Whether you recognize him from his job at the Usdan help desk, as the former President of Psi U and WestCo, or, if you’re a first year, from the We Speak We Stand presentation during orientation, you’ve definitely seen Daniel Wittenberg ’16 around campus. Our first WesCeleb of the 2015-2016 school year, Wittenberg sat down with The Argus to discuss his summer internship at a nonprofit, the power of summer camp, and the future of Psi U.
The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated as a WesCeleb?
Daniel Wittenberg: I think that’s a tough question, but I would say that I’ve been really lucky with the communities I’ve been involved with at Wesleyan, as well as where I’ve just ended up on campus. So I lived in WestCo my freshman year and really loved the community there. I ended up being WestCo president, so that’s kind of a whole community that, although I lived in Psi U my sophomore year, I have always been connected to. And then I work at Usdan, the student center, and I was working at the front desk the past two years. I feel like it’s a pretty visible place and a really easy place to interact with people. Also, I think that my involvement with Psi U and, most recently, WesWell and We Speak We Stand, have just been ways to meet really different faces of campus, and it’s just been really fun.
A: What’s it been like being involved with We Speak We Stand?
DW: I’ve really loved it. I got involved in the spring as a facilitator for bystander intervention. That’s something I actually got involved with through Psi U, because we were working with WesWell to try and get our house safer and keep members educated. So I got involved and got trained as a facilitator and did a few bystander interventions, and then Tanya [Purdy] sent out an email to everyone that was involved in that to ask if we wanted to come early for orientation and do the performance. And it was something that I’d really started to care about a lot, and something that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the people that I was doing that with, and it was a really rewarding experience.
A: Can you tell me about how you reacted to the recent news about Psi U being closed for the upcoming academic year?
DW: Yeah, it was really devastating. I was president last fall, and throughout the course [of the year], Psi U changed in so many ways, most notably in co-educating in the spring. And after all of this work, to kind of hear at the end of the summer, not even when the incident happened in the spring, that we would no longer be allowed in the house this year—also through emails that were not really clear about what had happened and were kind of just working off assumptions—it was just really sad to see all the work that I and so many others had put in get set back. And I don’t think it’s been erased. It certainly hasn’t, because we’re going to be really active this year—but it’s tough, just because it wasn’t something Psi U was involved with as an organization, and nobody really knows what happened…. I think the administration really jumped to conclusions.
A: You said the organization’s going to be really active this year. Do you all have any specific ideas lined up?
DW: So, we’re still working out exactly how we want to organize this year. I’m no longer directly in a leadership role, but I’m still really involved. We need to work with the University to see exactly what we can do as an organization without a house. Our hope is to still engage with the campus, still host events, still try to get our message as Psi U and where we’re headed out there for the freshmen who might not really know. Especially because we’re not going have a space, we want to make sure we still engage in conversations with the freshmen and see if they’re interested, and really figure out after this year where we’re going to be headed, because we were really in a transitional phase and it’s important to keep that going.
A: What other activities are you involved with on campus?
DW: I was a student manager at Usdan my sophomore and junior year, and this year I’ve actually been hired as a programming and marketing intern, so I’m going to be working with UCAB as well as Usdan staff to organize weekly Thursday and Friday night events in Usdan, and to market those to the campus. There are some really exciting things coming up. I encourage you to come, and everyone else. It’s essentially going to make use of the Usdan facilities to, one, provide a safe and fun engaging social space for students on the weekend if they don’t feel like going out to other places on campus or if there’s nothing else going on, and two, to help show students how they can use Usdan throughout the year, and use those facilities in different ways that they might not know about.
I think coming in as a freshman you might not know everything that Usdan has to offer, there’s actually a lot of stuff there that students can take advantage of. But I don’t think everyone knows that, so I’m really excited about that. I really love working at Usdan. One, the people I work with are really amazing, and it’s a great group of people that really have different perspectives on campus, because I would say that they’re all really interested and into different things. And two, just being in the student center you see so many students and kind of get to see people interacting with one another a lot.
A: How was your summer?
DW: It was great. I was interning at the F.B. Heron Foundation, which is in New York. It’s actually kind of a long story, but I’m going to go into it. They’re engaging in impact investing, rather than operating like a traditional foundation, where they have an endowment. And then they give grants, and those two departments are separate. The endowment invests money and uses the money they make to give money to organizations that work towards their mission. F.B. Heron is fighting poverty, so that’s an example. But what they’ve found a few years ago now, as financial portfolios are becoming more transparent, is that a lot of the money they were investing with their endowment was actually investing in things that kind of run counter to mission, like privatized prisons, which you could say actually are really bad for impoverished communities, and fossil fuels, again which disproportionately affect low income communities. So they’re transitioning to invest their grants and any debt in equity into mission organizations or portfolios. It’s hard to explain without going into some nonprofit or finance lingo, but it’s actually really exciting, and I’m hoping to write my senior essay about that, too.
A: Has it impacted what you want to do after Wes?
DW: Yes, to the extent that it’s shown me that I don’t actually want to go into nonprofits. I really enjoyed working there, but I’m not sure if it’s the environment I want to go into right after college. I might try to get some experience in a more entrepreneurial environment and hopefully move forward from there.
A: How has the CSS major impacted you?
DW: I loved the CSS major. Although a lot of people view it as very restrictive because you’re assigned courses you take every semester, I think the way that it’s taught really lets you form your own ideas about what you’re reading. You write essays about content before discussing that content in class, and I think that’s really cool, because it allows you to kind of take your own approach. And then when you get to class, it gives you the chance to kind of adapt and kind of defend that approach, and your interpretation of what you were reading, and I’ve really enjoyed that. I felt like I had a lot of freedom with what I learned.
A: Do you have any favorite memories at Wesleyan?
DW: I have so many varied Wesleyan memories that it’s kind of hard to really pin down. I would say that many of my best learning experiences have actually been through Psi U and taking a leadership role in an organization where students really take the lead. I was president of WestCo and worked with ResLife a lot, but didn’t ever get that level of decision making and autonomy that I got in Psi U. Going through the process of coeducation when that was announced in the fall when I was president, working with the organization to make that transition, and working with the rest of students on campus to figure out what our role would be on campus after that transition was made was a huge learning process and, although a very difficult memory, a really rewarding one that I learned a lot from.
I’ll try to think of some fun memories. I have so many different ones that it’s really hard to say. I’d say that also—this is another Psi U one—when our first coed class was initiated last spring was absolutely one of my favorite memories, because there had been so much work that went into it and, you know, the way that our house had transformed that year was really inspiring. And seeing that all culminate in a new class of both men and women was really amazing.
A: What’s the meaning behind that ankle tattoo?
DW: Yeah, so this is a really important part of my life, too. I have attended and worked at the same camp for the past 11 summers, and this past summer was actually the first one I didn’t return there. I started when I was 11, and I was a camper for a few years. I did an international exchange program through them and have worked there as a counselor ever since. I would say that that place in terms of shaping me as a person is probably the one place that I’d say has shaped me the most. It’s… in Becket, Massachusetts. It’s in the Berkshires. It’s beautiful. It’s one of the most caring communities I’ve ever been a part of, and I try to make it back every summer even if I’m not working there anymore.
A: Where’d you go internationally?
DW: I went to Chile. It was an amazing experience. So that was actually going into my sophomore year of high school, so it was a while back, but it was a really great experience, good for my Spanish speaking, as well as the first time I had traveled in a group of people my age and had a lot of independence in the people I was interacting with. I would say it was really my first really cultural experience, because traveling before that was really not the same.
This interview has been edited for length.