While some of us look forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day each year, others among us see February 14th as just another ordinary day. But, for some people, this romantic day is a holiday worth actively avoiding.
On Valentine’s Day in 1989, The Wesleyan Argus printed a column whose author had decided to boycott Valentine’s Day that year. The author, Adam “Sheep” Long, declared, “I am boycotting Valentine’s Day for reasons of my own.” When I read this, I was curious about these reasons. Was he frustrated by his own romantic difficulties? Angry about American consumerism? Convinced that romantic love is merely a social construct?
The author explained his reasoning like this:
Every year I like to boycott at least one holiday (I never boycott Christmas). Recently, I have decided to start boycotting St. Patrick’s day (and I’m part Irish) and for a long time now I have boycotted Halloween. Halloween has never been a very good time for me: I generally associate it with things scary, gross, and violent. I can only remember one Halloween that I really enjoyed. When I was five, I went as Batman, which in retrospect doesn’t make a lot of sense, because I wasn’t old enough to read the comic book, and I was terrified of the TV show. I used to watch the cartoon part of the introduction and then leave the room. Only my immediate family knew about this strange behavior. With the kids at school, I just pretended I watched the whole show…
Okay, but why boycott Valentine’s Day? More after the jump:
Not too long ago, Sharon Wade – one of the Bon Appetit employees that we all know and love – agreed to meet me in Usdan for an interview. She greeted me with kind blue eyes and a genuine smile. I knew she had been here a very long time and I wanted to pick her brain about her experiences at Wesleyan. She had warned me in advance, the week before at work, about how she’s prone to going on and on and reassured me that I shouldn’t be afraid to cut her off if necessary. As we got into the flow of the interview, which was not very difficult with Sharon’s enthusiasm, I certainly knew what she meant, but by no means was I going to stop her. Sharon sat with me in Usdan for approximately an hour, during which she told me about what she’s learned during her time at Wesleyan, expressed both her loves and her qualms with campus issues, and shared some wonderful anecdotes about students. The following is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.
How long have you been working at Wesleyan?
Probably… around 29 years. A long time – flown by, just like that. It has flown by!
Has it been at Weshop the whole time?
No, this is my second time at Weshop. Because we can move all around. We just have to bid on jobs, awarded by seniority, throughout the campus. We’ve all done probably most everything. I’ve been a cook. For overtime, I did tons of utility. That took me around the world… I’ve done register at the old campus center, I’ve done it [at Usdan], I’ve done at Weshop, so everybody has really moved around, which is a great part of the job because [you can say,] ‘you know what, I think I’ll do that.’ As long as you’re qualified and you’re the most senior person signing – and everybody signs – you get to the job.
Our second (and maybe final) presidential interview is with William Chace, president from 1988 to 1994.
William Chace was only president of Wesleyan for six years, but between firebombings, racially charged graffiti, student occupations, and hunger strikes, he probably dealt with enough strife and campus unrest to fill two decades of Wes history. Twenty years later, Chace, a literature scholar and former Stanford administrator, still wrestles with his Wesleyan experience. “Those were the hardest years of my life,” President Chace told Wesleying. “It was a tough place for me.”
“Perhaps some of the problems were of my own making,” he conceded, “but I didn’t bomb my own office.”
Back in the fall, we contacted President Chace, who left the presidency of Emory University in 2003 and now lives in California, for an interview. “Well, of course,” Chace soon replied. “But please keep in mind that I left Wesleyan in 1994, some 18 years ago, and I do not have with me records of the time. So it will be memory, all memory, a facility at once pregnant with apparent certitude and often quite erroneous.”
President Colin Campbell’s portrait on the main floor of Olin.
At 35, Colin Campbell was the youngest president in Wesleyan’s history, and after 18 years at the helm, he became one of its longest-serving leaders. Though he wasn’t a Wesleyan alum and has never earned a Ph.D., President Campbell succesfully presided over some of the most immense change in the University’s history, from coeducation to the construction of the Center for the Arts and the Williams Street apartments. Beloved by a wide range of alumni and faculty, Campbell got to hang out with everyone from Joss Whedon ’87and Michael Bay ’86 to Bill Belichick ’75in the process. He left academia in 1988, but if you try to schedule a phone interview with him today you’ll learn that Campbell is Wesleyan’s busiest former president: he serves as president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which is funny considering a lot of Wesleyan alums end up in Williamsburg, but usually not that Williamsburg.
Back in the fall, Wesleying rather ambitiously set out to catch up with each of the three survivingformeroccupants of South College and give them a chance to reflect on their time in office. We weren’t entirely successful (we couldn’t get President Bennet’59 to reply to our emails), but President Campbell enthusiastically replied within the hour to express his delight at the idea. pyrotechnicsand I called him up one morning in February and chatted about everything from South African divestment to Das Racist to the time he nearly got pied in the face. Oh, and he also told us about the time a young Michael S. Roth ’78 occupied his office in protest in the 1970s. We found President Campbell to be a remarkably friendly dude. Read on for the interview.
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.”
“What we were doing at Wesleyan was taking place in the context of a much larger sweep of change in American history and culture.”
Sheila Tobias with NOW Founder Betty Friedan in the 1970s while Tobias was Associate Provost for Coeducation at Wesleyan. Image courtesy of Ms. Tobias.
In September of 1970, the same month Colin Campbell became Wesleyan’s youngest ever president, Sheila Tobias arrived at Wesleyan as associate provost. A noted author, scholar, and feminist activist, Tobias’ task at Wesleyan was different than that of any previous administrator—and different than any provost since then. Wesleyan had only just begun admitting women, and for the next eight years, Tobias was to oversee the inclusion of women in student life and assist the University in hiring and retaining female faculty. She was also instrumental in bringing the first women’s studies courses to Wes.
“It wasn’t a party school, but it was a school that catered to young men in all their glory,” Tobias says of the Wesleyan of the 1960s. “That was the place that I was invited to help change.”
While Tobias says that Wesleyan transitioned into coeducation more swiftly than many of its peers (“Wesleyan did it right”), she insists that the changes on campus were part of a much larger movement. “What we were doing at Wesleyan—namely, integrating a formerly men’s college—was taking place in the context of a much larger sweep of change in American history and culture,” Tobias says.
Wesleying is psyched to present an interview with Sheila Tobias, whose published books include Overcoming Math Anxiety, They’re not Dumb, They’re Different, Breaking the Science Barrier, Rethinking Science as a Career, and Faces of Feminism: An Activist’s Reflections on the Women’s Movement. For more on Sheila Tobias and her career at Wesleyan, see her website or this Special Collections blog post by Cordelia Hyland ’13.
Do you keep up with the library’s Special Collections and Archivesblog? If that’s a no, you may have missed archivist Leith Johnson’s “Pick of the Week,” which depicts then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s momentous visit to Wesleyan on October 18, 1956. Here’s your bi-weekly reminder that an institution of higher learning can change a lot in 50 years or less, and that Martin Benjamin ’57 once looked like this.
Shot by Fraser M. Lyle ’58, the above photo finds Tricky Dick on a Connecticut campaign stop less than a month before Eisenhower securely won reelection:
The Argus reported that Nixon spoke to about 400 students who crowded around him on High St. Suzy Taraba included this photograph, taken by Frazer M. Lyle ’58, in her recent presentation on alumni gifts of archival materials to the University Relations major gifts team. This photograph is particularly remarkable because it’s a color print, something that is rare among our photographs from this time period.
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.