“There is no excuse for grabbing students like they are kindergarteners who need a timeout for not sharing a toy.”
Chalking’s back! Not really. Yesterday morning, approximately ten years, two weeks, and three days after the chalking moratorium went into effect, a small group of chalking heads (including Wesleying’s A-Batte) brought a “legal chalk-in” to Wyllys Avenue. The concept is simple. The Wesleyan Student Handbook prohibits chalking “on university property”; since Wyllys Avenue is a public street, students called the Middletown government office to confirm that chalking is permitted citywide. (“Middletown not only allows chalking but distributes it to children on the Fourth of July,” Daniel Plafker ’15 tells me.) Hence: “legal chalking.”
What followed was a tense confrontation with President Roth, who physically grabbed at least one student, and two P-Safe officers, who confirmed that chalking is indeed permitted on public streets but not Wesleyan sidewalks. The end of that interaction appears on video here, caught by Plafker. Scroll on for a first-person account by Evan Bieder ’15. (Words are his, hyperlinks are mine.)
I was one of the kids who got caught chalking by Roth. Here are some of my thoughts on what happened:
There had been talk this past week of having a legal daytime chalk-in during Homecoming Weekend to raise awareness about the need-blind issue. In order to avoid getting in trouble through Wesleyan’s chalking ban, Ben Doernberg ’13 contacted the Middletown City Government who said that chalking on public streets and sidewalks is allowed and confirmed that Wyllys Avenue is a public street. At a little after 12:15 yesterday, a few of us (including a little kid who made a pretty cool drawing of a sun) starting chalking between Usdan and the CFA on Wyllys Avenue. Some students thought it was alright to chalk on the Wyllys sidewalks since they thought the sidewalk was owned by the city and only patrolled by Wesleyan. After a few minutes of chalking on the sidewalk, a P-Safe officer told students that Wesleyan did, in fact, own the sidewalk and we were not allowed to chalk there. He was asked if students were allowed to chalk in the street and said that yes, they were allowed to do so. He did not write anyone up and walked away.
After chalking “Keep Wes Need Blind” on the street, I looked up and saw President Roth escorting Anwar [Batte ’13] over towards me holding him by the arm. I thought he was joking around because I didn’t think the president would actually restrain a student in this way, but he proceeded to grab me by the backpack and call over a P-Safe officer. The first thing he said to us was, “You’re already on probation, correct?”, referring to the SJB summons we had received for entering a Board of Trustees meeting in September. Neither Anwar nor I have heard the ruling of our SJB hearing, so we said “Not that we’re aware of.” Roth then passed us along to the P-Safe officer, said, “These students think they can change a financial issue with chalk,” and continued on his way to the soccer field. After Roth left, the P-Safe officer took down our WesIDs, and we told him about how we had been given permission by another officer to chalk in the street. He then left and I have yet to hear anything more about the incident.
I think this incident just serves to further exemplify the administration’s detachment from the student body. The first words Michael Roth ever said to me were, “You’re already on probation, correct?” I doubt he knows my name, class year, major, or anything else about me, but for some reason he wanted to make sure I was on probation. Instead of taking five minutes out of his day to talk about the need-blind issue or to clarify Wesleyan’s chalking ban, Roth’s immediate reaction was to physically restrain our legal right to express our opinion. I understand that Homecoming Weekend is a busy, stressful time for the president of a university, but there is no excuse for grabbing students like they are kindergarteners who need a timeout for not sharing a toy. While he was walking away, Roth said, “These students think they can change a financial issue with chalk.” I’d just respond to that statement with, Yes, we do think that. Roth has not been straightforward with parents or alumni in regard to what is actually happening to Wesleyan’s financial aid policy. He continues to make blog posts about “affordability,” tip-toeing around the heart of the issue (the university’s termination of full need-blind). The Hartford Courant has reported that Roth said this policy will affect “maybe 15 to 20 out of 10,000” students when the president himself has admitted that it’s clearly going to affect many more than that. Everyone involved with this university deserves to be informed about this issue and it’s too bad that Michael Roth doesn’t think so.