When Kristin Souza came across a thread of Tik Toks on Twitter discussing the deliberate destruction of usable items in the retail industry under the hashtag #RetailMadeMe, she immediately thought of a relevant experience that she needed to share. In response, Souza recorded a simple video of herself speaking about an incident involving University merchandise.
“I was the General Merchandise Coordinator for a private university in Connecticut, and someone that put in the order for sweatshirts and apparel had selected the wrong shade of coloring for the font, and so we had boxes, hundreds if not thousands of sweatshirts and t-shirts came in, and it was the wrong shade of red,” Souza said in the video, which has since made its way onto the Twitter feeds and Instagram stories of many students at the University. “We live in a city that’s got a homeless shelter and an admittedly large homeless population. When I suggested donating them I was told, and I quote, ‘We don’t want a bunch of those people wearing our sweatshirts.’ And so we were told to chop them up into pieces so that they could not be salvaged from the dumpsters.”
Souza subsequently clarified in an interview with The Argus that the experience she mentioned in the TikTok occurred while she was the General Merchandise Coordinator at the University’s former bookstore, Broad Street Books.
In response to the TikTok, 27 students, many of whom are members of campus activist groups including Wesleyan North End Action Team (WesNEAT), Middletown Mutual Aid, Wesleyan Democratic Socialists, United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC), Wesleyan Democrats, and the Sunrise Movement attended an organizing call on Monday, Nov. 16.
Organized by Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Community Committee (CoCo) Chair George Fuss ’21 and CoCo Vice Chair Bryan Chong ’21, the call was intended to brainstorm the ways in which workers and susceptible community members could be protected from classist discriminatory actions by the University moving forward.
“I really think that this incident crystallizes and shows very starkly, all of these things that historically, student activists at Wesleyan have advocated for, and I’ve organized around,” Chong said. “Fundamentally, this institution is, if there’s no other concerted effort to push it, is naturally going to be complicit in systemic discrimination. It’s naturally going to tend towards its classist and racist tendencies.”
Echoing Chong’s sentiments, Fuss said he believes that the WSA can get involved in a multitude of ways, including through supporting activist groups on campus, namely Middletown Mutual Aid.
“We do want to have some kind of official condemnation through the WSA and endorsing the kind of efforts that have [been done], in whatever form that eventually takes,” Fuss said. “We talked a lot about a clothing drive to help the people in Middletown. We’re not exactly sure what kind of form that’s going to take, I mean, I know Middletown Mutual Aid is already doing kind of a clothing drive. We’re going to sort of amplify their efforts, especially during the winter, as it gets colder and people are particularly vulnerable.”
The rapid response from student activists at the University has been well received by Souza, who said she has been impressed by the mobilization of students in response to the TikTok.
“The general reaction in my circles is, is honestly impressed that Wesleyan students are trying to take this and run with it, either holding the University accountable or getting the community at large, kind of more aware,” Souza said in an interview with The Argus. “That’s the reaction I’m getting, to be honest, it’s more about what you guys are doing.”
Fuss hopes that this incident will encourage students to participate in campus activism.
“I think for a lot of freshmen, this is going to be shocking because Wesleyan has this kind of image of a very progressive university,” Fuss said. “And I think it’s easy to get very disillusioned, but I think we should sort of use this to pull the wool from under your eyes and, and get involved in student organizing because that’s kind of the way we can fight back into this mentality.”
Middletown Mutual Aid Coordinator and Co-Coordinator of WesNEAT Emily McEvoy ’22 highlighted that student activism and the redistribution of wealth from students is essential, particularly because a University degree and education comes with their own elitism.
“I hope students read it as a call to action, if you didn’t realize it already, like, even if you don’t come from an elite background, you now occupy an elite place in society by virtue of you going to an institution that is able to look at the world in this way,” McEvoy said. “Just the constant pressure to break down those walls and give back when you can, which is a lot for some of us. I hope that it’s a call to action for stuff like that. And for donating and redistributing wealth and making plans to redistribute wealth when you have wealth in the future, by virtue of what you’ve earned from your Wesleyan degree.”
Souza emphasizes that, as evidenced by the hashtag #RetailMadeMe and the Twitter thread, while this incident is harmful to communities across Middletown, it is not an unusual occurrence.
“This is clearly a very common problem,” Souza said. “The destruction of product is happening everywhere.”
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