Whether you know it or not, you have probably been to WestCo. You likely visited WesShop, the miraculously well-stocked mini supermarket that resides in WestCo 1. Now, adjacent to the store and in addition to other designated buildings, Foss 1 is also home to WestCo, or West College, residents.
For those of you who may have met some underclassmen living in WestCo but are too shy to ask what it is they actually do there, the Residential Life section of Wesleyan’s website sums it up pretty well. Essentially, WestCo is a small community within Wesleyan that serves as a space for musicians, artists, and activists alike to live and work cooperatively.
“Residents are expected to take an active role in shaping the social, intellectual and living environment of WestCo where the community holds one another accountable to shared values and to goals that are continually evaluated,” Wesleyan’s website reads.
WestCo also advertises an open door policy within the dorms, encouraging students to engage with one another and connect as a group. For those who lived in Butts A their freshman year, this friendly, communal policy comes as both a surprise and a relief.
The acquisition of Foss 1 has enabled more freshmen to live in WestCo, and given the larger-than-usual size of the incoming freshman class, this adjustment was both timely and helpful. The past two years Foss 1 was home to non-first year residents who don’t participate in the WestCo program. Now, residents say, WestCo’s weekly Guidance Meetings are significantly larger with more voices to be heard. Other than that, however, members say that WestCo’s mission and social dynamic remain the same.
Jack Kraus ’21 is starting his second year living at WestCo.
“I chose to live there again because I had a good experience last year, and I didn’t really feel aligned to any program houses,” Kraus said. “There are lots of friends of mine and fun people around.”
Speaking of fun people, this year WestCo’s presidents are Isis Gaddy ’21, Amy Geiger ’21, Cobey Arenal ’21, and Rebekah Song ’21, and Jamee Lockard ’21. These sophomores, who lived in WestCo last year and have just this year assumed leadership roles, all come from very different backgrounds. WestCo members say that they appreciate the diversity of viewpoints that their leaders bring to the community, as well as the qualities and values that they emphasize.
“They’re all great for many reasons,” said Kraus. “They encourage artistic expression, social justice and social consciousness, fun, friendship, and just generally being a good community member in WestCo.”
WestCo has not always had such a positive reputation on campus. The larger student body has accused the space of being elitist and churning out white skater boys by the dozen. While the stereotype holds some truth (junior band the Flaccid Ashbacks formed in the hall their freshman year), the current WestCo presidents do not reflect those attitudes. It’s true that sometimes clouds of Juul vapor hang outside WildWes, but current and former presidents have worked to expand WestCo’s image beyond the everyday hipster.
Jacqueline Manginelli ’19 lived in WestCo her freshman and sophomore years and also served as the WestCo president. Her band Bossy debuted at Zonker Harris Day her freshman year.
“I think that the move to change the image of WestCo was both reflected in the lack of diversity of people and who felt comfortable in the space —in regards to race and class especially— and the ways in which our activities were structured,” Manginelli said. “The former being evident because the majority of people living in WestCo were white and wealthy, and the latter being seen in the way that Guidance was run when the majority of the people getting on the table were white boys taking up a lot of space.”
Manginelli also pointed out that WestCo has struggled to attract a wide variety of people to their events and parties.
“I think another problem that WestCo has grappled with and continues to grapple with is who they are attracting to the space and who felt comfortable at the events that happened there,” she said. “The nature of the parties used to be primarily dominated by white boy musicians.”
Although Manginelli has been critical of some of WestCo’s past, she is optimistic about the future of the community.
“The group of presidents now is the most diverse group of presidents WestCo has ever had, and [they] are continuously trying to make WestCo a more diverse, safer and more comfortable space for people,” Manginelli said.
With new leadership and a new space, WestCo is continuously opening doors, so to speak, for students with diverse interests and mindsets.
Brooke Kushwaha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brookekushwaha.
Emma Smith can be reached at email@example.com.