Roth on Last Night’s Forum

Roth to Wes: “It was difficult last night to realize that we have fallen short, and that I have fallen short, of my aspirations for making Wesleyan an inclusive campus.”

Within minutes of pyrotechnics’ post about last night’s lengthy, heated, and utterly startling forum about race and inclusion, President Roth sent out an all-campus email summarizing his reflections and plan for action. In brief, the president describes the forum as “an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me”:

It was difficult last night to realize that we have fallen short, and that I have fallen short, of my aspirations for making Wesleyan an inclusive campus for progressive liberal arts education. But it was good to be reminded of those shared aspirations. It was difficult (terribly difficult) to hear the accounts of disappointment, anger and pain. But it was good to see the solidarity and affection of members of our community as they reached out to comfort one another — with snapping fingers, with applause, with hugs.

Roth goes on to acknowledge two other upcoming forums—one with the WSA Committee on Inclusion and Diversity, another with Invisible Men, Asian American Student Collective, Ujamaa, and the WSA Committee for Inclusion and Diversity—and vows to follow up on concerns raised last night by developing a list of the most important policies to improve, assigning staff to work with students and faculty, and giving a “progress report to the campus community.”

To those at the forum, Roth’s grave reaction should not be a surprise. Dozens of students spoke up last night. Many blasted Roth and Public Safety director Dave Meyer directly, to their faces, with charges of institutionalized racism, administrative neglect, and outright indifference.

One student of color described visiting Dave Meyer’s office and being told he “kind of looks like the suspect.” (“It’s your responsibility not only to protect us, but to get to know us,” he demanded of Meyer.) A fellow student mentioned having reported an incident to Public Safety about threats involving weapons and receiving no reply. (“Do you care about women of color on this campus?”) A freshman wondered aloud why we don’t receive all-campus alerts “whenever a P-Safe officer assaults a black male on this campus.” (Ze was referring most directly, I think, to this incident.) A senior pointed to Amherst’s Day of Dialogue and questioned why Wesleyan doesn’t follow suit. A faculty member described her experiences at Yale, where Public Safety officers reportedly don’t include racial descriptions in their alerts (Meyer disputed this claim).

If nothing else, Roth heard these voices. If nothing else, he is vowing to act. And you should hold him to it.

Video footage from last night’s forum appear here. Rough notes and transcriptions from some of the most telling exchanges appears here. Additional coverage here.

Here’s Roth’s note in full:

Dear friends,

Last night’s forum, Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice, was an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me, as I imagine it was for many others. I want to thank everyone who attended, and I especially want to thank the student organizers, the panel participants, and all those students who showed the courage to share their stories about their Wesleyan experiences. The emotional honesty and thoughtfulness I witnessed gives me hope that together we can create a more inclusive, supportive and inspiring campus culture.

Last night’s forum follows on the heels of campus discussions among a variety of student groups, the WSA, and participants in Making Excellence Inclusive (MEI). There are two other general forums planned in the near term: the first, on November 20th from 6-7pm, will be with the WSA Committee on Inclusion and Diversity.  The second, The Barriers that Inhibit Productive Dialogue About Race at Wesleyan, will be coordinated by Invisible Men, Asian American Student Collective, Ujamaa, and the WSA Committee for Inclusion and Diversity and moderated by Amy Tang and Lois Brown.

Between now and the end of the Thanksgiving, we will follow up on specific student issues raised last night, and we will develop a list of the most important policies on which we should be working. As I mentioned at the forum, I will send a draft list of the issues at the end of the month. Once I receive feedback on those priorities, I will assign staff to work with students and faculty on making progress in each area. Just after spring break I will give a progress report to the campus community, and then we can schedule another student forum to discuss what has (and has not) been accomplished.

It was difficult last night to realize that we have fallen short, and that I have fallen short, of my aspirations for making Wesleyan an inclusive campus for progressive liberal arts education. But it was good to be reminded of those shared aspirations. It was difficult (terribly difficult) to hear the accounts of disappointment, anger and pain. But it was good to see the solidarity and affection of members of our community as they reached out to comfort one another — with snapping fingers, with applause, with hugs. We will build on those aspirations and on the affectionate bonds that connect us as we work together to make Wesleyan an institution that values diversity in theory and in practice.

Michael Roth

Please include your own reflections in the comments.

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  • hmm

    Seriously, Roth’s e-mail was fucking legit. Can we just congratulate him for that? Stop looking for reasons to attack him personally. He means well. In the end, we’re all human beings, and students should remain mindful of that fact. Show a little of that understanding that we all want so much on this campus.

  • Just received this email, which I think is worth reposting here:

    “Hey Wesleying,

    In the post “Roth on Last Night’s Forum,” Zach mentions that Dave
    Meyer disputed a faculty member’s claim that Yale PSafe does not include the
    suspect’s race in it’s crime report email blasts. Just wanted to let you
    all know that the faculty member was right (see below). I went through
    all of the emails we’ve gotten this year and none of them mention the suspect’s
    race.

    Keep up the great reporting.

    Howie

    Wes ’08
    Yale Law ’14”