Trustee: “Students barging in is a long and time-honored tradition at Wesleyan.”
On Sunday, a coalition of about 40 students occupied a closed Board of Trustees meeting in support of need-blind with a sign reading “BRING US INTO THE CONVERSATION.” The action was brief, it was respectful, and—most impressively—it resulted in a pretty thoughtful exchange between occupiers and occupied, all caught on video. “Just to be clear, students barging in is a long and time-honored tradition at Wesleyan,” one trustee opines about six minutes into the footage. “Some of us did it ourselves!” another chimes in. (Maybe even during the myriad of need-blind protests that took place in 1992, if any of them are on the younger side.) (By “younger side” I mean under 46.)
Turns out the Student Judicial Board isn’t quite as enamored with the time-honored Wesleyan activist tradition. According to tips, at least five students have received SJB notices in association with the 15-minute occupation. These students were captured on Public Safety’s camera (in the video, one P-Safe officer calmly asks students to exit the doorway and not “disrupt the meeting”), and their actions have been described as “failure to comply” and “disruptions.” It’s a pretty harsh follow-up on a protest that spurned more thoughtful dialogue than it did mutual resentment, but who’s surprised? Here’s what the charges look like:
It’s not the first time P-Safe has used video cameras to capture rule-breaking on campus, but it’s probably the first time students have publicized their own footage of the event filmed concurrently. Thanks to Ben Doernberg ’13’s detailed clip, anyone can view the crimes described and form an opinion that’s actually reasonably well-informed. So what’s yours? Should these students be sent before the board and subject to disciplinary charges for an act of civil resistance that resulted in a fleeting flow of dialogue and lasted less than twenty minutes? Does the explicit warning from Public Safety officers justify any administrative follow-up actions? Or is this just another file for the bin labeled ‘squashing student input and involvement’?
Surprisingly, President Roth himself (who makes a cameo in the video around the two-minute mark) mentions the occupation in his most recent blog post, though he offers neither approval nor condemnation of what took place. Between the promises of transparency and firm unwavering SJB policy, neither reaction seems possible. Interestingly, nor does Roth use the phrase “need-blind” anywhere in his post. Instead, he describes the occupiers as “a group of Wes undergrads concerned about our financial aid policy” and suggests that Monday’s forum fulfilled the desire for transparency and conversation that was being demanded:
After the student and faculty representatives left the Board meeting, a group of Wes undergrads concerned about our financial aid policy interrupted the session to make the point that they, too, should be part of that conversation. This interruption could be seen, I suppose, as a sort of prelude to the open forum on financial aid that Wesleying had planned with me for the following day. Monday night we did, in fact, have that conversation, and the students had many good questions about how to mount a sustainable scholarship program that preserves access, enhances diversity, and contributes to the quality of the educational experience on campus. You can watch a recording of the webcast of the hour-long conversation here.
It’s a clever rhetorical move: reframing the debate about financial aid policy more broadly to avoid addressing in direct terms the policy that was being protested. (“He’s really good at redirection and reframing,” Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13 smartly concluded in Argus coverage of the forum.) Roth’s post concludes on a note of solidarity and consensus that still seems out of reach, even with the exclamation point on display:
At Wesleyan we have myriad interests and different opinions about liberal arts education now and in the future, but I’m confident that we can all agree on the importance of raising money for scholarships. Financial aid: Now more than ever!