Tired of Doing Your Work: Decoding Michael Roth

Image from IsThisWhy.com.

Image from IsThisWhy.com.

Sarah Small ’18 wrote a powerful piece on her blog Hapaholla about Roth’s email regarding the Is This Why demands (which you can read here), and she’s given us permission to share it below. If any other students are interested in sharing their thoughts on Wesleying, feel free to email us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org.

Small’s piece is after the jump.

Tired of Doing Your Work: Decoding Michael Roth by Sarah Small ’18

Student activists at Wesleyan are tired. And now, in response to our demands that the administration take responsibility for real equity and inclusion, Roth asks us to give more.

Michael Roth and his administration had 48 hours, double what students used to create an insurrection, and produced his non-confrontational, unproductive, misleading, and admittedly well-crafted response. It could be worse. I am genuinely appreciative of the cooperative tone, nominal support, and lack of hostility. That being said, at best it dodges our demands. At worse it perpetuates a cycle in which this school runs on the unpaid exploitation of SOC energy, time, intelligence, and talent.

I came to Wes on the heels of #AfAmIsWhy, a student led fight to preserve and enhance the deeply neglected African American Studies department. My first term as a part of the Asian American Student Collective board, we organized a month of panels, dinners, talks, and performances titled Amplifying Asian America in an attempt to fill the void of Asian American academia on this campus. Board members and other Wesleyan students met with administration and fought tooth and nail–against a hugely uncooperative Roth–to get a professor hired to teach Asian American history (which is now under American Studies and not even cross-listed with History).

This fall we reconvened and turned our vision towards solidifying Asian American Studies under the banner #AsIAm: work to tenure Professor Amy Tang (there are no senior AA faculty), work to keep the newly hired Professor Long Bui, work to raise student enrollment in the few available AA courses, and work to commit designated tracks to Asian American Studies so that the field might last at Wes beyond our own four years here. We braced ourselves to take on the trustees. All while running regular collective meetings and coordinating with the many outstanding student groups on campus. I cannot say enough about the incredible young humans I work with.

Then the tides changed and we needed to take new action. Mizzou, Claremont McKenna, Yale, Princeton…Wesleyan’s Is This Why campaign is one piece in the boiling frustration and fear of students of color nation-wide. Wesleyan student leaders organized a march–backed by a website, list of demands, coalition, and further action plans–in under 24 hours (again, incredible humans). We asked for Roth to meet our demands in 48 hours. We got back this email with 90 minutes to go.

Roth wants us to create more plans, have more dialogue, and further clarify the logistics of how the school is going to fix the issues we already outlined in Is This Why. Isn’t that why we have an office of Equity and Inclusion? They claim in their mission: “We act courageously, in a transparent manner, with respect for the knowledge and experience of others.” It wasn’t corageous or respectful to claim Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech (co-authored by Roth and Vice President for Equity & Inclusion, Title IX Officer Antonio Farias), trivializing the epidemic of the murder of black people. It is unacceptable that the most “transparent” action the Equity and Inclusion office has taken furthers the harm done to SOC. Where is Antonio Farias now and what is he doing? Can we get paid to do his job instead? If the administration truly already has the position covered–as Roth claimed in his email–why do they need us students to create all of the plans, initiatives, and programs down to the last detail?

Under the guise of “open dialogue” (and his beloved free speech), Roth is offering no solutions, demanding that overworked SOC do the administration’s job, and neatly positions himself as guilt-free. I’m not denying that he is a highly intelligent person. He’s great at what he does.

We offered concrete demands precisely because we are TIRED of having the administration tell us they’re “here to listen.” We are TIRED of trying to be the change all on our own (AfAm Is Why, Black Lives Matter, AsIAM, Is This Why, and a myriad of nearly constant events in which we self-teach because no else will). We are TIRED of juggling full class loads, athletics, arts, family responsibilities, financial struggles, social lives, sleep, the stress brought on by discrimination, all while doing the administration’s Equity and Inclusion work for them–uncompensated and unpaid. All college kids are tired, even without the burdens imposed by a system that perpetuates inequality. We are tired.

This week in particular has been trying. SOC have been busy: organizing our individual groups, organizing and/or participating in Is This Why, dealing with a racist incident involving Eclectic, trying to prepare for next actions in anticipation of Michael Roth’s response, a growing controversy around Terp dances, and now finally the deep frustration of being let down once again by Roth and the administration despite how hard we fought and still fight.  I am becoming very tired even as a privileged individual within the SOC community (financially advantaged, second generation student, English as a first language, straight, cis, Asian, and of course white). I can only imagine the pain and exhaustion other students of color are experiencing right now.

This is a very small school and an even smaller SOC population. Many SOC feel the burden: if I don’t do it, who will? We cannot disengage. Roth is running us into the ground.

We all know Wesleyan’s reputation would plummet to new depths if it failed to maintain the kind of diversity Roth and many presidents so love touting. So why does the administration continue to trap us in a cycle of imaginary progress? The answer is simple: they do not see us as a serious threat. Neither did the former President of Mizzou, nor the former Chancellor of Mizzou, nor the former Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna. I am not looking for a resignation. Despite our deep frustration and mistrust of the administration no SOC group has proposed such a move.

But riddle me this Roth: how will you sell Wesleyan as a neoliberal paradise when your students of color refuse to be complicit? How will you continue to attract the diversity numbers you love and need when we start telling the truth about the “diversity” experience at Wes? It seems to me it’s time to take us seriously. For your sake as much as ours.

  • Senior

    “At worse it perpetuates a cycle in which this school runs on the unpaid exploitation of SOC energy, time, intelligence, and talent.”
    Excuse me? Are you saying that the white students at this school are PAID for their energy, time, intelligence, and talent? The majority of financial aid at this school goes to SOC so clearly white students are not being PAID to go to this school….
    Also Roth responded very well to all of these “necessary” demands. There really was no reason for these demands in the first place other than the fact that other schools were making them and Wesleyan students felt they needed to fit in with what other “activists” were doing.

  • SOC Alum

    that’s because they’re children. Who are picking up a powerful banner. With little understanding of life and it’s workings. With a lot of anger, and rightfully so. With very little mind, and a lot of heart.
    They need to listen, they need to see that Roth is trying, he’s working with you. Don’t let your own emphasis deny you what you seek.

  • ’15

    @ss18: I thought Roth’s response was pretty great. He basically said “yes, lets work together to meet your demands.” Would you rather he have said: “ok we’ll build this center and let you know when it’s done” ? What kind of university multicultural center would it be if it were built without the input from the university’s multicultural students? Doing that will in fact require input from SOC.

    • ’15

      @ss18: btw ‘build a multicultural center and hire two new staff members’ is not as “concrete” a demand as you seem to think it

    • nunes

      yeah, i thought Roth’s response was great as well! confused about what else he could have said. he admitted wrongdoing, responded within the deadline in concrete ways agreeing to the various demands, acknowledged the need and urgency… but i guess it always feels more ~radical~ to dissent and fight and critique than to collaborate and agree and accept support.

      • President Michael Roth

        Did anyone expect any other response from students? Nothing would be good enough, even if they fulfilled their silly “demands” to a T someone would still complain they are being “silenced”