With mock classes, panel discussions, a club fair, and student group events, WesFest has been an annual opportunity for admitted students to visit the University and experience campus culture. For the first time in two years, WesFest was conducted in person over three different Fridays throughout April.
Prospective students attended WesFest for various reasons, with some hoping to see campus in nicer weather while others wanted to gain a broader understanding of student life at the University. Prospective first year Ana Cruz appreciated the chance to ask specific questions at the first-year student panel and the Financial Aid Office’s open house event.
“I was hoping to get to meet some people and talk about financial aid,” Cruz said. “I’m first generation, I’m from Brazil, so it was nice to meet everybody and get my questions answered.”
Students also hoped to learn more about coursework, specifically for STEM-oriented classes. Jessica Williams, an admitted student from Delaware interested in biochemistry, mentioned that the available information about academics leaned toward the humanities and social sciences.
“I feel like I had to dig for [science] more,” Williams said. “The panels were [mainly] Gov, Theater, arts, and music people…. Even for the tour guides, I didn’t really encounter anybody that was in science, specifically, even STEM in general.”
Much of WesFest is designed to provide prospective students the opportunity to meet one another. Some admitted students had met virtually before WesFest and used the event as a chance to meet their peers in person. While waiting in line for the Bon Appetit food truck, Quincy Segal, an admitted student from Maine, said he had already been chatting online with the three other students he was standing with before meeting them in person at WesFest.
“I’ve talked to these guys online and whatever for months,” Segal said. “It’s cool to meet everybody in person for the first time before it happens in the fall. It’s nice to familiarize myself before actually coming here, to have that sort of ground level.”
WesFest also aims to create a greater sense of community for admitted students. This year, Dylan Judd ’22 led the student forum course that puts on an annual chemical demonstrations show for WesFest. He said the show’s main purpose was to showcase students’ energy and enthusiasm and provide a memorable experience.
“[The focus is] to keep people’s attention and have fun,” Judd said. “Blowing stuff up… putting a lot of things on fire, and just captivating attention.”
Tour guide Erin Byrne ’24 said WesFest provided unique chances to connect with interested students. The Office of Admission usually offers two tours each day, but, during WesFest, a tour was held every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This made the tour groups smaller than usual, allowing admitted students to be more vocal and involved during tours.
“[WesFest tours are] a lot more casual,” Byrne said. “It feels like everyone here is actually invested in a way that maybe they’re not always. Especially because they’re trying to decide where to go, I think they ask more questions and are more engaged than they might be otherwise.”
Jewish Community Coordinator Shayna Dollinger ’22 said the Wesleyan Jewish Community (WJC) invited admitted students to attend the Shabbat service and subsequent dinner. Students and parents sometimes ask challenging questions, and she works with the WJC leadership board to prepare to answer them.
“Most universities have a Hillel, which is a national institution for Jewish students, but Wesleyan doesn’t,” Dollinger said. “A lot of people ask [why not?]…. Also, questions of ‘What’s the difference between WJC and Chabad?’…. We get a lot of questions about WJC’s political views in terms of Israel-Palestine, and how to navigate those conversations is a challenge.”
Byrne agreed that portraying the University’s positive qualities is part of WesFest, and that answering students’ questions can sometimes be difficult. However, she feels comfortable answering honestly and often genuine positive comments to offer about the University.
“I think [WesFest] is a show,” Byrne said. “It’s advertising. But I would also say that I don’t think it’s lying…. I think the things that are unique to Wesleyan are mostly good things. What’s nice about Wesleyan is [that] we do get to talk about the bad things together and critique a place that we all invest in and invests in us back.”
Judd noted that in addition to making new students feel welcome, WesFest helps bring together the University’s existing community. The chemical demonstrations show sometimes attracts a crowd of current students who happen to be nearby.
“For anyone walking by, it’s like, ‘Oh, these people are doing cool things,’” Judd said. “I think it’s very much [a] community builder for sure.”
In 2020 and 2021, this atmosphere was less present, since WesFest took place on Zoom due to COVID-19. WesFest intern Lucia Voges ’24 noted that the virtual event, which occurred over three consecutive days, may have been overwhelming.
“Last year, we did Wednesday–Friday over Zoom,” Voges wrote in a statement to The Argus. “It was pretty intense, and there were a lot of different kinds of events packed in.”
This year’s WesFest programming took place over three separate Fridays in April. The event’s planners aimed for students to experience the event’s key components, no matter which day they chose.
“This year, we wanted to make sure that the experience was relatively similar regardless of which Friday you attended,” Voges wrote. “We wanted to make it fair.”
The University has not yet made WesFest plans for spring 2023.
“WesFest’s format next year will depend on the campus Covid situation at the time,” Assistant Director of Admission Events Jordan Nyberg wrote. “We may go back to Wed–Fri of the same week, we may do 3 Fridays, we may just do 2 Friday’s with higher capacity for those 2 days. Nothing is off the table at this point.”
Although Dollinger was glad that admitted students have been able to visit campus again this year, she noted that traveling to an in-person WesFest presents a financial barrier for some people.
“WesFest only caters to a certain demographic,” Dollinger said. “Only the people… whose parents can take off work to drive them here, or people who live on this coast or can pay to fly here.”
Dollinger also said WesFest this year is not exactly like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. With activities occurring on three separate Fridays, there are fewer students there on each day, and the event feels less energetic than the WesFest Dollinger visited as a prospective student.
However, for the most part, this year’s WesFest represented the type of vibrant, passionate atmosphere that has been difficult to create under the last two years’ health conditions.
“The word that I would [use to] describe Wesleyan is lively,” Judd said. “There’s a lot of life here… what drew me to Wesleyan is still here and still very much alive.”
Anne Kiely can be reached at email@example.com.