Prefrosh Open House: A Day of Student Protest

whorunswes

If you are a current student and were around campus at all yesterday, you likely saw hundreds of posters in Exley, a performance installation outside of North College, and/or the interruption of campus tours.

The multitude of actions occurring yesterday came in concert with October Open House, a yearly event put together by the Office of Admission. Yesterday’s open house (and the next one on November 11th) comes prior to Wesleyan’s November 15th deadline for Early Decision I, and is intended to give prospective students a more in-depth view of Wesleyan life than the normal Admissions programming.

A number of students have been organizing in response to conversations that happened at last week’s WhoRunsWes town hall, where more than 200 students reached a consensus to push for the removal of Antonio Farias and Michael Roth from their positions at the University. The intent of these actions was to highlight administrative failures, disrupt the Wesleyan brand, and make visible the pain students have experienced due to the institution’s shortcomings.

Read past the jump for more on what transpired, images and a video from today’s actions.

During Open House, the Office of Admission gives tours every hour of the day from 10AM to 3PM, and many of yesterday’s actions were planned to coincide with the tour route.

As tour groups walked by North College, they first encountered a performance installation, consisting of an altarpiece adorned with fabric and surrounded by flowers and candles. Organizers recruited people to lie on the altar in their underwear in shifts throughout the day. Students supporting the installation distributed zines and flyers to help explain the purpose of the installation.

Put simply, the installation seemed to be an expression of the real pain and grief that survivors of sexual assault are currently feeling on campus.

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In the flyer, the organizers say “We are mourning our losses. We mourn forgiveness, we mourn for givers. We mourn Roth’s attempts at reconciliation. Take a body in the public eye. We hope it may produce, if nothing else, a sense of loss. As the loss we have been given blooms daily.” Here is a copy of the flyer from this action:

As tours moved past North College and College Row, and moved into Olin, they encountered posters on the Olin steps much like the ones that appeared in Fisk a few days ago. They also encountered numerous “checks” that said a little something about President Roth’s salary:

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The next stop on the tour was Exley Science Center, where a team of people gathered, ready to interrupt the tour. Each hour, around 10 demonstrators took shifts to interrupt a tour and read off a 2 minute script that had been collectively prepared over the weekend.

Often, students approached the tour guides prior to the interruption to give them a heads up. Many tour guides seemed receptive to this, others did not. Then, the participants in the action read from the script to the prospective students on the tour explaining the current frustrations of students on campus about the lack of accountability in the administration, particularly with regard to reporting and adjudication of sexual assault cases.

Here is a video of one of the tour interruptions:

As stated in the video, the Office of Admissions quickly got wind of the tour interruptions, and decided to tell guides for the rest of the day to skip the Exley stop, in the hopes of avoiding the interrupters. Students responded by migrating to Olin to continue the disruptions.

In Olin, tour guides would give their facts and figures about the library and, after circling through the first floor, they would meet interrupters again in the lobby to the same 2 minute script.

Back in Exley, a series of posters hanging outside the fishbowl served as a backdrop to the day’s disruptions, reiterating themes of the actions. Notably, that Farias and Roth must go, that Wesleyan will protect its brand but not its students, and a call for greater accountability within the administration. In this display, there was a special focus on inequity in STEM and the prevalence of sexual assault among the professional science community.

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Some statements from the series of posters:

  • “In a survey of 660 women-identifying scientists, ~71% shared that they had been sexually harassed by perpetrators senior to them”
  • “Less than half of the students of color who come to Wes intending to major in STEM actually do so.”
  • “Until last semester, students at Wesleyan were expected to fail an exam before being granted a tutor.”
  • “Accountability = Firing Roth and Farias”
  • “Wesleyan has no interest in protecting anyone or anything but their profit. They will and do scapegoat you and collude with the state.”

Some students taped a few dozen checks with Michael Roth’s salary to the ATM outside of the IT Help Desk as well:

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Also in Exley, in reference to Columbus Day, students put up an exhibit and timeline about Wesleyan’s ownership of Native American artifacts and remains. The exhibit explains how Wesleyan currently occupies the land of the indigenous Wangunk tribe and Wesleyan’s history of the elimination of that tribe.

Currently, indigenous artifacts from hundreds of tribes are being held in the 7th floor of Exley. These were first exhibited at Wesleyan’s Natural History Museum in Judd Hall in the late 1800s.

In 1990, the federal Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed to mandate that institutions that receive public funding must “prepare an inventory and repatriate funerary and cultural items when requested by a tribe.” Wesleyan was non-compliant with parts of the federal law for upwards of 20 years, and didn’t begin to take inventories of artifacts until 2013.

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The day’s actions culminated at 1PM, where around 50 students gathered in Beckham Hall to stage a disruption of President Roth’s address to prospective students and their families. The “Roth on Wesleyan” address was scheduled to occur from 1:30-2:30PM.

Organizers distributed a list of questions to students and their families as they entered Beckham Hall, encouraging them to ask President Roth some of the questions on the list. Here is a list of the questions distributed:

  • How many perpetrators of sexual assault have you expelled in the last 3 years?
  • Why is the reporting rate for Wesleyan so low?
  • What is going on with the whole Scott Backer thing?
  • Would you have ever told your students about Scott Backer if the Boston Globe wasn’t going to write an article about it?
  • What would have been a compelling reason to make Backer’s firing public?
  • How can you reconcile the lack of support that survivors, students of color, poor and queer students have for the VP of Equity & Inclusion Antonio Farias with Wesleyan’s “Diversity University” brand which claims to provide support for these very students?
  • Why doesn’t Wesleyan have a resource center for students of color?
  • Why doesn’t Wesleyan have a women’s resource center?
  • Why is Wesleyan invested in unethical sources of income such as fossil fuels and arms contractors?
  • Why did you prosecute students for trying to get gender neutral bathrooms and specifically target trans students during the process?
  • Why did you say Ethnic Studies is a dying field?
  • Why doesn’t Wesleyan have an APRN in CAPS currently?
  • Why can’t anyone in CAPS prescribe students meds?
  • What did Farias mean when he said that low income students are trying to live a life they aren’t a part of?

After distributing these questions, demonstrators moved silently into Beckham Hall and stood on the outskirts of the room, with the intent to silently protest Roth’s talk.

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President Roth began his speech by talking about the values of a liberal education. He then took a turn to vaguely address the action occurring in the room, referencing the “engaged spirit” of the Wesleyan student body. In response, one student demonstrator called out, “Stop commodifying our protests!” followed by some other comments.

In an unexpected turn of events, after speaking for a mere 1o minutes out of his scheduled hour, President Roth ended his talk abruptly and left the room, without fielding any questions from the audience.

Demonstrators, myself included, then proceeded to host an impromptu Q&A with the ~85% of prospective students and their families that chose to remain after President Roth’s departure. After a brief introduction to the administrative actions surrounding the hiring, employment, and firing of Scott Backer, we encouraged parents and students to inquire about the actions occurring around campus today and the issues raised in the distributed questions.

One prospective student raised the question: “Should I expect to feel safe on campus? Because a lot of this is really scary.”

Several current students responded by stating that the intention of the day’s actions was not to deter students from coming to Wesleyan, but rather to make sure that prospective students truly know what they are getting into and to “interrupt the profit flow” of Wesleyan by disrupting their brand.

One student also expressed that, while they were able to feel safe at Wesleyan, it was always in certain contexts, often with a recognition that Wesleyan did not exist for marginalized students.

A parent remarked that she was shocked that Wesleyan did not have a gender resource center, and that some of the questions on the sheet that we distributed seemed to have fairly simple solutions and it was a shame that Wesleyan hasn’t provided adequate answers for some of these questions.

Another prospective student asked if students attending the action had ever considered leaving Wesleyan in response to administrative failures.

The response from a few students was that, while administrative failures were rampant, moments of solidarity and companionship, like that expressed in the room, were the things keeping them on campus.

When a parent asked about where the faculty stand on the firing of Michael Roth and Antonio Farias and, more generally, about their confidence in the administration, a student demonstrator expressed that faculty, even though they might agree with student action, are often in a more-vulnerable situation than students. Students often occupy the role of consumer, and therefore can have more power than the faculty in speaking out against administrative action.

Professor Mary Ann Clawson in the Sociology Department, who brought her class “Social Movements” to the demonstration, remarked that the faculty will be discussing the news of Scott Backer’s firing and the administrative response in Tuesday’s faculty meeting.

The Q&A went on until 2:30, when demonstrators were informed that they would have to move outside if they wanted to continue the conversation.

Here are more photos from the demonstration at Roth’s speech:

Once again, students shouldered the supposed responsibility of Wesleyan’s administration in honestly answering the questions of prospective students, and helping communicate the realities of campus life on a tour.

For now, we still ask: Who Runs Wes?

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For further reading:

  • Freddie_deBoer

    I applaud your committed activism and your attempts to take control of your own university. Speaking as a member of the peanut gallery, though, I’ve read this through twice and I can’t for the life of me grasp in straightforward terms what your particular complaints and demands are. It’s like a massive grab bag of disparate complaints that are poorly stitched together rather than a specific response to the Backer situation. That makes it much easier for people to dismiss and ignore your complaints. I think you guys need to come together as an activist community and work on streamlining your message. Because this is baffling to anyone not already part of your networks.

  • alum

    Fucking disgusting. Great, damage your own school. Well thought out. And if Wes doesn’t cave to the pressure? Then you scared away talented and passionate refresh all for your selfish, childish protest. If you don’t like it, leave.

  • scaredofclowns

    Can everyone please simultaneously grow/shut the fuck up? What happened with Backer is shitty and unforgivable, but the blame is ENTIRELY ON BACKER AND VERMONT ACADEMY. The Wesleyan administration (specifically Roth, who has done a fine job of putting up with irrational SJWs for years) would have no reason to keep Backer here had they known his secret and any accusation otherwise is plain idiocy. Damage was done by him, and healing is necessary, but firing Roth would accomplish nothing. We get it: you hate successful rich white straight Jewish men. Roth is a fine president. You’re not edgy, you’re not revolutionary, you’re just immature, disruptive, and unreasonable. Way to go and make this about people it was never about. How fucking selfish of you to try to turn a legitimate wrongdoing regarding Title IX into a sob story about how “persecuted” minorities are at Wesleyan. Think about that: at Wesleyan. Cut it out and stop trying to divide the community.

    • Chrone

      While you lost credibility the second you used the term “irrational SJWs,” I will reluctantly agree that turning this into a protest about minorities has completely confused the protest’s message. The average Wesleyan student isn’t going to spend their time deciphering whatever connection exists between Backer and minority protections.

    • Chrone

      Administrators don’t get fired unless most of the student body is engaged and angry, and the message protesters are currently conveying is growing more inaccessible to the average student by the day. Does anyone really expect Wes Student ’18 to stop thinking about their classes or internship applications in order to re-protest issues from two years ago? It’s good to re-engage the people who were affected two years ago, but how are you going to get the “silent majority” of students who don’t give a shit engaged?

      • scaredofclowns

        But why should these particular administrators be fired?

  • 2019

    I found myself with profound sympathy for the students calling for accountability from the administration after the firing of Backer. That sympathy is gone after yesterday.