The collective values of students at the University may be hard to pinpoint, but there is one that is clear: our pride in being ahead of the curve. With the WSA elections taking place and a recently impassioned dialogue regarding the role of Greek life in diminishing sexual violence raging on campus, it seems quite difficult to find consensus on where we ought to be going as an institution. I believe that we are going forward, and maybe a little bit further to the left.
In our own ways, we all share the value of moving forward. However, the student body is diverse; we do not all want to go in the same direction. Complicating the matter is the fact that many of us sought out Wesleyan’s culture because we come from places where collective values were imposed on people, suppressing their expression and pursuit of identity.
I came to Wesleyan from one of the most conservative schools in the country, an all-boys school that was a mix between a college preparatory school and a military school. Not only were we required to adhere to appearance requirements that were stricter than those of the New York Yankees, we also had to abide by a set of eight core values. These values centered around unwavering American pride. If someone didn’t like abiding by them, it was implied that he should get out. And many did. Fortunately for those jack waggons like me who stuck it out, never bothering to question or rebel against the structures in place, we received a great education.
The University’s intellectual climate seems to evoke from us an imperative to question our shared values, whether it be through shared inquiry, protest, or even the vandalism that was seen in the de-gendering of bathrooms earlier this year by trans* activists. This is radically different from the school I came from, which relied on the gender binary: it shared a split campus with an all-girls school across the street. There was only one trans* student at either school, and she left to attend another all-girls school in the area that was known to have a more liberal atmosphere. I first began to question the gender binary within days of arriving at the University, after having some eye-opening conversations with my peers during orientation.
During orientation, it seemed to me that this school was the most tolerating place on earth. To this day I believe this claim to be true, though I am young and naive.
At the University, we like to think that we embrace differences more than any of our peer institutions at the elite level. But it is important to recognize that we must make trade-offs that are not always in agreement with what we imagine to be the University ideal. Nonetheless, we remain exceptional in our ethos of inclusion, diversity, and radical experimentation. We’re not your run-of-the-mill highly selective school. We are the Diversity University after all.
Despite the difficulty I’ve faced in discerning shared values among Wesleyan’s diverse students, one that I could find is our willingness to be on the forefront of a variety of social issues. This can be seen in our passionate campus dialogues. Whether we hail from a nice, quiet little town down south, or from the biggest cities in the world, we all know what it is like to feel like the odd one out in a culture of conformity. As strong or weak as the communities we left to come here may be, we often only begin to become our true selves when we first set foot on this campus.
Being in this culture has exposed me to fraternities and their correlation with rape culture, both on Wesleyan’s campus and in academic studies. After reading the various recent articles about rape culture, most recently the Wesleying article on Beta by Ethan Hoffman ’14, I believe that the status quo of residential fraternities on campus from the past century is conducive to rape culture, but it is not the end of reducing sexual violence.
In fact, if the WSA’s Resolution B is any indication, the status quo is changing. As the administration considers changing the role of Greek life on campus, we should pride ourselves on moving forward, not backward. In most of the country, fraternities still avoid coeducation for fear of losing their national chapter affiliation. Here, those days may be ending.
A great responsibility comes with being one of the most progressive and elite institutions in higher education. Although some may say that the recent campus dialogue has been toxic and we are receiving too much bad press, I believe that at this moment we have an enormous opportunity to further the excellence of our institution by taking steps to advance our school. More challenges will come in the future to higher education, and Wesleyan will be out front. Let’s capitalize on the diversity and tenacity of our students.
Lahut is a member of the class of 2017.