Last year, I returned to campus after a weekend in Washington, D.C. to find the contents of an entire dorm room in the hallway. The owners of the various pieces of furniture had woken up to melting snow slowly dripping into their room, and were in the chaotic process of removing everything before the water damage reached their belongings.
It would soon come to light, however, that the flooded room was the least of Wesleyan’s worries that weekend: on that very Sunday, Feb. 22, several students were rushed to the hospital throughout the day with various symptoms ranging from vomiting to difficulty breathing. Eventually, it became clear that all of the students had taken the same tainted strain of MDMA (molly) the previous night.
Every Wesleyan student will tell you a different story about that night. My own personal one is that the next morning, I sent a quick text to a friend of mine who had been hospitalized—“so glad you’re ok, love you!”—and that one of my hall mates was relocated to the Butts for a couple months due to a small river invading her room.
But no one’s stories quite resemble those told this past Saturday night at an event in the center of Usdan called, after a series of name changes and reorganizations, “Nobody Presents: Poison.”
In what began as a refashioning of President Roth’s State of the University Address, the event aimed to subvert the usual narratives Wesleyan tells about the school and its students. The event’s creators are just a few of the many students who feel that both the administration’s and the media’s characterization of the molly incidents, as well as of the University in general, completely excluded the voices of those who actually attend the University and thereby failed to represent the school accurately.
“The idea that the president is the only person talking about the state of the University, as opposed to the students that make up the student body, is kind of ridiculous,” said an audience member who was also involved in putting the event together and asked to remain anonymous. “This event is not to complement what has been said but to counter the hierarchical structure that is [implied by] the president speaking for the entire campus body.”
The first piece, written and read by Meghana Kandlur ’18, addressed the way the University treats minorities, namely as a statistic to publish in pamphlets for prospective students. Throughout the piece she repeated the line, “I wish I could go to sleep and wake up in a white body,” demonstrating the way that even a school with such a liberal, progressive, inclusive reputation can enact its own forms of racism and exclusion. In a powerful ending line, she confessed, “I love you, Wesleyan, but you make me feel small.”
The next three presenters each read one of their own pieces, and then presented a work written by one of the students implicated in the MDMA incidents.
The first of these readers was Kate Pappas ’18, whose piece reflected on her personal experience after the accidents and her frustration with the way those around her were treating both herself and those affected by the so-called poisonings. One particularly stinging line was a clever jab at the school’s liberal politics and hypocrisy: “Our vegan desserts are almost as stale as the pseudo-apologies from the dean.” She then read a piece that appeared to be from the point of view of a student who was arrested due to the incident.
Next up was Jon Logan-Rung ’18, who also recounted his experiences on that fateful night and during the following days, weeks, and months. The visceral details of the piece brought it home, details like the experience of hugging Zach Kramer and feeling that his arms were exhausted from doing chest compressions on one of his best friends. (150 of them, to be exact.) In a highly resonant and dramatic line, he paused and said, “No one was ready for this.”
Logan-Rung went on to read a letter from Kramer, which acted partially as an update and partially as an apology, and also included general reflections on what happened. In a description of how Kramer views life now, the letter read, “I try to burn like a candle now rather than a firecracker.” At the end, Kramer cited specific people to whom he wished to apologize directly, many of whom were sitting in the audience.
Finally, Jonah Toussaint ’18 opened his own piece by simulating a one-ended phone call, presumably with a friend, discussing the aftermath of the poisonings. The performance moved into a sort of exposé from his own perspective of what he aptly called the “witch hunt” that took place in the few days afterwards. The most striking aspect of his account was the way he portrayed normal life resuming around him immediately following the incident: he recalled the incongruousness of visiting a friend in the hospital, looking “much more dead than alive,” and then going to class the next day.
Toussaint then read a piece written by Abhimanyu Janamanchi, known commonly on campus as Abhi, which recounted many of the text messages and calls he had received upon waking up in the hospital with no memory of what had happened that weekend. Interspersed with his friends’ attempts to reach out, often in means that were depressingly half-sincere, were his own responses: “It’s okay, I’m awake now.” Janamanchi was the victim in the most severe condition that night, and was airlifted to Hartford Hospital where he remained in critical condition for a week, with doctors unsure as to whether he would live. The letter—and the night’s performances—ended with the line, “I think we’re all awake now.”
Overall, Saturday night’s performances hovered between regret over what had happened, often referring to what Logan-Rung called the “college kid invincibility complex,” and frustration with the way that a community that calls itself safe and inclusive responded to the events. One of Toussaint’s lines read, “Wesleyan University doesn’t care about you…they care how you look.” The attention paid to appearances in the aftermath of the MDMA incidents, while understandable, was completely out of proportion to the University’s attempts to reach out to students: many heard that their friends had been hospitalized in a robotic all-school e-mail, and most of the hearings took place during spring break on a near-empty campus.
The performances also stressed how normal, for lack of a better word, the arrested students were— an aspect of the whole incident that an October Rolling Stone article by ’08 grad Emily Greenhouse also emphasized by outlining the students’ majors and extracurriculars. A greater existence was breathed into empty names.
Logan-Rung listed Kramer’s charges and then “translated” them out of police jargon and into everyday speech—“a couple of whippets and a half-rolled joint”—paraphernalia that would realistically not be that uncommon in a given University student’s dorm.
The number of conversations I’ve had with friends, family members, and other acquaintances outside of the University concerning the molly poisonings have been filled with a condescending element of disdain. I often feel the need to prove that I’m a good student, that my life is on track, and that no one should be concerned about my general habits and weekend activities. The narrative presented on Saturday was a welcome relief from that tendency: It approached the night’s incidents with an unparalleled compassion and an attitude that, instead of shaking its head at the students who were affected, reached a hand out to them, a small gesture exemplifying the attitude that Wesleyan claims to direct toward all its students.