Many students, myself included, feel that Roth’s advocacy and authority on free speech and campus protest do not line up in reality given his record of activity concerning these topics at Wesleyan, using his perceived advocacy to both profit himself (such as the release of a book that addresses his advocacy for his brand of free speech), as well as Wesleyan itself. Let’s take a look at his and Wesleyan’s record in recent times.
Chalking was so 2013. Bold saboteurs took to the rear wall of South College over the past weekend to tag the words “Need Blind Now!” to the brownstones. The writing, which appeared Sunday morning, represents an escalation in casual chalking graffiti to spray paint, which is virtually non-existent on this campus; it also represents a break in the relative silence on campus around need-blind.
One passer-by reported the smiling face of Michael Roth, who called down from the president’s office window to the group of students discussing the graffiti underneath. He told them the University would “restore need blind as soon at it can.” Don’t hold your breath.
The administration did not have an official response to the graffiti, though it was promptly removed.
Newsweek used this photo in their article to contrast the liberal values
that the school likes to think it has with the conservative mindset it actually practices.
Maybe Wesleyan University learned a lesson today: Not all press is good press.
Today’s in-depth and certainly unflattering Newsweek article by Katie Baker (who wrote that Jezebel piece in May ridiculing the administration for its medieval Tour de Franzia threats) asserts that “Wesleyan seems to be slinking away from its weird and activist roots to attract rich students and even richer donors.” What could the school have done to deserve this sort of criticism?
As we are quite aware, the answer is: a lot. Baker’s article (following on the heels of two Autostraddle and Youngist articles) begins with the issues over degendering bathrooms, with several trans* students speaking up about their not-so-welcome experiences on campus, both from other students in the bathroom (“Wrong bathroom, fag!” one gender nonconforming student heard) and from the administration as a whole. After the group Pissed Off Trans* People organized students to remove gendered bathroom signs and replace them with “All Gender Restroom” signs, the Student Judicial Board singled out three trans* students (claiming they were the only identifiable ones) and charged them with property destruction, at the cost of $157 per sign— $5,245 total.
After a four-and-a-half hour hearing, the board lowered the fine to $451 and gave each student three disciplinary points (10 earns a suspension or dismissal). “The SJB action was taken because vandalism occurred,” Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Whaley said in a statement. “The board does not strive to determine the legitimacy of a protest/action, only whether such protest/action is done in a manner that violates our community’s standards.”
The three students tell Newsweek they feel they were unfairly singled out for actions committed by many but were most concerned with the symbolism of it all: This was the first time anyone knows of that the administration had punished individuals for LGBT activism.
“We’re talking about economic sanctions on activism at a school that profits off a reputation of being a progressive, activist-friendly space,” says Ben, a Wesleyan junior. “Being trans and fighting for trans justice is not profitable or shiny or appealing.”
Welcome to utopia! Er, sorta. Well, not really. Actually not at all. Like all the world, good old Wesleyan is plagued with many social ills. Some are more intractable than others, some more terrible than others. I am not here to pass judgment. I am here only to give you the quick run-down on
all most of the things people at Wes have been getting upset about of late. To avoid showing favoritism I put these in random order (literally). Please feel free to add/question/editorialize in the comments below.
This is the Wrath Update. First up:
At Wes, University Policy prohibits the use of chalk “on sidewalks or buildings.” For many students — though definitely not all — this constitutes a violation of the right to free speech and the battle over the chalking policy has raged fiercely for over a decade. On the 3rd of October 2002, then-President Doug Bennet ’59 put forth a moratorium on Wesleyan’s storied tradition of chalking, a moratorium which was theoretically temporary but was never lifted. In those days, you could spend an hour reading chalkings on the hundred-yard walk from PAC to what’s now Usdan. Chalking was primarily used as an empowerment medium for the queer community, but, of course, a few individuals took things a little too far. I do not need to get into the details; you go to Wesleyan so you can imagine it. We still occasionally witness hateful and hurtful public messages around campus.
Because we haven’t posted enough chalking-related updates from the past few weeks, an anonymous tipster writes in to let you know about an amusing (or frightening, depending on who you are) happening on Church Street late last week:
I have a tip for Wesleying but would like to remain anonymous. Earlier today someone wrote the names of the Mystical 7 — a Wesleyan student secret society — out in chalk on the sidewalk on Church St near Olin. Later in the day, a bunch of the people whose names had been written were seen standing over the writing, looking fairly panicked, and then after that someone crossed the names out with more chalk. Here’s a photo of the names crossed out. FUCK SOCIAL HIERARCHY!!!!
According to one Wesleying staffer, “It’s intact in at least two places right now (beginning of CFA path and College Row near Zelnick).”
As you may know if you read the Argus or are just generally more well-informed than the slackers over at The Wesleyinger, the WSA recently passed a resolution advocating for an end to the chalking ban that’s been in place since 2003. Read the article itself for a quick-and-dirty history of the events that inspired the 25-2 vote a couple weeks ago. You can see the resolution itself here, courtesy of sponsor and WSA member Scott Elias ’14, until the WSA uploads it to their website, but be warned – there’s a prominent date error at the top of the document that may or may not irk you. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see the typical format for WSA resolutions, by the way, you may find the writing here amusing, infuriating, or both. Oh well!
WSA resolutions, if you’re wondering, have no binding “legal” force on the University, but as presented to administrators often are used to further discussions or enact real policy changes in accordance with the resolution (yes, real changes do actually happen because of resolutions). So, y’know, optimism and all that. Check out some words from Elias (you may recognize the style) on why this matters to some people (continuing under the cut):
I think most students when they hear that there is a chalking ban think its insane. So our purpose was to create a consistent communications policy that won’t preemptively restrict student speech, that will be more consistent with our institutional priority of advancing social justice, and that will put an end to the exorbitant cost of enforcing a broad ban– an easy and logical way to curb costs in an era of austerity in which we terminated need-blind admissions.
It is incumbent upon the Wesleyan Student Assembly to reflect the fervent desire of many for a more inclusive campus culture and improving areas in which we, as a community, have fallen short. And our policy on chalking is one example of an area in which we can improve. So it will be interesting to see what kind of leverage this resolution will have with the administration. I’ve met with various administrators and they definitely understand where we are coming from, but they fear that past concerns will manifest again, which, as I understand it, is their main reservation. But let’s not kid ourselves. The chalking ban isn’t the last bastion of social justice the university wants us to think it is. It brushes oppressions and micro-aggressions that occur at Wesleyan under the rug and is thus inconsistent and antithetical to our university’s institutional goal of advancing social justice.
If Tour de Franzia happens outside of Fisk Hall on a Friday afternoon and only about five people show up, does it make a sound? (And can you still get slapped with six judicial points?)
Continuing its brief but noble history of stirring the pot, the mysteriously run @WesUnity Twitter (which drew eyeballs when it announced last month that Tour de Franzia was being disciplined more severely than some instances of sexual assault or misconduct) made a Facebook event on Thursday called “Tour de Franzia”:
Culling its cover photo from Wesleying’s Decade Without Chalking series, the event wasn’t quite as it seemed.
Almost eleven years ago, President Bennet banned the process on Wesleyan’s campus known as “chalking.” Almost immediately, students tried to pressure the administration into lifting the ban to no avail, mostly by recommending that people just chalk anyway (and maybe also by bringing a flood of chalking violations to the SJB) and arguing that the chalking ban was morally and practically unadvisable.
Chalking has seen a resurgence starting last spring, around the ten-year anniversary of the ban, followed by a forum on chalking later that month. Last fall, the need-blind movement used chalking, which swiftly became a goal of its own, including two “legal chalk-ins,” one controversially blocked by President Roth.
Eric Stephen ’13, in a substantial Argus article published today, analyzes the chalking ban from a new perspective: that the chalking ban actually violates free speech rights protected by Connecticut state law, and should thus be reversed on legal grounds. A condensed version of Eric’s argument is posted below:
In today’s issue, The Argus will be publishing an article that critically examines the legality of the chalking moratorium imposed by President Douglas Bennet in 2002 and maintained by Michael Roth after he took over as the University’s President in 2007. The article argues that Wesleyan’s chalking ban is unenforceable because it violates free speech rights that are legally protected by Connecticut state law. However, the Argus article is designed to provide legal detail for a series of arguments supporting and opposing the chalking ban; for students who are not interested in the minutia of law, Wesleying has offered me the opportunity to give a brief review of the article for their site.
Follwing a portraiture chalk project and guest post by Ross Levin ’15, our five-part retrospective on the Chalking Moratorium wraps up.
One Friday morning in October, I trekked across campus to Dean Mike Whaley’s office to talk about a chalking controversy that took place about a decade ago. The previous weekend, two students had gotten into a physical confrontation with President Roth for chalking on Wyllys Avenue during Homecoming. A few hours after chatting with Dean Whaley, I took part in a massive legal chalk-in on Church Street sidewalks as midday traffic cruised by. Dave Meyer strolled by and tried to confiscate the chalk. We explained that the sidewalks are Middletown property. He continued on his way.
Institutional history has a funny way of working in cycles, and Dean Whaley, who arrived at Wes in 1997 and was Dean of Students in 2002, probably knows this better than anyone. Surprisingly, Whaley told me that he loved the queer chalking when he first arrived at Wesleyan. He also mentioned that President Bennet specifically reached out to him, an openly queer administrator, for advice. But unlike the former students I interviewed, Whaley framed the conflict primarily in terms of a hostile work environment. “The problem was, OK, you don’t like the ban, we get that,” Whaley said of the protestors. “But how do we resolve this hostile work environment?”
Was the answer to adopt some vague notion of “community standards”? Or geographic boundaries for chalking? Or an end to the anonymity? Or ought the Wesleyan community realize, as Professor Potter argued, that “no one has the right not to be offended”?
The following is a guest post by Ross Levin ’15, titled “An Open Letter to the Wesleyan Community on our Current Situation”:
During the fall semester this year, I was not on campus, but whisperings of the efforts to save need-blind admissions still reached me, through Wesleying, through friends, through maverick independent journalist Ben Doernberg ’13. I was enthralled by all the activity and excited at the prospect of joining in the movement upon returning in January. However, in early October I received a startling email. Apparently, I was being fined $50 for writing a few sentences in chalk on the University’s pavement last April. And evidently, without paying the full $50, re-enrolling at Wesleyan University wouldn’t be an option.
So I replied to the email from our Dean of Students, inquiring as to the provenance of the figure of $50. The Dean wrote back promptly, informing me of the fact that ResLife, the office of the Dean of Students, Physical Plant, and all other institutions, organizations, sub-contractors, and autonomous collectives involved in the hefty task of regulating student-committed acts of chalk against pavement, brick, concrete, and otherwise script-conducive surfaces, have at their disposal a “formula.” This formula is precise in its calculations of financial damage done by the chalk. My $50 fine, I was graciously informed, was exactly equal to, no more and no less, the cost of restoring the Wesleyan University campus to its original state, as if I had never carried out that heinous deed.