Tradition is not as prevalent at Wesleyan as it is at most of our peer institutions. Many of us would argue that we shouldn’t have traditions at a school this progressive, and that the few that remain ought to be erased. I have no problem going to a school where most of the students cannot sing the fight song all of the way through, but I do think that we ought to engage more frequently with our institutional history to deepen our intellectual and emotional reservoirs.
“The Wesleyan Experience” is as divergent as the branches of the oldest trees on this campus, but each Wesleyan Experience stems from the same root. On tradition and the Wesleyan Experience, President Victor Butterfield wrote that, “Each generation receives, embraces and passes on the essence of the College’s life—its attitudes, its spirit, and its values. Tradition thus persists like the roots of a beech tree sprouting new trunks and branches, each with its own distinctive size and shape, but each with the essential qualities of the parent tree.” Yet it often seems as though we go through our typical four years without really knowing this parent tree, only to drift about through myths of what we heard from someone about the past.
Thankfully, this is not completely true. Olin’s Archives and Special Collections has seen a significant influx of students coming to research civil rights movements and race relations at Wesleyan. As Butterfield once said, “We are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.” Each trip to the archive will greatly benefit not only the dialogue surrounding race on campus, but also the movement itself. Learning what worked and what didn’t work with the administration is valuable, but what’s more valuable is the connection one makes with one’s predecessors in going through the archives.
With a constant four-year turnover rate, much of The Wesleyan Experience gets lost with the perpetual departure of seniors and the arrival of first-year students. The same complaints remain with the older students, like how the night life was way better their first year, which any alumnus will tell you they said when they were students here too. But besides some common tropes remaining, presentism prevails. In fact, many of these tropes, like that of the declining nightlife, remain precisely because they are only tied to the present and have no engagement with the past.
Although Wesleyan has a proud progressive history, within that is a complicated history of things that we shouldn’t be proud of, nor should we forget. Wesleyan was one of the first colleges to admit women in 1872, only to end its policy of coeducation in 1909. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to campus on three separate occasions, and Wesleyan was one of the first highly selective schools to actively recruit non-white students, with the class of 1965 having fourteen men of color. However, the University still has problems with race, as can be witnessed by the latest manifestation of the civil rights movement on campus in the Is this Why? campaign.
There is also a duty incumbent upon The Argus to record history. Each writer and each section has a duty to record the present at Wesleyan before it is lost. As effective as social media campaigns may be, and as useful of an archive as they can be for our experience on campus, private corporations who have no obligation to preserve anything for posterity own the content of social media. The Argus, however, is ours.
Since its inception in 1868, this newspaper has frequently been perceived as noninclusive. The Ankh, among other publications on campus, was created for a reason. It is no accident or coincidence that students of color created their own publication when The Argus had been around for over a century. Our predecessors of color did not feel welcome writing for The Argus and, sadly, many of our peers still feel this way. As writers and editors of The Argus, it is not only our obligation, but our moral responsibility, to change this perception that operates as a reality.
We must also document as many events on campus as we can before they are lost, for there is no Wesleyan Experience if we do not record it and share it with others. From the banal to the extraordinary, we must record–whether it is with prose or visual media. Students create history here constantly, and what they do on this hill by the Connecticut River could be of use to someone in the future as long as it is documented and preserved. If we do not dutifully record our institution’s history, and if no one engages with it, we are bound to keep running into the same problems and feel as if we are lost in uncharted territory, when, in fact, we are just the latest leaves to bloom on a longstanding tree.
Lahut is a member of the Class of 2017.