“Being on campus, surrounded by this incredible enthusiasm, and sometimes the necessary jadedness that comes with facilitating a community like this, was what really confirmed my decision to attend Wesleyan.”
Our second prefrosh perspective on WesFest comes from Molly Hastings ’17, a member of the Class of 2017 from Santa Cruz, California. If you’re a prefrosh and you want to write a guest post about WesFest, send it to us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org. Here’s “Prefrosh Molly”:
My WesFest started out without a bang, as I waited in the San Jose airport for five hours due to air traffic delays. But my excitement rose as I lined up to board the plane, almost seeing Connecticut outside on the horizon, though it was another hour until I actually boarded the plane due to a missing first officer.
After a bumpy ride in, between a man who repeatedly offered me twizzlers and a woman who played Rat on a Scooter for what seemed like the entire flight, I arrived in Boston. It took me another two hours to actually get to Wesleyan, during which I hyped myself up by alternating between taking twenty-minute naps and reading my acceptance letter, feeling slightly confused.
“I tried to look around myself more critically, and… shit, it was just as awesome a place I’ve always thought.”
This year, for the first time ever, we asked prefrosh to send in their impressions of WesFest for publication on Wesleying. Our first guest post comes from Chris Gortmaker ’17, an Early Decision prefrosh from Belmont, Massachusetts. Feel free to leave a comment, but don’t be an asshole. Here’s Chris:
Wesfest was awesome, but really, I wouldn’t have expected anything less. As an ED1 admit, I went to Wesfest without any doubts as to where I’d be spending my next four years. My decision was in, and my two-and-a-half days on campus did nothing but affirm my choice. The fellow prefrosh I met were consistently great people, and everything from Battle of the Bands at Eclectic to wine and cheese (the cheese notoriously absent) at WestCo kicked my ass with just how right it felt.
My sense of belonging stayed with me throughout, but was put somewhat into perspective at the Wednesday night comedy show in the Nics Lounge. A stand-up comedian whose name I forget—I do recall that he, in full police officer garb and brandishing a nightstick, endearingly harassed me later that night in WestCo—brought up an interesting point at the beginning of his act. He proclaimed that Wesleyan was in all respects the best school there was, and that all of us prefrosh present would be crazy not to choose Wes. I heard my own voice in his, as I had been saying things along these lines all day to the other prefrosh I met. Sarcasm began to creep into his voice as he exaggerated, blowing up his praise for Wesleyan to an absurd extent. He exclaimed, “Wow, what is this—a cult?”
“I can smell the people-in-their-underwear-ness.”
The practice of showing up in Olin Library’s Info Commons in one’s underwear on the Friday of WesFest, and trying especially hard to look studious and nonplussed, has become something of a time-honored tradition these days, and so has our practice of protecting the identity of all participants. This year’s, in my opinion, was particularly impressive. My little group—we had just gotten out of a class—ran over to Olin and, initially a little afraid to participate in the festivities, ran up to the third floor mezzanine and peered out the windows. We soon realized, however, that we were face-to-face with a group in that mezzanine’s symmetrical mate, and that the people there had indeed stripped down. We had no choice but to do so ourselves, except for one of our number who bailed on account of a “see-through” bra. Our reading selections included Lydia Davis‘s new chapbook about cows.
It’s 4/20 and WesFest is over! Here’s what happened when I tried to find out why.
Scenes from WesFest 2009, which narrowly avoided falling on 4/20.
Why is this WesFest different from all other WesFests?
The answer is so obvious you may not have realized it: WesFest began on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday this year and, as per the official schedule, it’s now over. But the weekend is only getting started! What gives?
The issue first came to my attention way back in November, when the Office of Admissions tried pushing WesFest to a Mon-Tues-Wed format and some WSA members registered their discontent. Noticing that 4/20 falls this year on the third Saturday of April (traditionally the last day of WesFest), the reasoning seemed pretty obvious:
As Dean Culliton reminded us yesterday, it’s no secret that the powers that be are a little squeamish about traditional 4/20 proceedings. Add prefrosh to the mix, and it’s an entirely new crisis. This story is well recounted in Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers, when a student is waitlisted after writing her college essay about getting caught with a weed brownie in high school; she subsequently visits Wesleyan on April 20, 2000, and feels stung by the hypocrisy of it all. The most recent time WesFest fell on 4/20 was 2008, when Director of ResLife Fran Koerting was quoted in the Argus as saying that Admissions would not let the two holidays overlap again. Apparently the problem was that if students were smoking marijuana on Foss Hill, prefrosh might think that “anything goes on here”:
On Tuesday night, Jacques Steinberg spoke to a sweltering Memorial Chapel. He is the author of The Gatekeepers, a bestselling nonfiction account of the college admissions process that used Wesleyan as its backdrop, but the subject of the evening revolved around a more urgent issue in higher education than just the insane selectivity of the best schools — that of college affordability. Steinberg had recently left his post at The Choice, the New York Times education blog that he pioneered, to work at a New York-based nonprofit called Say Yes to Education that helps disadvantaged high school students get into college, pay for it, and graduate.
Many of the problems he described, he felt, were too urgent to simply stand by and observe as a journalist. With budget cuts, many college counselors’ caseloads in public schools have ballooned to over 500 students. The student loan/debt cycle is a familiar anxiety to many students here, as well as recent graduates, and he described how some graduates in debt don’t pay off their loans until their children are almost ready to go to college.
He reminded Wesleyan students of how fortunate they were, in spite of the controversy over need-aware admissions. Wesleyan remains one of the few institutions in the country that can meet students’ full demonstrated financial need. The question of the value of higher education, he said, is relatively new and wasn’t really circulating at the time that he wrote The Gatekeepers, but now it will likely become a key policy question in the next few years. He said it will probably become important to ask about vocational and differently-paced tiers of higher education without seeming racist or insulting.
Today, Jacques Steinberg returns to campus. We’re looking back at his classic book.
The man, the myth, the legend—Jacques Steinberg.
Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College is pretty much indisputably the most illuminating and insightful book written in the past few decades about elite college admissions, which Steinberg terms a series of decisions made “behind a cordon of security befitting the selection of a pope.” Conveniently, it also happens to focus on Wes. Steinberg, a journalist and education expert, tracks a diverse group of high school seniors and a then-Wesleyan admissions officer (Ralph Figueroa, currently Director of College Guidance at Albuquerque Academy) as they navigate the 1999–2000 admissions cycle.
Along with a handful of other Wesleying staffers, I read the book in high school, around the time I decided to apply to Wesleyan, and realized what I had already suspected: college admissions is about as complex, random, and ultimately meaningless as—well, the selection of a pope. It also makes for more thrilling drama than any reality show on TV. Before the rise of CollegeConfidential, The Gatekeepers was the most intimate glimpse at the people on both sides of the admissions process that existed. In fairness, it still is, because CollegeConfidential is a hellish underworld.
Mr. Steinberg, who also founded the New York Times’ “The Choice” blog, where he recently announced his departure from the newspaper after 25 years, is on his way to Middletown yet again. This time, he’s not writing a book about us (we think). He’s coming to lead a talk and Q&A in the Chapel, which is being hosted by the WSA. In honor of this glorious occasion, here’s a round-up of six things we learned about Wesleyan from The Gatekeepers—before even setting foot on campus.
Classless prefrosh dad of the year: “I’m going to get security if you don’t shut the hell up.”
As the debate over fossil fuel investments continues raging in the NESCAC blogosphere, members of a Tufts student group calling itself Tufts Divest For Our Future infiltrated an admissions information session last week to ask about the University’s investments. Not quite as epic as sending a fake press release to over 150 national and local media outlets claiming the University is formally divesting from the war and fossil fuels industries, but whatever—it’ll do.
In The ‘Cac managed to obtain video footage of the incident, which appears below. Curiously, the most hostile party caught on tape is not the questioner, who politely but insistently inquires, nor the admissions officer (or student?) leading the session, who suggests that they discuss the subject after the session. It’s the disgruntled prefrosh dad who swings into action with some seriously misguided hero fantasies, growling, “We came here to learn about the University. Stop wasting our time! I’m going to get security if you don’t shut the hell up.” Can’t imagine how mortified his kid must’ve been, sinking into hir chair like Harry Potter wearing the Sorting Hat. “Daaaaad. You’re embarrassing me in front of the other prefrosh!”
I googled “college admissions stock photo” and this is what came up. Can you dig it?
It’s been a rather turbulent few days for Wesleyan in the news, so here’s some positive news for a change. According to the New York Times’ The Choice blog (which has been surging along since the recent departure of its dear leader/resident Wesleyan hound Jacques Steinberg), total applications to Wesleyan rose by 4.18% for a total of 10,942 applicants for fall 2013. Since we’re all suckers for a good comparison chart, here’s how that stacks up with a few peer institutions:
It’s a comfortable leap (and eerily close to last year’s 4.5% rise in applications), but it’s nothing compared to Skidmore’s freakish 42% rise in applications.
Six months ago, I posted that a newly conceived Student Budget Sustainability Task Force, the brainchild of WSA President Zachary Malter ’13, would be forming in the fall of 2012 and eventually articulating formal recommendations to President Roth and the Board of Trustees. Malter pieced together the concept quickly in the wake of widespread opposition to a need-aware Wesleyan.
As promised, the student-run committee has “worked extensively to evaluate the suitability of the recent move to a capped financial aid budget and need-aware admissions policy,” and the members have formulated a memorandum to the committee explaining their process thus far and the specific proposals that are under consideration. These aren’t their formal recommendations. Rather, the task force writes, “it is meant to spark conversation and debate before our final report.”
On President Malter’s request, I’m reposting the memorandum in full. You can also find it in PDF form here.
A few weeks ago, commenting on the New York Times’ coverage of Wesleyan’s financial aid woes, we wrote that this was likely the first many alumni were hearing of changes to Wesleyan’s need-blind status. Following a Q&A with the Board of Trustees in November, chairman Joshua Boger ’73 assured A-Batte and me that the great majority of alumni are aware of cuts to need-blind and enthusiastically approve. A new petition by Lana Wilson ’05 suggests otherwise.
“I don’t think any program, building, or department is worth sacrificing an economically diverse student body,” writes Wilson in the petition, which is personally addressed to President Roth via Change.org. “I and everyone who has signed this letter hopes that you will do the right thing, and continue Wesleyan’s practice of admitting the best students possible, rather than those with the most personal wealth.”
“My intent was originally for alumni to sign it, but I’m fine with current students signing it as well,” Wilson explained to me in an email. “Then my plan was to send President Roth a hard copy of the letter with all the signatures at the end.” According to Wilson, Roth receives an email for every signature the petition receives, including any personal message that’s attached. As of writing, the petition has amassed some 246 signatures, ranging from current students to a diverse scattering of alumni, including Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Dan Janvey ’06. The individual messages are particularly affecting. Many speculate that they wouldn’t have been able to attend Wesleyan without need-blind admissions. “Wesleyan falls far short in alumni giving of its competition and this is an issue those of us who love Wesleyan feel strongly about and would impact upon giving,” writes one alum. “Stop being assholes,” chimes in another: