So maybe you’re a freshman, nervous and overwhelmed by all the information coming at you about classes, housing, what to bring from home – and are feeling like you can’t even begin to think about bigger issues on campus. Or maybe you’re a senior and feel like you’ve gotten this far and never really involved yourself in any social/political engagement on campus, so now it’s way too late and where would you even begin if you wanted to. Wherever you might stand, activism at Wes can seem like a huge, widespread and unnavigable thing.
Thankfully, some very committed students are trying to change that sentiment and make activism within the Wesleyan world an approachable and cohesive community. This past week, the Disorientation Guide was released through the University Organizing Center site to bring together the wide-ranging issues affecting us into one document. The entire Disorientation zine can be downloaded here, and I strongly recommend that everyone take a look at it.
Disorientation was put together under the leadership of Claire Marshall ‘17 and Abby Cunniff ’17, who came out of their freshmen years feeling both inspired and exhausted by activism at Wes. They felt like there was a lack of communication and cohesion in the activism at Wes. “We felt out of the picture,” they say – especially on the history and interconnectedness of the various issues. The sense of community and the potential of the UOC needed revitalization. Thanks to inspiration from student activists from American University and UCLA, they realized that Wesleyan would benefit from having a single resource dedicated to exploring the myriad of social issues and activist groups on campus.
During the final weeks of the last semester, they set out contacting other students to contribute to the piece on whatever subjects they felt were important to the Wesleyan community. Over the summer, they worked with these students and culled from other resources such as Hermes to create a comprehensive guide to navigating the various aspects of activism at Wes. While Cunniff and Marshall edited the pieces to bring them together in a cohesive, manageable format, they left the direction and content of the works to the students who were actively engaged in the respective areas.
They also consulted other members of the Wesleyan community, including WSA representatives, to make the material as accurate and inclusive as possible. They emphasize that this is definitively not the entire picture, but also that it is not meant to be an interpretation or editorial, but rather a critical presentation of the multiple realities of activism at Wes from a range of experiences.
For those involved, it was essential to publish Disorientation before the beginning of the school year. “We want to present an alternative to the traditional institutional narrative presented by the university during orientation,” they say. “Often, that narrative is presented and taken as the truth.” Disorientation was created to challenge this narrative, subverting and expanding it, and serve as a tool to strengthen, unite and widen the activist community.
Thus far, reaction has been generally positive. Students have been sharing the PDF of Disorientation across email and Facebook, reaching out to alumni and pre-frosh as well. “There have been a lot of freshman that really like it,” Cunniff and Marshall say. On the other hand, there has been some pushback – mostly from people involved in the formal Orientation process. The official word is that it isn’t inclusive enough and also that it may make incoming students “scared/concerned to come to campus.” There has been talk that the link may need to be taken down from the UOC page, but as of yet, no action has been taken. Marshall and Cunniff recognize that the guide does not contain everything – “it’s new and it’s not perfect” – and that some of the contents may be triggering – certain sections do have content warnings as prefaces – but in the end, getting this information out to the Wesleyan community is the most important goal for everyone involved.
Creating this document was transformative for those involved, and they hope to keep those transformations going. “It allowed us to take a step back, understand the issues and gain perspective,” Marshall and Cunniff say. “It is still a learning process. We are rediscovering what the UOC is and how it can be used as a resource.” They hope that not only will this serve to strengthen activism on campus, but also create space for more in-depth and broader articulations of these issues for Disorientation in the future.
In the meantime, they will work to spread the document as far across the Wesleyan community as possible. And while Disorientation will primarily remain as a digital resource, there will be a small run of printed versions in the UOC, as well as a meeting early in the semester to discuss the publication and the issues. Until then though, students should be reading and sharing the document, and of course, providing any thoughts and feedback to wesleyandiso [at] gmail [dot] com.