About a month ago, in the aftermath of the megablizzard, Public Safety came under criticism for threatening to tow cars buried under mountains of snow that made it rather difficult for their owners to reach them. If retweets are endorsements, a handful of students echoed the complaint.
There’s not much that’s interesting about the history of Snow Parking Bans (side note: we’re more than midway through March and as I look out my window right now, it’s again snowing), but piecing through the Argives last week I was oddly enthralled by an Argus story that ran 30 years ago last month with the headline “100 Cars Towed as a Result of Snowstorm.” After this particular 1983 storm, Middletown Police Sergeant Wood was unforgiving: “If they’re not off streets, they’re towed. It’s as simple as that,” he told the Argus.
But as then-Argus reporter (and current literary agent) Linda Loewenthal ’85 tells it, the problem was that many students simply weren’t aware that the parking ban was in effect. Why would they be? In 1983, before email or Pinterest or Friendster or whatever, it was damn hard to get information out quickly on a college campus:
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 Rothfor 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”?
Leafing through the Argus archives earlier this month for information on past WSA presidents, my comrade A-Battehappened upon this bodaciously amusing nugget from a “University Convocation” in the fall of 1975.
On Thursday, September 4, President Campbell gave a thirty-seven-minute address, during which he called for a reevaluation of the grading system and noted that “diversity and innovation were ‘expensive qualities’ that Wesleyan may no longer be able to afford” (sound familiar?). Apparently Campbell also called for the establishment of a generalization requirement (sup, gen-eds) and a “coordinated multi-disciplinary program for freshmen” (spell check seems to want to make that “mulch-disciplinary”).
According to Argus writer Jane Eisner ’77 (who later became editor of The Forward and returned to Wes as a Koeppel Fellow in Journalism), “two unidentified individuals” had a different idea:
Here’s what happens when dumpster-diving and physics club combine.
Here at Wesleying, we’ve got “Wesleyan University” on Google Alert, and every once in a while something magical and unexpected pops into our inbox. Like this video of a Society of Physics Students meeting in 2001 or 2002, when your friendly neighborhood physics nuts used liquid nitrogen to blow a Macintosh Classic into smithereens on the second floor of the Science Tower.
The video appears courtesy of a rather prolific YouTuber by the username of “sturmovikdragon,” whose credits include a handful of other “zany stunts” by the Wesleyan-based physics club. “sturmovikdragon” (possibly not hir real name) gleefully identifies this event as “perhaps the greatest achievement of the Wesleyan University Chapters of the Society of Physics Students,” noting that the group went so far as to use extension cords and work lights to illuminate the scene and that “SPS President Adam took the valiant role of arming the bomb and properly orienting the Mac Classic for the experiment.” Damn, that’s commitment.
According to the YouTube blurb, the videographer obtained this and various other Mac Classics by dumper-diving.
Observatory Hall in an undated photo vs. where PAC/Harriman stands today; PAC seems to be set further away from Brownstone Row and a little further from Andrus Field
By 1927, when Harriman Hall was built, Van Vleck Observatory Hall had already gone up, housing what is still Connecticut’s largest telescope. The construction occurred largely due to donations from Henry Ingraham Harriman ’95 (that’s 1895) in memory of his father, Daniel G. Harriman ’54, who spent the first two years of his college career in the hall that had previously occupied the site. Along with Olin Library, which was completed around the same time, Harriman Hall was the first building on campus to be finished in “Harvard” brick rather than the brownstone of Van Vleck and Clark. An alumni newsletter connected this choice to admiration of a certain other New England institution: “It will be built of brick and marble, like the Library, rather than of brownstone, like Clark Hall; and the wood pilasters and roof coping will be painted white like that of the Library, and like the new buildings of the Harvard School of Business.” The Olin history website, however, has a more prosaic take on this choice of materials; they write that by 1925, all the local brownstone quarries had apparently been exhausted or closed.
There is little information left on what life in Harriman Hall was like. The interior sounds swaggy—it was trimmed in oak with maple floors in the rooms—and I wonder why it’s all gone now. Only the infamous marble bathrooms on the fourth floor of PAC remain. In opposition to Observatory Hall, which was one of the most inexpensive dorms to live in, Harriman Hall was considered expensive and luxurious, with an electric light in every closet.
Wesleyan University Library, Special Collections & Archives
As our minds turn back to all matters campus-y, many of us, especially in History, Sociology, Gov, and CSS, will no doubt be getting reacquainted with good ol’ PAC. Have you ever looked up at the letters “Harriman Hall” chiseled into the side of the building, or the cornerstone set into the wall on the first floor, and wondered about its past life—including its brief stint as a women’s residence hall, even though its name sounds like “Hairy Man Hall”? PAC’s history hearkens back to a time when academic and residential life at Wesleyan were more intertwined, an era that has gotten even further away from us as COL moved out of the Butts this year. The building is now 85 years old, and the site on which it sits has an even more richly storied history, beginning in an era that pre-dated Wesleyan.
From 1833 until 1927, the same basic site was home to a (to put it politely) “austere” building known as Boarding Hall. Being generally in favor of historical preservation, I usually think of old buildings as beautiful. The old Observatory Hall drives this home to me: that the old buildings we see now are there because they stood out and were beautiful.
“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.
Wesleying’s multi-partretrospective on the 2002 chalking moratorium continues with a faculty perspective: a conversation with Claire Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan from 1991–2011.
In the wake of President Bennet’s moratorium announcement in October, 2002, Wesleyan faculty from across the disciplines spoke up to register their views. Some authored a Wespeak supporting the ban, arguing that the “free exchange of ideas . . . is not facilitated by the hostile, racist, or sexually explicit slogans” reportedly contained in chalkings. Others expressed dissent, culminating in a 44-8 facultyvote asking Bennet to overturn the moratorium. Perhaps no faculty member, though, argued for free speech as forcefully and passionately as Professor Potter.
According to the Argus, just before the vote, she spoke up at a faculty meeting on chalking:
Chair of the American Studies Program Claire Potter also spoke at length to the faculty. She cited the Constitution and Bill of Rights as upholding free speech and said the 1st Amendment of the Constitution also holds true for obscenity.
“No one has the right not to be offended,” Potter said. [ . . . ] Addressing some of the comments from faculty members who viewed the chalkings as an inept way of expressing themselves and talk of helping students better express their views, Potter asserted that it is not the faculty’s place to interfere with student expression.
“Getting sloppy drunk because you’re relieved just isn’t as much fun.”
In a post covering Wesleyan’s reaction to Election Night, I remarked on differences between Wesleyan’s celebration of Obama’s reelection this month and its unabashed euphoria following his election in 2008. “This was satisfaction and warm relief,” I wrote; “it wasn’t outright jubilation and madness in the vein of what took place on campus this time in ’08.”
Not that I have any legitimate basis for that claim. I was in high school in 2008. I watched America elect Barack Obama in quiet with my dog while my parents slept down the hall. (The dog might have been sleeping, too.) I didn’t witness any of the “jubilation and madness” taking place in Middletown.
So I reached out to Sam Barth ’13, a fellow senior and friend, who’s one of the only students to have witnessed both elections unfold from the Wesleyan Bubble. Barth was a visiting prefrosh when Obama was elected, and he kindly sent me his thoughts on the comparison between ’08 and ’12:
No, not in 2000. The article’s from 1992, when Al Gore was the Democratic vice presidential candidate, and the headline refers to the elder Bush, then running for reelection. If you’re confused as to why Gore would bother campaigning in the middle of Connecticut, consider that this was 1992; the red/blue state divide as we know it today wasn’t quite in place, and Connecticut swung right for Bush in 1988 and for Reagan in both 1984 and 1980.
So, on October 30, 1992, the VP candidate made his way to the relatively new Freeman Athletic Center, where he spoke for 35 minutes, “mostly criticizing President Bush, but also highlighting the ticket’s stance on the environment, healthcare, jobs and the Head Start program.” According to the piece, Gore spent the bulk of his speech attacking Bush in light of claims that the president knew about and was involved in the 1986 Iran-Contra Scandal. (Why these charges didn’t play a greater role in the election, I can’t say.)
Not all in the audience were solidly on board, though. The Argus article notes that a few Bush/Quayle supporters were physically ambushed when they registered their dissent: