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.
In a misguided attempt to avoid cope with the prospect of finals, I found myself flipping through decades of old December Argus issues. While I didn’t find any especially enlightening advice from past Wes generations on how to deal with the stress of Reading Week, I did find this gem of a column from December 6, 1977:
The writer begins by making an observation that is just as accurate today as it was 35 years ago—that conversations between acquaintances here always center on the same questions. “How was your summer?” “What classes are you taking?” And so on and so forth.
The column quickly evolves into a rant on the “destructively self-indulgent” nature of one particular conversation-starter, one that always comes up around this time of the year: “How’s your work going?”
The conversation generated by this question has a certain quality of desperation about it which only serves to reinforce the already desperate atmosphere which characterizes Wesleyan in December…Furthermore, as with the other automatic questions that get asked here, reading week questions are boring! Do you actually remember even one out of the ten workloads you hear described? Do you remember who has it rough and who hasn’t? Do you care?
Well, do you? The next time you have an urge to complain about your workload, or to ask someone else about theirs, instead think about exchanging accounts of how many hours you’ve spent procrastinating. Or just lock yourself in Olin for a few hours, away from the rest of humanity, and waste time looking through old Argus issues.
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.
“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.
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.
Looks like commencement speakerSenator Michael Bennet ’87 isn’t the only Bennet Wesleyan is honoring in the coming weeks. His father, Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94—better known on this campus as Wesleyan’s fifteenth president—will be receiving some attention as well. As Roth slyly announces in the middle of a blog post titled Check Out SWERVED and Good Luck on Finals, “We’ll also be honoring President Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94 and his family by re-naming Fauver Frosh Bennet Hall.” Well, hey. What would former athletic director Edgar Fauver think? The guy personally vaccinated the entire student body during the smallpox outbreak of 1914. Fauver Field was dedicated in his honor in 1959.
He was the fifteenth president of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, from 1995 to 2007. Before that, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the Clinton Administration (1993–95) and Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs in the Carter administration (1977–79), was the President and CEO of National Public Radio (1983–93), and ran the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Carter (1979–81).