As a high school student in Connecticut, Emily McEvoy ’22 never saw Wesleyan recruiters at college fairs. Now, they’re bridging the disconnect between the University and the surrounding Middletown community. From mutual aid fundraising to policymaking as a Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Senator, they’ve worked closely with Middletown activists and advocated for low-income students. The Argus caught up with McEvoy to discuss their involvement in the University’s North End Action Team (WesNEAT) and their hopes for student activism in the coming years.
The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated as the WesCeleb?
Emily McEvoy: A lot of people know me from when I hosted trainings about WesNest when I was a sophomore. I worked with Student Activities at the time and we helped to create this new website. I was passionate about it at first, but I’ve also fallen into the boat where I find it kind of annoying to go to WesNest when Facebook is where I get all my information.
I also do WesNEAT. We did a lot of town-gown organizing, trying to get out information about the relationship between the town and University and how we can make it better. I shared a lot of shit on social media that people re-shared.
A: When you were putting together WesNest, were you coding it?
EM: I was not coding it. I actually had a tutor last year for my one programming class. I’m struggling to finish my NSMs right now. But we worked on stuff like the color design, the logic with the different forms that you’d have to go through, the process for re-registering your student group. In the process, I met pretty much every student group leader on campus because we did those teach-ins.
A: The meetings with the student groups, was that for WesNEAT?
EM: No, that was a part of my job as the chair of the Community Committee when I was a sophomore. Also, I was part of the WSA’s Crisis Response team when COVID-19 first hit. We ran the Emergency Fund for students, which was kind of complicated at first because we were using student group money, which was from the Student Activities Fee, to give directly to students in a time of crisis.
WesNEAT—with Middletown Mutual Aid solidarity—got a donation from other student groups of just over four thousand dollars at that time, to use for stuff like bringing cool speakers from the area to campus and materials that we could use for mutual aid work. During the pandemic, we did a lot of work to make the resources here work for the students who needed it most and also for the people in town.
My WSA job had to do with the Community Committee, which deals with a few interesting things. We worked to get student groups registered. We made connections with the Middletown community, trying to make Wesleyan students think of themselves as part of a community, as part of the town, not just Wesleyan. We did stuff like introducing WSA representatives to folks from the community, creating stronger partnerships with the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP), which WesNEAT is a part of, and the other student groups.
We also supported student activism broadly, part of which is the University Organizing Center (UOC), which is a building at 190 High Street. I always like talking about the University Organizing Center because for the first two years of my time at Wesleyan, it was where all of the activist groups would meet. You don’t have to book your space there, you just kind of go in.
There were a lot of old materials in there. There are a lot of archives from old student publications, there’s a space that I think is called the queer library that has a ton of queer publications. The Resource Center used to be up there. It’s just a really cool place, and it was in the Community Committee of the WSA’s job description to work on stuff related to the University Organizing Center.
Last year we worked with (Resource Center Director) Demetrius Colvin and put together a cleanup at the UOC. We had a great day with Indian food, and we cleaned, and we put together some materials in good places. I think the UOC is a place that students need to invest in, and I think that it’s not a coincidence that it’s being almost one hundred percent divested from, with COVID-19 as an excuse. As far as I know, the only people that have had contact with it are some of the WSA reps, who are doing the Textbook Exchange out of there. But other than that, we haven’t heard anything about students being able to use the space anymore.
A: You mentioned that activist groups would come there to organize. Did any others beyond Middletown Mutual Aid and WesNEAT also use the space in the past?
EM: I remember being there as a freshman going to USLAC (United Student Labor Action Coalition) meetings, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
I had really conflicted feelings about organizing on campus back in the day because of how exclusive it felt sometimes, and how everything felt very disconnected from the greater Connecticut environment, which was my problem, being from Connecticut.
The Green Street Arts Center is another thing that I talk about all the time, as a relic of times past that Wesleyan wants us to forget about now. They started a community center in the North End of Middletown. They stopped investing in it because it wasn’t profitable, because it apparently wasn’t attracting enough middle-class or wealthier kids that could pay to go there. They pulled out and they left that building empty, and residents of the North End saw their stuff get thrown in the trash, in their own neighborhood, by the people that were clearing out Wesleyan shit.
It was a city building for a while, and now it’s occupied by the Middletown Youth Services Bureau, which I work for, and also the Middletown Transition Academy.
A: Do you think students will be able to use the University Organizing Center more in the future?
EM: It depends how much we are willing to push for it. One of the things that I think about all the time with [the University] is, we don’t really admit students from Connecticut, especially not working-class students from Connecticut. And that is one of the biggest reasons why the general vibe of campus is somewhere up in the air, and not really here. I noticed that very profoundly.
I was told about Wesleyan by a friend who happened to know about colleges. I didn’t know about liberal arts colleges. I knew about the Ivies, in terms of elite colleges, and that was about it.
And this is what he said: “You should think about going to Wesleyan. It’s in Connecticut, and there’s a lot of hippies there.”
So I toured in the fall of my senior year of high school, 2017, and I fell in love with it. It was actually the only college that I applied to by the time I was accepted for ED. I was like, “Wesleyan all the way.” I was so excited.
But nobody from my high school knew what it was, despite the fact that we lived thirty minutes away. Why the hell were you not at our college fairs? Why were you not recruiting students from these areas? Why were you not investing in your own state? That was extremely bothersome.
[We need] people with a reason to be here, more than just going to college. That’s more ambitious than it probably ever will be, and it’s not really the way that higher education allows us to function when we go to schools like this. But I think that most activism will fail if people think of this as their four-year home. That is my hope, that people will change their relationship to this place more radically.
A: Switching gears a little bit, what did you decide to major in at Wesleyan?
EM: College of Social Studies (CSS). Spring semester of my sophomore year, I also declared [a] Sociology major.
A: What drew you to those?
EM: I had someone who I really trusted and appreciated who was part of the organizing community when I was a freshman. I told them that I wanted to do a double major in Government and History. And they said, “You should do CSS.” I trusted them, and I wanted to do it. I like the idea of being able to read the things that really defined where power lies now to know how to best fight it.
Sociology is very, very different than CSS, especially in the way it’s taught here. We learn about liberation, we learn about power in a more real way. We learn about race in a real way, and gender. I had an intro class that did a lot to dismantle certain concepts for me when I was a freshman.
It’s very different than CSS in the sense that in CSS, we needed to take pride in the amount that we were reading, read very fast, understand ideas very quickly, just for the sake of being able to talk about the fact that you know those ideas and use them in certain ways. Sociology is about making you think and making you realize what aspects of people you want to study.
A: Do you have a thesis?
EM: I do. All I will say about that right now: It’s about the state of Connecticut, organizing in Connecticut, and universities in Connecticut, and how those are related with a Marxist framework of analysis. I got some grant money to do my thesis through the Davenport Grant, and I’m super excited to use that money to give back to people that I’ve learned a lot from, and the opportunity to do that means a lot to me.
A: Is there anything in particular that you’re going to miss about Wesleyan?
EM: I actually already am having these experiences because I don’t live on campus right now. I’m a commuter student this year from my current house in Middletown, so I don’t have a meal plan. Normally, especially when campus is buzzing, we have that card with the fake money. I already miss the feeling of abundance that comes with that. It’s a different way of being here.
Aside from all that, [I’ll miss] the opportunity to take from [the University] and give to places that are not here that need it a bit more. I’ll also miss the cool people.
And I’ll miss the ability to use the stuff here to invest in my education, which I see as kind of just for me. I haven’t really had a lot of external pressures to be a great student, in terms of parents or authority figures that are really demanding. It’s something that I enjoy doing, and it’s always been a form of investing in myself. The ability to study and just think—honestly, it sounds like I’m selling the place now—but the way that the curriculum in my two majors allows for me to do that is very healthy for me as a person.
A: What advice would you give your freshman self?
EM: Get your eyebrows done. I remember there’s actually a photo of me taken right here [outside of Exley Science Center]. There’s this account with really nice student photos, and they would tell a story about something related to mental health. So there’s that photo of me, and my eyebrows were so thick, and I don’t have them like that anymore.
I would say don’t be so shy. The world is not your enemy. I was very disgruntled as a freshman here, for a lot of reasons.
Maybe this is the best answer to the question: the interview with the mental health account was about me always being intellectually stimulated in a way that was just enough in high school. I was just so motivated, being told I was a good student and stuff, and getting to Wesleyan totally ruined that. Honestly, different class dynamics was one of the biggest things.
And passive aggression. I had experienced it, but not from my peers until I was here. It was just a different world. I would want to teach my old self how to fight back when I hear people being like that in ways that don’t make sense to me logically.
A: Would you say that we’re a passive-aggressive campus?
EM: Yes, very much so.
A: Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
EM: I feel like I was so angry throughout this whole thing. I love my friends. I love my chosen family that I’ve made at Wesleyan. I’m really grateful for my major, I’m really grateful for the people that were on the WSA with me my sophomore year. Some of the people that have gotten me through the hardest times are my Wesleyan peers that have graduated and that are here right now.
And I’m still going to be around. I’m already feeling a bit jaded, and like certain things are corny, especially now that I’m not living here, but I’m going to be around. I want to help support other people, especially other students that find this place disorienting in similar ways that I do. As long as the University exists and treats people in the way that it does, I want to be here to help.
Anne Kiely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.