On Friday, students packed the Usdan University Center, rallying from the tops of tables, passing out flyers, and inviting passers-by into their discussion.
The demonstration was a response to the Cardinal Conservatives’ anti-affirmative action bake sale that took place earlier last week. For an hour and a half during lunch, students donning the school’s red and black colors gathered in the center of Usdan. Later that evening, over 100 people packed Usdan Room 108 for a forum about the effect of the bake sale on the Wesleyan community and whether there could have been better ways for the Cardinal Conservatives to express their views.
The rally was organized by a group of concerned students in response to the bake sale, where baked goods were priced differently based on the purchaser’s ethnicity. At the event, students passed out fliers regarding myths associated with affirmative action. Several students stood on tables and made statements.
“Most of the messages were about how the bake sale had made people uncomfortable and violated their safe spaces, as well as about trying to have unity across campus,” said Nick Petrie ’12, a member of Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitators (WesDEFs).
The central location of the rally, like that of the bake sale, encouraged interactions with passersby. According to Petrie, the intent of the rally was more complex than simply presenting an opposing viewpoint to that of the Cardinal Conservatives.
“The rally I think was a little confusing to people sometimes because the response is not actually pro-affirmative action,” Petrie said. “The response was more about the way in which the Cardinal Conservatives represented affirmative action through the bake sale, which was misleading, and that they were creating a straw man and then framing the debate to fight that straw man that doesn’t actually exist—partly because affirmative action isn’t practiced as such at Wesleyan and partly because that type of affirmative action [involving racial quotas] is outlawed everywhere now.”
The forum was facilitated by Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Mañjon and Dean for Diversity and Student Engagement Renee Johnson-Thornton. Several professors and representatives from the Office of Admissions also attended. Two Cardinal Conservative members, Aileen Yeung ’14, the president of the group, and Tori Rowe ’13, spoke about the group’s reasoning and intentions for holding the satirical bake sale.
During the forum, participants challenged the extent to which the Cardinal Conservatives had sufficiently researched the topic before organizing the bake sale, asking why Rowe and Yeung did not meet with Mañjon or representatives from Admissions to discuss the actual policies in place at the University.
“I feel like before they did something like that they should have not only spoken to Admissions about what their policies were but also researched the history of affirmative action, what states practice it, how it’s practiced, and who are the biggest benefactors—and it happens to be white women,” said Teju Adisa-Farrar ’13. “And I don’t think they focused on that—they racialized it and I think that was what was inappropriate about it.”
During the forum, some students expressed confusion about the interpretation of Wesleyan’s “Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Statement,” which applies specifically to hiring faculty, administration, and staff, and suggested clarifying it on the website. Wesleyan has a diversity policy relating to student admissions, but not an affirmative action program for students.
Other topics discussed during the forum included the degree to which racial oppression and discrimination are still present in the United States, the methods and problems involved with judging qualifications for college admission, and how socioeconomic and other factors can influence performance on test scores and other standards for measuring merit.
Some participants in the discussion, including Assistant Professor of Government Elvin Lim, argued that the bake sale would have been more effective and less offensive if it had taken into account other factors that can affect admissions decisions, such as legacy, athletics, and geographic location.
Rowe and Yeung defended their decision to hold the bake sale, and argued that Affirmative Action is a discriminatory practice that hinders the admission of the most qualified students.
“I fear that our bake sale and, more importantly, our message have been distorted through the grapevine,” wrote Yeung in an e-mail to The Argus. “During the forum, it was evident that our most vocal critics were neither the ones who stopped by the bake sale to engage us in conversation, nor those who attended the meeting we held the following evening to debrief the bake sale.”
Rowe and Yeung responded to questions about the way they initiated the discussion by stating that they had handed out fliers during the bake sale advertising their own forum that they held the following day. However, several students who showed up at this event said that it was actually a Cardinal Conservatives meeting, and that they had been turned away when they tried to attend.
“I think they did try [to host their own forum], but since they weren’t really prepared for students to actually come, sit down, and talk with them, it ended up just being a meeting, and that kind of propelled people to not feel comfortable going or speaking,” Adisa-Farrar said.
Numerous students expressed satisfaction with how Friday’s forum promoted face-to-face discussion of different viewpoints.
“I was really excited to see a lot of people come up, because the goal of this was a discussion and I’m glad to know that that happened,” said Marsha Jean-Charles ’11, who introduced the forum and led the group’s discussion of its goals for the meeting. “I think a lot of us are really happy with the way it turned out.”
However, some concern was expressed about the degree to which the forum ended up being an attack against or trial of the two Cardinal Conservative representatives.
“I feel like the Cardinal Conservatives felt attacked, even though our intention was not to marginalize them,” Adisa-Farrar said. “There were only a few of them and their responses weren’t as strong as maybe some of the other people who shared during the forum.”
The Cardinal Conservative representatives were asked to acknowledge the hurt and disruptions they had caused numerous students. While Rowe and Yeung said that they never intended to offend people, they did not back down from their decision to hold the bake sale.
“We’re not going to apologize for what we did,” Rowe said. “We still oppose affirmative action.”