In early April, Wesleyan University informed students interested in its “Other Worlds Are Possible: Life Against and Beyond Neoliberal Logics” summer program that it would not happen as scheduled. The four-week intensive course, led by Associate Professor of Anthropology Anu Sharma, was slated to take place from June 1 to June 28 at the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Some pointed to the program’s high cost as a deterrent to potentially interested students, though the reason behind the program cancellation is unknown. (The Office of Study Abroad [OSA] could not be reached for comment.) The program would have counted for two credits for students instead of one, which raised the cost significantly. Sharma says she was told by administrators that the program was offered with two credits so that more financial aid could be offered to its participants. This year, the $7,020 program was offered with limited financial aid, which Sharma believes contributed to the lack of interested students.
She emphasized increasing the accessibility of the program should be a priority in the future.
“[T]his alternative ‘alter/grassroots globalization’ learning initiative must be inclusive and should not be financially prohibitive,” Sharma wrote in an email to The Argus.
According to the OSA website, the course would examine radical challenges, in theory and in practice, to neoliberal capitalism and development strategies promoted by global organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The first week would be spent at Wesleyan, learning about movements that have emerged out of Latin America in response to mainstream discourse on urban development. The next three weeks would be spent in Oaxaca, exploring and working with communities that have rejected capitalist development in favor of living on their own terms.
Leah Levin Pensler ’20, who planned to participate in the program, said that she initially heard about the program in the fall, and based on the description of the program, decided she was going to apply in March. She submitted her application and saw that the application had an $800 deposit. It was not clear to Pensler if this deposit would be refunded if the program did not go through, but she made the deposit, noting that she could withdraw the deposit until April 1.
“The $800 fee was going to be non-refundable if you got in, but it became very clear to me after I turned in the application that I wasn’t going to hear about whether I got into the class or not until after that $800 fee became non-refundable,” Pensler said.
Pensler stated that she knew she could not afford the cost of the program but had hoped that aid from Wesleyan or the OSA would be available to her. Once it became clear that this aid was not going to be an option, she withdrew her deposit. Pensler said that she felt the expense of the program was in contrast to its anti-capitalist focus.
“It’s pretty clear that it was [cancelled] because not enough people could take this course,” she said. “And…to me the the root of this situation is students and people who want to participate in this really wonderful course could not put up such a large amount of money…. That does definitely seems pretty contradictory.”
Ezra Burstein ’20, who also applied to the program, explained that he ultimately did not end up making the deposit, given the confusion surrounding whether the program would take place. Burstein emphasized that the OSA continually pushed back the deadline for submitting the deposit.
“I had not paid yet…so I went to figure out what was going on with this payment situation because I didn’t want to lose the deposit,” he explained. “The portal they had initially built wasn’t even equipped to deal with if the program didn’t happen, [and] how would they refund people, so they spent a few days trying to fix that. The deadline just kept getting extended and extended and extended…so I just never paid. And so by the time I got the email, it wasn’t even clear when the deadline was in the end. They were that disorganized.”
Despite the financial confusion that surrounded the program, Burstein believed that directly interacting with communities that operated outside of a capitalist system would have been a valuable opportunity.
“It seemed like a rare opportunity where you could be in a community that is rejecting capitalism and just learn about it through the people living it,” he explained.
In the future, Pensler hopes that the OSA will work to make courses such as this more accessible to students.
“In the future I think the Study Abroad Office should realize that if the intention is for students to be able to have educational experiences, especially going abroad, that these things should be made available to all students in order to to really fulfill their purpose,” she said.
As a more affordable option for students who are still interested in learning about alternative communities in Oaxaca, Sharma suggested that they participate in the Unitierra Social Emancipation Summer School. The program, which is offered through Universidad de la Tierra, will take place from August 12 to 20. While students would not receive credit for attending the summer school, Sharma believes it would be worth students’ time.
“It will be a powerful learning experience,” Sharma wrote.
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