Unofficial Orientation Series: The Wrath Update, or Everything You Need to Know About All the Things People Have Been Getting Angry About Lately and Hot Damn This Is a Long Post Title

Always be closing deconstructing…

 There is always hope.

Welcome to utopia! Er, sorta. Well, not really. Actually not at all. Like all the world, good old Wesleyan is plagued with many social ills. Some are more intractable than others, some more terrible than others. I am not here to pass judgment. I am here only to give you the quick run-down on all most of the things people at Wes have been getting upset about of late. To avoid showing favoritism I put these in random order (literally). Please feel free to add/question/editorialize in the comments below.

This is the Wrath Update. First up:

Chalking

At Wes, University Policy prohibits the use of chalk “on sidewalks or buildings.” For many students — though definitely not all — this constitutes a violation of the right to free speech and the battle over the chalking policy has raged fiercely for over a decade. On the 3rd of October 2002, then-President Doug Bennet ’59 put forth a moratorium on Wesleyan’s storied tradition of chalking, a moratorium which was theoretically temporary but was never lifted. In those days, you could spend an hour reading chalkings on the hundred-yard walk from PAC to what’s now Usdan. Chalking was primarily used as an empowerment medium for the queer community, but, of course, a few individuals took things a little too far. I do not need to get into the details; you go to Wesleyan so you can imagine it. We still occasionally witness hateful and hurtful public messages around campus.

Anyway, most people (by my count) recognize the difficulties in addressing such issues but still insist on the right to chalk. Dozens of protests, hundreds of op-eds and letters, and thousands of conversations later, chalking is still banned. Well, mostly. Some intrepid chalkers contacted Middletown last year and discovered that it was legal by Middletown ordinance to chalk on the sidewalks of public streets, which includes almost every street on the Wesleyan campus, leading to several chalk-ins.

For a more in-depth history of the controversy, I refer you to the legendary Zach‘s five-part series, “Westrospective: A Decade Without Chalking.”

Workers and Custodial Staff

This one is the newest of the bunch. (Sorta.) Being the “progressive institution” that we call ourselves, we like to take care of our staff, even the contracted custodial and food-service workers we hire. Except, well, often. Our contract staff is often given poor work conditions, little pay, and even less recognition and thanks, both from the University and from students. Things came to a particular head this summer, as the deadline for a year-old agreement mandating a reduction in staff between Wesleyan and Sun Services (our contractor for janitorial staff) loomed ever closer. Workers began to use their lunch our to stage protests outside President Roth’s office in South College, and attracted significant attention from the media. Members of the United Student-Labor Action Coalition, or USLAC, have been putting in particularly hard work this summer in defense of the workers. If you are interested in getting involved, they would be a great group to contact.

For more details, check out BZOD‘s recent coverage of the issues.

Consent and Sexual Violence

Consent, like sex, is a beautiful, exhilarating, wonderful action. Thing is, they really really need to go together. Unfortunately, Wesleyan is not exempt from the terrible trends of the world’s unhappy underbelly. Sexual violence occurs here too, in many different forms, and way more often than you might think. Self-reported data from the last three freshmen classes indicate that hundreds of Wesleyan students experience some form of non-consensual, unwanted sexual advances during their first two months at Wes. Go back and read that again. Hundreds. Sexually assaulted. In their first two months at Wes. Can we try to change that this year, please? Yep, I am looking at you.

I know that it can seem tedious, difficult, or even painful to think about these things when you go out on a Friday night “looking to score” and you reach for your third beer (or not) but failure to recognize the agency of a fellow human being makes you rude at best and (unfortunately, more likely) invasive, inhuman, and unforgivable. Consent is not just important, it is vital. (And sexy.) If there is anything that Wesleyan teaches you, it should be that everyone (seriously, everyone) carries a different perspective and a different set of desires from the world, and you, than your own. Strengthen your respect for that diversity.

Okay, so a little bit of “favoritism.” I write about this a lot. I have tried to keep this update to less than 200 words, but I don’t really feel that I have done the issue justice so I will beg you (yes, you) to read further, and to take the Consent Pledge, and to join up with one of the many sexual health groups on campus.

Oh, and you might want to check out this legal debacle stuff too.

Institutional Racism/Ableism/Sexism/Elitism/General Insensitivity

For the freshmen, hopefully you have been learning to be careful with your words and actions during the course of this week’s Orientation. And while everyone makes makes mistakes every once in a while, it may seem as though Wesleyan is on top of this stuff. More so than most campuses? Maybe. But we are far from perfect, both institutionally and as a community. I will run through the list above, skimming only the a surface of each.

Racism: Approximately 400 students, faculty, and staff (by my count) endured a painful but necessary three-hour release of anger, disappointment, resentment, and hope one Monday evening last Fall at the (first) Diversity University forum. For many, it was the first opportunity to publicly confront the University about the institutional racism, among other evils, engendered by the University’s policies, procedures, and unwritten practices. The video is three hours long but well-worth watching. Many of the complaints involved Public Safety, whose Director Dave Meyer left Wesleyan after 33 years of service last June and whose policies have been under near-constant review, with some significant changes, since last Fall. Wesleyan’s Chief Diversity Officer, Sonja Manjon, also left the University this summer, leaving a bit of a gap in institutional attention to institutional racism.

Ableism: Wesleyan is not a particularly disability-friendly campus. Though we do have a Dean for Disability Services and all professors make accommodations for students with disabilities, the physical nature of our campus as well as the often-inadvertent-but-still-insensitive language used by the Wes community can be hurtful to differently-abled members of our campus. The Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights (WSDR) is particularly active student group attuned to these issues.

Sexism: In the sense of the word I am using, “sexism” means a lot more than the typical “glass ceiling for women” type stuff. Sexuality at Wesleyan is pretty varied, and it is important to respect everyone’s unique brand of sexuality and gender-identity. On occasion, a few people forget that and do something insensitive and stupid. Similarly, Wes experiences some forms of gender-normativity. Wes also experiences some uplifting tales of breaking that normativity: for example, Rho Epsilon Pi, Wesleyan’s largest sorority, was founded in part to address an unhappy reality that most of the party-scene was under the control of men.

Elitism: This one is tied in heavily with the others, especially the racism. We WesKids tend to think we’re awesome, unique, special. We can be, sometimes. But that doesn’t mean we need to treat everyone around us (read: Middletown) like second-class citizens. Some crass members of our community refer to Middletown residents as “townies,” usually in a derogatory way. They’re our fucking neighbors. Treat them with a little respect and turn your party music down by 2:00AM. Town-gown relations have been bad for a long-time now, but there are two recent events that affected that relationship: the Washington Street development proposal and the creation of a number of student groups dedicated to improving relations.

General Insensitivity: Too much more to talk about. I am just going to repeat what I said earlier: “If there is anything that Wesleyan teaches you, it should be that everyone (seriously, everyone) carries a different perspective and a different set of desires from the world, and you, than your own. Strengthen your respect for that diversity.”

Williamsification

You have probably heard the phrase “Keep Wes Weird.” People in every generation of Wesleyan students fears that successor-classes are less weird, less “Wesleyan” than their own and the Wesleyan is sliding down a long hill towards become that dreaded other, Williams. By which they mean super-wealthy and churning out all sorts of lawyers and bankers who will make tons of money and make generation donations to the school.

Kinda crazy right? After all, this is a common complaint leveled at pretty much everything President Roth does with Wesleyan. It’s almost a scapegoat of sorts for avoiding real problems and real solutions. But then again, the Board of Trustees has proportionally far more lawyers and bankers than the general alumni population, and trustees are selected rather than elected (even the elected ones), so maybe they/we have a point? Anyway, Keep Wes Weird.

Divestment

By most correct accounts, the Earth’s ecosystem is undergoing a human-built illness, much of it driven by our seemingly insatiable thirst for gasoline and similar substances. To do part of its small part for the Earth, Wesleyan could theoretically divest its huge tiny sizable endowment from companies involved in the extraction or refinement of non-renewable energy sources (namely, oil and natural gas). Wesleyan’s Investment Office is not so inclined. Others in the Wesleyan community are so inclined, including a student group known as Wes, Divest! and several outspoken alumni. The situation is not unlike the divestment movement of the late 20th century (wow, most of you guys just barely saw any of that… I feel old) which led Wesleyan to divest, in protest of Apartheid, from any holdings in South African companies.

Need Blind and Financial Aid

As you have probably learned by now, Wesleyan recently changed its need blind admissions policy and put a budget cap on financial aid, just in time for, well, erm, uh… you. The amount of material on this topic put out in the last eighteen months is staggering, so if you are supremely interested then check out Wesleying‘s “need-blind” tag. In the meantime, I will do my best to fill you in.

Wesleyan’s finances are in rough shape. I am not going into the details much more than to say that most of our peer schools are institutionally much richer than we are, and we are struggling to keep up. Consequently, a decision was made in May 2012 that Wesleyan would no longer be a fully need blind institution. The possibility had been rumored for months, but few expected the decision so soon and with so little consultation, and this understandably made many very angry on both principle and process. And while an eventual return to need blind was theoretically agreed, there has been no evidence to indicate veracity other than the word of the University.

Cue protest, after protest, after protest, after protest, after protest, after protest. Those were just some of the biggest ones. Meanwhile, there were innumerable op-eds on both sides, petitions, panels, meetings, forums, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly assembled a Task Force for an in-depth look at the budget. Sidenote: veryone has a different opinion on how fix the budget. Some people want to simply cut a huge part of the University, like athletics, or do away with (or at least reform) expensive events like Spring Fling.

And that’s pretty much the point where the politics has stayed, though perhaps a little calmer and more sluggish now.

What is new, though, is that we are beginning to witness the consequences of losing need-blind admissions. Though Wesleyan equaled its best-ever acceptance rate at 19.9% of applicants, the Class of 2017 also witnessed a 7% drop in the number of students receiving grant-aid at 37% from 44% in the Class of 2016. Concurrently, the percentage of first-generation college students in the class dropped to 13% from 16% in the Class of 2016. So is this financial decision affecting the make-up the Wesleyan student body, and might this exacerbate a host of social issues with our community? No doubt about it.

Alcohol and Drug Policy

In Spring 2010, Wesleyan instituted a new policy known as the Open Container Ban, which prohibits the carrying of open containers of alcohol around campus, even by those of age. Over the past few years, the University has taken significant steps to curb high-risk drinking on campus, and especially cutting down on the drinking at high-profile events like Spring Fling or eliminating events like Tour de Franzia altogether. There have been some other, smaller policy changes that have led to increased enforcement, though remarkably little reduction in the actual incidence of high-risk drinking. For more data and details, including how this relates to other issues listed here (hint: sexual assault), take a look at some University reports.

There are a few updates. For one, Tour de Franzia did not occur at all this past Spring, for the first time in years. A few people were sad, but Wesleyan also avoiding thousands of dollars in vandalism and damages that accompanied previous tours, and no one was hospitalized as a result.

Two, with the decriminalization of marijuana in Connecticut two years ago, the University changed its policies regarding the drug so that cases are referred to the Student Judicial Board and dealt with internally, rather than being referred to the Middletown Police Department.

Three, Wesleyan has ended its multi-year partnership with the National College Health Improvement Program, a collaborative of higher-education institutions seeking to address high-risk drinking. This basically means that you will probably be polled a little less often about the subject than upperclassmen will remember.

Again, these are plenty of other things people have been angry about lately. For example, the food at Usdan. And for each of these issues, there is so much more to say. But this is getting long enough, so I am just going to shut up. Happy commenting and welcome to Wesleyan.

  • Catherine E MacLean

    very well done! Thank you for mentioning WSDR and ableism!

  • ctusa

    Awesome post

  • Michael Roth is just a symbol

    Who is Jon Meerts?