WesFest is a formative experience for those who ultimately choose to come to Wesleyan. It certainly framed my entrance into my time here. I had an extraordinary time: I was fascinated by the classes, excited for the extracurricular opportunities, and blown away by the intelligence and kindness of the people I met. I listened to the descriptions of the various aspects of campus and the opportunities that they afforded, and left Wesleyan after those few days happy and grateful that I was able to attend such an amazing school. There was, however, one crucial thing that Wesleyan forgot to tell me that I think is vitally important for everyone who is considering attending Wesleyan to know: if you come here, you will be given enormous power.

All of us at Wesleyan have power. Some, by virtue of race, gender, economic class, and sexual identity have more than others, but Wesleyan affords all of us an additional measure of influence. This is the power that comes from the elite education you all will receive that many, if not most, can neither access nor afford. It comes from the connections you will make by virtue of being part of an institution that is not open to all. It comes from the fact that this school will teach you how to reason well, speak persuasively, and act effectively. You are privileged from the moment you set foot on this campus.

The power that you have now been offered is important because our campus, despite what you might have heard these past few days, is not perfect. You are considering attending an institution that turns down some applicants because they are unable to pay Wesleyan tuition. You might live at a school that underpays and overworks the people it hires to clean and maintain our dorms. It could be you walking around a campus currently suffering from an epidemic of sexual assault that renders too many spaces on campus dangerous and hostile for far too many of our friends and peers. Many of your potential peers and fellow community members will be denied the basic senses of safety and acceptance that the rest of us take for granted by dint of their identities.

You may say these things have little to do with you. You might argue that you are not and will never be guilty of sexual assault, and that it is not you who chose to reject applicants in need of aid. I disagree. You have now been offered admission into the Wesleyan community, a community that includes every student, faculty member, and administrator from Michael Roth on down. In a community we all shoulder the responsibility for what happens in our midst and what is done in our name. Few are guilty of the transgressions I described, but we are all responsible for what transpires in our community. With membership in a community comes the ability to change it, and I believe that if you choose to attend, all of you will have a responsibility to wield the power that you have been granted to help the most vulnerable among us. A community that refuses to help those in need abdicates its responsibility to the most basic precept of justice: that we honor the equal worth of all human life.

I want to challenge all of you: think critically about the power and privilege you have been accorded, and think about those who might have less then you do for no reason other than their race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. If you see people handing out flyers about financial aid, consider the person whose aspirations to learn and grow are stifled because of an inability to pay. If someone talks to you about the need to reform Greek life on our campus, think of the survivor of sexual assault who feels unsafe in such a central part of campus before replying. Let the experiences of the most vulnerable among us be the guide for how you consider our community. Be a voice for the voiceless, not for those already backed up by power, privilege, and prestige. Use the power you have to help those who have less than you do. Do not further stack an already stacked deck.

The twin of power is potential. All of you have the potential to effect enormous change if you decide to come to Wesleyan. You may run for a position in student government, join a student group devoted to raising the profile of an issue near to your heart, or write for one of the many publications that help shape and inform our campus discourse. Whatever you do, do not use your power to further cement an unacceptable status quo. Instead, utilize it to pursue justice for those whom the system has consistently failed. If you choose to fight for those who are vulnerable, you will find here at Wesleyan a school that desperately needs you and a community of student-activists ready to learn, grow, and work with you. The responsibility for this choice is yours.

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