It’s 4/20 and WesFest is over! Here’s what happened when I tried to find out why.
Why is this WesFest different from all other WesFests?
The answer is so obvious you may not have realized it: WesFest began on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday this year and, as per the official schedule, it’s now over. But the weekend is only getting started! What gives?
The issue first came to my attention way back in November, when the Office of Admissions tried pushing WesFest to a Mon-Tues-Wed format and some WSA members registered their discontent. Noticing that 4/20 falls this year on the third Saturday of April (traditionally the last day of WesFest), the reasoning seemed pretty obvious:
News flash: Wesleyan is changing wesfest to Mon-Weds to avoid having it on 4/20. Fuck that. Smoke weed everyday.
— J_ Rs (@jrizzle) November 19, 2012
As Dean Culliton reminded us yesterday, it’s no secret that the powers that be are a little squeamish about traditional 4/20 proceedings. Add prefrosh to the mix, and it’s an entirely new crisis. This story is well recounted in Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers, when a student is waitlisted after writing her college essay about getting caught with a weed brownie in high school; she subsequently visits Wesleyan on April 20, 2000, and feels stung by the hypocrisy of it all. The most recent time WesFest fell on 4/20 was 2008, when Director of ResLife Fran Koerting was quoted in the Argus as saying that Admissions would not let the two holidays overlap again. Apparently the problem was that if students were smoking marijuana on Foss Hill, prefrosh might think that “anything goes on here”:
“Admissions has said that they have decided that if WesFest is on 4/20 they’ll move it to a different week,” she said. “After two consecutive years of hazy smoke on Foss Hill, it gives the impression that anything goes on here. On any other day, though, you can’t just smoke pot on the hill.”
Thanks to the Mayan calendar, this potential crisis never arose again—until now. This time, the Office of Admissions thought ahead and, despite the protests of the WSA, pushed WesFest to a weekday format. In December, shortly after an Argus article only briefly mentioned that “some students [ . . . ] believe the shift in schedule was due to University concerns about April 20,” I attempted to find out why. First I looked to the Argus article, where Senior Associate Dean of Admission Gregory Pyke explains that the shift was intended to avoid competition with other colleges’ WesFests (which usually aren’t called “WesFest,” for some reason):
“We have also always paid attention to the dates of the April admitted students programs at other colleges, trying as much as possible to avoid direct conflicts which might limit attendance at our program,” Pyke wrote in an email to The Argus. “We hope that the Wednesday-Friday schedule will positively affect attendance and enrollment of admitted students.”
Then I interviewed a student close to the Office of Admissions, who asked not to be identified by name. For the sake of this post, I’ll call this student Giant Joint ’13.
“I would say that the 4/20 piece was certainly considered, and considered at a high level,” Giant Joint ’13 explained to me. “However, based on how it was presented to me, it was part of a larger problem which was that prospective students were reporting that they did not have enough of an academic focus during WesFest and only got the social piece.”
Joint also told me that Admissions was initially planning to move WesFest to a Mon-Tues-Wednesday format, but compromised with student dissent by starting it on Wednesday instead.
“I would say that what’s gotten lost in all of this is that Admissions doesn’t particularly want to do this,” Joint concluded. “They don’t like the push back, but they think that as an admitted students weekend, it may work best this year, and 4/20 does in fact play a role in this being an experiment versus a permanent shift.”
Next I contacted Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13, a member of the WSA who was involved in WSA conversations regarding the shift. In a lengthy email to Wesleying, Ross-Silverman explained his (and the WSA’s) opposition to moving WesFest to weekdays. Here’s an excerpt from that explanation:
WestCo, for example, has Zonker Harris Day on the Saturday of WesFest in large part to recruit prefrosh to apply, and we could not have the same kind of event during the week. As a unique form of program housing with a vague mission that you sort of have to experience to understand, WestCo depends on Zonker to keep WestCo a vibrant community with people who are passionate enough to want to live there and make it a community.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s an equity issue with having it during the week. Many prefrosh do not have the privilege of being able to take time off during school or have parents willing to transport them when they have work, so some people will never visit Wesleyan at all if we do not have any prospective student events during the week. The students who are likely to be affected the most are socioeconomically disadvantaged. As this will be the first year that Wesleyan will have need-aware admissions, this is the worst time ever for them to experiment with WesFest by abandoning a time-honored tradition that has had demonstrable success with helping our yield of matriculants.
Ross-Silverman also explained that the WSA wasn’t formally consulted on the issue and “only became aware of it kind of incidentally.”
“As far as the 4/20 thing goes, that was my understanding based on incomplete information from the discussion,” Ross-Silverman wrote. “Someone mentioned they apparently considered having it the weekend before instead (to avoid 4/20), but it was thought to be too soon back after Spring Break. Hence my characterization that they were bending over backwards to avoid 4/20.”
* * *
By this point, I was more confused than ever. Admissions wanted to move WesFest to weekdays to support a more “academic” visiting experience, but they also wanted to move it to the previous weekend? I decided to take the most obvious next step to getting answers: I emailed Nancy Meislahn, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid. Meislahn replied the following day, and here’s her explanation in full:
Each year we look at the calendar and all the many pressures and considerations such as the Admisssion Committee calendar (notification dates, etc.), holidays and school breaks, and the Wes calendar (thesis date and the like) as we set the dates for WesFest and the SOC program. This year, in part in response to feedback from our 2012 student interns last year, we wanted to look at options that would do two things: no longer host pre-frosh on Friday night (consistent with our overnight hosting during the rest of the school year) and make WesFest an experience for pre-frosh that would be more like the real deal. We’ve heard too often being at WesFest isn’t “what it is really like.” By moving to a Wed-Fri format we hope to accomplish that, especially by being able to offer more opportunities to go to classes and other academic programs.
Over the last several weeks, we talked with a number of student leaders, admission interns and senior interviewers and came to the decision for Wed-Thurs-Fri April 17-18-19. This seems worth trying, a bit of an experiment we can evaluate and look to improve upon in years to come.
I was thankful for the explanation, but still curious as to whether or not 4/20 played a role in the decision-making process. So I replied and asked. This time, Meislahn sent me a shorter response:
Zach, As I wrote earlier, it was part of our thinking to get out of the challenges of Friday night hosting and thereby not schedule any WesFest activities on any Saturday in April.
“Sorry to keep emailing,” I wrote back, “but I want to make sure I have the story straight before posting anything. Did the occasion of 4/20 play a role in the decision to move WesFest to Wednesday?”
This time, Meislahn sent an even shorter email reply:
We looked at the bigger picture
Sent from my iPhone
I asked if 4/20 was included in the “bigger picture,” but this time no reply came.
Alas, I decided to conquer my fear of bureaucratic phone-call scavenger hunts and call up the Office of Admissions. I found myself speaking with Gabe Frankel ’15, a student worker in the office, who sounded pretty confused when I asked him why WesFest was being moved. “They’re moving WesFest?” Frankel asked me. “Let me connect you to someone who knows about this stuff.”
All of a sudden, I was being transferred to Senior Associate Dean of Admissions Gregory Pyke, who had been quoted in that Argus article explaining that the decision was to avoid conflicts with other schools. Finally, I thought, I would get to the bottom of this. But when I asked Gregory Pyke why WesFest was being moved to weekdays and explained that it was for a Wesleying post, he told me that Nancy Meislahn had already responded to that question via email. I told him that her reply didn’t address the question about 4/20. He sounded a little bit frustrated.
“I can find the answer to that question in the email that Nancy Meislahn sent to you,” Pyke told me. “Would you like me to look up that email and read it to you over the phone?” I realized he must have been BCC’d on the replies, because I hadn’t copied him on the initial email. But those emails were open on my laptop right in front of me, so this didn’t seem entirely necessary. I declined the offer and thanked him for his help.
* * *
I was planning to conclude this post by linking to my esteemed colleague A-Batte’s recent post on the Wesleyan “Voices” blog, in which he urges prefrosh to stick around in time for 4/20, whether or not it’s a part of the official WesFest proceedings. Here’s a brief excerpt from his argument, which you should read in full:
I’m suggesting that you stick around for the day’s events. The reason, I think, is because I want the picture of Wesleyan that you, the prefrosh, end up forming to be fairly honest. If Wesleyan is a school where students put up all-day festivals, and is also a school where some students use recreational drugs when they’re given space to explore and experiment, that’s something that you deserve to know, and if you choose, witness for yourself, in the interest of making the most informed decision about the next four years and beyond that you can. It’s also important that a Saturday is included, especially as opposed to a Wednesday, so that potential freshpeople have a chance to explore the various facets of weekend life on campus, even if it doesn’t involve festivities like Zonker Harris Day. And that last note is crucial – if what I’ve described so far sounds like something you want no part of, then you deserve a chance to see that alternative and substance-free activities abound at Wesleyan on weekdays and weekends alike, and you’ll have opportunities to enjoy yourself both at work and at play in a plethora of different ways.
But I’ve slacked on posting this in time, and it’s a little too late to be asking prefrosh to stick around. (Many, I think, already have.) Instead, I think I’ll schedule this post for 4:20 p.m. and head to the hill.
Update, 5:14 p.m.: Looks like A-Batte’s aforementioned post on the “Voices” blog has been removed. Go figure.