(Image: Catherine Avalone, The Middletown Press)
You’ve now arrived on campus, and we hope that you find your time here enriching and transformative. In that hope, we feel that it would be ill-advised to allow you to not have at least a foundational understanding of the things that have forced us as a community into dialogue, disagreement, and action.
This is not to scare you or to give you a negative impression of the University. However, we are certain that most if not all of you were told about the “passion” that Wesleyan students have and the issues that we care about on campus are at the forefront of those passions. While there is certainly no requirement to take an activist stance on any of these issues and it is in fact easy to sink beneath the radar on these issues and all the others not covered here, we would plead with you to be engaged in the community that you are now a part of.
Read this, ask questions, and reach out to students and faculty that have been here before you. We hope that as you begin your time here, you fully invest yourself as a community member committed to making Wesleyan as good as it can be for you and for those after you. Caring about Wesleyan does not foreclose critique on Wesleyan and as you read this, and other things like it, we hope you understand that too.
African-American Studies at Wesleyan dealt with a significant loss last semester with the departure of Visiting Assistant Professor Sarah Mahurin, who is now the Dean of Timothy Dwight College at Yale, and Assistant Professor Leah Wright, who is now a professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. The announcement of Professor Wright’s leave highlighted the larger systemic problems within the program that were festering just beneath the surface.
There are currently three professors in the department, including new chair Professor Lois Brown, Professor Ashraf Rushdy, and Visiting Professor David Swiderski in a major with over 30 students. At the end of last semester, students showed that they were not going to abide by institutional apathy and organized a week of action under the banner of #AFAMisWhy, beginning with a march around campus that led to the takeover of President Roth’s office, email blasts and phone-a-thons.
As a result, President Roth and Provost Ruth Striegel stated at a forum developed as a result of the protest outside of his office that two searches would be authorized. At press time, there is currently one search that is on the books. It is important to note that students were not just fighting to protest the departure of two popular teachers but larger, more entrenched issues of the declining prioritization of ethnic studies more broadly at Wesleyan.
While this manifested most haltingly in AFAM is also present in the dearth of Asian-American Studies courses. It can also be seen in the fact that a new Repatriation Coordinator has not been hired to oversee the University’s NAGPRA Compliance policies, which is federal legislation that requires institutions to give back the remains and artifacts of Native American tribes that were collected without the consent and wishes of the tribes they originated from. More information on repatriation can be found here.
This semester, #AFAMisWhy is set to pay close attention to the explicit overtures provided to the campus about the future as AFAM and show deep community support for the searches* taking place.
Fossil Fuel Divestment
While divestment can also include divestment from Israeli occupation of Palestine, we’ve covered that already in a separate section. Wes, Divest! is a student group that began to push the administration to divest from fossil fuels in February of 2013.
What the heck is divestment? Divesting would essentially mean that the University would not invest, and remove its investments, in markets of fossil fuels. What investments does the University make and where does the money come from? Well, the University currently has approximately 688 million dollars in its endowment, which is a marker of financial stability—or in our case, instability—that it invests portions of in stocks or bonds in order to ensure growth of that fund.
Wes, Divest! pushed a resolution through the WSA, along with a petition of 800 signatures, that calls the University to stop investing in fossil fuel companies, plan a path to divestment from current companies, and to notify students of its actions.
Gender Neutral Bathrooms
The first major activism taking place on campus last academic year was the direct action to de-gender bathrooms on campus. A collective of students who called themselves Pissed Off Trans* People removed the signs off of many bathrooms in a number of academic and residential spaces in an attempt to unravel what they considered the privileging of cisgendered notions of property and ”public spaces.” Many activists involved in the action were sent to the SJB (Student Judicial Board), which led to potential charges of over $5,000 in fines for the removal of 30 signs. The hearing for these charges was also mired in controversy.
The matter has led to the administration implementing a higher number of gender neutral bathrooms for the coming semester and many of the students charged were given the option of working with Physical Plant to install new gender neutral signs in lieu of the fines but the fight for broader changes in the ways that bathrooms are organized as well as deeper understandings of the lived experiences of trans* students persists.
The dearly missed BZOD put up a comprehensive series of posts on the issue surrounding Wesleyan’s overworked and underpaid contracted custodial staff which will be able to shed light much better than this short summary ever could.
While this issue is definitely not new, refound attention was brought to the situation with protests by custodial staff when Sun Services (the company that Wesleyan contracts with) tried again to cut its numbers and stretch out its staff thinner than they already were. The working conditions and workload are unreasonable and impossible (hence BZOD’s series title, “Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned”). The student response has primarily been lead by USLAC (United Student Labor Action Coalition).
Need Blind/Financial Aid
There isn’t a whole lot of updates over this issue since it blew up a year ago. We are still need aware. And the effects are beginning to show. But before I get to that, for you incoming frosh, you should know that in May 2012, the University decided that Wesleyan would no longer be fully need blind. It resulted in an uproar from the student body, as it was decided with little student input. As pyrotechnics put it best, “cue protest, after protest, after protest, after protest, after protest, after protest.” Wesleyan is currently need aware for the last 10% of admissions.
Wesleyan’s finances are, indeed, in a troubling state. And while I’m not going to insert my own views on this issue, it’s important to note the immediate effects of need aware admissions. The percentage of students receiving direct grant aid from Wesleyan dropped from 44% for the Class of 2016 to 37% for 2017. However, for 2018, that number did bounce back a bit to 43%. Technically, Wesleyan still gives students aid to their full demonstrated need (although you’re sure to find students who beg to differ with this “fact”).
Most notably in the past year, students petitioned President Roth to change the financial aid donation policy to allow donors to specifically earmark their donations to increase financial aid without compromising any prior funds allocated for aid.
In the midst of the conflict taking place along the West Bank, the Wesleyan community was a hotbed for conflict and conversation over both the conceptual and theoretical issues of the occupation as well as the more localized impact that Wesleyan students could have on the issue.
Specifically, this included a petition in support of the American Studies Association (ASA) boycott of Israeli institutions, which was signed by over 600 students as well as a resolution that passed, which aimed to divest the WSA endowment from firms that profited from the occupation. There was intense and often contentious debate over the politics of our student government taking a stance as well as questions of the validity over the types of activism used to bring attention to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. This is not an issue likely to subside this semester, so look out for more things coming down the line.
Like colleges and universities across the country, Wesleyan far from immune to the increasing scrutiny over issues of sexual assault, violence, harassment, and rape. We’ve been in headlines time and time again over the university and/or fraternities being sued over different cases, and in the last year, Wesleyan has seen a huge surge in discussion on this issue. While high-profile cases are still relatively infrequent, it is important to note that incidents of sexual violence are often unreported. The numbers are lower than reality.
In the past semester, the discussion over fraternities and sexual assault resulted in four resolutions being proposed to the WSA (which, when passed, serve as mere recommendations to the University and have no binding power).
A quick summary of these resolutions:
Resolution A calls for reforms, most of which the Inter-Greek Council (IGC) have already proposed and adopted, and would not call for coeducation.
Resolution B calls for the IGC reforms, but also “calls for the removal of program housing status from any housed fraternity that does not develop a plan for co-education by the end of Fall 2014 and begin initiating a co-educated pledge class in Spring 2015” (BZOD).
Resolution C calls for not coeducation, but cohabitation, where fraternities would share their house with a program house, but not force the fraternity itself to coeducate.
Resolution D calls mainly for greater oversight of fraternities.
The Assembly passed Resolution B as well as two other resolutions on sexual assault.
Also, the website silence-is-violence.org was launched this past year to expose rape culture at Wesleyan (read more in this interview), and the Monument Quilt is coming to Wesleyan on September 2nd (next Tuesday) as a space to for survivors to share their stories and as a space to heal.
This post was written by alt and Christian. Contact them at awang02[at]wes and chosam[at]wes.