In recent months, many students have raised concerns over the shared May 6 date of this year’s Spring Fling and the one-year anniversary of the murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10. Discussions came to a head last month in a controversial Wespeak submitted by over 130 students, which condemned the University’s choice to hold the campus-wide concert on a day filled with traumatic memories for so many students. Representatives from the administration say that they explored all possible routes to change the date without success and have organized other events to honor Jinich’s memory.
“We, the undersigned, would like to assert our anger and sadness that this decision has gone forward,” the students wrote in the Wespeak, which was published in a March 2 issue of The Argus. “We believe that the student body has been put in the unreasonable position of having to choose between a day of mourning or reflection and a day of celebration. Those students who were closest to Johanna will feel the ramifications of this decision most acutely, some to the extent of having to leave campus on a day they should be able to expect the support of the Wesleyan community.”
The Wespeak was drafted in mid-February by Mollie McFee ’10, Lizzie Busch ’10, and Sarah Abbott ’10 and circulated via e-mail to hundreds of students on campus. According to McFee, the three became aware of the overlap when Abbott was asked to be involved in the planning of a memorial event on that day. By the time they decided to write the Wespeak, logistical arrangements for Spring Fling, including the contracting of bands, had already been finalized.
“We thought that the issue should come to the student body’s attention,” McFee said. “We knew that the date was final at that point, so it really wasn’t our intention to try to change it. We really just wanted to make it known in a public forum that the decision had been made without consulting students, and we thought the University should be held responsible for that.”
Although not all of the students who signed their name to the Wespeak were close friends of Justin-Jinich, they shared the belief that the lack of an official announcement informing the campus of the oversight was inappropriate.
“The mistake is just strange and it makes me less confident in the administration’s ability to deal with this issue,” said Emily Sheehan ’10, one of the students who signed the Wespeak. “I think they dealt with it so well at the time, so I didn’t expect them to be so silent now. It’s not something everyone needs to be reminded of constantly, but at the same time, to not have any space at all where we can officially talk about this is strange.”
According to Director of Student Activities & Leadership Development Tim Shiner, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Rick Culliton, and Dean for the Class of 2010 Marina Melendez, the May 6 date was initially chosen because it immediately follows the end of classes and does not conflict with the beginning of reading week. When administrators became aware that the date was also the anniversary of Justin-Jinich’s death, they contacted the Social Planning Committee of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), as well as some of Justin-Jinich’s closest friends, to discuss a way to commemorate her death. By this time, the administrators said, preliminary work had already been conducted to book bands for the event.
“The Social Committee and the Office of Student Activities contacted the performers to investigate the possibility of holding the event on another date (despite the fact that Wesleyan’s academic calendar limits when this event may occur, we supported exploring the possibility of a different date),” Shiner, Culliton, and Melendez wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “However, the contracts could not be changed. Consequently, the Social Committee offered to delay the start of Spring Fling to later in the afternoon. The only other alternative was to cancel Spring Fling, losing a great deal of funding and tradition. No one in the group wanted that to occur.”
Although the Social Committee is involved in planning many aspects of Spring Fling, Committee Chair Max Gardner ’10 said they are not involved in selecting the date.
“It has come to our attention that it is the . . . Social Committee who is involved in planning Spring Fling,” the Wespeak read.
Gardner expressed frustration with the Wespeak’s attempt to blame the Committee for the date.
“The students who wrote the Wespeak were present at meetings with myself and members of the administration at which it was made clear that the Social Committee was unaware of any conflict with the date of Spring Fling until after binding contracts had been signed by the artists,” Gardner wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “Why they felt the need to implicate us, a student group, in a controversy that is the result of administrative short-sightedness and nothing more, I can’t figure out.”
However, McFee insisted that the Wespeak was correct in its assertion.
“One thing that was clear to me was that they must have known the date when the contracts were being signed,” McFee said. “It seems like there were many points when whoever was involved could have seen the implications of the date and made changes.”
The administration is now working with members of the Social Committee and a group of Johanna’s close friends to plan a number of events to commemorate Justin-Jinich. A Potluck Dessert Night is planned for the evening of May 5. Throughout the day on May 6, Russell House will be open to community members as a space to reflect, share stories, and write in a memory book for Justin-Jinich. At 1 p.m. the bells will ring to signify a moment of silence.
McFee, who was not among those contacted by the administration when the scheduling error was discovered, emphasized that May 6 is an emotional day for many students, whether or not they knew Justin-Jinich personally.
“This is a significant day for a lot of people on campus for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “If we’re going to call ourselves a community, we can’t act like it doesn’t matter if only a small group of people are connected. We’re not just a group of friends, a group of Jews, or a group of women. We’re an entire campus population.”