Cosby meeting with the Director of University Relations and John Woodhouse ’53 during a 2010 fundraising event for Green Street Arts Center. (Photo by Olivia Drake)
Content warning: This article discusses allegations of sexual assault. Community and official support resources can be accessed here, here, and here.
Conversations and actions regarding sexual assault at Wesleyan are nothing new. Hookup culture at this University has extensively been written about on Wesleying and elsewhere. Wesleyan was featured in Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary about rape on college campuses. Wesleyan also has a longstanding history of association with Bill Cosby.
It is news to none that there is strong evidence to suggest that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. Cosby has now been formally charged with three felony accounts of aggravated indecent assault, which comes after more than 40 women have come forward publicly stating that they are survivors of instances in which Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them. In the cultural dialogue that followed the bringing-forth of these stories, attention began to turn to the 37 colleges and universities, Wesleyan being one, that have granted Cosby an honorary degree, a symbol of institutional support. Questions were being raised as to whether these degrees should be rescinded as a means to destroy this symbolism in college environments already plagued with rape culture.
In 1987, Wesleyan granted Cosby an honorary doctorate of letters. That same year, Cosby gave the commencement address, the full-text of which can be found here. Cosby’s daughter, Erika Ranee Cosby ’87, received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan that day as well.
In April 2015, the Argus published an article on whether Wesleyan would rescind Cosby’s honorary doctorate, and in it, President Roth stated:
This past week, news broke that Eclectic’s paper application for new members had a page asking people to complete fill-in-the-blanks with racial slurs.
Ocean Gao ’19 wrote a post on her blog about her feelings on Eclectic’s app, and she has given us permission to repost her thoughts here. We have also included the official apology that Eclectic issued after receiving backlash from many students regarding the application’s contents. We will not be including images of the Eclectic application in this post, but one can be found above on Gao’s blog.
Additionally, we understand that students (both Eclectic members and non-members alike) have written many statements on social media about the incident. If any of those students are interested in sharing their pieces on this post, feel free to email us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org.
This past Wednesday, students of color at Wesleyan released a list of demands to President Roth to address the University’s failure in combating racism and inequity on campus. The demands can be found on IsThisWhy.com here.
Just now, Roth sent an all-campus email about meeting the demands. His email can be found after the jump (note: It’s very long).
Update (11/21/2015, 3:24pm): The students of color who organized the Is This Why movement released a statement responding to Roth’s email on their website. It reads:
The #IsThisWhy movement demanded written statements from the President of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth, and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion/Title IX Officer, Antonio Farias within 48 hours. Michael Roth has responded within our timeline, but Antonio Farias has failed to do so. President Roth’s response proved him incapable of addressing exactly how the university has neglected each marginalized community on campus both in the past and in the present, and in doing so, he failed to produce a detailed action plan committing to the demands set forth by the #IsThisWhy organizers.
This campus cannot function without the intellectual and emotional labor of Students of Color. As promised, we will be taking further action. We will be demanding more.
We know our power.
Hundreds of students have been protesting about racial inequality present on campus, and today — known as the National Day of Action — a list of demands written by students of color went live on the website IsThisWhy.com:
President Michael Roth, past presidents, and the bureaucracy of this institution have actively neglected to address issues that pertain to students of color and empower them with the same level of resources, consideration, and inclusion historically available to white students. Thus, we present the following demands:
WE DEMAND EQUITY & INCLUSION
We, members of the student of color community (SOC), demand to be holistically included as part of Wesleyan University’s student body, to have our demands heard on campus, and to be recognized and respected as individuals, not simply as numbers to fill the institution’s diversity quota.
STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTABILITY
We demand a written statement addressed to the Wesleyan Community, within 48 hours, from the President of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth, and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion/Title IX Officer, Antonio Farias, to commit to these demands by the specified deadlines via an action plan that works towards a more equitable and inclusive campus environment. This statement should highlight the administration’s inaction and lack of dedication to adequately support students of color and acknowledge the ways that the senior administrators have failed the SOC community, including but not limited to:
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.”
After recently declaring a lucrative double major in Impractical Humanities Discipline and Apparently Useless Social Science According to Those Debates on the ACB, this intellectually curious blogger began to wonder what motivates students to pursue a field of study that requires actual work. Unlike my lazy ass, Theories of Ethics in Capitalism major Maggie Feldman-Piltch ’14 is one of ten current students who designed their own academic departments under Wesleyan’s University Major program.
Like many of its peer institutions, Wesleyan attracts prospective students with the opportunity to “work independently at integrating the core skills and background knowledge necessary to realize a coherent intellectual objective.” In other words, University majors do whateva they want.
If transcending the restrictive disciplinary boundaries imposed by academia’s arbitrary departmental segmentation appeals to you, you should probably read this interview. If you responded to the question “Are you Wesleyan?” with a resounding “I don’t know, maybe, this recruiting strategy is kind of cheesy,” you’re probably right. If you’re wondering why, I can assure you that #thisiswhy.
TL;DR: One out of 25 faculty members agree that inventing your own major is a good idea.