Dear Michael Roth,
I write this letter with genuine concern and frustration. Although Iamextremely pleased that Daniel Handler will no longer be the 2018 Commencement Speaker and Anita Hill will be taking his place, I am extremely disappointed by Wesleyan’s and your involvement in this entire matter.
Why Daniel Handler, considering the accusations of both sexual and racial assault associated with himwas ever considered as a speakeror recipientI will never know.
Why you as Wesleyan’s President, would use such a podium to celebrate a figure who seems to stand against the vibrant and beautiful movements like #Metoo and the ongoing movement to bring racial prejudice to light, I will never know.
Why you then felt it appropriate to position a figure like Ms. Anita Hill – a heroine and symbol of bravery – next to a figure such as Daniel Handler, I will never know.
I hold no preconceived judgments against you President Roth; I do not know you. In fact, given my infrequent interactions with you and the splendor of the Wesleyan learning and student environment, I came to hold a type of respect for you. And, in a climate of Wesleyan student antipathy towards you, I remained somewhat impartial and quietly optimistic that you were not the evil our young minds had conjured. I took a course taught by your wife and enjoyed interesting conversations with the both of you. I thought, surely the harangues and vitriol your name inspired across campus were the result of students wanting to “stick it to the man” and “fight the establishment.” As a South African, I thought here are these American students wanting to take aim at something but not quite able to find a target and so they fire at you. How could these students not see what an open, tolerant, charged campus Wesleyan was? Surely, the man they hated, the man behind the nice emails we received after breaks and the man who delivered these pithy speeches wasn’t all that bad.
But, over time your actions or lack thereof started to change my mind. The Scott Backer fiasco troubled me deeply but I guessed I didn’t educate myself enough about the incident to take a strong stance at the time. However, I think your management of this 2018 Commencement Speach has been appalling. It took students, the same students I have come to realize are responsible for the environment I so cherish here, to take a stance against the selection of Daniel Handler. It took students to speak-up, to stand-up, to prevent the tainting of our celebration of Ms. Anita Hill and the Class of 2018 with the presence of a man who stands accused (by several sources) of behavior that this institution should unwaveringly not only distance itself from but stand-up fervently against. And, I am shocked that even after the egg had been strewn across the pediment of North College, and Daniel Handler had decided to retreat to the shadows, you lacked the strength to admit you were wrong. Instead of apologizing, instead of taking responsibility, instead of engaging the student body, you chose to draft a little, informative email. And, although glib, your email spoke volumes to me. It told me, you don’t care much for the current movements that are in need of support from figures just like you. It told me, you don’t care much for the stances and concerns of your students. You don’t mind offending victims or patronizing the concerns of individuals. You are not a full-time attendent to the beliefs and ideologies you preach. It told me, you are no better than any of the “leaders” of institutions I have known in my time. It told me, you have nothing to do with the spirit and glow of this campus.
And so, here I sit in Smith Reading room, an hour after reading your email, my stomach swollen with disappointment, having constructed an unfortunate and revised image of President Michael Roth: performative, aloof, scared.