Aside from spending time with family members, eating food at the Taste of Middlesex County on Foss Hill, and attending various athletic events, one of the annual Homecoming/Family Weekend’s biggest draws is the WESeminar series. Pundits, scholars, and University faculty, alumni amongst them, present a variety of seminars throughout the weekend. This year, however, with 8,000 to 9,000 people on campus for the weekend and limited space, certain events were unable to accommodate all interested attendees.
“They’re increasingly popular and the quality is so high, as well as the thought and interest they provoke,” said Jonathan Rose P’08 of the seminars. “It’s a substantial intellectual feast. Realistically, they’re just going to have to think larger.”
“We try to anticipate as many situations like this as possible,” said Assistant Director of Events Sarah Myksin ’06. “Many factors go into choosing a space for the WESeminars during the weekend, including availability, projected popularity, and the presenter’s technical requirements.”
The WESeminars program began in the late 1980s and, according to the Homecoming Weekend website, gives weekend attendees a chance to experience firsthand the University’s academics. With a total of 29 WESeminars featured last weekend, students, parents and alumni had a wide variety of presentations from which to choose. All promotional materials advised that attendees arrive at seminars 15 minutes early to ensure their seating.
“If you got there in time, you got a seat,” said Jaime DeLanghe ’08, who spent the weekend with her father.
“We had good seats, but we got there a bit early,” said Jim DeLanghe P’08 of the Wesleyan Writers Conference 50th Anniversary Celebration. “But there was quite an overflow.”
The celebration featured authors Katha Pollitt P’09 and Alexander Chee ’89 and was held in Russell House.
“Why Jews Laugh at Themselves: The Case of Larry David” was so popular that people were turned away at the door. Due to the technical needs of presenter Bernard Timberg P’08, the seminar could not be accommodated in Memorial Chapel, the largest space on campus, which holds over 500 people. Instead, it was scheduled for the CFA Cinema that has a 260-person capacity. Additionally, the event could not be simulcast—simultaneously broadcast to different locations—because all appropriately equipped rooms were in use.
“I think a lot of people were looking forward to [it],” Jim DeLanghe said of “Why Jews Laugh at Themselves,” noting the dynamic of humor that gave the seminar such a large turnout.
A small number of WESeminars was canceled altogether. The “Connecticut River Expedition,” which was scheduled for Friday afternoon, could not take place due to rain. The event “International Justice and Post-Conflict Resolution: Debate & Discussion” was called off because one of the debaters was ill.
“We do our very best to [help attendants] have the most accurate listing of what’s happening during the weekend…but things like weather and family emergencies are just out of our hands,” Myksin said.
Event staff members, who began planning this year’s Homecoming/Family Weekend over a year ago, worked to keep families informed of changes. While the final brochure that was passed out at registration had gone to print more than six weeks prior to the weekend, several new programs were added since. The final brochure included a flyer that listed additions, changes, and updates.
“We found that there weren’t quite as many things to pick from,” Jim DeLanghe said.
“It would be great if they scheduled more sessions so people could have more options,” said Johanna Goetzel ’07. “The offerings could be extended and taught by more Wesleyan professors, so parents could be exposed to what their children are learning.”
Each year, two student interns accompany adult staff members such as Myksin in planning the Homecoming/Parents program. This year, interns Estrella Lopez ’07 and Tom Volgenau ’08 answered phone calls on the program’s hotline, scheduled the roughly 130 student workers for the weekend, and coordinated with student groups who wanted to participate in the student activities fair.
“The Saturday before [the program], while most people were on fall break, we were in the office with 10 student workers assembling the different informational packets and name-tags that were handed out,” Lopez said.
Reviews from organizers and attendees, though mixed, all expressed optimism for future Homecoming/Parents Weekends.
“Based on what we’ve heard from staff members, parents, and alumni, we believe that it was a successful event,” Myksin said. “People were happy to be on campus, the weather was beautiful, food at the Taste of Middlesex County was plentiful, the games were well-attended, and the WESeminars were diverse and well-attended.”
“At least take notes on this year’s turnout and make accommodations for next year,” Jim DeLanghe said.
“Go to the next size box,” Rose echoed, suggesting that more seminars and events be held outside, weather permitting.