Over the summer, President Roth and the university made the decision to close Green Street Teaching and Learning Center with absolutely no forewarning or communication with either Green Street families or Wesleyan students. Additionally, this decision was made during a time when Wesleyan students (many of whom depend on Green Street to earn their work study allocations) were not on campus to dispute that decision. Given that discussions about this decision had been in the works for at least a year and a half, the timing of Roth’s announcement was almost certainly done intentionally in order to prevent students from organizing easily.
For those of you who do not know, Green Street is a versatile program that offers many artistic and educational programs to the community, not the least of which is an arts-based after-school program that serves primarily low-income students of color in the area. The program is often overlooked by Wesleyan students and administration, because it is about a mile away from the center of campus, and it is not directly involved with academic or social life for most students. However, it is this deep entrenchment in the community that makes it such a powerful program. The building has deep roots as a community center in the North End, one of Middletown’s poorest neighborhoods, and it is the only university-backed community outreach program that has a institutionalized presence in the town in the form of a building.
While Wesleyan students primarily know Green Street for its after-school program where many college students work, the building is also home to a plethora of other community activities, including private lessons, homeschooling events, fundraisers, performances, and meetings. Perhaps most importantly, it has been a hub for community action over the years. Last year, the Board of Education attempted to close Macdonough Elementary School, located in the North End, and one of the places where that community came together to plan and organize resistance (as they have time and time again), was Green Street. Without Green Street, Middletown and the North End would be losing an invaluable community center.
Additionally, to my knowledge, Green Street is the single largest employer for work-study students on campus outside of food work. I worked as the student coordinator at Green Street from 2014-17, and during any given semester, the center employed between 40-60 Wesleyan students. This works out to about 1.3 to 2 percent of the undergrad student body (and at least twice that percentage of work-study students), and most of these students depend on the program to fulfill their work-study needs.
Roth and the university made no effort to obtain community and student input on the decision before publicly announcing it. There were no town halls. There was no WSA discussion. Work-study students leaving Wesleyan for the summer in May fully expected to return to a stable, long-term job in September, as did Green Street full-time staff. For the majority of families, students, and staff involved, the decision came as a sucker punch, completely out of the blue. This was not a transparent decision-making process, and at the very least, the university owes the hundreds of people involved with Green Street some sort of input.
And to be completely honest, the administration’s efforts to limit student outrage have, for the most part, been successful. There are a few students who are working hard to push back on the decision, and I commend them for that, but the majority of campus has been silent on the matter. For all our talk about social justice, for all our heated discussions about injustice, when I was a student at Wesleyan, I noticed a pattern of complacency from many students at the university, one that I myself am ashamed to have participated in. This pattern is fueled by the attitude that “The problem is too big,” or “I’ll wait til someone else organizes it,” or “I just have to get through midterms.” In the past few months, I have let this complacency wash over me as I have convinced myself that there is nothing I can do, since I am no longer a student at Wesleyan. However, I now see the cowardliness of that mindset, and I urge you to examine at your own outlooks as well. This problem is not too big. There is the potential for Wesleyan students and community members to work together and fight this decision. Nothing is written in stone until capable people with the ability and the willingness to act do nothing.
As we near the one-year anniversary of Election Day, a day when I remember campus as a silent, somber place where people felt there was no hope for a better future, I urge Wesleyan students to take a stand and fight for an organization that has done nothing but good for the Middletown community, and which has brought the promise of a better future for the low-income students that depend on it. In 2009, when the university was facing an enormous deficit, the WSA voted in an overwhelming majority that it was “not acceptable” for the university to cut funds to Green Street, and a member described Wesleyan’s contribution to the program as “a drop in the bucket” when compared to the overall deficit.
If students could fight to keep Green Street open in the midst of the recession, there is no reason to allow the university to withdraw its funding now. So stand up, Wesleyan. Don’t let complacency open the door to injustice in our own neighborhood.
It’s time to do the right thing.
Anna Flurry, ’17