumblr. Maybe we should print those out or start making more.” Also — I Have Sex video idea. […] Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda [’02].”
  • Various folks:
    • A video where students express why need blind is important to them – for example, talking about what they’d be willing to give up to restore it, or stating that they’d be at risk similar to the “I Have Sex” video that blew up last year.
    • A letter circulating alumni networks where alumni pledge to donate specifically to financial aid / restoring need blind admissions, or alternately one where they threaten to withhold donations if it is not restored.
    • Messing with tour guides.
  • Malter: “The longer it takes to get the message out, the more likely it is that the policy will be implemented for this year. […] The university has hired a consulting firm to determine the best way of implementing this process. As soon as possible, as strong as possible, as energetic as possible is ideal.”

That hopefully covers a fair portion of the discussion. Once again, here’s the listserv link and the main organizing website. For the administrative narrative, you may want to check out some of Roth’s blog posts. For more from Wesleying, see the need-blind tag. In the meantime, [don’t] enjoy the weather.

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