“Wesleyan is like History or God, it’s a vehicle people use to transmit ideas.”
This is the first in our series of Wesleyingiversary interviews. You can find the rest here.
Approximately half-a-score ago, we arose from the womb of a 4am AIM conversation. At the time of its founding, Wesleying was at a Wesleyan where social media was only just beginning to make a mark on campus life. Twitter did not yet exist and it was still called “thefacebook.”
According to founders Holly Wood ’08 and Xue Sun ’08, Wes needed a vehicle to unite increasingly disparate segments of campus life, preserve Wes history, and inform the masses of party locations. And thus, Wesleying was born. A decade, lots of bloggers, and bushels of sarcasm later, you are reading this post.
You are reading this post because you want to know what happened when we caught up with Holly and Xue to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of the 5 year anniversary of Wesleying and talk about butt plugs (yes, those again) and flossing. Well, here’s our attempt at crafting an origin story:
So, what is Wesleying?
Xue Sun ’08: I’m not sure anymore. Y’all done good.
Holly Wood ’08: It’s probably still a verb. As implied by it being a gerund.
Xue: Does it still mean to finger one’s pee-hole on urban dictionary? Fuck can we start this over
And y’all founded it, correct?
Holly: Right, we founded it in August 2006. A late night AIM chat that will live in infamy. No one even uses AIM anymore. It’s like saying we smoke-signaled it.
What inspired you all to go down this rabbit hole of sorts?
Holly: So what I found really maddening when I was in undergrad was that we were just seeing the rise of social media transform college life. We were the first freshman class to have Facebook. But the college administration was still organizing campus life as if the internet wasn’t fundamentally changing how college students live their lives.
And Twitter didn’t even exist back then, right?
Xue: I don’t think so, when was Twitter made? 2007?
Something like that.
Holly: Yeah, I didn’t open a Twitter account until 2009. I wish we had Twitter back then. Actually, promoting Wesleying on campus was pretty hard.
What was the early reception of the blog like?
Holly: We literally emailed everyone and said, ‘Please read our blog. We are making a blog about Wesleyan. Will you write for us?’ Initially, we started off with only a few hundred hits a month.
Xue: There was a lot of obsessive checking of visitor stats. And a lot of trying stuff out to see what worked. I have an early post that’s talking about, uhm, I think plushie tampons or something.
Holly: At that time, there were a lot of student-run blogs but not one specifically dedicated to organizing student life. Like there were blogs written about music and fashion but not about Wesleyan itself.
Speaking of early posts, is it safe to say that this post was representative of content circa 2006?
Xue: Yeah, a lot of stuff was totally not Wesleyan-related but more kind of, “Hey, Wesleyan students might be interested in this.” I’m not sure when exactly we transitioned to being more exclusively about Wes-related stuff. I don’t think there was an actual decision, it was all pretty organic in my memory. We didn’t have meetings or really, uh, communicate with each other that much.
Holly: Yeah, I think originally Xue and I had a good idea of what the Wesleyan “brand” was.
And that was what exactly back then?
Xue: “Kids Who Smoke Pot And Read BoingBoing.”
Holly: Retrospectively, with the luxury of having ten years to think about Wesleyan, Xue and I were asking ourselves at that time what a Wesleyan student was going to be with the advent of social media. Of course we couldn’t articulate it then because it was all so new that no one had a good answer to that question yet. But really that’s what all colleges had to deal with in 2006 in a post-Facebook world was how ubiquitous social media was going to change how students live. I didn’t even have a working cellphone until 2005. I couldn’t receive text messages my first semester of college.
Xue: We also wanted to know where all the parties were at.
Holly: Right! There was a student whose AIM away status was the location of all the parties going on on weekend nights, remember that?
Xue: No, and I’m mad that no one told me.
Holly: Oh no they stopped, because that’s how PSafe found out where all the parties were. Obviously. That was a hot idea for like five minutes.
You all posted the locations though, right?
Holly: We posted the locations of “official” events. Things people would be comfortable or even excited if 20 people showed up to attend.
Xue: We were too careless about it in the beginning though. Later it became official stuff that people wanted to advertise. Or at least I was too careless.
Holly: I think some of your best posts were the nights you just went around trolling parties for content.
Xue: I still feel bad about some of those. I got some people in trouble.
Holly: Wait I forget, what happened?
Xue: Like, I posted about a Psi U event once that wasn’t an open event.
Holly: Ohh right, yes, ok now I remember that. With great power comes great responsibility to not fully disclose.
Xue: I also felt like that was more okay when we had a smaller readership? And in a way that was one of the first things that made me realize that, oops, gotta be more careful now that we actually have more people reading.
Did anyone ever try to censor the blog early on?
Holly: If anyone did, it was me and my only north start in that regard was no hurt.
Xue: The only thing I remember is I got an email from HR who wanted me to take the shield off the banner. And in retrospect I was a huge asshole to him, and if you’re reading this HR guy, I’m sorry. Maybe it wasn’t HR? Maybe it was, like, publicity? Whatever.
Yeah I mean, it sure is nice that Wesleying is still not a student group subject to the neoliberal corporate education machine. Those adjectives probably don’t make sense.
Holly: Yeah, actually that’s a great question: has the administration tried to censor you?
Xue: They’re just trying to protect their #personalbrand
Holly: Right, because we decided not to run it as an official student group we were allowed basically do whatever we wanted. We never applied for student funding from the WSA. We never cared about being recognized.
Also I think being post-Zach, we’re conscious that the blog has a pretty large readership and do more self-censoring probably.
Holly: Is that the epoch? Zach is the Epochial marker? Pre-Zach, Post-Zach?
Xue: I actually got an email recently from an alum who was starting a student blog at a different fancy school, and wanted to know if we, uh, ever had any lawsuits or legal issues with the blog. Because apparently this other school is suuuuuuper strict about branding and protecting its image and I didn’t realize how much leeway Wes gave us in that regard before that. Go Wes.
Holly: LOL but that’s what I mean, the university didn’t even know what to do at that point. It didn’t understand Facebook.
Xue: The Olin reference desk had an AIM account, that was pretty cool tho.
Holly: It let students run pirate servers for years because it couldn’t keep up with what students were doing. There were no precedents at that point in how to manage student internet use.
Xue: ACTUALLY I am not so sure about that. The sysadmin was pretty wise. I honestly think that they just let a lot of stuff slip under the radar.
Holly: Oh we loooooved sysadmin. sysadmin knew what was up. The Wesleyan sysadmin was our best friend. But as far as the administration went, they barely knew what to do with us. We weren’t the newspaper and we weren’t a student group so there was nothing they could do that wouldn’t generate a spectacle.
Xue: We had a cool sysadmin. I met him through the blog, actually. Not sure if he’s still there. Real nice guy. Wes alum. …..Do you guys still have sysadmins?
I have no idea what that is, so probably not?
Xue: The Guy Who Runs The Internet. …Intranet. He just was the dude in charge of keeping all the computer systems at Wesleyan alive.
Holly: The other thing people knew when we were running Wesleying is that everyone knew we were running Wesleying. Like there were only two people at that point and guest bloggers, so reaching Wesleying meant just asking us. It was easier for people to contact us then. During the end of junior year of college, we had to very actively get people to recognize new leadership, because neither of us wanted to be in charge as seniors.
Did you ever do issue-based blogging/newsy stuff? longer-form reporting?
Xue: I don’t think we did much issue-based blogging other than around when they repainted the Butts tunnels and called the cops on Fountain.
Holly: We tried really hard to get people to do that for us.
Xue: Then there was a bunch of more op-ed type stuff for an extended period of time.
Holly: Yeah we co-opted Wespeaks because we could take advantage of the fact that we could publish immediately and they had to sit on opinions for three days.
Xue: Do you guys have meetings now? With agendas and minutes and stuff?
Yeah we have meetings like once every two weeks, but it’s still pretty informal. Like, “I heard there’s this performance artist doing something with a buttplug this weekend can I write on it?” and that’s the extent of the meetings, kinda.
Xue: …was there actually a post about a performance artist doing something with a buttplug
Holly: AH YES ANAL SANCTITY. “When is there not a performance artist at Wesleyan doing something with a buttplug” is really the question.
Xue: Wait that human pompom is anal sanctity?
Holly: That’s from 2015, Xue, which means Wesleying is still writing about anal sanctity. We’re not yet post anal sanctity.
Xue: Are you guys, like, career-focused blogging people? Journalist/digital media people I guess?
I would say that its definitely a mixture. We’ll see who joins next year.
Xue: Cool. I feel useful.
Holly: Xue, you have a PhD from Yale. How do you ever feel useless?
Xue: I guess I’ve always wondered when Wesleying would be more legit and I guess that point is when people can feel good about having it on their CVs. Or like it’s a building block towards a goal and not, like, something that takes time away from your studying neuropharmacology.
But yeah, Zach and hermes and frostedmoose and lots of peeps have launched digital media careers postgrad.
Holly: Yeah, that was a weird part of Wesleying I considered. It was that it was launching careers in social media at a time when social media hadn’t crystallized as a profession.
Xue: Yeah I know Sheek was doing science writing for a while too. I’m still trying to figure out what “content” is but I guess we were already obsessed with generating it before it was a thing. Oh my god, we’re digital hipsters.
Holly: Yeah, but it was ironic.
Wesleyan, Then and Now
Holly: CAPS was also really bad. mental health at wesleyan was always notoriously bad. I once had a therapist who told me to learn how to cheat to relieve my anxiety.
Xue: I don’t remember anything about my experience there other than the psychiatrist saw me holding my neuroscience textbook and then he, the man I was there to see to prescribe me SSRIs, asked me whether they *actually* thought increasing serotonin would alleviate depressive symptoms. “They” being, I don’t know, my textbook writers, not sure.
Xue: Wesleying, is there still a large unregulated text-based network to acquire pirated digital media or has the availability of free or cheap streaming services made its use obsolete?
Holly: Do students still pay for books? Or do they pirate them? Do you have an Aaron Schwartz server to liberate information?
That, unfortunately, does not exist.
Xue: Also I heard all the frats got shut down.
Yeah that shit was crazy. Well, Psi U is coming back with two years of co-ed pledge classes.
Xue: Also also how is Usdan now? Is it still a trainwreck or has everyone accepted it as the way it is?
Boozedanning is still a thing.
Holly: Thank god. ..Wait.
Xue: ..Was that a thing when we were there?
Holly: We never had boozedanning, did we? No, we had Tokon, when you get high on Foss Hill and then go to Mocon.
Xue: SMOKON. God, Holly. Senior year, Usdan had just opened and the thing to do was to steal large decorative objects from it.
Holly: I think I went into Usdan my senior year exactly 7 times.
Xue: I see you counted and have retained that memory out of spite.
Would you all have any words for current Wes beings?
Holly: Study Buddhist philosophy.
Xue: Floss. Dental care is really, really, really expensive.
Holly: Oh yeah it really is. I didn’t have dental in college so my first trip to the dentist after college even with insurance cost me like two grand. So like definitely don’t skip dental appointments if you can afford it.
Xue: Also be nice to each other. I guess Wes is generally pretty good about that, especially compared to other schools. But yeah. Think of that one guy who you almost don’t trust because no one can be that goddamn nice. And be like him.
Holly: Being kind in college is harder than writing an honors thesis. But if you can figure out how to do it, it’ll pay off better. Honors theses just land you in grad school, and then you get to be our age and depressed and sad but very knowledgeable. OH RIGHT: don’t go to grad school. That’s good advice you can take to the bank.
Xue: Do you have any other questions that we’ll try really hard not to go off on a rant about? You should also seriously consider making it part of the Wesleying oral lore to NOT GET US TO DO GROUP INTERVIEWS because they end up like this.
Holly: Xue, I think you underestimate how much people love ranting.
Just a few more. (1) What is Wesleyan? (2) Will Michael Roth ever leave ugh and (3) do they ask y’all for donations a lot?
Holly: Wesleyan is like History or God, it’s a vehicle people use to transmit ideas. The meaning of Wesleyan changes through time as the people occupying the vehicle direct it towards new horizons.
Xue: 1) Wesleyan was a very fucked, very beautiful place that I miss very much but simultaneously would never want to relive, 2) I thought you liked him? You don’t like him? 3) Actually not for a while but I may have just forgotten to update my address 3 addresses ago.
Holly: I’m pretty sure Wesleyan has no idea where I live at this point as I’ve moved about 14 times since college.
Xue: Or listen to Holly, whatever, she was always better with words.
Holly: Michael Roth’s public advocacy on behalf of Liberal Arts colleges is actually pretty interesting. It’s worth considering that he might not seem to you like a good President but outside he’s doing a lot of good work cementing the ideals and principles of a liberal arts education. like he’s a kind of intellectual activist right now in that respect; he’s defending the Wesleyan approach to education from people like Harvard that just want to suck business cock.
Xue: You can probably tell that Holly has not enjoyed her time at Harvard.
Holly: Harvard is a flaming asshole being stuffed to the brim with more assholes, really.
Xue: ……………… Yale was p cool tho.
Holly: I could go on, but the juxtaposition between Harvard and Wesleyan to me is profound. I like how I was taught in college.
Xue: Maybe it’s a sign of aging that we’re like, “Hey, at least we’re not as fucked as a flaming asshole being stuffed to the brim with more assholes. We have a TOLERABLE amount of assholes and they’re only half on fire.”
Holly: Wesleyan’s assholes were nihilists and tended to sequester themselves. Harvard’s assholes are trying to weaponize assholery and change the world with it.
Xue: This sounds like you’re working on another Medium piece. If not, you should integrate this metaphor.
Holly: Harvard’s just a vehicle for the people who occupy it to drive the ship of state towards a shitty Harvard horizon.
Xue: You may have seen Holly reposted on Facebook by your neighborhood angry liberal! No seriously I see a lot of Holly reposted on Facebook by angry liberals.
Holly: Oh really?
Xue: Yeah really. They, like, take screenshots of your tweets and stuff.
I mean when we were trying to set up this interview in an email thread, I remember a self-ascription of “secular cult figurehead.” Does that still hold?
Holly: Oh yeah, I’m a secular messiah. I’ve fully embraced the contradiction. I am occupying the contradiction as a vehicle and directing it towards a new horizon.
Holly: We’re really happy that people are still getting something out of it. That’s a really cool feeling.
Xue: I feel for real uncomfortable doing this interview because we did so little to make Wesleying good and interesting and relevant.
Holly: Yeah, we kinda just farted it out.
Xue: Farting, all the time.
Holly: Like most founders, we did very little actual work.
Xue: If we didn’t start a student blog, someone else would have. It was just a matter of time.
Well, here’s to the next 10 years (at which point the masses will be calling for a revisionist history of Wesleying).
Xue: Holly’s already working on it, I assure you.
Holly: OMG I’m like 100% convinced I won’t be around at 40, so this is my goodbye. Live on well past my death, Wesleying!
Xue: Aaaaaaaaand fin.
Holly: Have a good college!
Xue: A wonderful college.
Xue: Is something happening on Tuesday?
We’re gonna liveblog on Tuesday. Classic Wesleying liveblogging something that doesn’t exist in physical reality. That’s the actual ten-year date.
Xue: You’re…liveblogging…the 10 year date? When nothing happens? I don’t understand digital media.
The sphere has come full circle. It’s now not just responding to absurdity, but exhibiting it.
Holly: YES I HAVE DONE MY JOB. A VEHICLE FOR ABSURDITY. All I ever wanted in life was to create vehicles for absurdity.
Vote Absurdity 2016.
Xue: wow #thisiswesleying. From a nonjudgemental bystander perspective, I am really curious how you are going to present this conversation.