The University will hold off on making a final decision regarding the reinstatement of Eclectic Society’s residential status until Spring 2018. An all-campus email from Jacqueline Manginelli ’19, chair of the WSA Student Life Committee and the University’s Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC), announced the decision on Friday, Dec. 8.
“The Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC) will make a decision in the Spring semester regarding the society’s housing status, the email reads. “We believe further discussion is necessary and want to ensure all feedback is thoughtfully considered.”
Eclectic Society, a co-ed, once-residential campus organization, is seeking a reinstatement of its housing status. The group, which had long occupied 200 High Street—a popular concert space—lost its residence in 2016. It has reapplied for the house twice since: once in December 2016 and again this fall. On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the WSA Student Life Committee held an open community forum to discuss Eclectic’s most recent application.
Eclectic has existed on campus as a non-residential organization for the past two academic years. At the end of the Spring 2016 semester, a decision was made to terminate the society’s housing status following the distribution of a racist pledge application, and a public apology for an insufficient response to members’ reports of sexual assault. Music House then occupied 200 High Street—having moved from its former location at 256 Washington Street—for the 2016-2017 academic year, before moving again to 202 Washington Street. This year, Movement House, a living space for those who share an affinity for dance, occupies the space.
This decision will come on the heels of two other recent reinstatements: Co-ed fraternity Psi Upsilon moved back into their residence at 242 High Street at the start of the Fall 2016 semester, and a court has ordered the University to allow DKE to occupy their house at 276 High Street beginning in the Fall 2018 semester.
Forum moderator Manginelli opened the discussion by quickly ceding the floor to a presentation prepared by current members of Eclectic.
Members addressed the issues most often brought up in discussions regarding the presence of Eclectic on campus, touching on institutional history, inclusion, and cultural significance most directly.
Carina Bolaños Lewen ’20 spoke first, addressing the belief that institutional memory at the University is particularly short, given the high rate of turnover endemic to a college campus.
“Eclectic’s application for a house brings up a sort of paradox in institutional memory at Wesleyan,” she said. “On the one hand, we want to respect what the history of Eclectic has been to Wesleyan, both as a positive force in the community for art…and as a problematic site and symbol [with a reputation for] drug abuse and sexual assault. On the other hand, institutional memory is short here at Wesleyan. When we speak of the potential of what an Eclectic house would look like next year, our vision is colored by certain ideals that we see in Eclectic’s history, but it’s unattached to images of the past Eclectic that occupied it.”
The classes of 2020 and 2021 had not yet arrived at the University when Eclectic became non-residential, and many upperclassmen had not yet joined the society by this time. At the same time, as Matilda Hague ’18 explained, Eclectic’s legacy is highly visible on campus, with numerous buildings bearing the name of distinguished alumni and donors who had once been members of the society. Its reputation as a progressive vanguard stretches back to the University’s early days.
“Eclectic is one of the oldest student societies in the United States,” Hague said. “After co-educating when Wesleyan did, integrating when Wesleyan integrated, Eclectic has shifted arguably more than the University as a whole from an all-white, male, cis space to one that is dedicated to the improvement inclusion of queer people, people with mental illness, people of color, and other marginalized voices.”
Acknowledging a mishandling of an incident of sexual assault four years ago, Hague elaborated on her position as Eclectic’s Social Wellness Chair, responsible for swiftly fielding both internal and external complaints against members of the society. Hague, elected by a consensus vote, is entrusted to work with Eclectic’s president to enforce the recently implemented zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault and respond to other complaints of misconduct.
“We have established institutional safeguards since that incident to prevent this from happening again,” Hague said. “To begin with, all Eclectic members must be bystander intervention trained, and we are educating members…about this incident, in an effort to prevent this [from happening again]. While we acknowledge that no space on campus or elsewhere can be considered safe from sexual assault, we are committed to doing everything in our power to prevent sexual assault from occurring [in our spaces].”
A majority of the conversation focused on the social function of Eclectic and the ways in which a residential space will further their aims to bring artists from underrepresented groups to campus. While they firmly rejected the stereotype that surrounds Eclectic regarding the use of drugs and alcohol, members overall praised the social function of the society, parties included. They emphasized their concerted efforts to be a progressive, countercultural force on campus, and to create a welcoming space for all students, particularly queer students and students of color (SOC).
Tiler Wilson ’20, another presenter, emphasized his belief that the society’s countercultural focus helps foster inclusivity in its social spaces.
“We place added attention to one’s dedication to cultural awareness, as members are expected to engage in the active resistance of discriminatory beliefs,” he said.
Senior Eclectic member Kafilah Muhammad also addressed the society’s mission to provide spaces and opportunities for queer students and artists, as well as students and artists of color, all of whose various, intersecting identities are otherwise often rendered marginalized in social and artistic spaces on campus.
“Also, with [the event] Minority Report, we invite any student of color on campus to come and hang out with us and just get to know one another,” said Muhammad. “And we’re very much dedicated to making spaces for only students of color, where even Eclectic members, if they’re not students of color, we’re like ‘sorry, you can’t come to this event.’ And everyone in Eclectic is understanding of that.”
In response to a question raised at the end of the discussion, Manganelli expanded upon the URLC’s impression that Eclectic was reapplying solely for the space at 200 High Street. Program houses are technically allotted living spaces at the discretion of the URLC. Eclectic members felt strongly that occupying their former space was essential to maintaining a presence in the University’s music scene, as well as solidifying their position in hosting campus cultural activities.
To its knowledge, Movement House, established just this year, has met all of its requirements as a program house. As a result, it is guaranteed a residential space for the following year. Regardless of the University’s decision on Eclectic’s residential status, Movement House will continue to exist on campus.
In the public question and comment portion of the evening, some students affirmed that Eclectic-hosted social events were particularly welcoming to SOC and queer students of color, who also noted that they felt uncomfortable in other SOC campus spaces.
Other comments came from a more critical perspective, questioning how the society will handle its responsibilities as both an exclusive organization and a residential space to which anyone can technically apply. As Eclectic is a campus organization with a focused mission, the group has deemed that exclusion is a necessary byproduct of maintaining its closeness and values. A program has a house manager, and the organization has a president. Students expressed concern over the potential for conflict and marginalization of non-Eclectic residents and applicants.
Ideally, one member stated, the house would consist of only Eclectic members. In the event that this was not possible, members would have to discuss how to balance responsibilities to member and non-member residents.
A final decision on Eclectic’s residential status this Spring may prompt a revisitation of this discussion.
This article has been updated to reflect the fact the reports of sexual assault did not pertain to incidences that occurred inside Eclectic’s house at 200 High Street, that Psi Upsilon moved back into its house in Fall 2016, and that Carina Bolaños Lewen ’20 was among the presenters at the community forum.
Molly Schiff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.