Photo from The Wesleyan Connection, by Stefan Weinberger ’10
Do you know Alec McLane? You know, friendly face, works on the 3rd floor of Olin, plays a bunch of instruments, etc. (The picture might help you recall?) If you do, you might know that he is Wesleyan’s Music Librarian and the Director of the World Music Archive. You might also know his involvement in various CFA and Music Department activities.
I have known Alec since I took Chinese Music Ensemble the first semester of my freshman year. I remember being in awe as he juggled at least three, and might I add, very different, instruments with ease. I grew curious about Alec and his story with the Chinese Music Ensemble, as I watched an American play Chinese instruments expertly in this Chinese/Asian dominated ensemble. (Of course, I later realized how naive it was to culturally stereotype anyone at Wesleyan. Oh the things I’ve learned in the past five semesters.)
As it turns out, Alec is one of the first people that helped establish the Chinese Music Ensemble at Wesleyan. Alec came to Wes in 1998. He was offered, as he calls it, the “perfect job.” He is native to New England and has been searching for opportunities to get closer to home throughout his career. He is also an avid lover of ethnomusicology, which Wesleyan has one of the world’s best programs in. So when a music librarian position opened at Wes, it was a perfect match.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! A gift from us (and some of you!):
A year or something ago, I stumbled upon a thread on a certain will-not-be-named-Wesleyan-alum-created-website-that-I-refuse-to-endorse. But FUCK THE ACB or not, the results were something special. Here are the examples that started it all:
Posture is Everything: Maintaining a Healthy Gait by Michael Roth Repressing Overzealous Political Correctness by a Sociology major Avoiding a Midlife Crisis for Dummies by Scott Backer
A certain class year very clearly won this one, folks. Read on for the results. I highlighted some of my favorites but by all means screw what I think! Oh, and sorry (maybe) for the incongruent Thanksgiving ecards. I may or may not have started drinking at noon. Enough of me, let’s get to it after the jump.
Last year I interviewed a guy who found a mummy in his bed. Meet the guy who put it there.
A little more than a year ago, I posted an interview with a guy who returned to his Nics dorm room one night in early 1990 to find a rotting, 3,000-year-old mummy occupying his bed. Both the victim, Tim Abel ’93, and the perpetrator went on to champion the incident as the “funniest prank ever.” But what happened after the prank unexpectedly revealed quite a bit about Wesleyan in the early 1990s, the interconnected campus community, disciplinary confusion, mass media, the stranger side of alumni gift-giving, and perhaps even Egyptology. (Okay, maybe not that.)
For months I’ve wanted to talk with the perpetrators of the prank, who remain unnamed in news accounts and faceless in a TV interview. When one of them posted a comment (since deleted) on the post, I managed to get in touch. Let’s call him Craig Smith ’93. Smith (not his real name) is now a professional musician and a dad. But he’s not sure he’ll ever top the prank he pulled in the Nics 23 years ago this month.
As I wrote in 2012, the Middletown Mummy Mystery was more than just a good prank. I was an intergenerational legend that has “solidified its place in the lore of early 1990s Wesleyan history, providing some semblance of levity during a turbulent academic year characterized by generally unprecedented campus unrest, including a firebombing, a week-long hunger strike, racist graffiti in Malcolm X House, and the fatal shooting of Nicholas Haddad ’92.”
“I’m not sure I would have been able to have that kind of rapid acceptance of myself as I did if I hadn’t had that community-driven chalking experience.”
Shortly after posting the most recent installment in Wesleying’s multipart retrospective on the Chalking Moratorium, an interview with Claire Potter, I read an essay by Dan Abromowitz, a friend of a friend (dare I say friend?) who goes to Princeton. Abromowitz’s piece is titled “Physical Princeton,” and reading it I realized more vividly than before that campus debates over free speech, public space, and personal expression on university property extend well beyond Wesleyan’s borders.
Not that there’s ever been much of a chalking culture at Princeton. Abromowitz can only recall a few instances, but they stuck with him long after their whitewashing. The practice has been labelled vandalism. “But chalk isn’t vandalism,” Abromowitz responds. “It’s the very mildest attempt at staking out a bit of temporal space for yourself outside of closed doors at an institution that cannot survive as such if you pass through it like anything more violent than a breeze. A university that rejects even that gesture is one that would very much like for its students not to really exist, one that operates essentially mechanically, as a series of abstract investments and returns, rather than a space unto itself.”
I reference this essay here because Dan Abromowitz told me to it fits well, I think, with the perspective of Nicholas Myers ’05, a Wesleyan alum who was closely involved in chalking with the queer community in 2002. Myers recalls chalking as a formative and empowering part of his queer identity. It was also a means of reclaiming space, carving a niche for himself on a campus where “queer visibility” was not an impossibility. Chalking the night before National Coming Out Day was “‘one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had,” Myers told the New York Times in 2002. “I’m not sure I would have been able to have that kind of rapid acceptance of myself as I did if I hadn’t had that community-driven chalking experience,” Myers told me over the phone ten years later.
“The ultimate goal wasn’t to be able to chalk. It was to exhibit control over their environment.”
Ten years ago this autumn, President Doug Bennet ’59 sent out an all-campus email and banned chalking at Wesleyan for good. When I set out to mark the tenth anniversary of that Moratorium, I only meant to reflect on a heated and surreal episode in Wesleyan’s activist history and share the story behind a once-treasured campus medium that stills pops up everynow and then.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. What follows is an unexpectedly timely conversation with our first interview subject, Matthew M. ’05, who not only passionately fought the chalking moratorium, but went so far as to hack into President Bennet’s email and inform the Wesleyan community that the Moratorium was over. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.) According to Matthew, the chalking controversy wasn’t just about chalk. It was about widespread discontent over “fewer and fewer outlets for organized student autonomy”—a sentiment that brewed well past the fall of ’02 and culminated with over 250 students trapping President Bennet in his office in December, 2004. (No, really. Ask your older sister about it!)
The full interview is past the jump (it’s a long one), and the introductory post is here. Since he openly admits to perpetrating email fraud, Matthew asked me to withhold his last name. Our chalking Westrospective will continue later this week with another interview reflection.
Ten years ago, Doug Bennet ’59 declared war on chalk. In a multi-post series, we’re looking back.
On October 3, 2002, President Douglas J. Bennet ’59 sent an email to Wesleyan students, faculty, and administrators. It contained 335 words, but the message was brief: the chalking on campus, much of it sexually explicit, had gone too far.
The practice “undermines our sense of community and impedes substantive dialogue,” Bennet wrote. Though storied, “it is not a lofty tradition.” Plus, “there are more constructive ways to communicate.” With that, the president was declaring a moratorium on the practice. Temporary, of course. But indefinite.
A decade later, chalking remains banned.
With that single memo, Bennet set in motion the controversy that would rock campus that autumn, ten years ago this month. The chalking moratorium enraged queer groups, dividedfaculty (spoiler: they voted 44–8 against the ban), and inspired flurries of activism all over campus. (There was even a protest at a closed Board of Trustees meeting, recounted here and here. Its details are eerily similar to the occupation last month.) It spawned more Wespeaks than probably any single controversy while I’ve been at Wes, including need-blind. And it captured the imagination of the New York Times, who sent a journalist to cover the drama in a generous feature piece.