On Monday, April 14, in anticipation of WesFest and all the prefrosh who would be picking up The Wesleyan Argus, a group of students published a Wespeak entitled “To the admitted students.” In just under one thousand words, the 11 signees accuse the University administration and the Wesleyan community of fostering privilege at the expense of all varieties of marginalized peoples; of valuing greed over fair treatment of the people who work here and of the world at large; of supporting oppression perpetuated by unjust institutions and societal norms. At the time of this writing, the article has received 49 comments on The Argus’s website, the tenor of which is overwhelmingly negative, in response. The signees, respectably putting their names and class years to their cause, have been called cowards, slanderers, and embarrassments to the Wesleyan community—all by commenters who chose not to put their own names on their attacks.
I am not in full support of that Wespeak. The issues the signees raise don’t encompass a full portrait of Wesleyan, but there is truth to each and every one of them. That said, the argument suffered from a buried lede. By ending instead of starting with a call to support Wesleyan and take up activist causes, the signees put negativity at the forefront, not the urgent passion to work toward improvement. Bettering ourselves is characterized as the reaction, not the assumption, as though we only strive for goodness and care as a community when we are faced with disgustingness and hate. I don’t believe that to be true. I believe that the Wesleyan activist spirit so many of us cherish comes from a determination to drive right into the face of injustices, not to sit passively and let every societal ill cascade upon us before finally mustering the indignation to respond.
Wesleyan is the battleground at which the signees have chosen to fight, but it is not the only one. Whether our injustices are more or less heinous than others elsewhere, ours are not the only ones, and Wesleyan is not the only place where people are fighting them. Here are a few examples:
On Wednesday, April 16, Walt Bogdanich published an article in The New York Times entitled, “A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation.” A female Florida State student reported that she had been raped. Then, 34 days later, she identified Jameis Winston, a highly touted Florida State football player, as the perpetrator. Police then didn’t contact Winston for 13 days. 29 days after that, they closed the investigation without following obvious procedural steps, including getting Winston’s DNA. The investigator was Officer Scott Angulo, who claimed the accuser had been uncooperative, leading him to close the investigation; the victim denied this repeatedly, and later openly through her attorney. The Times also learned that Angulo had done private security work for the Seminole Boosters, “the primary financier of Florida State athletics.”
On Monday, April 14, Doug Glanville published an article in The Atlantic entitled, “I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway.” Glanville, a former Major League Baseball player and University of Pennsylvania graduate, was shoveling snow outside his house when a police officer, outside his jurisdiction, came up to him and asked, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?” Glanville lives in Hartford, a 20-minute drive from our campus. The officer represented the West Hartford Police; West Hartford is the hometown of Danny Blinderman, whose article on the responsibility of Wesleyan students to take up activist causes is running in this same opinion section.
“In reaching out for understanding, I learned that there is a monumental wall separating these towns,” Glanville wrote. “It is built with the bricks of policy, barbed by racially charged anecdotes, and cemented by a fierce suburban protectionism that works to safeguard a certain way of life.”
Those are just the examples I’ve read about this week. The Florida State and Glanville cases are not perfect analogies for the battles we have fought here regarding racial profiling and sexual assault, but we can recognize more than enough common elements between these and ours. We do not have Florida State’s Division I athletic infrastructure, but the problem is relatable. Hartford and Wesleyan are very different places, but Glanville’s problem feels local.
We are a perceptive, empathetic community. This is why we have identified so many of our shortcomings in the first place: not necessarily because we are worse than other colleges or other parts of America or the world, but because we hold ourselves to a better, singular standard. We are Wesleyan, and the greatest part of that identity is our potential to make Wesleyan even greater.
After four years here, I can say absolutely that I believe in our capacity to grow. Whether or not you agree with the signees’ message or the way in which they chose to express it, at least acknowledge that they believe that about Wesleyan, too. Unfortunately, statements like this won’t help:
“If you want to take a fierce and focused role in making desperately needed change happen at Wesleyan, please come here. If you couldn’t care less, consider picking another school.”
The signees drew a line in the sand, excluding all who won’t commit up front to fighting alongside them. That’s how that passage reads, at least. The way it’s written says that only activists are welcome here, at the expense of many people who may choose not to demonstrate for reasons unrelated to how fervently they care about the issues. I really hope the signees meant that only people who care about solving problems and bettering Wesleyan should attend; otherwise, their statement is irredeemable.
For four years, I have expressed my views on every one of the issues the signees raised, privately and without interest in larger involvement in any cause. I have added my name to petitions, but I have not spearheaded any myself; I don’t have the temperament to battle administrators or to walk picket lines. But I do care, and I have surprised myself by publicly contributing to this conversation. Maybe I’ll do it again before my time here is done, maybe not. Expressing my distaste with these activists’ message doesn’t make me a hero or any better a person than I was before; what it does is make me an activist, at least this once. That’s what the signees forgot. You don’t grow by shutting out people who won’t fight; you have to inspire the people who care to take up arms.