The Wesleyan Student Union held its first meeting of the spring semester late in the evening of Monday, Feb. 13. Approximately 30 students gathered in the Daniel Family Commons to formulate an agenda for the group and discuss how it will move forward in the new year. Daniel Kim ’17 served as a moderator for the discussion, though participation was free and fluid throughout the meeting.
Kim encouraged attendees to bring up any student issue they considered salient, be it on the behalf of a particular student group or the University at-large. One student recommended requiring diversity training for all faculty and staff.
Even providing a base level of diversity education and awareness may make a big difference, noted Taylor McClain ’17. In the case of a student complaint, students will not be in the position of having to introduce a new idea to the faculty or staff member, as all should have a base level of knowledge.
Additionally, two students are working on a committee formed through the Office of Equity and Inclusion to protect the rights of students living and studying in the United States as a result of the 2012 immigration reform titled Differed Action for Child Arrivals (DACA); this policy of President Barack Obama’s aimed at non-citizen children of undocumented immigrants who have spent the vast majority of their lives in the United States. In what is thought to be an escalating pursuit of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the first DACA recipient was detained in Tacoma, Wash., just days ago on Feb. 10.
On Friday, Feb. 17, the University will be hosting a team of immigration lawyers in a three-part “know your rights” event that aims to simultaneously build an informed base of allies and provide legal advice to those in potentially precarious situations through one-on-one, confidential meetings with attorneys.
The DACA Committee’s priority is providing living accommodations and appropriate services to students who may not be able to travel home anymore on school breaks.
“I think at some point, it becomes the University’s duty to make sure that happens,” said Tomás Rogel ’19.
The committee is looking to expand its ranks to create a team of permanent members who meet regularly with VP for Equity & Inclusion and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias to continually address the needs of students who may be particularly vulnerable throughout the next four years.
Acknowledging that the event was not as well publicized as it could have been, committee member Paige Hutton ’18 suggested that the Student Union could assist in reaching out to different groups on campus, particularly identity groups, to get the word out about the upcoming event.
Also addressed was wealth inequality on the University’s campus. In response, students suggested a few ways to encourage students who have access to more financial resources. Mobilizing wealth can take the forms of direct donations or by contributing, perhaps, to an open fund of Middletown Cash or extra points for use by those who are running low.
Yael Horowitz ’17 floated the idea of a website where individuals can offer, solicit, and accept goods and services.
The recent additions to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) were also discussed, as improving mental health services at the University made up a core tenet of the Student Union’s activism during the fall semester.
Hutton, a major advocate for changes to the University’s counseling system and a leader of the Wes Needs Caps campaign, made sure to emphasize that the administration does not deserve extra credit for deciding to respond in part to what students have been demanding for months.
“It’s not magic,” Hutton said. “There have been student activists from many groups…pushing for this stuff, and I think that they’ve noticed that there’s a lot of mental health activism that’s been happening.”
The meeting wrapped up with a discussion regarding the organization of the Student Union going forward. The group is led by a steering committee with a rotating, horizontally structured membership. As this is a new semester, the leadership is expected to begin its first rotation, with a few leaders staying on for continuity in the Union’s early stages.
It was also noted that a majority of the attendees were white, a pervasive problem in campus activist communities. Suggestions to combat this tendency included rotating meeting spaces so the group can exist in spaces occupied by diverse groups. Reaching out to identity groups on campus—an effort the Union will be undertaking—may also increase participation.
“Giving people a stake in what’s going on will make them get involved,” McClain said.
Incorporating international students into the fold was also mentioned, as it was brought up that activism and activist culture is an American construct which may feel uncomfortable to navigate despite a genuine interest and willingness to participate in student activist activities.
Before parting for the evening—the meeting ran over its allotted hour as ideas continued flowing—the group reached a consensus on two items: supporting identity training for faculty and reaching out to campus identity groups. The group plans to hold subsequent meetings to further clarify its agenda.