A few months ago, before the explosion of discussion regarding Wesleyan’s need-blind policy, I posted an interview with Ben Foss ’95about financial aid-related student activism in 1991 and 1992. Specifically, Foss took leadership in a group calling itself SFAE (Students for Financially Accessible Education), which organized a series of protests against a proposal that wouldtake into account financial need when accepting students from the wait list. What began as a silent vigil and muted protest in 1991 erupted into a full-scale North College occupation in 1992.
In that interview, Foss described significant news coverage of the protests, including “a loud verbal argument with [former dean of admission and financial aid] Barbara-Jan Wilson on the steps of North College in front of TV cameras.” Naturally, I scourged the internets for that footage. Naturally, I came up empty. As far as I could tell, it was lost forever.
Drama over Wesleyan’s need-blind admissions status seems to pop up in ten-year cycles. First, in 1982, there was the WSA’s “Save Aid-Blind Letter Drive,” an aggressive letter-writing campaign to convince the Board of Trustees to preserve need-blind admission despite financial desperation. The university raised enough money not to enact the need-aware proposal.
Then, in late 1991, when President William Chace proposed to alter Wesleyan’s need-blind admissions policy, he was confronted with immediate and fierce student opposition. His proposal, which would permit consideration of financial concerns when admitting students from the waiting list, was part of a five-year plan to fix the university’s glaring budget deficit during the recession. So a group calling itself Students for Financially Accessible Education organized a rally of 300, attracting local news coverage. And in February 1992, shitgotreal: students organized a series of massive protests, sit-ins, and a silent vigil at Downey House. At the height of the protest, 500 students occupied four floors ofNorth College, chanting, singing, and—in some cases—camping out overnight in sub-freezing temperatures. They declared a boycott on classes; they encircled Downey House, arms clasped silently, while the Board of Trustees met inside.
In the recent months of 2012, President Roth has proposed to the Board of Trustees a cap on financial aid, a temporary measure until Wesleyan’s finances are better in order. As Roth explained it at last month’s Affordability Forum, the University would remain need-blind for maybe 90% of all applicants. But not once that cap is reached. The University would move away from student loans, more towards grants. Financial aid, says Roth, is becoming “unsustainable.” So where’s the student response today? And what’s the solution?