“so with Roth it was like there was this new fresh face that seemed to have more empathy? LIKE OBAMA [jk?]”
This is part of our series of Wesleyingiversary interviews. You can find the rest here.
Continuing the ultra-niche content stream of histories of a campus life blog centered around a small liberal arts college in central Connecticut, I caught up with Sheek who ran the site from the founders‘ exit to the Spring of 2010. Sheek crafted a remarkable 999 posts for the greater consumption of Wesleyan Internetters. He once stated that the “agility and catlike reflexes” of Wesleying gives it an edge in the oh-so-amorphous campus media realm.
Anyway, we talked about the blog, Michael Roth being similar to Obama, and the shooting at Broad Street Books that rocked campus in the Spring of 2009, and is likely still a sobering memory for many current faculty and staff who were on campus at that time. More past the jump:
So Wesleying’s turning 10, and I guess that’s pretty cool? What was your role on the site?
Sheek: In 2006 I was a freshman, and I joined as a blogger a few months after Holly and Xue had started. I think I was first aware of it during the week before classes started, because my new friends were using it to find parties. Actually, I think I started blogging my sophomore year. I forget exactly but by the end of sophomore year [spring 2008] is when I started to take more of a “leadership” role just because I had become one of the more active bloggers by the time many of the active bloggers in the class of 2008 were about to graduate.
What else did y’all tend to write about back then? Were there any big issues on campus that you covered?
Sheek: Hm. Basically anytime anything we thought was interesting happened, someone wrote at least a short post about it. But the biggest issue we covered during my time was definitely the campus shooting on Spring Fling in my junior year, 2009, which was terrifying. There was a campus curfew and everyone was stuck indoors for a few days while the shooter was on the loose, so I and a few other bloggers felt a duty to keep people more up-to-date than the all-campus emails were. And also just voice how we were feeling.
wilk: Damn, I’ll bet it was really really difficult to write on.
Sheek: It was such an enormous trauma for everyone, so then and in the few days and weeks after that, we were kind of just processing in real time how to cover it.
Do you feel like it was the first time that Wesleying had to cover a story in a very serious manner? Because if I remember my stats correctly, the blog got like 40,000 views in a day, so parents and others were probably reading too.
Sheek: For me, without a doubt. I don’t think anything like that had happened in the 3 years prior. Yeah people were writing in with comments from all over. Parents, alumni, students who had left campus during the curfew. So we had to keep thinking, how do we convey what’s happening, what we know and don’t know, without sensationalizing it? We kept going back and updating posts for tone and updated news.
How do you think it changed campus?
Sheek: That was the first experience a lot of us had with breaking news and like, actually needing to think about how to process grief and fear in a community in real time. Because none of us considered ourselves “journalists.” I don’t know about lasting effects, but there was just an enormous outpouring of emotion that entire week, so it was a very somber end to the school year. There were multiple memorials and remembrances to Johanna Justin Jinich in that time that I remember, and mortality (and creepy dude behavior) was on everyone’s mind in a way that it rarely is for most college students.
wilk: Did you feel differently about the blog your senior year?
Sheek: I don’t remember how it specifically made me think or feel about Wesleying the next year, but we must have appreciated our role on campus much more after feeling that kind of responsibility.
Sheek: There was one other incident the year before (May 2008) when there was a riot on Fountain Street during senior week, which was blogged in real time by Xue and Holly and whoever else was still on campus. I had left just a few hours earlier, so I wasn’t there for it, but I guess that might have been one of the first times anyone liveblogged something really disruptive and abnormal when no one else was able to?
Did people talk about Wesleying outside of the internet back then?
Sheek: For the most part I think people mostly talked about it in the context of events they saw, like planning what do on weekends. And then if anything noteworthy/controversial was ever posted, people might talk about that. I mean, Wesleying bloggers definitely talked about Wesleying IRL all the time. When we actually saw each other IRL, which was not often as a group, aside from the ones who happened to run in the same social circles.
wilk: Was that a thing? Or was everyone just like a ghost?
Sheek: Haha, we mostly kept in touch via google group. So pretty ghostlike. We tried to have semi-regular meetings my junior year, [and] during my senior year I definitely made an effort to meet IRL as group as often as possible and like, know what people looked and sounded like.
wilk: Yeah and that’s when Zach and A-Batte and Syed joined right?
Sheek: Yep. But there were often moments for a while of meeting someone at a party and like, knowing their internet presence without ever having spoken before.
Any staff shout outs you wanna make or favorite posts you wrote/others wrote?
Sheek: haha well I no longer overlap with any current students, so I guess I will just make a collective shoutout to everyone who is currently producing words for this site. I wrote a fun post about the end of Mocon right before I graduated, entitled “Mococalypse.”
wilk: Oh crap and I remember a post where the Mad Men Wes alum guy was mad about them tearing it down
Sheek: hah right
Sheek: And also that semester during thesis week is when we started the THESISCRAZY series, that was fun. Like, finally we, as a campus blog, were talking about the thing we were ostensibly all there to do, studying things. So it was interesting to see what highly specific things and sometimes very weird/fascinating subjects people were spending enormous amounts of energy researching, and how they were feeling right near the end of that process.
When did the blog start making fun of Roth?
Sheek: When he first started, I think there was kind of a sense of relief that the last president was gone. Doug Bennet wasn’t very popular or particularly responsive to student concerns as far as I remember, so with Roth it was like there was this new fresh face that seemed to have more empathy? LIKE OBAMA [jk?]. That’s a thing that happened while I was there, Obama running for president and being commencement speaker while on the campaign trail in ‘08, and when he was elected in the fall the entire campus was like electric and hyperventilating and very drunk.
wilk: That must have been EPIC. ‘Cause he wasn’t supposed to speak, right?
Sheek: Yeah it was going to be Ted Kennedy, but then he had a stroke and Obama filled in as a surprise, and a political signal of like, this liberal dynastic torch passing or whatever. And I think most students were already pretty invested in him maybe becoming the nominee, so it was really exciting. A huge number of underclasspeople (including me) stayed or came back for the ceremony to see him speak.
wilk: Jealous af tbh
Sheek: Yeah I imagine it would have felt kind of like if Bernie Sanders had come to Wes this year.
What is Wesleyan anyways?
Sheek: Um idk, it always felt to me like a private liberal arts college founded by Methodists in 1831.
wilk: I mean tru
Sheek: I had my 5-year reunion last year and most what I remember is people yelling to each other “THIS IS WHY!!!” and “IS THIS WHY???” with varying degrees of consternation and glee about like, anything that was the same or was not the same as when we were students, and vice versa.
Anything you’d say to your college self now? Or say to current college students?
Sheek: Um. Make… the most… of your time… there? I mean in all seriousness, for me it was an amazing place to figure out what I wanted to study and figure out what kind of person I thought I wanted to be, develop intellectually and socially, etc. and find and befriend people who were passionate and serious about doing useful and good things in the world without being pompous about it. Learning to be critical, all that stuff. And also have a good time. I had a much better time at college than people who went to a lot of other competitive schools.
And for me, Wesleyan was a place where you could be academically rigorous without everyone feeling like grades defined everything and made the social atmosphere unpleasantly competitive, which was really valuable.
To anyone blogging, but I guess to anyone, especially my younger self, I would definitely say figure out how to manage your time? There was a period in which managing the site sort of took up all my time outside of classes, during which I def could’ve better spent my time enjoying IRL experiences. Though of course IRL experiences give you better things to write about. And like, this is advice you prob always hear, but find peers and mentors who encourage you to do and be better. Wes is a rare place where you have access to professors and you should totally use that.