The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) held a meeting on Sunday, Sept. 11 to address and discuss, among other things, the confusion surrounding a Residential Life policy that has impacted program house concerts and events. The policy arose out of situations that occurred in the 2015-16 school year, involving what was seen as program houses straying from their mission statements and becoming sites for concerts rather than house-themed events.
“We were hearing from the general student population that some of our program houses were being viewed as concert venues more so than as the program houses themselves,” Director of Residential Life (ResLife) Fran Koerting said at the meeting.
ResLife’s solution at the time was to enact a policy that targeted this issue, and promoted the use of events that were tailored to each house’s individual theme.
One house Koerting mentioned in particular is the former Buddhist House, which has since been renamed as Middle House. She explained that previously, students thought that the Buddhist House was not being true to its mission. This sparked future discussions on potential issues in program housing.
“The Undergraduate Residential Life Committee, which is the committee that is half WSA representatives and half ResLife representatives, and is primarily students, had already looked at [the fact] that we needed to put a lot more focus on the mission,” Koerting said.
The policy had been met with some resistance from students; however, students considered the policy a blanket ban: restricting houses from hosting concerts unrelated to the theme of the house. ResLife also addressed the issue during the summer, when the majority of University students were not on campus. This meant that most students could not provide their own input as to what action should be taken.
Koerting admitted to the flaw in the execution of the policy.
“We didn’t get a chance to talk about it while students were still here, which is a mistake,” Koerting said. “We should have done it when we had student input.”
This was the reason many students voiced concern about the policy, and despite this concern, the conversation was opened.
Students spoke up about some of their thoughts and concerns at the meeting. Community Adviser Drew Trotman ’18 brought up the ways that changing program house regulation might affect underrepresented students and students of color on campus.
“As a student of color, program houses serve as a safe space in a lot of cases,” Trotman said.
He also noted that less-represented students could be impacted by this change.
“I think that there has been a general, [though] of course it wasn’t on purpose, shrinking of that nightlife by eliminating these spaces where students have gotten together,” Trotman said.
Other students voiced their opinions during the meeting, a few mentioning that they felt ResLife did not handle the issue in the most effective way.
One student suggested that the issue might have been taken care of more effectively had ResLife approached the members of each program house individually to construct a dialogue and discuss options for their respective house.
Another student narrated an experience with Earth House, explaining that through attending events at Earth House, it became clear to the student that the community was one the student wanted to join. Through events like these, the student explained, the houses promote interest and grow and strengthen as a community. A third student mentioned that program houses provided safe spaces for parties and locations for night life.
Trotman also offered his own solution, explaining that the University could be involved in planning social events as well.
“I have some friends who go to other universities and there are other university-sponsored parties,” Trotman said.
Program houses are meant to have no more than three house-themed events each month. The events revolve in some way around each house’s theme, from music to art to the environment. While Koerting acknowledged that Music House is an appropriate building for concert events, other houses had to ensure that if they did host concerts, those concerts related in some ways to the theme of the house.
“I really think that if we’re talking about the safety and health of students, that sort of taking away the music from them isn’t really a healthy decision,” Jonah Toussaint ’17, another attendee, said. “I feel like it might be easier to let the people in the house decide what the house should be.”
After multiple students voiced concern about ResLife making changes to the way program houses are run, Koerting noted that she did not believe any changes were going to drastically affect student life. A final decision has yet to be made, but the conversation has been opened. To alleviate student concerns, Koerting noted that future changes will involve student input.