With the Student Activities Fair taking place today, activist groups around campus have started discussing their fall campaigns based on local and campus issues that need addressing. Since Trump’s election in November, participation in activism has resurged across college campuses around the country to combat the administration’s reforms. When equality, justice, and freedom—the core tenets of social justice—are not being recognized at the federal level, leftist activism has turned to hyper-local issues, focusing on improving state and county politics. Most groups have only been able to meet once this semester, but their prerogatives are quite clear.
Young Democratic Socialists (YDS)
The Wesleyan chapter of Young Democratic Socialists is building off their work last semester that mainly centered around immigration, an area that has undergone the most symbolic and material legal action under the Trump administration. In the Spring, YDS helped spearhead the campaign to protect Louis Barrios from ICE detainment and deportation.
“We are pretty much continuing with what we were doing last semester,” co-chair Alex De La Rosa ’20 said. “What we settled on last semester with our working group was to remain concentrated on immigration because we feel that those are the issues that need the most immediate attention right now.”
On Monday, YDS plans on carpooling students for an action stop in Hartford to defend immigrants under
threat of deportation. With the repeal of DACA, which has instilled further uncertainty in immigrant’s lives, YDS has discussed a plan to address these issues as well.
“We are planning on doing some phone banking for the DREAM Act, but we don’t know when to optimally do it yet,” De La Rosa said. “It depends when that will be voted on which likely will be in the next couple of weeks.”
As a less immediate part of their fall agenda, YDS sees a potential boycott of Driscoll in its future, a company which has dealt with numerous protests and strikes over its treatment of workers. Despite the company’s malpractices, Driscoll berries are still sold at Weshop.
“We are trying to get some Driscoll boycott going here because we have stopped trying to pressure Weshop to stop carrying it,” De La Rosa said. “Because that has pretty much gone badly when we’ve tried it in the last three years.”
In the past, YDS tried to organize a similar project to block sales of Sabra from Weshop, which had a limited impact.
“This semester we will mainly be trying to get information out to freshmen and all students for some kind of consumer boycott because Weshop isn’t going to step down,” De La Rosa explained.
United Student Labor Action Committee (USLAC)
USLAC, a group with which YDS often organizes and shares many of the same organizational goals, has their focus on helping food service workers at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), who are in the midst of a contract dispute. The union that represents these workers, as well as Wesleyan’s Bon Appétit workers, is negotiating with the company Sodexo, a subcontractor of CCSU that wants to cut employee benefits. The main conflict is over healthcare.
“At the moment these workers don’t pay for their health insurance at all, it is paid for by the company, and what the company is trying to do now in this contract negotiation is to try to get them to pay for 30 percent of their health insurance, which for an average worker would equal a 3 to 4 dollar wage cut per hour and 500 to 600 dollars a month,” said Sophie Martin ’19. “We are going to show student solidarity over there. We will be holding a large action at CCSU on September 26th at 5:30 p.m. where there will be workers from all across the union, and state and we are trying to turn out as many Wesleyan students as possible to show out for these workers and students.”
The negotiations have a timely resonance for USLAC and Wesleyan food service workers, whose contracts will expire this November. USLAC hopes to build momentum for the November contract meetings when they will have to be ready to support Wesleyan’s Bon Appétit workers.
“Part of the CCSU protest is getting students prepared for this type of environment and showing people how to turn out for events and organize,” Martin said. “That’s all in preparation for when we have to fight here.”
Ajúa Campos, one of the main student groups on campus addressing immigration reform and issues facing the Latinx community, is beginning to organize their convocation for Latinx Affirmation Month in November.
“Throughout the month we plan a variety of events and speakers,” said Ajúa Campos Treasurer Tómas Rogel ’19. “Last year we had the leader of Latina Rebels come speak to us. We also have a film series and other events to get the Latinx and larger community to learn more about what we see being the things to share and struggles that we go through.”
Ajúa Campos sees the month as having a dualistic purpose for their political goals. For those not in the Latinx community, the events held during the month serve educational purposes. For members of the Latinx community, it’s more of a celebration of the multiplicity of histories that compose the Latinx identity, many of which are often overlooked.
“Frequently our histories are made to be as if they are monolithic when really Latinx means nothing,” Rogel said. “It’s a very constructed identity; it has no logical, biological, ontological basis at all, so it’s important to recognize that these things are very plural and need to be recognized as their own. That’s a main thing we are working on.”
This year, the convocation will specifically feature questions and discussions about the role of Afro-Latinx identity.
“We really want to build Latinx solidarity that is not focused on a single identity,” Rogel said. “We want to come forward on issues and themes of Afro Latinidad and what it means to be of African descent and Black in the Latinx identity. We don’t want it to be about just light-skinned, white-passing Latinx
SEMI (Students for Ending Mass Incarceration)
This fall, SEMI has undergone a change in leadership, which has consequently shifted the direction of the group’s activism. In the past, SEMI mostly worked with partially incarcerated felons rather than trying to alter structures on Wesleyan’s campus that perpetuate mass incarceration. This year, SEMI would like to focus on the latter goal.
“We want to start a resource center of people in the Middletown area who have been previously incarcerated, providing people with things like how to write a résumé or how to write a cover letter and a list of businesses in the Middletown area who are friendly to formerly incarcerated people,” said Francesca Woodbridge ’20.
Woodbridge, along with Lola Makombo ’20, has restarted SEMI’s active presence on campus and decided to move forward with developing a tutoring program that Wesleyan is associated with for felons.
“CPE [the Center for Prison Education], which has a tutoring program in two different prisons, let people who are currently incarcerated take Wesleyan classes and get credit and are taking the same level of courses that we all are,” Makombo said. “We are trying to help move these people in a direction where they can get Wesleyan degrees.”
The foremost issue that SEMI will be pushing forward is their “Ban the Box” campaign, which aims to get Michael Roth and the board to remove any questions about criminal history on the application.
“There are two questions on the Common App: one asks if you have been convicted of a felony and the other asks if you have been suspended or have any disciplinary record in school,” Makombo said. “Both are obviously discriminatory and really discourage people who have been in trouble with the criminal justice system for applying to schools like Wesleyan.”
“We think that questions about past criminality are rooted in a history of white supremacy, exclusion, criminal industrial complex and that isn’t what Wesleyan should stand for,” Woodbridge said.
The first course of action will be to put pressure on President Roth to ask the Common Application to take the questions off the Wesleyan application. In order to do so, SEMI will be organizing a
petition and collecting signatures.
“Hopefully we can show the administration that a lot of students don’t agree with this discriminatory policy,” Makombo said. “We are trying to get other student groups to write letters about why this issue is important to their cause and the campus in general.”
Luke Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.