“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.
The Argus in 1972: “George McGovern might very well be the man to lead the United States out of its present moral crisis.”
George McGovern, the United States senator from South Dakota and fierce antiwar advocate, died early yesterday morning in Sioux Falls, S.D, at the age of 90. Most students will recall McGovern as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1972, when he was defeated by President Nixon in a staggering electoral landslide. (McGovern managed to carry a single state, plus D.C., to Nixon’s 49.) (Massachusetts was the single state.) (This later inspired bumper stickers reading, “Don’t blame me—I’m from Massachusetts.”) Most students will not know that McGovern was also a Wesleyan alumnus.
Dakota Wesleyan, that is—probably the only Wesleyan I haven’t been mistaken for attending. McGovern graduated in 1946, then returned to the school, where he had met his wife, only a few years later to teach history and political science. Today, a guest book appears on Dakota Wesleyan’s website.
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.
We all know Wesleyan has a history of activism and student camaraderie. We all know Wesleyan students love farming. We all know the administration hates it all. This, my friends, is the true tale of when the Freshmen of 1856 said, “Enough.”
Digging through the New York Times online archives this morning, I came across this curious piece of Wesleyan history:
“The Argus was also cited as a possible instigator for suggesting to one freshman early in the evening that a riot would be useful for filling up extra space in its pages.”
If you’re in Clark tonight, take a minute and pour out a water bottle on the north stairwell. Maybe pour out a whole handle of water. It’s the least you can do to commemorate the ferocious water fight that raged in the dorm on the night of Sunday, September 30, 1962—50 years ago tonight.
According to a story on the front page of the October 2 Argus, the commotion began around 10:30, shortly after President Kennedy’s address concluded on television, when “hoots and gobbles flung from the upper floors of Clark were met with blasts from record players and sirens.” Twenty minutes later, about 75 freshmen banded together and began the historic Siege of Clark as upperclassmen cheered from the library terrace. (Note that Clark only years later became an all-frosh dorm.) Meanwhile, a dean of students “watched grimly as Jim Dooney ’63 tried to comfort him with remarks to the effect that ‘it can’t last much longer,’ as water, wastebaskets, soggy toilet paper, and foul screams continued to rock the sandstone walls of Clark Hall.”
“Please, pick up your mail Anna, you’re missing so many great events.”
On Monday, our investigative report on the new WesBox squeeze (in short, a number of students are now sharing mailboxes but were never informed—oops) touched off a controversy in the comments. For some, it’s a basic privacy issue. “A lot of sensitive things come through the mail,” a mailbox-sharer argued. “There is a reason why mailboxes come with locks on them instead of remaining open cubbyholes.” For others, it’s hardly worth bitching about. “The envelope is surprisingly effective at securing privacy as is,” wrote one commenter. Finally, one irate alumnus huffily pointed out what may not be obvious to current students: in the Dark Ages before Usdan, everyone shared a mailbox. And everyone was happy about it, because Clinton was president and there was no Twitter or Pinterest or WesDicks or whatever to bitch about it on. Right?
But one potential issue has gone unstated: what if your boxmate never picks up hir fucking mail?
In a Wespeak published October 6, 2006 (only a year before Usdan forever changed the Wesbox Industrial Complex), Stephen Morris ’07illustrates the frustrations of sharing a mailbox with a neglectful party. In fact, he publicly urges his boxmate, Anna Mendes ’10, to check out all the mail she’s missing:
“What can we do as a community in this time of crisis and uncertainty? The most important thing, perhaps, will be to learn from each other.” —President Bennet
Here’s what the Argus looked like the week of September 11, 2001—shocked, singularly focused, teeming with questions and grief. The bold header is striking and clear: “UNIVERSITY STUNNED BY ATTACKS.”
There was the candlelight vigil outside North College Tuesday night, where President Douglas Bennet ’59 spoke (“We are together as a community because we need to sustain each other in a time of loss,” he said) and Dean Mike Whaley opened up the microphone to any student who wished to speak. There was the afternoon forum on Wednesday, featuring words by Professor Khachig Tölölyan among other faculty. There were the “where I was when I heard” anecdotes, the firsthand accounts by alumni survivors, the blood drives, the faculty panel. One article sought to summarize how other colleges were adjusting their schedules—especially those with campuses in New York. At Wesleyan, classes moved forward, with extreme flexibility. “Holding classes will provide us all with an opportunity to gather in small groups,” wrote the University’s administration, “and is preferable to the alternative of our students remaining isolated.”
President Bennet wrote a Wespeak. “We have an unusual opportunity to see past stereotypes, identify and diminish our own prejudices, and experience a complex world through the sensitivities of others,” Bennet urged.
Were he still alive, experimental music messiah John Cage would turn 100 this week. Consider taking a moment of silence today in honor of Cage’s genius. Or four and 33 seconds.
The man responsible for such works as 4’33”, Indeterminancy, A Valentine Out of Season, and Cartridge Music was affiliated with Wesleyan on and off from 1955 until his death in 1992. He first came to campus to work with composer David Tudor on the prepared piano, performances described by The Argus as “clunks, clanks, plinks, and plonks.” Cage continued working with members of Wesleyan’s music faculty (particularly Alvin Lucier) and was a Center for Advanced Study fellow in 1960–61 and 1969–70. In this role, he taught classes in experimental music. In 1961, Wesleyan University Press published his book, Silence, followed by M and A Year From Monday. (Here’s a review that ran in the October, 1961 Argus.)
Today, Usdan is a no-brainer. It’s where you go to eat. It’s where you go to buy shit. It’s where you go to check your mail.It’s where you go to hold WSA Presidential Debatesand watch Obama’s inauguration.It’s your ATM, yourband practice space,yourWSA office, your farmer’s market. If you’re an incoming frosh, it’s pretty much your natural habitat.
The place seemed sleek and corporate. You couldn’t make announcements, like in MoCon. How would anyone find anything out ever? “It’s just like everything else in the world—the values of commerce and circulation reign supreme,” one long-winded commenter bitched.“And the sausage at breakfast was really weird,” observed another.The lines were huge. Like, ridiculously long. And no one knew how to pronounce the name. Yooz-Dan? Ooze-Dan? Uss-Din? Some were quick to suggest “Usdanistan.” Wesleying offered up a campus poll(possibly the first formal Wesleying poll ever). Another student started calling it “Sudan.” Wherever that person is, I hope ze hasn’t stopped calling it that.
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.