“We’re Mad As Hell and We’re Not Going to Take This Anymore!”
Wesleyan is known for its history of student activism. Over the years, students have organized around issues from nuclear war to affirmative action and have staged protest activities such as sit-ins, marches, and tent villages. If you’re an incoming freshman, or were living under a rock for the past year, read carefully over The Argus’ compilation of the top “things to get mad about” at Wesleyan.
The use of chalk to write on and illustrate outdoor campus surfaces (such as sidewalks and sides of buildings) has been banned since the fall semester of 2003. Chalking was, by most accounts, a way for various marginalized groups (particularly queer groups) to engage in and facilitate campus dialogue. The chalking eventually became more and more focused on sex positivity, which led to especially explicit language. Eventually, several individuals were targeted specifically and outed. Several staff members (citing a hostile work environment) filed complaints with the University, at which point then President Bennet placed a moratorium on chalking. Though administrators and students attempted to find a solution that would prevent hateful speech but allow chalking to continue, the University eventually banned the activity outright, which prompted outrage from students and staff alike.
With the introduction of Michael Roth as President of Wesleyan, there was hope among some students that the ban would be lifted. However, President Roth has upheld the ban, sometimes by citing a preservation of the campus’ historic appearance. Since the original ban in 2003, there have been periods of particularly intense backlash against the ban, including a “Chalking Revolution” in the spring of 2007. The past year has also seen an increase in the amount of chalking and discussion around the ban—the WSA hosted an open forum on chalking as recently as this past April.
Recent conversation about the ban has centered on ways to encourage responsible and productive dialogue despite the anonymity inherent and necessary to chalking. One particularly notable suggestion at the WSA’s forum included attempts at community policing, such as offering either water buckets (to rinse away problematic speech) or free chalk (to edit or cross it out) at various locations on campus. Another suggestion was made to introduce a month-long trial period to reintroduce chalking, with the understanding that it would be banned again if problematic posts persisted.
Despite the ban’s continuation, students still regularly chalk messages and advertisements away from the watchful eyes of PSafe and administrators. Popular locations include stairways and other hard-to-wash places. Chalk is sold at Rite Aid and other locations around campus.
Custodial Contract Negotiations
In late February 2012, members of the student activist group United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) created a petition to protect custodial workers from layoffs and poor labor conditions, which included extended hours with increased responsibilities due to recent reductions in staff. The petition, sent in March, also stated that many workers developed health problems and repetitive stress injuries due to their work. An initial email circulating the petition said that the University would bear a small financial burden if it stopped layoffs, and that Wesleyan had the power to compel sub-contractors who were bidding for Wesleyan’s contract to respect workers.
USLAC successfully petitioned the University to end its contract with ABM Industries and instead contract Wesleyan custodial workers under a new management company, Sun Services LLC. According to a Wesleying post by USLAC, Sun Services had initially promised to retain all 60 custodial workers when the workers signed the new contract in May 2012, but then announced that ten workers would be laid off as of Sept. 1.
Members of USLAC created another petition in August 2012 to stop the proposed layoffs. The petition stated, “The plan for 10 additional layoffs would further endanger these workers’ health and livelihoods, placing unreasonable burdens on workers who already suffer as a result of their demanding workloads. Additionally, the anticipated layoffs would make it more difficult for the remaining workers to do their jobs effectively, threatening Wesleyan’s high standard of cleanliness.”
“The initial idea behind the petition was that workers and students could bring it along when they meet with Joyce Topshe, the Assistant [Vice President] for Facilities,” Tali Robbins ’15 wrote in an email to The Argus. According to Robbins, Topshe has not yet met with USLAC or with Jose Rodriguez, the workers’ union representative.
Several sources confirmed that President Roth has ordered that layoffs be suspended for now; however, citing either legal reasons or the fact that negotiations are still in process, administrators did not elaborate in detail.
Funding Cut for Upward Bound Program
Upward Bound, a University program designed to help underserved and potential first-generation college students graduate from secondary school, lost its federal funding this past summer. Both Upward Bound, which employs University students as tutors and staff, and Upward Bound Math and Science, which is not affiliated with the University and is funded separately, assist about one hundred high school students in the Middletown and Meriden areas with college preparation and college career planning.
The University received $486,215 in grant money for the program last year from the U.S. Department of Education, in addition to funds from the Middletown and Meriden schools served by the program. According to the Middletown Press, then School Superintendent Dave Larson, after requesting an explanation from the Department of Education, was informed that “Middletown’s graduation rate was too high.”
In response to the federal funding cuts, several organizations, such as Middlesex United Way and AT&T, stepped in to help finance a four-week summer program for rising high school seniors. In addition, Paul Blasenheim ’12 was hired to staff the Upward Bound office to provide support to those seniors throughout the college application process this fall. Beyond those programs, however, there are no funds available to continue the Upward Bound program.
Admissions No Longer Need-Blind
Due to financial concerns and the prospect of rising tuition, admissions for the class of 2017 will not be entirely need-blind. According to University President Michael Roth, approximately 10 percent of the Class of 2017 will not be accepted through need-blind admission. This announcement marked the end of Wesleyan’s long history of need-blind admissions for most students, though financial need has been considered for international and transfer applicants in the past.
“For many students, this compromises their understanding of what Wesleyan’s identity means to them,” Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Zachary Malter ’13 said.
Because of its previous importance to the University, the elimination of need-blind admissions has caused a widespread negative reaction amongst the student body. No official protests against this new policy have been held. However, a previous attempt to eliminate the University’s need-blind policy resulted in approximately 50 students occupying North College on Feb. 28, 1992.
“Of any issues, this one will galvanize the most students, inspire the most passion, and involve students all across campus,” Malter said. “I’ve seen students who’ve had no prior involvement in activism or the WSA really express interest in bringing their time and energy toward trying to find alternative methods [to deal with costs] or protesting the negative consequences of [eliminating need-blind admissions].
While the ultimate consequences of this new policy remain unclear, it certainly remains a contentious issue on campus.
“There are students on campus who, under this new policy, would not be accepted to Wesleyan because of their financial background, which I think is a real problem,” Malter said.
A meeting with the University Organizing Center and WSA will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 9 p.m. in Usdan 108 to discuss the impending change to admissions and plan future action.
WSA Projects Budget and SBC Fund Shortage
Concerns about problems of a lack of transparency and oversight of WSA spending arose last spring after an investigation into the usage of funds during the 2010-2011 academic year and earlier. Former and current WSA members alleged that money from the Projects Budget, a fund overseen by the WSA President, had been used for personal expenditures and meals for the Student Budget Committee headed by Andrew Huynh ’11, the Executive Committee, and on one occasion the Concert Committee. It was also suggested that WSA members applying for funding via the SBC at times received preferential treatment, though evidence of this is largely anecdotal.
The majority of these allegations were focused on the ’10-’11 administration headed by then-WSA President Micah Feiring ’11 and then-WSA Vice President Ben Firke ’12, but evidence suggests that practices during that time were consistent with previous years. Under the By-laws in place at the time, it was permissible for the Projects Budget to be spent as designated by the WSA President, but many students expressed discomfort with the usage of the Student Activities Fee for outings that benefited a select group of WSA members. The By-laws were revised in 2011 to include a requirement that the Treasurer, in addition to the WSA President, authorize Projects Budget expenditures.
The use of Projects Budget funds for committee meals was said to have decreased in frequency toward the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, and according to WSA members last spring, such spending did not continue into the 2011-2012 administration of WSA President Zachary Malter ’13 and then-Vice President Meherazade Sumariwalla ’12.
Last year, WSA meals were paid for out of the members’ pockets, and according to former SBC member and then Community Outreach Committee Chair Grace Zimmerman ’13, Malter designated some of the Projects Budget to be used to fund student groups during a shortage of SBC funds in April. The lack of sufficient funding for student groups was due to an increase in funding requests and primarily affected literary publications. Historical Narratives, The Argus Magazine, VOID Magazine, and After Hours did receive funding, while Hermes rejected additional financial assistance, Unlocked did not respond, and Ostranenie was denied funding due to the large amount requested, according to then-SBC chair Cameron Couch ’13.
Both student discomfort with past spending and last spring’s SBC shortage have caused many to call for a re-evaluation of how the WSA budget is allocated. Concerns have been raised over the almost $40,000 that The Argus is allocated at the beginning of every year, which pays for the cost of printing the newspaper twice weekly, as it exceeds the budget of every other campus publication.
WSA members expressed a desire to discuss increased transparency in Constitutional review meetings, but student involvement through attendance at WSA meetings on Sunday evenings and participation in elections can also hold the student government more accountable in the future. Extensive coverage of The Argus’ investigation into WSA spending and use of the Projects Budget is available on The Argus website.
Art Library To Close, Weeding Continues
Last spring, students and faculty were outraged by the University’s decision to close the Art Library, a smaller library located in the Center for the Arts (CFA) that stores large art and art history books. When the library is closed in the summer of 2014, the books currently housed there will be moved to Olin. While many students were upset by the decision itself, the fact that the plan was made with little-to-no student input was considered problematic as well.
Studio Art major and Art Library student worker Becky Schisler ’14 and University Librarian Pat Tully held meetings in the University Organizing Center to gather input about the closure and determine how to present their concerns to the administration. A petition was also posted on Wesleying calling for the preservation of the Art Library in its current location. The petition stated that art books should be kept near art classes, that the library offers a unique study space, and that students need to be involved in the decision-making process.
To make room for the Art Library’s 25,000-volume collection in Olin, and in an effort to keep the collection current, the library is undergoing a weeding process with the ultimate goal of removing 60,000 books from the University’s 1.3 million volume collection.
Tully runs a WesWeeding blog to keep the community updated on the status of the book weeding. The blog, which defines weeding as “when a library selectively withdraws books that no longer serve the needs of its users,” laid out criteria for books that were eligible for removal. In order to be placed on the potential withdrawal list, books must meet the following criteria: published before 1990, added to the library’s collection prior to 2003, checked out one or fewer times since 1996 or not checked out since 2003, held by more than 30 other libraries in the United States and at least two of the University’s partner libraries. Librarians and faculty members reviewed the list to see if any of the titles should be removed from the weeding list. The second round of weeding is currently underway. Faculty members can review the Round 2 book lists until Oct. 31, 2012. For more information on the weeding, see weeding.wesleyan.edu.