Tag Archives: wespeaks

On the Record with President Michael Roth: Sexual Assault, Frats, Need Blind

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Beginning this semester, Wesleying will hold semi-regular meetings with President Michael Roth to ask all the questions about Wesleyan University that we have wanted, but never previously had the chance, to ask him. We have quite a bit of catching up to do. As Thursday, Nov. 20 was the first of these meetings, editors Samira, kitab, and Gabe, with input from Wesleying staff, used our time to ask a variety of questions about relevant issues from the past few years. As per their request, we informed the President’s Office beforehand on the general topics we wished to cover.

Our half-hour conversation, which we are posting here in its entirety, covers sexual assault procedure, coeducation of residential fraternities, fundraising, the endowment, need-blind admissions, and academic programs. This interview was edited for clarity.

Martin Benjamin Unmasked (Sort of)

Martin Benjamin ’57, the curmudgeonly alumnus who has developed quite a reputation in recent years as a sharp critic of liberal Wesleyan culture in open letters to the Argus, apparently has a softer side.

When he’s not writing bitter, condescending Wespeaks, he is an artist with a penchant for photographing leaves.

Liz Tung of the Argus went to check out his art exhibit, a series of five photographs called “Invitation to the Dance”, in the Main Street Market last week and actually met the guy, who explained to her the ideas behind his craft, spoke sullenly about his relationship to Wesleyan, and provided only vague hints of his past:

Benjamin was disappointingly normal-looking. Somehow I had expected someone who looked like the Penguin – a snippy, sharp-faced and slightly rotund older man who wore bowties, and carried a heavy wooden cane, the better for whacking whatever liberal moron chanced to get in his way. The real Benjamin was tall and thin with glasses and a beard – and he was wrapped in flannel, rather than a suit. He greeted me and then almost immediately disappeared (the better, he later told me, to let me absorb his works without distraction).

As you may have gathered [from his Wespeaks], Benjamin is a bit of a kook and more than a bit of a bigot, albeit a sharp one with a talent for rhetoric. It is this – the perverse magnetism and novelty of his writing – that has allowed Benjamin to install himself as a fixture in the Argus’ Wespeaks page, and thereby vex generations of Wesleyan students.

To hear Benjamin’s side of it, though, Wespeaks are a mere distraction from his real work – making art. He began photographing leaves roughly 15 years ago, originally as illustrations for a book of historical poems. “Since [the poems] were intended for kids …to get them interested in the drama of history, I thought that history could be illustrated somehow in a way that would make the poems more alive to them,” Benjamin said. “The problem was that I had no talent for painting or drawing.” From this predicament was born Benjamin’s novel solution – leaves… Soon, the photographs had expanded beyond his poems, and the leaves became artistic subjects in their own right.

Benjamin took me through the brief display with a kind of grim relish, explaining in detail the mechanics of his photography and composition…

…Although verbose in his explanations [of his art], Benjamin was less forthcoming on other fronts. For a man who’s spent so much time cultivating his own notoriety, Benjamin proved surprisingly reticent to talk about himself. He refused to have his picture taken and was taciturn about his own history. When pressed, Martin admitted that, after college, he’d spent a couple years in the army before going to Columbia for grad school. Of the years between then and now, he’d only say that he’d spent a few years as a bartender in Midtown, Manhattan. He said anyone who wanted to know more could read his novel “Bagatelles” (which, he only mentioned later, has not yet been published).

Benjamin declined to answer follow-up questions, insisting that further information about his life would only distract from the work.

So he’s about as evasive about himself as you might expect from someone so eager to dish out criticism of others. But it’s nice to see that he has interests beyond excoriating Wesleyan students, and almost endearing that his great passion in life is seeing visions of Greek mythology and Shakesperean sonnets in fallen leaves.

I wonder how he feels about this exposure of his sensitivity. He clearly thrives on antagonism – might Martin Benjamin be so embarrassed by the Argus‘s portrayal of him as a big softy that he stops sending cutting letters to Wesleyan out of shame? Or should we expect him to respond to this taint on his reputation, defending himself as someone who is actually a jerk despite what was reported? Or maybe this shift of focus away from his disdain for joy and youth and towards his art made his day, and any future attempts at haterade from him will lose their edge?

It might be fun to terrify him with effusive Wespeaks praising his gentle soul and unlikely creativity, disarming him with genuinely positive expressions of emotion instead of trying to attack him back with strongly worded responses.

Or next time he rants about the “Great Black Hope” Obama, dismisses global climate change as a frivolous concern, or complains about how gay diversity training is, one might respond with a charming photo of swirling leaves enacting the battle of woodland sprites in The Rape of the Lock.

Whatever the outcome, I look forward to seeing where this goes.

Check out Wesleying’s compilation of some particularly notable Martin Benjamin Wespeaks written over the past decade here, or browse through the Argus archives for more.

Argus: Curmudgeonly Benjamin ’57 Unveils Sensitive Art Exhibit
Wesleying: How to Respond to Martin Benjamin ’57

The New controversial talk-of-the-town WeSpeak

Matt Nestler ’10‘s views on Iraq Withdrawal

Excerpt (click on the link to read the whole thing):

“There exists a segment of the global Muslim community that hates the idea of America; they hate the fact that we are free, that we can freely dissent, and that we enjoy vast freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution…The lesson we must take from all this is that we cannot abandon our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have already seen what would happen if we just packed up and left. The Islamic extremists would most certainly gain control of the country and Iraq would be overrun as a training camp for Islamic terrorism.”

No comment.

Wespeak

The following is a Wespeak addressing BA’s policies. It will be published in tomorrow’s issue of the Argus.

By Lizzie Busch and Jessie Spector, on behalf of USLAC

We appreciate the attention BA and the administration have paid to students’ concerns, and we thank them for answering to those concerns in meetings with the WSA and through the Dining Services Frequently Asked Questions on the Wesleyan website. However, we disagree with some of the assertions that have been made.

“Bon Appetit pays fair wages and benefits to its workers, so its labor costs are high.” (Dining Frequently Asked Questions on the Wesleyan website in answer to why prices are high.)

Because of the contract that the union has fought for over 25 years, workers are paid 18.75 an hour. This may sound like a lot, but food service employees at Wesleyan work only eight months of the year. It breaks down to not a whole lot more than other food service positions. Bon Appetit Management Company (BA) is also owned by the Compass Group, one of the largest food service providers in the world. Last year, Compass made $19.5 billion in revenue. To ask students to choose between lowered prices and fair wages makes it seem as if these are the only options.

“We believe that the frustration workers have experienced with the
transition to new working conditions are significant, but we expect they will prove temporary.” (Dining FAQ)

While the transition to new working conditions may very well improve with time, direct violations of the contract are not just kinks to be worked out. Recently, BA posted a new schedule without first talking to the union stewards. Workers have been unable to negotiate their hours, and now some have schedules they did not bid for. BA’s history with campus unions is also worrisome. Soon after BA took over food service at Oberlin College in 2001, a worker there with strong ties to the union was continually harassed by BA management and then fired on vague disciplinary charges with no founding evidence. At Washington University, threats from BA managers and administration caused a union vote to fail by one vote. This was brought before the National Labor Relations Board and deemed unlawful union-busting. Because of this history, February’s contract negotiations between BA and the food service workers are worrisome.

“We spent 30,000 dollars in overtime last week.” (Delmar Crim, the Argus, September 25th)

That BA paid $30,000 in overtime in one week does not indicate that workers are being overpaid. Instead, it shows that facilities are understaffed and disorganized. Employees have said they’ve had to work longer hours to finish work that simply requires more people. Instead of doing the work they are supposed to, employees have also had to take time to look for things in a new and chaotic workplace.
Food service workers want to work the hours that have been cut from their positions, and facilities would run better if they could work those hours with regular pay and a sufficiently staffed workplace.

“BA made good on its pledge to the Wesleyan community to make fulltime jobs with benefits available to all Aramark’s fulltime, benefits-eligible employees.” (Dining FAQ)

More workers are needed on this campus because food production under BA is more labor intensive. However, in hiring new workers, Bon Appetit has violated the contract. Article 12.9 says that returning workers must be allowed to increase their hours to a forty-hour workweek with benefits before any new hires are brought in. This is why taking 4 hours from Sandy Baik—putting her below benefit level—and giving them to a new hire is a violation. Under pressure from the union, BA has given Sandy back her hours. But her case is not the only one in which BA has hired new workers instead of offering more hours to current employees. The necessary new hires can be made while still following union protocol.

“Giving custodial workers’ discounts on food will open a ‘Pandora’s box.’” (Delmar Crim, WSA forum.)

Aramark gave all custodial workers a discount on food at the campus center. Forty people do custodial work at Wesleyan. The food at Usdan is priced for students with meal plans; lunch can cost up to fifteen dollars. Granting discounts to custodial workers will not open a “Pandora’s box” of discounts. Aramark was able to find the money to extend discounts. The custodial staff keeps this campus running, and they should be able to afford to eat here.

“[The sushi workers] simply have no use for unions in their culture.” (Delmar Crim,
the Argus, September 25)

Regardless of what Crim says about “culture”, the issue remains that, according to the contract, all food service workers on this campus must be part of the union. Even though sushi production is subcontracted to another company, it is necessary that these workers be unionized.

Finally, Another Chalker Masturbation Manifesto…

So there’s like a shit ton of wespeaks in the Argus this week about chalking and activism and identity and revolution and disney lyrics. Great, I say. Who the fuck doesn’t love the Argus full of Wespeaks?

And while if you asked me personally my opinion on the whole matter of chalking (hell, if you asked me my opinion on fucking toast), I’d talk your ear off, the one thing I’m homing in on in particular tonight is I guess the whole why we bother.

Mike Pernick ’10 writes in his column this week:

Going out and spray painting in the tunnels is a great way to show that you care about your what’s happening in your life. The campaign to bring back chalking is a wonderful expression of free speech within the Wesleyan community. Every day there are countless examples of people who are concerned about their environment. Yet few here at Wesleyan seem to truly care about the fate of our nation. Sure, many individuals spend time talking about how much they hate Bush and they despise Republican policies, yet what have they done about it? Ask yourself the key question, “What have I done to fight against dangerous conservative policies in America?”

And I think this is on the minds of many at Wesleyan who don’t really understand where the chalking and the butt tunnels are fitting into this grand activist vision we all have for Wesleyan.

And to be fair, at first glance, it doesn’t seem to fit. They seem like highly insular forms of resistance that have no bearing on the outside world whatsoever. And granted, a lot of the shit we do at Wesleyan is pretty much just angry masturbation because, well, Wesleyan is one of the toughest colleges in the country and god forbid we let off some steam now and then.

Regardless, the theme I’m hitting on is that a lot of chalkers here do not chalk just for the sake of chalking. They do not chalk simply for the experience of expressing themselves. Yes, as Bennet has said over and over again, we have tons of venues for expressing ourselves. But as I argued before, chalking is about building a community. It’s about constructing a home for ourselves and a claiming some sense of communal identity.

Wesleyan as an institution does not really build social cohesion. We as a school do not have an institutional memory that binds us all together as Wesleyan students. We cannot all appropriate traditions and ideas from the school’s past and really rally around them. And so when Wesleyan tries to take away some of the very few traditions that remain–say chalking or tunnel graffiti–it serves to again, alienate us and separate us into individualized factions that cannot build a socially cohesive campus.

And there are a ton of other factors that play into this (like GRS, the disperse locations of student housing, the lack of campus-wide events, fucking Facebook, iPods, cellphones etc, etc), so I’m not just saying that chalking is the only thing to get pissed off about here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Wesleyan used to be known as an activist campus. It really doesn’t carry that reputation anymore and I don’t think it’s because Wesleyan students are lazy. I don’t think it’s because they don’t care. But I do think that it’s because in order to build campus-wide support for any issue, you must first overcome the utterly insane degree of alienation that we experience every day as students.

I’ve heard this alienation described mostly as awkwardness (as if awkwardness is somehow a more palatable word for it). With few notable exceptions, I think students at Wesleyan feel extremely awkward breaking ranks with their comfort circle and engaging anyone for any reason–from hooking up, to dating, to friend-making, to petition writing, to eating dinner with strangers…whatever. I think you get my drift.

So in sum, I think by protecting chalking, we are taking a step in the right direction. We are creating a community and we are saying fuck the awkwardness. Who the hell needs it?

And you can do this without chalking. Make a new friend tomorrow. Talk to someone completely different. Stop pulling out your cellphone every fucking five minutes and finally look your classmates in the eye and smile when you pass them by.

But for Pete’s sake, get out there and engage with the rest of this school.

Engagement is a form of activism, perhaps even the strongest. Perhaps it’s not protesting against a war and it certainly won’t end up in any newspaper, but I think part of what made Wesleyan so weird in the first place was a solid refusal on the part of the student body to accept alienation, to accept the awkwardness.

By allowing the administration to take shots at whatever institutions we have left to build this community, we are making it easier for them to push over the next generation of Wesleyan students. The more alienated we become, the harder it is to fight for old Wesleyan. We are being weakened and by perpetuating this sense of awkwardness we are complicit in the whole process.

Chalking won’t fix the problem but I’m sure it’ll help.

(I’d like to direct you all at this time to Zach Strassburger ’06s awesome wespeak today about chalking and its effects on community.)

Keep Wesleyan Weird

From this facebook group:

There comes a point where enough is enough.

When the administration outlawed chalking, an understandable uproar went through the campus. This uproar, however, was not nearly loud enough, and that transgression has been imposed upon us for far too long.

When the administration required Eclectic’s parties to be held in Mocon a collective groan of disapproval was heard on campus. Can we let them ruin our already limited nightlife by housing parties in a cafeteria?

Now the administration has just had the Butt’s tunnels painted over. All of the beautiful colors and forms on the walls have been replaced by white and black paint.

Now, with Middletown’s recently added ordinance, the administration is allowing police onto our campus. Can we let them take away the very atmosphere we love?

Bring back chalking.

Bring back Eclectic parties.

Bring back tagging.

Get police off private property.

Even if you don’t agree with chalking, the party scene, tagging in the tunnels, or the new police presence I urge you to join this group. This is clearly not the end of their attempt to strip the entire campus of culture.

I want wespeaks and I want them now. ON IT, BITCHES.

Edit: Anonymous commenter, you made my day:

“Fuck Wespeaks. I’m buying a spraycan and a crowbar first chance I get. It won’t be pretty paint, but this is not the school I wanted to go to. I’ll take it back.”

Wesleyan lexicon lesson #1

Carp (kärp):
n. pl. carp or carps

1. An edible freshwater fish (Cyprinus carpio) of Europe and Asia that is frequently bred in ponds and lakes.

2. Any of various fishes of the family Cyprinidae.
3. A fretful complaint.

intr.v.

1. To find fault in a disagreeable way; complain fretfully.

2. To so miserably fuck up your reputation in the greater Wesleyan community that you can’t even pick up your own food at Weswings.

On February 24th, 2006, the Argus ran this gem of a wespeak by a certain Evan Carp ’07. Words really can’t sum up the article so I highly suggest you read it yourself. Here’s a tidbit:
“Certainly, we cannot suggest that it is ALL Muslims who are hateful and violent[…] I am not attempting to claim that all Muslims behave this way. But it certainly does seem that nearly all people who behave this way are Muslims.”

Understandably, come publication of the next Argus four days later, the wespeaks section explodes.

“Friendly discussion” of this matter continues for two epic months. For fun times, head over to the Argus website and search for “Carp”. Cheers!