When Wesleyan engages with students who call for a more inclusive environment, it addresses lives lived and lost just beyond our campus. Powerful and engaged critical practice and work, such as this, ensures a healthy and empowering environment, filled with opportunity and self-discovery. It is this loving, protective, welcoming, and liberating work that is at the core of the mission of the Center for African American Studies (CAAS). For this reason, all who pass the Center for African American Studies building will see a ‘Black Lives Matter’ flag.
We fly this flag because we believe that it is in our collective interest to recognize that black lives have mattered and always will matter to our history as an institution and to our future as a nation. The history of Wesleyan University and the greater Middletown community reveals the way in which the livelihood of black people and our communities are tested on a daily basis. Nineteenth-century challenges began almost immediately after the founding of our university when in 1832, Charles B. Ray, the first African American student to enroll at Wesleyan, withdrew, after only six weeks, due to life-threatening harassment from students. This was at a time when Wesleyan students supported a slaveholding South and the legal barrier to equal education for people of African descent, whether free or enslaved. As Wesleyan renews and deepens its commitments to equity and inclusion, we are reminded of how far we have come since 1832, when Charles Ray had his admission revoked. But, resilience lives through legacy, as Ray’s daughter Charlotte would later become one of the nation’s first African American women lawyers, and went on to become a leading public figure and the founder and editor of the influential Colored American, the nation’s first African American newspaper.
We, too, remember the aspirations of the Reverend Amos Beman of Middletown, whose family established the Beman Triangle community on Cross, Knowles, and Vine Streets and whose residences and church have become campus housing for Wesleyan students and home to the Dance Department. Beman’s studies ended when white students threatened violence and there was no intervention from the administration or the faculty. Furthermore, our twenty-first century campus and community history compels us to turn to Efrain Carrion, who in 2010, at 35 years of age, was tased to death while handcuffed and in police protection, in Middletown. Institutional racism still exists, within and beyond our campus. It exists in spheres from which none of us can escape.
It is at this place of intersection between our national past and local present and between our academic world and local community that the Center for African American Studies stands. Those involved and affiliated with CAAS share a keen awareness of the potential and power of what CAAS, the African American Studies Program, and Malcolm X House bring to this place: ambitious interdisciplinary studies, intentional and sustained faculty-student mentorship, transformative intellectual development, meaningful social gatherings, inclusive coalition bonding, and restorative justice work. Indeed, the founding of the Center, in 1974, was both necessary and made possible because black lives—black Wesleyan students’ daily and intellectual lives—mattered. The continued and visible evolution of this space has been achieved because of the passionate and strategic methods of change carried out by students, faculty, and staff alike.
We recognize that the discussion of race and privilege at Wesleyan cannot be limited to the classrooms and various events hosted by CAAS and its institutional allies. We want to emphasize that since the founding of the Center, marginalized identities within and beyond our Wesleyan community have had and continue to have a home within CAAS. This is a history that should never be forgotten. It is with a sense of historical and contemporary obstructions, being enslavement, segregation, disenfranchisement, gender inequity, state violence, or divisive political campaigns, the Advisory Board of the Center for African American Studies declares black lives matter. We value the lives and histories of those across the African diaspora. We value the lives of our black and brown students, majors, faculty, staff, and neighbors in Middletown. No matter your feelings of uncertainty, there is certainty in your existence and CAAS as your home.
CAAS Advisory Board Members:
Lois Brown, Director for the Center for African American Studies
Jalen Alexander ’14 & ’15M, Co-Chair
Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18, Vanguard Fellow
Janel Davis ’99, Co-Chair
Ainsley Eakins ’18, House Manager, Malcolm X House
Bria Grant ’17
Dreisen Heath ’15, Research Associate, University of Delaware
Yael Horowitz ’17
Renee Johnson Thornton, Dean for Class of 2018
Victoria King ’18, Vanguard Fellow
Teshia Levy-Grant ’00, Interim Dean for Equity and Inclusion
Taylor McClain ’17
Sadasia McCutchen ’17
Krystal-Gayle O’Neil, Area Coordinator, Residential Life
Gregory Ransom Jr. ’18
Pamela Tatge P’16, Jacob’s Pillow Director