It’s Thursday afternoon, and WSA elections are drawing to a close. You’re headed home from class, perhaps cooling off from a refreshing jaunt in the Freeman Athletic Center’s spacious main gym. Something about the air today urges you to make a difference in your community, and you resolve to exercise your right to vote immediately upon returning to your dorm. One particular candidate’s catchy slogans, likeable demeanor, and prioritization of social justice really resonate with you, and after receiving extensive campaign coverage via liveblog, you feel prepared to cast your ballot.
But wait! Don’t click that button just yet! Read this excruciatingly long, questionably serious group interview with the candidates first! MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION.
As “someone who has no connection to the WSA and can regard it with some amount of irreverent distance” according to an anonymous peer—let’s call him Zach—I was apparently well equipped to conduct this interview, although I have reason to believe vice presidential candidate Andrew Trexler ’14 knows my cousin. (Trexler and aspiring president Nicole Updegrove ’14 are running against an adorable President-VP ticket consisting of Mari Jarris ’14 and Chloe Murtagh ’15, as well as loose cannon wildcard Keith Conway ’16). Those of you brave souls who do chose to venture on past the jump may consider this interview redundant, long-winded, repetitive, and redundant, but I choose to think of it as EPIC and implore you to do the same.
- Mari and Chloe like trying new things.
- Trexler has already tried lots of things.
- Keith has a lot more friends than I do.
- Nicole has allergies.
If you cowards are discouraged by the impressive length of this interview, just think about how long it would take to conduct and transcribe it. I’m just saying. Seriously think about it. Blogging is a lot of work, but I do it because I love you. Or maybe I just thought you were cute, I don’t know.
Could this be the longest Wesleying post ever? Do I hate myself for writing it? Will you fall asleep while reading? Did I make any typos? Did one of the candidates have sexual relations with that woman? Isn’t the election, like, over already? WHERE ARE THEY?? Find out after the jump!
I’m gonna kick this off by promising not to be as sassy as my esteemed predecessor frostedmoose.
Andrew Trexler ’14: That’s a shame.
You’ve all had plenty of opportunities to detail your platforms to the student body. This is an opportunity to discuss the election and issues with one another and to address any concerns that have arisen during your campaigns. Feel free to respond to each other, challenge, yell at, taunt, mock, praise…love one another as you see fit. I also understand that a group free-for-all can present a very skewed picture of you guys, because not everyone gets the opportunity to respond to questions in the same way, so feel free to jump in at any point or bring up anything I don’t touch on.
First question for Chloe: You’ve stated that your and Mari’s deep involvement with the campus culture makes you unique. Can you elaborate on that?
Chloe Murtagh ’13: Well I guess it’s kind of formal and informal, but we really do have—well, we have informal ties to lots of aspects of Greek life, male and female, we have lots of connections to male and female athletes, we also have been talking to and have lots of informal connections to people in the environmental action groups, religious groups, so we kind of have a good grasp on where people are, generally, like point-people in each subset on campus.
(This question is for anyone.) How will you facilitate communication with the student body and increase outreach efforts if elected?
Trexler: One thing that Nicole and I are planning to do next year—as we’ve talked about several times [Group laugh.]—will be knocking on doors every week and tabling every week. Students will have an opportunity to come to us, and we will go to students ensuring that all students have a chance to make their voice heard.
Nicole Updegrove ’14: Yeah, a big thing for me is all-campus priorities meetings. So, once a month, invite student leaders specifically to come talk, but also just have it open to everyone to come and say, “Here are the issues that I’m facing at Wesleyan. Here are the big systemic problems I’m seeing.” For students who don’t come to that, we really need to send members to student groups to see what they’re talking about. We need to, like Andrew said, knock on doors, and every time there’s a campus issue that comes up in the Argus, on Wesleying, anywhere in campus dialogue, we need to be reaching out to those students and inviting them to open forum and saying, “This is a space to talk about this, where we can talk about real solutions.”
Mari Jarris ’14: Reaching out is very important, and also having those sustained relationships already developed when the issue comes up, so it’s not just trying to figure out who’s the best person to bring in when the Board of Trustees proposes a new CoGen. [Construction worker begins rhythmic, jarring hammering. Unbeknownst to the members of our party, this sound will later slowly drive me insane as I transcribe this interview.] It’s knowing who’s involved in those issues and knowing how they’d react and being able to respond to those. Also, we’re really interested in joint initiatives, so, like consulting students who are involved in—whatever, sustainability, activism, Greek life—but also working together with them to not only provide them with certain resources the WSA has, but also to work together on initiatives to move that forward. I think that’s something we don’t do that much of in the WSA right now. We do a lot of stuff where we will talk to student groups and then kind of run with it ourselves—but really more partnerships.
Nicole: I would disagree with that, actually. Just in terms of what we’re doing now. I think the assembly as a whole can get better, but my committee in particular has worked with the inter-Greek council a lot last year when Andrew was chair of SAC (Student Affairs Committee). Now that I’m chair, we worked with Buddhist House on trying to help them talk to the administration. We’ve worked with Rho Ep and AEPi when they were trying to get a house. I would say at least Student Affairs Committee has been working hard to empower other students to get what they want, because it shouldn’t be just us fighting for them, because everyone should have that voice.
Trexler: I’d say the same thing about my committee, Finance and Facilities. We’ve done a lot of work in engaging environmental groups through the Sustainablity Advisor Group for Environmental Stewardship through Wes, Divest. We’ve also worked very actively with the activist community around the need-blind issue. I co-chaired the Student Budget Sustainability Task Force with Zach Malter [’13], which interfaces with the need-blind listserv and other need-blind related groups on a regular basis, particularly in the fall, when activism was more common around that issue.
Keith, how would you use your role as an outsider to the WSA to facilitate communication between students and student government?
Keith Conway ’16: Well, I haven’t been a part of the WSA, so most of my friends are in other aspects of the community, so they know a lot more about the other issues that their friend group or their part of the community needs help with, so I could help because I know them from that side of it and not from the WSA side of it. So I kind of have an outsider perspective where I see the problems without having to worry about how I would solve it as a WSA member but as a normal student.
There have been a number of accusations that you entered this campaign as a troll. Do you feel that’s a fair assessment of your intentions in running for President?
Keith: I think the way the liveblog treated it put me in a bad light and gave me a disadvantage, because anyone who just read the liveblog and didn’t read the debate would have thought that I made no points and had nothing good to say, even though I thought I made very many good points that could—even if I’m not elected—be very constructive to the WSA. I think it was a very unfair assessment of my campaign.
How would you go about getting more music rooms on campus?
Keith: The logistics is one of the things I would have to catch up on when I became a part of the WSA, but I think it would just all be about talking to people, finding out where there would be available rooms, possibly some of the all purpose rooms in Usdan could be split up and made into more music rooms, or open spaces on campus could, and I feel like this is a scenario we should look into at least, and if it’s implausible in the short term, that we should set in action for the long term.
Trexler: That’s actually something that I’m working on right now with Nicole Brenner [‘15], who’s the chair of the SBC, and with Physical Plant and the 190 High building—we’re working to get a space in the basement of that building as a recording studio, which would also double as a practice space for bands. I am also working with Adam Brudnick [’13], who chairs the Green Fund committee, on getting a partition in the music practice room in the bottom of Usdan so that people can use it without having to deal with the steel drums.
Can everyone scooch in a little bit? [Candidates and interviewer get cozy.] Speaking of trolls, I was on the ACB recently, and I came across a debate about Nicole’s recent e-mails detailing WSA actions taken to lessen university punishment of students participating in Tour de Franzia. Some criticized you for abusing your position during a campaign, but others suggested that Chloe was the one who approved the message. Can you guys clear up this confusion about the inner workings of the WSA?
But it is a valid point.
Mari: Well, as far as the formal procedure goes, there are certain people who have the All Campus privilege and can send out e-mails, but any member of the WSA can draft an e-mail. So, in this case, Nicole wrote the e-mail, and Chloe clicked the button but didn’t change the e-mail in any way.
Nicole: I would have loved to send this e-mail two weeks ago when Dean Mike’s e-mail went out just to clarify what the WSA’s role is, what we were pushing for in terms of redefining participation, but we thought it was more prudent to continue talking about participation. We hoped it would be defined by now and that we could have some victories in maybe showing the administration that having sober people taking care of their friends isn’t such a bad thing. Unfortunately, those conversations have been long and slow, so the e-mail got postponed. It was scheduled for Friday, but there was a 4/20 e-mail that was also scheduled to go out Friday. On Saturday, everyone was high, seemingly, and it seemed like a bad day to send an e-mail, and on Sunday and Monday, lyris was down, so it went out Tuesday. I agree that the timing was bad, but the e-mail needed to go out. In terms of logistics, it did go through the elections committee. They unanimously agreed that the e-mail was legit; it was not a campaign move, and it needed to be sent.
Trexler: I would also just add that just because we’re running in an election doesn’t mean our work with the assembly that we are tasked with right now stops. It continues, as it needs to.
Keith, you’ve stated that Tour de Franzia is the most pressing issue on campus. Can you talk a little about how you would improve relations with the administration regarding events like these?
Keith: I think they’re already doing a pretty good job of trying to reduce the suspensions and reduce the punishments, but I feel like the administration needs to realize that just because it’s given a name doesn’t mean that it’s anything special in their eyes. They should treat it like any other night of the year, like if someone gets caught with alcohol they get a point or two disciplinary points or whatever they would get. Just because it’s called TDF doesn’t give them the right to add an unfair punishment, and I feel like if we let them have these unfair punishments, they’ll just do it for different days and just continue it on till it’s every day of the week.
And Nicole, you spoken a lot about getting the administration to treat students as adults and as equals. How will you all empower students and increase student input in administrative decisions if elected?
Mari: A recent conversation that has come up, of course, is the legitimacy of Greek societies on campus, and Roth really wants to phase them out, but I think that one thing—just using this as an example of how students can be taken more seriously—is try to really address the problems that lie at the administration’s attack of Greek life. Two of the biggest ones are binge drinking and sexual assault. So is it Greek life that’s inherently evil, or these issues that happen to occur more frequently when Greek life is involved that are the real problem? So what if the Greek societies were all to band together to address those problems publicly and forcefully and lead that initiative. The administration would be forced to acknowledge them as a positive force on campus. In a way it’s acknowledging what the administration is trying to address and working in a way that’s also beneficial to students.
Trexler: I definitely agree that those are important issues for both students and the administration to be addressing, but oftentimes I feel that the administration is just so unaware of what students are looking for and what their values are. One thing that I have been trying to do this year is trying to get President Roth to sit down in a room full of students and have students tell him how they feel about certain issues. I’m tyring to organize them thematically so it’s not just a free-for-all. We had two of those forums this year. We also had one with the trustees in the fall, and I’m hoping to organize more of them next fall. One we have planned that I was actually talking with Mari and Chloe about is what students want admissions to be looking for in new students.
Mari: I think the only problem with these forums is that, as much as we love hosting forums, at best you get a couple dozen people. It’s really important to shove these things in the administration’s faces, like make it an undeniable fact. Don’t just talk about the positives of Greek life, but prove them.
Trexler: That is our job as student representatives, but I still think it’s important to help students who are not in our positions to interface with the upper administration on a regular basis. Everyone should have that opportunity.
Chloe: In terms of our leadership style, it’s going to be a lot less about taking what people say, thanking them for their time, and proceeding to address it. It’s gonna be like, “We will bring you to this meeting, and we will put you in Roth’s face. We will help you organize an initiative on sexual assault, and we will go to Roth together.” Instead of hosting a forum, collecting opinions—we’re students representing other students. Students should also be empowered to represent themselves.
Trexler: I completely agree with that. That’s something that I’ve done over the past year, and even last spring, particularly around the decision to make Wesleyan a need-aware university. I got together a bunch of the activists who went to the first meeting after that announcement was made, and nine of us went to President Roth’s office to tell him exactly how we felt. It wasn’t members of the WSA primarily; there were only two of us there.
How would you get other students involved in these forums and initiatives?
Chloe: People kind of organize themselves around the issues, so instead of having particular thematic forums, I was speaking with the upcoming presidents of WestCo—we were throwing around the idea of having a metitng with them but then decided that we should probably just go to guidance once a month; that will turn into a forum. Let’s go to Rho Ep meetings once a month, see what’s up with them. As opposed to people having to come to our things, we might as well just see what they’re talking about at their meetings.
Keith: I think it’s all about making everything more transparent. Personally, I had no idea what the WSA was doing all year, and I think that’s kind of a sad thing, that I had to look it all up online in the two weeks before the election. None of the minutes from the last two months had been posted, and I felt like that was a problem in itself that I had no idea what was going on, so I had no idea what needed to be changed. If the students know what’s going on, then they can let people know what they want to be changed, and I think that’s where it starts.
Mari: We do do things, like Chloe started this newsletter that we send out every week to students, and we try to canvass every once in a while; we try to send out surveys every once in a while, but if a student who is involved and interested still doesn’t know what’s going on in the WSA, then something’s going wrong. So that’s why we’re trying to think of new ways. Tabling in Usdan would be a great idea, but it’s not really that effective; not that many people come by.
Mari: So what if we go to their club meetings? What if we reach out to people individually? Just trying new things. Chloe’s style this year has been trying to mix it up in those ways. Right now she runs the big, general WSA meetings, so we had one of our meetings in Fauver and just talked about moving spaces, like, what can we do to better incorporate students, better let them know what we’re doing? There’s a lot of pushback for things like that, because people don’t like changing things, but part of our style is to be trying new things constantly, even if it doesn’t work, just trying other ways that we can be more effective.
Chloe: And acknowledging what current mechanisms…just because they’re old and institutionalized doesn’t mean they work. If it doesn’t work, what’s the harm in trying something experimental that might actually engage students?
Speaking of student initiatives, there’s this divestment petition going around. Obviously, when anyone asks if sustainability is an important issue, you all agree. What actions would you take to work towards a sustainable campus?
Trexler: That’s something that I’m doing more or less every day. One of the two leaders of the WesDivest group, the one who wrote the petition, actually, is on my committee. His name is Angus McLean [’16]. I’ve been giving him my expertise on how to go forward with the divestment movement. I worked extensively with Evan Weber [‘13] and his group during the discussions about the CoGen that happened earlier this year. I fought with the Board of Trustees extensively. The first time there was ever a recorded “nay” vote in a Board of Trustees meeting was my vote against the CoGen. Nicole Brenner’s as well. Sustainability is obviously a really important thing to most people on campus; unfortunately, some of the people who are less interested in it are in North and South College, but some other projects that we’re currently working on: I’m working with Adam Brudnick and couple of alums to put together a green revolving fund, which you put a bunch of money in and then invest in green infrastructure, which generates savings that go back into the fund, and you just keep doing projects over and over. Our hope is to have that in place by the fall. I’m working with Physical Plant to install electric vehicle charging stations on campus to encourage faculty and staff when they’re thinking about purchasing a new car to go electric.
Can you comment on the amount of money it would take to fulfill these initiatives in light of the university’s swiftly diminishing endowment?
Trexler: Our hope is that the green revolving fund—in fact, this is the only way it would happen—is that it would be entirely donor-funded. We’ve done a fair degree of research that indicates that there are alumni who do not donate to the University right now because they don’t see it as a cause but would be willing to donate it toward something like a green revolving fund, so that’s sort of an untapped resource. We’re in talks with a couple high-profile alums who are hopefully willing to give us a fair degree of startup money, so somewhere on the order of half a million to a million dollars to start up the fund.
Mari: Definitely one of the weaknesses for Chloe and myself right now is that we’ve been in administrative roles for the WSA this year, so we haven’t had as much hands-on contact with these issues, which is why it’s really important to us to develop these relationships with sustainability groups, for example, so we can identify what their priorities are that they identify as people who aren’t as spread out as we are but are really focusing on these issues. Even like a simple thing right now, the green fund is kind of a subcommittee of the WSA that’s pretty autonomous in its functioning, but even the fact that they don’t have as many proposals as they would like to make it competitive. Really simple things that we have the infrastructure to support sustainability as a WSA, but there’s something that’s not happening in between that’s really producing the quality and number of projects that we would like for that.
Chloe: We were throwing around ideas at brunch with a few members of the Green Fund and started to understand that the reason it’s so hard to get these proposals through is people learn about the Green Fund at the beginning of the year, take a while to really formulate a project. Halfway through the year, they propose their idea and get money for it, so it’s kind of hard to wrap it up in the end. So we’re talking to them about maybe having a virtual summer environmental organizing meeting so they can plan into the year. We pinpointed some of the infrastructural administrative problems, like these things take a while and need continuity and need an early start.
Trexler: On that subject, I think outreach has been a weakness of the Green Fund and in general for the WSA this year, actually. The Green Fund has not done a great job of interfacing with the Environmental Organizing Network (EON) at their first meeting this semester. I specifically asked the Green Fund to go talk to them. It’s literally a group of 18 green-related student groups that are all doing projects and whatnot and could really use Green Fund money, and they didn’t go, so I went instead. I talked about that opportunity for students to take advantage of.
Nicole: Lack of awareness is a real reason we need to go door-to-door every week, as it says on our platform. Someone I met the other night was talking about his student group which works to clean Foss Hill, and they talked about how they really want to get trash and recycling bins there and had no idea who to talk to. That’s certainly something that should go to the Green Fund, and that student wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t gone door to door, so that’s really something we want to focus on next year, because not everyone reads Wesleying, unfortunately, not everyone reads the Argus; not everyone is as aware of these strange administrative committees that we’re on.
Trexler: And everybody knows that nobody reads the WSA website.
I certainly don’t.
Chloe: Can’t blame you.
Mari: I have a question for Keith. You were saying you didn’t know what was going on in the WSA despite us trying new ways of talking to people. What do you think would be the best way for us to get out information out to students who might not necessarily be as invested in individual issues but [horrific feedback on laptop microphone obscures rest of question]?
Keith: I feel like the e-mails just don’t work, because every time I see a couple paragraphs, it’s like, not gonna read it.
Chloe: The newsletter is something that came out of nowhere, because people were talking about this problem when I was a freshman, so I just tried to remedy it. We started with a model that was more in depth. Then we realized that people weren’t reading it, so we went to the top ten of the week. I don’t know how to pare it down any more than top ten of the week!
Students are pretty lazy.
Chloe: If you can’t read ten half-sentences…then you can really choose to engage with it how you will, but that information is in everybody’s inbox.
Mari: And now you’re getting the corkboard. Chloe’s putting up the same corkboard in Usdan to post the newsletters.
Chloe: And even more pointed information.
Mari: But definitely new ways; you always need new ways…
Keith: I’m trying to think of ways, because some of my friends who came to the debate had no idea there was a WSA election. So I told them to come. So that’s kind of an alarming thing. I feel like just getting the word out in new and creative ways. I can’t think of any concrete ways. The Usdan table’s definitely not what I would go with, cause no one’s gonna stop at a table if they can get food on the next floor.
That’s a fair point.
Mari: What if we give them food?[Laughs, because food is hilarious.]
Nicole: One thing we have established over the last few days is that we’re all really good at putting up posters all over campus every day as they get taken down. Again, later that day. That’s something we should definitely do, because not everyone does want to be tapped in digitally, but everyone uses the bathrooms and stares at the stall door. I think whoever’s on outreach next year will have to be really good at using print media as well, as it is very effective.
Although some would say that print is dead…and potentially not in the environment’s best interest…
Nicole: There are limits to the number of pieces of paper you should print, but ten flyers around campus can be really effective.
Trexler: There are also those students that are really not that interested in what the WSA is doing and don’t really want to take the time to learn about it, and that’s perfectly fine. People have their own interests, their own jobs, their own projects that they’re really invested in, and that’s great. We don’t need to be in everybody’s face.
Keith: I actually disagree. A lot of people I’ve been talking to since I started my campaign are actually really interested in what was going on; they just had no idea what was going on. Even a social media way—like, I know the WSA has a Twitter
Chloe: And a Facebook. And we post daily. And we tweet daily. And we send out e-mails that are artistic. [Mari laughs.]
Mari: But obviously it’s not working!
Chloe: Yeah, it’s not, definitely.
Keith: I’ve been talking to people who are very interested in what’s going on, and they’re asking me on different issues, and I’m not the first person they should ask. [I laugh.] They are actually interested; they just don’t know where to start.
Trexler: And those are the students that we need to be reaching, but I would say that that’s not everybody. I have had several conversations with people who just don’t want to hear about it because they don’t want to take the time.
Mari: That’s an interesting stance. Right now, the VP and the coordinator are the people in charge of outreach and publicity, so I was wondering if, Trexler, you could talk about your specific interest in that role? Because we’re looking to change it right now, to make it more of a policy-oriented thing, because I think that’s what a lot of people go into it wanting. I know Chloe is really interested in that stuff, but I was wondering, would you still be as interested in that?
Mari: Yeah, the outreach aspect of it.
Trexler: Yeah, absolutely! One thing that I’ve really missed over the last year, and to a similar extent, when I was chair of the Student Affairs Committee, was when I was canvassing when I was a freshman, I put aside two hours every week to knock on doors and hear what people had to say, and it’s something that I’m planning to do next year as Vice President and that I’m really looking forward to in addition to all of the policy work that I’m intent on doing.
Mari: We just had a discussion at our Sunday meeting about this canvassing and how it was something Chloe really tried to get the whole assembly to do this year, and it received a lot of pushback. A lot of members just don’t want to do it; they’re not interested in it, and so I think it’s important, just like thinking of, again, like what Keith’s saying. What we’re doing isn’t working. We need to try new things.
Random Passerby Addressing Keith: I would yell your name, but I feel like this is too serious. [Keith and Passerby warmly slap hands.]
Nicole: So I have a question for you Mari—and Chloe—as the chairman for OEAC this year, you were in charge of outreach. How do you feel about the job that you’ve done?
Mari: I think it was good because we tried a lot of different things. It was hard because a lot of people didn’t want to do ‘em. Like, no one wanted to move the meeting place. No one wanted to go canvassing.
Trexler: I was always up for canvassing. Just saying.
Nicole: Me too. Me too. [Group laugh.]
Chloe: Trex personally is into canvassing, but it really is about a collective push into outreach. I really am excited to come in with new ideas and talk about how we could maybe send out our resolutions every week before we vote on them or send out polls about resolutions. People have been incredibly resistant to trying new things. I wanted to, like once a month, have an alternate placement of the meeting, so it could be kind of more in your location, so you could actually see what the fuck we’re doing. People were not into changing these things. I’m one of 38, and if literally no one will try these things with me, then…
Mari: Yeah, so that’s something we’re hoping to establish from the beginning is experimenting more in ways that we can actually get our message to people.
Trexler: I think it’s true to some extent that people weren’t interested in experimenting, but I would say that that doesn’t apply as a blanket statement. The WSA is constantly evolving and constantly trying new things, maybe not in the particular areas that you’re looking for—
Chloe: Or that we actually need.
Trexler: But, well, I mean, like I would point to…
Chloe: Because you’re saying what we did didn’t work, and I want to do new things, so maybe those things would have worked.
Trexler: Right, and one of those things is canvassing, and I really wish that the WSA had done more concerted canvassing this year, and I understand that it’s hard to herd cats, but that’s kind of part of the job.
Chloe: I was the first person that actually said that every person must canvass, so that was actually an increase in people—usually it’s our committee of five that’s tasked with going canvassing, but I said “That’s not representative; let’s have every single person on the WSA canvass, but let’s do it once, because it’s not everybody’s thing, and people reach out to people in different ways, so let’s all try it one time. So we did! So you can’t say—yeah.
Trexler: It was done in previous years too; under Meherezade [Sumariwalla ’12]. The committee that you guys currently chair and vice-chair—
Mari: This was two years ago.
Trexler: Last year.
Mari: Last year, sorry.
Trexler: Did canvass, and it wasn’t just the six of them; it was about 15 or so people.
Chloe: Not all 30 of them.
Trexler: Not all 30, but, you know, it’s better than six, so that did happen, and for those people who are willing to canvass, they’re willing to canvass, and you should take advantage of that.
Mari: I realize this is probably really boring for anyone who’s not on WSA, so we should probably change the subject.
I’m curious about how, since you’ve been frustrated about getting other WSA members on board with these outreach efforts, you would encourage them to get involved or figure out ways to experiment that people would actually comply with.
Chloe: I think it’s really more about tapping into peoples’ particular interests and seeing where else they lie on campus. You can only make people do things that they want to do, so how can we gear these outreach efforts around things they’re actually passionate about. “Who is involved with EON? Go talk to EON, and bring up the WSA, and bring up the resources that we have.”
Mari: I think that’s the quantitative stuff, like getting every member of the WSA involved, but then there’s other things they can do, like the newsletter, like the corkboard. What else can we do to use different forms of communication? What if we could chalk everywhere? What if we could go to Rho Ep and WestCo and EON meetings every time? Those are the kind of things we could build on too.
Nicole: In terms of getting people involved with groups that they’re actually interested in or involved with in some way, that’s something I’ve done as chair. As President, I would be chair of all the other chairs on the Executive Committee, and I would encourage them to do what I’ve done this year, which is to pick students who aren’t necessarily so engaged in any projects at that moment, and ask them, “What are you connected to, and what can you start working on?” Jake Blumenthal [‘13] is a senior who’s been incredibly busy with his thesis in the past semester, but something he’s really connected to is process advising students who get in trouble, especially groups facing group sanctions. So I have him reaching out to all the heads of the frats, trying to get them together in one room to talk about hosting bands and how that affects the campus. Jake isn’t someone that I’ve been able to utilize as much as I would have liked this year, because I didn’t have something he was incredibly interested in. Now that he and I have found student groups that he was interested in talking to, those groups are being reached for the first time, and he’s a really effective member.
Mari: We’re not as interested in “utilizing” members as working to support members…
Nicole: Well, okay, I feel like that was a little mean picking on the word “utilizing.” Obviously I want everyone to be enjoying the work they’re doing. I want everyone to be really engaged, and to help them find things that they’re interested in.
Mari: Yeah, I mean, okay, we don’t have to go there.
Trexler: Sometimes it’s a stormy season, and people have midterms or whatever, and part of that is you just have to go out and do it yourself. I would point to situations all throughout my three years on the assembly when things needed to get done that no one was doing, and I just stepped up. That’s something that I’m very comfortable doing.
Chloe, you mentioned that negotiating with the administration turned out to be an unsuccessful approach to lifting the chalking ban, and that you’re working with other WSA members to engage differently with the issue. What plans do you have in the works?
Chloe: I’m actually working with people here on this issue, but this is something I was excited to catalyze last year and bring to the point where we are now. You want our actual tactic?
Chloe: Should we talk about it? First, we talked to Dean Rick; he kind of gave us the “Go talk to Dean Mike; bring a proposal,” so the kind of approach we’re taking now is that we’re looking for a consistent communications policy. In the student handbook, if you have a problem with a particular poster, you report that to a point-person, and we think the same thing can be done with chalking. There’s kind of more nuances to the program. Dean Mike kind of…he didn’t say no, so he kind of led us to the next step, so we’ll be talking to people in President Roth’s cabinet and working on that.
Trexler: What we’re really trying to get across to the administration is if the university really has a strong commitment to social justice, the current chalking policy does not really prevent, in a complete way, the problems that they’re trying to address, by which an anonymous chalker can harass a faculty member in a public space, and that isn’t really being addressed by the policy. Because someone could still do that; there’s a very low level of accountability. But were that to occur, students don’t really have the opportunity to respond in kind—and by kind I mean chalk, not kind kind—to have more dialogue and really bring out those issues of institutional racism and sexism and what have you, and bring those to the fore, and try and heal the community in a more productive way than just silence.
Chloe: It kind of started off as a very queer activist thing to do, because people found it to be very liberating in that it was anonymous. By regulating this and literally banning it, that is actually very oppressive, and limits peoples’ ability to express problems that they’re having on campus. To address the problems that the administration has with the potential for things to go awry, it’s really about setting it up in advance so that we have the mechanisms to deal with it.
Trexler: As a community.
Chloe: Yeah, so Nicole brought up having the reports be sent to the campus climate log, and every week at our meetings we could talk about these things that come up, and people who are interested in engaging on this issue should come to the meetings and talk about it in that form so we can really keep up on it, so I think that this approach is different from the last one.
Nicole: Definitely, it’s really important that peoples’ voices are heard, because there are a lot of tensions on this campus, and if they aren’t aired, every once in a while they become a subject of all campus attention, like with the Holi incident, like with the particularly more racist than usual ACB comments. And every once in a while a group of studens will say, “We knew that; we’ve been hurt by that all year. Now you’re aware of it. Now let’s deal with it.” Whereas when you allow more speech, we are aware of these issues and can constantly be engaging them. But at the same time, it’s important to protect people from the really hateful things that happen on this campus. As Chloe alluded to, one of the things I want to do is team up with ITS this year to come up with an app through which you can take a photo of something that you think is offensive and hateful. Automatically the app will give it a geo tag and send it both to an affirmative action specialist who would determine whether it needed to be washed off and also, as Chloe said, to the campus climate log.
In a controversial recent Argus article, a small group of WSA members suggested that some of the achievements cited on campaign posters may have been embellished, specifically Mari and Chloe’s initiation of free student New York Times subscriptions and Nicole’s bringing free STI testing to campus. Can you guys clarify exactly what you contributed to achieving these things?
Mari: As the VP, I was responsible for that program; the funding has been there forever. My role was initiating the online subscription, so at the beginning of the year, we had the decision of “Will this program continue?” because we were running out of the donations, so [current WSA president] Zach [Malter] and I came to the compromise of shifting to an online version, and that’s been very successful; we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from it. Basically, we sat down and decided “Yes, this is a priority, we want to continue the program,” got the approval of the WSA, and made the decision to shift this into a new form that we thought would be more accessible to students, and from what I’ve heard, it has been.
Trexler: I think that’s a little unfair, because a lot of those decisions had already been made in the spring under Meherezade Sumariwalla’s tenure as Vice President. A lot of the negotiations with the New York Times occurred with me and Zach over the course of the summer—
Mari: I was on the phone with Petra and Kevin too over the whole summer.
Trexler: Yeah, you were definitely there.
Mari: I think the big controversy surrounding this whole article was I didn’t do that alone. Maybe Trexler didn’t do that alone; Chloe didn’t do all those things alone—that’s the whole point.
Chloe: No one should brag about doing anything on the WSA alone. This is a cooperative, collaborative body. All of the projects that we’ve worked on have hopefully been collaborative, unless someone just goes rogue and does something alone, which is not leadership! We guided these projects into fruition and guided another group of people.
Speaking of going rogue, I noticed that, Keith, you raised you hand earlier.
Mari: [Laughs.] Nice segue.
Keith: I wanted to say that everything on my campaign poster is true, except for that I am not second grade soccer runner up. I was third place.
Nicole: As for STI testing: yes, the Affordable Care Act did mandate that all insurance companies cover all STI testing; however, the current practice at the Health Center is that for students who are using Gallagher Koster, which is the University sponsored health plan, for more than two-thirds of the campus, that billing goes directly to their parents under “miscellaneous medical expense.” Most people accrue at least twenty dollars of expenses throughout the year and also might choose not to go through with certain proceedings, because they do cost money, and because this thing does go to their parents, which has been really prohibitive for students who might otherwise get tested. I’ve been working with Joyce Walter, the head of the Health Center, who wanted to bring in third party billing, so essentially there’s a company that will automatically bill insurance companies for everything that goes through at the health center. I supported that proposal when it came to the Student Life Committee, which I co-chair with Dean Mike. I made sure that students were supporting the proposal, that we were asking the right questions, and then I talked to the student members of the Budget Priorities Committee who decide if this gets money to make sure it would pass through there.
Mari: These are great accomplishments. These are things we should be proud of. It’s too bad it had to come up in this negative way, but maybe that’s the new approach we have to take. Maybe that’s our best publicity.
Nicole: Well, I think that we should all endeavor on our posters and in our claims to take things only on which we’ve taken the lead, and that’s something that Andrew and I were really careful about. We consulted with other people we’ve worked with see if it was fair.
This question is for anyone: Mari, you consider sexual assault to be the most pressing issue on campus, and Trexler, you played a big role in negotiating with administration re: the Betagate situation. If elected, how will you all combat sexual violence at Wesleyan?
Trexler: Just a few weeks ago, with help from a number of people in graphic design—Alton Wang [’16], one of them, launched what we’re calling the Wesleyan consent pledge—I can recite it to you verbatim right now if you’d like, it’s pretty short—
We don’t need that. [Group laugh.]
Trexler: So the aim of that is to make as many people as possible conscious of sexual violence issues and giving and receiving consent when they’re engaging in sexual activity. Over 700 people have taken the pledge so far, and my goal is to get 3,000 by the end of next fall.
Nicole: Something I’ve been doing is talking to the Greek institutions, because, as mentioned earlier, they are often targeted as centers where sexual assault happens. I’ve been talking to AEPi about the role they can take as a Greek institution without a house, in guiding the other, more traditional Greeks towards a more social justice-oriented view, towards running bystander intervention training for things like sexual assault and overintoxication. Scott Elias [’14], who’s the house manager of Beta, is on my committee, and we’ve talked somewhat throughout the year about the role Beta’s taking to improve their reputation—not just because they care about what other people think but because they don’t want Beta to be a place where sexual assault happens; they don’t want Wesleyan to be a place where sexual assault happens. I think a huge part is taking Greek institutions and other groups that havent’ traditionally been part of this dialogue and working with them to educate them and educate others about the issues and how we can take a stand as Wesleyan students to prevent this from happening.
Keith: Well, I first want to say it’s really messed up that they’re calling it Betagate. Like, giving sexual assault a catchy nickname is kinda really fucked up.
Trexler: That was a totally different incident from two years ago.
Keith: Well, still, either way, it was still sexual assault—
Trexler: No, Betagate refers to the University policy—
Mari: As a reaction to rape.
Trexler: Right, but it was a policy put forth by the University saying that students would not be allowed to go to social events or reside in buildings not recognized by the University, which applies to literally anything that’s, like, anywhere not on campus. So I couldn’t go to an office building in Detroit. It was directed at Beta, because Beta was off campus at the time. That’s not the language I created or anything. That’s what people refer to it as.
[Three passersby pass by. Raucous cries of “I love the WSA!” echo across Andrus field. Interviewees swell with pride.]
Chloe: I think this is a great illustration of how amazing our outreach has been this year. They love the WSA!
Passerby 1: [To Keith:] Did you win yet?
Passerby 2: Yeah, have you won yet?
Passerby 1: Did you win yet?
Keith: I don’t know! [Unintelligible mumbling.]
Passerby 1: You don’t have to talk about it around the competition; I understand.
Keith: Regardless of what the exact thing was about Betagate, referring to anything involving sexual assault with a nickname is fucked up. Also, I am gonna be working at the Take Back the Night thing tomorrow, and I think everyone should attend that as a way to start to discuss and think about these ideas, and it’s a way that I can start to get involved and find a way to start finding solutions.
Chloe: I think that all of these things are really fantastic. This is such a multifaceted issue that needs approaches in every angle. We have approaches for victims and helping victims; we have a support group. These kind of training initiatives and the consent pledge are important for engaging people who want to be active in this issue, but I think the real thing that’s missing is an approach that is educational about sexual assault that is not opt-in, because perpetrators are not going to opt in for training. This issue is actually an educational issue. Wonderful people that we know have really fucked up perceptions of what sexual assault is. This truly is an ignorance issue. Also, women need to be empowered to feel confident in their decisions, and when something happens to them that is truly black and white sexual assault, and they have been pressured by society to say things like, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been there.” This is an educational issue that everybody needs to be exposed to and should not have the opportunity to opt out, so that’s the approach we’re gonna be taking.
Mari: We’re talking to Greek societies and some of the sexual health groups. Keith says that Psi U might be interested in this.
Chloe: AEPi is really interested, the women’s crew team…we feel like it’s really effective in mobilizing big groups to reach out to clusters to get excited about it.
Trexler: I’d say that definitely applies to the consent pledge. I’ve been going around knocking on doors and asking people to sign it. In doing that, I can have educational conversations about the subject, so if people say “I don’t really know what this is about,” I can actually have that conversation with them. I’ll be going to Beta to ask all of the brothers to take the consent pledge—a lot of them already have—and doing that with other groups on campus as well.
Nicole: The pledge also has people make a commitment—to make this an issue they think about all the time, whenever they’re thinking about the culture of Wesleyan. It’s been really great seeing the little slips of paper taped to peoples’ doors, to have it talked about. One student brought up the idea of posting all the names online so you could look up the person you were interested in and see if they were there. I’m not sure that’s a direction we’re gonna take.
Mari: I think people need to get angry. People need to see that this is a problem. People need to start—
Start reading the WSA e-mails!
Mari: We need to star throwing it in their faces. We need people to get worked up about this. It can’t be something that people are like, “Oh yeah, that’s a serious cultural problem.” People need to say this is unacceptable and want to personally do something about it.
Trexler: And people are already doing that, myself one of them.
Nicole: And you guys are too. And you guys are too.
Mari: We’re all working together on this.
Chloe: The most important thing about this conversation, though, is that this is such a deeply rooted, often ignored problem, we need multiple attempts.
Nicole: We’re all working on it, and I really admire the work that Chloe and Mari are doing, and we need more people involved to really spread awareness and make things change.
How do you guys plan to educate the students who would choose to opt out of engaging with this issue without invading their privacy?
Mari: Not only the umbrella outreach, but directed outreach. Like, if you go to a sustainability group about sustainability issues, they’re probably not gonna feel like you’re invading their space. Ideally, we want to reach a point where, not only is it us going to them, but it’s them knowing that we’re a resource. To an extent we have these things, but there are some people who barely know what the WSA does. We want to reach people who think that they don’t care, because there is something they care about.
Chloe: We tried that a lot this year, like in our Sunday meetings. We sent out e-mails about them, and reached out to individuals like “You’re a really important voice in this issue.” More people came to the meetings this year than they did before, which is important because of outreach, but also because we have more diverse opinions than just 30 people.
I’ve heard that Giant Joint is actually taking a similar stance on this particular matter.
Chloe: Oh, good, awesome! Whoever gets people into the meetings is fine with me.
Trexler: I would also say that it’s our job as student representatives to do a good enough job of representing students that people actually feel as though the WSA are their representatives and are serving them as they should be.
Nicole: Us telling students things is not very effective. We all know that. It’s really having other students who care notice when we make progress and spread what resources and administrative know-how we can share with them, and letting them disseminate it elsewhere.
Any last minute messages you want to send to the student body in the final stretch of elections?
Trexler: Go vote!
Mari: There’s been a lot of negative stuff around this, and it’s probably been really disillusioning to those involved and those watching it happen, but we really are a collaborative institution, and we are really passionate about what we do; that’s why all of us are here. If it were about our individual agenda, this would not be the place we’re in. I hope that even if watching this is a frustrating process—covering it, I’m sure, might have been—that people still see that ultimately we’re here because we want to work with students because we are students, and we want to make this school better. And I think all of us agree upon that.
[Members of group express agreement. Interviewer experiences deep sense of relief, having worried that a disagreement might further prolong this interview.]
Nicole: What I would love to say to the student body is that I know that hearing about the WSA is not the most exciting thing, but it’s not about what the WSA is doing; it’s about what’s going on on campus and what could change. That affects every single one of us. Even though our e-mails aren’t always that exciting, it is really affecting your life, so if there’s something you care about in this community, please get involved, because we would love to work with you.
Well, my computer’s running out of battery, and this grass is making my butt itchy, so I’m about ready to wrap up.
Nicole: I’m actually allergic to grass.
That’s—the student body needs to know!
You don’t have to put that in.