During my junior year of high school, as I stepped out of the admissions building to start my tour of Wesleyan, the first students I encountered were a group of students camped outside the Investment Office protesting investments in weapons contractors. More than anything else I learned on that tour, seeing such passionate and committed students convinced me that Wesleyan was the place for me.
It can be easy to reflect on Wesleyan’s activist history and question whether that spirit has faded over the years. Although such discussion can be very valuable, it is important that we recognize the amazing work done by so many students right now. During my four years at Wesleyan my fellow students have constantly inspired me. As a first-year, I learned a lot from upperclass students and Wesleyan’s vibrant activist community continues to teach me a great deal.
There is something core to the Wesleyan culture that fosters social activism year after year. It is remarkable that as students come and go, new generations of students are able to continue the work started by others who are long gone. For example, the United Student-Labor Action Coalition (USLAC), which helps fight for the rights of Wesleyan’s staff members and contracted employees, has existed for nearly 20 years. One of the many students who has been involved with groups, such as USLAC, was Peter Morgenstern-Clarren ’03.
Kristy Mercado ’05 explained that “I could tell that he was not only a genuinely compassionate person, but truly unique as well, not like the rest of us in our predictable Wesleyan ways. He cared so much about the world and wasn’t afraid to let people know in a variety of expressions.” In addition to his involvement with USLAC, Peter was the leader of the Wesleyan chapter of Amnesty International. Peter exemplified the mix of compassion and courage to speak up that drives so many Wesleyan students to try to make the world a better place.
In Peter’s memory, his family has established the Peter Morgenstern-Clarren Social Justice Award. The award comes with a financial contribution of $1500, to honor students who help create a more just community and society. As last year’s award recipient, I am very thankful to Dr. Hadley Morgenstern-Clarren and the Honorable Pat Morgenstern for their generous sponsorship of the award.
Sophomores and juniors who are in good standing are encouraged to apply. The award will be given to the applicant who best embodies the spirit of social justice that Peter Morgenstern-Clarren exemplified so well during his time at Wesleyan. Additionally, employees who are instrumental in helping Wesleyan students are eligible to receive the Peter Morgenstern-Clarren Employee Recognition Award. Eligible employees are building maintenance staff, dining staff, grounds crew, and custodians. Students and staff can both submit nominations. The applications for both awards are due on Feb. 28, 2013 by 5 p.m. All materials should be sent to Dean Marina Melendez. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Dean Marina Melendez at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com.