As international alumnae of Wesleyan, as well as Freeman scholars, we write to share our views regarding the administration’s recent negotiation of Prof. Alice Hadler’s position at Wesleyan, gleaned through conversation with each other as well as with other friends and students, current and former. First off, we would like to commend the administration’s responsiveness and willingness to go back and reassess its initial stance regarding Prof. Hadler’s place at Wesleyan after receiving the spate of faculty and student feedback, and negotiating a resolution amenable to the parties involved. That said, the process through which this solution has been arrived at was less than ideal, particularly for Prof. Hadler, and we would like to start a conversation about where we as a school and a community can go from here, and what can be learned from this situation in terms of addressing the needs of the international student community at Wesleyan and its mentors.
For many international alumni of Wesleyan, the news of Prof. Hadler’s potentially being prematurely let go from Wesleyan was a jolt that indicated to us that while we may have been giving back to the community in our own ways, there is still more to be done in terms of maintaining our awareness of the goings on on campus. We were reminded that the place of the international student community, in this case reflected through the treatment of its strongest resource and supporter, is subject to precarity and instability as Wesleyan evolves as an institution. We hope that in light of efforts by both current students and alumni in responding to this situation, the community has shown its strength and unity, and amplified what has often been one of the quieter collective voices on campus. While it is perhaps notable that it took ostensible endangerment through the potential dismissal of Prof. Hadler in order for this community to make its voice heard, we wish to point out that not all forms of community-building and dialogue need manifest in forms of activism and social justice reform more recognizable in the landscape of an American university. Just because a community does not organize or articulate itself in ways legible as protest does not mean it does not have needs or dissatisfactions. But you have taught us through this incident to speak up more loudly and clearly to address that which is most salient to us, and for that we thank you.
A relative lack of ripples caused by international students at Wesleyan till now also speaks to Prof. Hadler’s efforts over the last 20-plus years in fostering a community living away from our home countries whose needs were met and and anxieties allayed. No single person has done more for giving us both communal and individual support, and though Prof. Hadler’s eventual retirement has always been a reality in terms of what this would mean for international students at Wesleyan, we would have thought that Wesleyan would have sought the vast institutional and interpersonal knowledge Prof. Hadler has accrued in her role in the hiring and training of her replacement. We understand that a university is a continually evolving organism, but structural personnel changes should be made with the students’ best interests in mind. If Wesleyan was, and is, truly serious about trying to find someone who will meet the needs of the community in the way that Prof. Hadler has pioneered, we would think that she as well as international students on campus would have been consulted in the shaping of the new roles which caused this personnel shuffle in the first place, as well as the hiring of the person or people to fill them.
The onus is on the Wesleyan administration to understand these realities and communicate with students about their needs. Here, we also emphasise that the international student community at Wesleyan is far from a homogenous group; the student profiles span different economic and class backgrounds, include first generation college students. We believe more can be done to support students with regards to these different facets of identity and experience, starting from talks or discussions during International Student Orientation which create a space for such conversations to start happening. We are grateful that after the open meeting on campus with President Roth, Prof. Jacobsen, and Dean Whaley, feedback from international students has finally begun to be gathered, and we hope that this has opened doors to continued dialogue and input.
It is here that we also wish to raise an issue with the new integration of international student support under the Resource Center, the current center for student advocacy and activism. As mentioned above, the culture of community building differs across contexts. As we understand, the Resource Center caters to marginalized groups on campus and the automatic subsumption of the international student community under this banner is ill-fitting. It stems from and perpetuates an issue that we ourselves faced while at Wesleyan: navigating the seemingly-defaulted inclusion of non-white non-Americans under the label of POC (people of color). While many of us eventually come to identify with the identity and its politics after living in the U.S. for some time, this is something that should be an individual decision and process rather than a label which the university assumes of us. Further, many international students grow up as part of the majority racial or ethnic group in their countries, and assuming that they are subject to and adept in articulating the struggles and oppressions faced by POC in the U.S. is a disservice to the POC experience. Finally, for students who wish to seek support at the international students office but do not identify with the identity politics of the Resource Center, or those hesitant about whether they are sufficiently performing social consciousness or dissent in a way befitting a “Wesleyan Student,” this may deter them from seeking out the office in getting the help they need. We hope that the administration realizes that such shuffling around of offices which affect both staff and students are more crucial and require more nuance than seems to be currently afforded to the process.
This episode has been unsettling but also reaffirmed that international student alumni can and will rally together to speak up on issues concerning current and future international students’ experiences at Wesleyan, and the individuals and institutions that make it possible. It has been a reminder that we need to remain — and will be — continually engaged. International student alumni still voluntarily act as ambassadors for Wesleyan, from doing school talks, to conducting interviews with applicants each year. We speak honestly to potential students and their concerned families about what they can expect, being far away from home for four years, and if we want to assure them they will be supported through Wesleyan, we need to know that that is actually the case. To that end, we strongly urge the administration to keep regular, open and honest channels of communication with international student alumni, both directly and through the admissions officers who annually tour some of the many countries where we are based.
To end, we would like to share a sentiment that many alumni expressed to each other in our conversations over how to address this matter: “we don’t know if we will be heard but we have to say it anyway.” It is a shame that we preemptively doubted that the administration would heed our opinions — this is not the way that we would wish to think of a school that has given so much to us and that we are committed to continuing to give back to, and we are glad to have been proven wrong. Thank you for hearing us, and for affording Prof. Hadler the opportunity to stay on to make sure that her legacy at this university is parlayed into efforts which will ensure their continuity. Now that we have your ear, please continue to to keep the conversation going as to how to keep it.
Aditi Shivaramakrishnan (Singapore) and Jill Jie’en Tan (Singapore)
Shivaramakrishnan is a member of the Class of 2012 and Tan is a member of the Class of 2015.