Last spring, I reported for the News Section of the Argus on the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meetings about sexual assault and the role of Greek life on campus. I list these separately, though they quickly fell to monomania and became indistinguishable. It was grueling for all involved, and, I believe, did more harm than good.
Bolstered by an appalling atmosphere, participants representing all sides of the issue ridiculed one another with knowing smirks, outraged expressions, and not-so-quiet snickers. Sometimes folks shouted to quiet down speakers with whom they disagreed. Discourse (liberally used) came at the price of decorum as battle lines were drawn and rifts aggravated. Those opposed to co-education were stigmatized as rapists’ co-conspirators or simply too stupid to understand the issues. Supporters became hate-mongers or prudes. Perhaps the lowest point came when Jacob Musinsky ’15—the, now erstwhile, WSA moderator—shocked the room by laughing at the remarks of one fraternity brother he ostensibly believed too worthless to listen to seriously. He later apologized, but his tone, and that of the meeting, was clear: neither camp truly believed the other worth listening to.
At the end of the day, we gained little beyond chipped shoulders and antipathy—even hate—for our peers. Whatever insights the rare moments of clarity offered us were wholly eclipsed by the disease of misunderstanding and distrust. I firmly, and with great sorrow, believe that these meetings have scarred our community, my expectations of whom have sadly diminished.
Yet, though our community certainly needs a good scolding (participants for their behavior, and the many, many absent students for their apathy on the most significant issue our community faces), this article is not that. It is a rebuke of a different sort: one with a different target and a rehabilitative agenda. This is a scolding of President Roth. And a demand for change.
Retrospection brings the divisiveness of debate into focus, but it also offers insight into the curious behavior of our President and the figurehead of the Wesleyan community, who came, and saw, and sat, and listened, and left—all with the quiet stoicism of an untouchable elite far above deigning to interact with the rabble, except, of course, when forced to.
Now, let me be clear: I understand administrative proceedings are private, JSA hearings confidential; we elect WSA members as liaisons and in doing so cede the privilege of close scrutiny, but this does not negate our prerogative of access. We deserve to learn how our community is representing itself in the world through more than irregular blog posts, ineffective WSA resolutions, or quixotic club announcements. We are the ones whom the closed-door decisions of the board of trustees and President Roth affect, and, as such, ought to hear from them directly. It is with this in mind that, biannually, President Roth, the wizard behind the curtain, ought to deliver a “State of the School Address” to the full body of the Wesleyan community.
I have many questions about behind-the-scenes activities at the University. What steps has the University taken to ensure the fair treatment of the many Bon Appetit employees who work tirelessly for our well-being, but have been long embattled with contract negotiations? We divested during the South African Apartheid; why not now with fossil fuels? Are changes being made to end trans* discrimination on campus? Why is the administration passive while the AFAM department hemorrhages instructors? Is there a plan in place—even one that takes many years—to return us to need-blind admissions? Why did President Roth schedule a meeting with Senator Murphy directly before he addressed the student body at the Monument Quilt event? Was it censorship? A vainglorious attempt to co-opt the movement or steal credit from the student organizers? The artery of communication between President Roth and students is clogged. What are the things we students need to know but don’t?
I hope you, my peers, will stand with me in my call for access. It’s important that we get responses and acknowledgements of our questions, even if those remarks don’t always include solutions. We need to know that administrators care about our community and the values we share. In the wake of division, we need collective healing and, in the case of President Roth, individual atonement. Only after this, I believe, will good intentions turn into meaningful action, and blights on our community like sexual assault be not remedied, but, perhaps, ameliorated.
Warner is a member of the class of 2017.