On Friday, April 3, a new student group called Wescussion held their first meeting in Usdan 108. The two students who started the group, Misha VanEaton ’18 and Aaron Stryker ’18, expressed hope that it will become a collaborative effort to which all students contribute ideas and opinions.
The main objective of Wescussion is to understand issues commonly discussed on campus. While the leaders of the group acknowledge that liberal views are most commonly embraced at the University, not everyone truly understands why these views are accepted and what opposing views sound like.
VanEaton spoke to this overall goal.
“We want to have a place where people can talk about why certain ideas are accepted and gain a mutual understanding of both views,” VanEaton said. “There are some beliefs that I don’t really understand why I hold, and understanding our own beliefs is why we created this club.”
The group originated in a dorm-room conversation. VanEaton, Stryker, and a couple of their friends were discussing topics that they feel the general student body wants them to accept, but realized that they don’t fully understand them. Such subjects include privilege, fraternities, and divestment, all of which are topics the group hopes to cover.
By creating a space for these discussions, VanEaton and Stryker aim to mitigate the judgment that they feel comes with questioning the topics they plan to discuss. They want to create a safe environment in which students can begin to understand why predominant beliefs exist without the fear of being judged for inquiring about these views.
“Sometimes, attempts to understand the topics we want to discuss result in learning, but more often than not, we’ve just been told that we’re ignorant,” said Liam Bristol ’18, who is spearheading the group along with VanEaton and Stryker. “Although I understand that there are certain things I can’t actively help or change, I also know that perpetuating ignorance removes the option of changing anything.”
Charlie Mercein ’18 attended the first meeting and spoke to the need for this type of collaboration.
“I think one of the many reasons people come to college is to experience a diversity of opinions and life experiences,” Mercein said. “Unfortunately, class discussion doesn’t always allow people to make contrarian arguments for fear of judgment or rejection from classmates, or worse, a professor.”
The group’s first meeting consisted of ideas for future discussions. Next week’s meeting, which will focus on divestment, will act as a trial run. Discussion leaders hope to gain insight on how to avoid starting arguments and keep the conversation productive. Many members are enthusiastic simply about discussing topics that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.
“I’m interested in Wescussion because I want to have discussions that would make some people uncomfortable,” said Carter Deane ’18, another attendee of Friday’s meeting. “My experience at Wesleyan so far has lacked a casual, structured setting for these conversations.”
One of the most prominent topics on campus right now, and one that the group hopes to explore in depth, is the tension between fraternities and other individuals on campus. The group plans to hear from a fraternity brother and find out why this system is important to him, as well as from someone who has had an unpleasant interaction with fraternities and will talk with the group about his or her side of the conflict.
If they are able to get funding from the Student Budget Committee (SBC) in the fall, the group hopes to bring in speakers from outside of the University. While they are waiting until next semester to form a more concrete group, VanEaton and Stryker’s plans for the near future outline a very casual setting for discussions on any issues members want to focus on. They emphasized that members do not need to contribute or have any previous understanding about each day’s topic prior to the meeting.
“We’ll have a topic for the day, and we’ll send around a piece about the topic beforehand,” Stryker said. “Whoever has an opinion on it will contribute, and if you don’t have an opinion, you don’t have to contribute—you can just absorb other people’s knowledge about the subject.”
Attendees will cluster into small groups of ten or less and share their opinions on each week’s topic. The founders of the group do not want appointed discussion leaders, rather, an open environment in which every member has an equal opportunity to voice their opinions.
“The goal is to facilitate discussions that allow all voices to be heard without judgment,” Bristol said. “We see this as hugely important for increasing social awareness and decreasing ultimately harmful ignorance on campus.”
The group will host their next meeting Thursday, April 9, at 3 p.m. in Allbritton 311.