Unofficial Orientation Series 2016: Rage Update

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Students march to South College as part of ISTHISWHY Campaign

Content warning: This article discusses issues of sexual assault. Community and official support resources can be accessed here, here, and here.

This is part of our 2016 Unofficial Orientation Series. A quick reminder that you can check out the welcome post here and past years’ series here.

For some reason, this post was not included in last year’s Unofficial Orientation Series, even though we had some major student activism occurring during the 2014-2015 school year. Before I link to some of that history and go more in-depth as to some actions occurring this past year, I want to start by quoting alt‘s incredibly well-written intro to the 2014 Rage Update:

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.

This update is non-comprehensive and it is not a product of horizontal student input. It’s merely a resource among a sea of others. If you’re looking for more collectively aggregated and edited information, do check out the 2015-2016 Disorientation Guide. And be on the lookout for next year’s DisO Guide.

Brief Update on 2014-2015 Actions

Although most of the (shoddy) press about Wesleyan during this year centered around frats and student hospitalizations, there was a metric fuckton of student activism occurring during this year as well. Here’s some of what transpired:

  • Campus sexual assault activism: Speak outs, written testimonials, poster campaigns, Title IX policy reform proposals, among countless other actions are just some of the examples of campus sexual assault activism occurring this year. Read more (see CW at top of this post) here, here, herehere, here, here, and here.
  • Black Lives Matter March: In December of 2014, in the wake of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo for the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, more than 1000 Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff marched on Washington street to the corner of Washington and Main, where allies encircled students of color staging a “die-in” protest for 15 minutes. You can read more here and see the video above. Also don’t forget this bullshit.
  • WSA Restructuring: In response to notable instances of classism in the WSA, and in response to numerous low-income and first-gen students leaving the assembly, there was a series of WSA meetings which were flooded by student protesters. The WSA Constitution was eventually rewritten. You can read more here, here, and here.
  • Divestment sit-in: To escalate a fossil fuel divestment campaign that had been gaining traction for a few years, members of Students for Justice in Palestine, Fossil Fuel Divest, and Ujamaa united to form the Coalition for Divestment and Transparency and together staged a sit-in in President Roth’s office to push for a tri-fold divestment from the Israeli occupation, from private prisons, and from fossil fuel holdings. You can read more here and here.

Okay, now let’s get to the stuff that happened this past year.

Activism in Campus Media

The Wesleyan Argus student newspaper is displayed Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. The student government for the liberal arts school is weighing a petition to strip The Argus of funding after some objected to an opinion piece it published on the Black Lives Matter movement. (AP Photo/Michael Melia)

(AP Photo/Michael Melia)

The Wespeak heard ’round the world. Literally got us on the O’Reilly Factor. Jfc. To quote hermes:

Oof, what didn’t happen with the Argus and WSA back in September? Basically:

Essentially, the gist of this situation (that you probably heard about and had a suburban mom ask about on a tour) is that 200 students drafted a petition to demand more inclusion in the Argus, threatening a move to defund the paper if it did not respond to the demands. “Free speech” on college campuses was a hot topic that summer, with President Obama speaking on the issue, and the news got picked up by the national media.

We subsequently got named as one of the worst colleges in the country for “free speech,” which I find hilarious because Wes has like 17 campus publications and we can (and do) essentially say whatever the fuck we want on this here site. But the major results of this debacle were that we still have a newspaper, and the WSA proposed a resolution to form a Media Publications Fund, that didn’t get enough votes to pass. Here’s some required reading, IMHO.

[Correction 8/3/16 12:21PM: The Publications Fund does exist, but it will not be funded by an automatic student opt-out fee like the Green Fund]

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IMG_1126+(4)In November of 2015, students of color organizers at Wes formed the ISTHISWHY Campaign in solidarity with student demonstrations around the country, delivered a list of demands to the President’s Office and gave a strict 48-hour timeline to meet these demands. From the organizers:

We, as students of color at Wesleyan University, have been neglected by the administration at this school. We are standing in solidarity with students at Mizzou, Yale, Claremont Mckenna, and all other schools who are fighting back against the daily effects of white supremacy in academia. We are demanding that our administration make justice and equity a priority. With the support of fellow students, faculty, and staff, we are standing up.

The demands were listed as 5 major items and were cosigned by over 100 student groups, professors, and academic departments. Those 5 items were:

  1. We demand equity and inclusion
  2. Statement of accountability
  3. Hiring of an equity advocate
  4. Establishment of a multicultural center and a director of multicultural affairs
  5. Tracking of faculty and staff bias and microaggressions

You can see the demands in full here.

And you can read more about the execution, University response, and discussion around the campaign here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Asian American Student Activism

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PC: Jennie He

Over the past couple years, the push for greater support of ethnic studies at Wesleyan has been a sizable factor in campus activism. In addition to the campaign a few years ago to strengthen support for African American Studies, there has been a push on campus to establish a program in Asian American Studies.

A lot of students have reflected on the value of academic teachings of Asian American Studies at Wesleyan, yet these classes have yet to be institutionally supported in a specific program/department. Some students even take academic teachings into their own hands in the form of student forums. The Asian American Student Collective launched this photo campaign on the issue. In addition, a multi-college student publication called AsIAm was distributed for the first time around campus.

Divestment Action

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PC: Will Barr

In addition to the Coalition for Divestment and Transparency’s 2015 sit-in (see above), efforts continued into the following school year. In the Fall, members of the coalition participated and demonstrated at a panel on the endowment with Ann Martin, Wesleyan’s Chief Investment Officer.

In the Winter, Wesleyan Fossil Fuel Divest confronted the Board of Trustees outside of Allbritton. The demonstration consisted of student actors forming a blockade around the exit to the building, with two breaks in the blockade. One was marked “no,” the other “yes.” The demonstration forced the Board to symbolically vote on divestment from fossil fuels. We expect an escalation of efforts this year seeing as UMass Amherst’s sit-in was successful.

Labor Rights Activism

This past year saw the revival of activity for the United Student/Labor Action Coalition, or USLAC for short. The organizers have been working to re-establish relationships with custodial and other workers on campus. From the organizers:

Since its revival, USLAC has been re-connecting with Sun Services workers, student workers, and construction unions. USLAC has been going to the Sun Services break room in High Rise during their breaks and introducing themselves, chatting with custodial staff, and hearing their concerns. They’ve hosted a few awesome events, including a panel with local labor organizers, union members, and union heads; an end-of-year picnic with Sun Services workers.

They have also collaborated with Wesleyan Democratic Socialists to pass a WSA resolution to increase the minimum wage for student workers to $15/hr.

USLAC also did a lot of stuff back circa 2013. You can read a lot about that history in basically all these links.

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There is a trend on campus recently to academic/theoretical activism and activist art, which is worth mentioning. This is a cool article on the need for civil disobedience along with these trends.

Disclaimer: There are so many more institutional and world issues that Wes student activists write about and organize around that I didn’t cover in this post. Keep an eye out for the Disorientation guide and reach out to current student actors for a more nuanced perspective on these issues. Also, currents students, email staff[at]wesleying[dot]org for questions/concerns.