President Michael Roth attended the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meeting on Sunday, March 2 to answer questions from the WSA and members of the student body. Each semester, Roth attends one WSA meeting to engage in a conversation with students about concerns that are pertinent to the University.
Sunday’s forum opened with a discussion of internationalization. Roth and the WSA discussed whether the University should make it its mission to increase the percentage of international students and how to increase international awareness of the University.
WSA President Nicole Updegrove ’14 stated that she supports increasing the applicant pool to make the University’s population more diverse, but also voiced several concerns about admitting more international students.
“A lot of the international students here currently feel like they’re not very supported in finding jobs for the summer or post-graduation, in dealing with all of the paperwork for both the United States and their home country, in assimilating to Wesleyan and making sure that they have everything they need,” Updegrove said. “That’s a serious problem and the Office of International Students is great, but it’s only two people, one of whom is also a full-time faculty member.”
Updegrove suggested that before growing the international population, there are several changes that the University must consider.
“There are a lot of changes that we could make if we had money,” Updegrove said. “Those would have to include expanding the Office of International Studies, getting more scholarships for students, having an Office of International Life that sort of integrates kids who are going abroad with international students so that more people are sharing diverse cultures and it’s not always about the international students having to share their culture with Wesleyan, but its everyone sharing their experiences in a supportive way.”
The meeting also involved a discussion of the composition of a new Board of Appeals, which is designed to listen to procedural concerns regarding Student Judicial Board and Honor Board hearings.
Dean Michael Whaley and Roth have discussed the creation of a Board composed of three members: Whaley, a faculty member, and a student. The WSA is pushing for a Board of five members, including Whaley, two faculty members, and two students.
“Everything I’ve read in social psychology research says that in a larger group people are more willing to step up and give their opinion and dissent with one another,” Updegrove said. “That’s especially a concern because we have a power differential between a dean, a faculty member, and one student. I really think that in order to make the appeals process fair, people have to be willing to step up, and I think that having five members would really help with that.”
Additionally, attendees included several representatives of WesDivest, who spoke with Roth about the progression of divesting from fossil fuels. The WSA passed a resolution in the fall of 2013 encouraging the University to slowly divest from fossil fuels over the coming years. According to Updegrove, the resolution was highly supported, but has seen little progress since being passed.
Abby Cunniff ’17 served as the WesDivest representative at the meeting and stated that the group is discussing its next steps.
“Before convincing the Board of Trustees to divest, we need to create a plan for responsible and safe divestment, because we don’t want to put the endowment at risk,” Cunniff said. “That’s not our goal. We’re not trying to do anything rash. We don’t demand that this happen quickly. We just want Wesleyan to commit to having responsible investment practices.”
During the meeting, Roth expressed a concern that divesting would be merely a symbolic gesture, as the University would continue to use energy produced by fossil fuels.
“I don’t see a will to not touch fossil fuels among students at Wesleyan,” Roth said. “I don’t understand how selling stocks in energy companies does anything. It makes us feel better, I suppose, but I don’t know that we’ve done anything…. I don’t see the symbolic gesture would make us do more than feel that we’re not a part of this thing. What we’re a part of is an energy economy that is destroying the planet. Trying to change the energy economy is really important but I don’t know what selling stocks does in that regard.”
Cunniff said that she disagrees with Roth and believes the University must take a stance against the fossil fuel industry.
“I am frustrated that [Roth] cannot see that systematic change is the only way to combat this incredibly powerful energy economy, not individual efforts,” Cunniff said. “It is wonderful to run a sustainable institution, but I wholeheartedly believe we can both reduce our direct impact with sustainability measures while simultaneously speaking out on an institutional level against fossil fuel companies.”
WesDivest hopes to hold an open forum later in the month that will allow them to team up with campus groups outside of the environmental community and present divestment as movement for social progress.
“This is a social justice issue at the root of it, and we know that Wesleyan students don’t want to be condoning a system that is really hurting a lot of people,” Cunniff said. “My heart isn’t in this because of polar bears or my future, it’s because there are people right now in West Virginia and Louisiana and all across fracking country that are suffering and can’t use their water anymore. That’s awful, and people are making calculated choices to continue doing this at the expense of all of these people. That’s just not O.K.”