As the first week of classes comes to a close and the hum of routine settles over campus, returning students may be wont to forget that for many first years, this is a period of flux—socially, academically, existentially. So acclimated are upperclassmen to the fraught political climate on campus that we tend to overlook the fact that many recent high school graduates are not yet armed with any kind of social justice education. This year, Aditi Shenoy ’20, Madeleine Matz ’21, and Thayne Hutchins ’22 are hoping to ease this transition through the revival of Disorientation, a student publication which aims to provide new students with a social justice primer in the form of a pamphlet.
Although Disorientation has been around since the 1980s, it has been notably absent from campus for the past few years. Shenoy first heard about Disorientation through the Resource Center. When she looked through old issues, which were available online, she was inspired by the concept. Coming from India, she found a lot of the social justice discourse to be unfamiliar when she first came to Wesleyan.
“Disorientation could be really, really useful for frosh who haven’t been exposed to people from a range of diverse backgrounds, which I know many of them have not.” Shenoy says. “[It can help people] understand the things that underlie our society and relate to people around you who might be different from you.”
Shenoy also noted that the way in which people conceive of social justice can change from place to place.
“Plus, this is an introduction to Wesleyan’s social justice, because every place has different social justice,” Shenoy said. “The social justice I was exposed to at home was very different from the social justice I’ve been exposed to at Wesleyan.”
At a small liberal arts college like Wesleyan, conversations about social justice issues and their implications permeate campus life. Shenoy said she thinks it is important to prepare first years for these inevitable discussions, introduce them to the language of campus activism, and to subvert the picture-perfect image of the University that many first years conjure up during orientation.
“During Orientation Wesleyan sells itself to you and your parents,” Shenoy said. “Basically like, ‘Oh, Wesleyan is so great, these are all the great things you can do and see in Wesleyan, and here is our amazing history, like look at these riot-proof halls.’ Everything from selling student activism to making people feel like they are paying for a good product.”
But this advertisement doesn’t encompass the full history and legacy of Wesleyan. And Shenoy thinks that knowing the story is essential to being a student at the University.
“Disorientation attempts to offset [Wesleyan’s image] by giving people information and awareness about some of the things that have happened that aren’t maybe so great or as easily consumable,” she said. “For example, the history of Middletown, or how Wesleyan has acquired this land, or how it has displaced people to build here, is part of Disorientation traditionally.”
She also hopes that this education will have a ripple effect.
“I think just having groups write about their history will encourage Disorientation to happen again,” Shenoy said.
In bringing Disorientation back to campus, Shenoy, Matz, and Hutchinson hope to quite literally disorient people: people who have rarely been forced to reflect on their core beliefs, people who take their privilege for granted, people who have never had the language to articulate their experiences. She and her co-leaders have already garnered submissions from several campus groups and are planning on releasing the first issue of the pamphlet next week.
Sasha Linden-Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annika Shiffer-Delegard can be reached at email@example.com.