The Resource Center, in conjunction with the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC), hosted the Equity and Inclusion Town Hall on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the basement of Malcolm X House, the first time the event has been held since 2019. Over 20 students attended the Town Hall at its peak. The Town Hall aimed to give students a space to share their experiences, concerns, and hopes for a more equitable and inclusive campus.

“[The goal] was just to provide a space where we could air out our grievances from all of the things that we’ve been through in the past couple of years and take those grievances and turn them into actionable demands,” EIC Chair Heather Cassell ’24 said. “And then you have a plan moving forward.”

The Town Hall began with a summary of the history of the EIC and student activism on campus from Cassell and Resource Center Director Demetrius Colvin. The WSA, Wesleyan Union of Student Employees (WesUSE), Resource Center, and Office for Equity and Inclusion then provided updates on their current initiatives to improve campus. In particular, the Town Hall focused on student life, admission and financial aid, and academics, following each topic with an open discussion of additional concerns from attendees.

“Some people just spoke out and we took notes,” WSA Community Committee (CoCo) Chair Valerie Lee ’24 said. “We would address every one of them…. After that, Demetrius compiled everything.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Resource Center hosted town halls annually, introducing students to campus resources and the Resource Center, which opened in 2017. This semester’s Town Hall had a broader focus, involving the EIC throughout. After Colvin reached out to former EIC Chair Elena Brennan ’24 last year about reviving the tradition, Cassell prioritized the event for this year.

“Organizationally and logistically, it didn’t work out [last year],” Cassell said. “But I knew going into the summer when I was the new chair that that was probably something I was going to prioritize, because we’re at such an inflection point, both as a whole society but also in the microcosm of Wesleyan.”

With this in mind, Cassell and Colvin met over the summer to plan the event. During these meetings, Cassell decided to involve Lee because the EIC and CoCo have a shared focus on community. Having gone to the last board of trustees retreat, another goal that Lee and Cassell had in mind during the planning process was to gather input from the student body that would help the board make strategic decisions going forward.

“The sense that Valerie and I got [from the retreat] is that the trustees do really care about the lived experiences of students on campus, but have no idea how to get that information, because they’re so far removed from Wesleyan,” Cassell said.

Lee offered an example of the board’s need for more information about what is happening on campus, specifically revolving around financial aid.

“When President Roth asked the board of trustees about what we’re going to do with financial aid…the board essentially responded that they can’t really give a responsible answer because they don’t have the data,” Lee said.

The Town Hall thus became an opportunity to consolidate direct student feedback on issues of equity and inclusion. In the end, both the student organizers and attendees reported positive experiences during the event. The venue of Malcolm X House, the cozy ambiance, and the quality food options were amongst the things that many liked, but more importantly, students appreciated the strong sense of community they felt in the space. 

“I really appreciate being able to be together and discuss issues, and I was in a way relieved to know that other people are facing the same issues as I am,” attendee Diana Venus ’24 said. 

As a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) international student, Venus explained that she often finds herself facing additional struggles when it comes to financial aid. One such instance is work-study. Not only is it already a big commitment to have to work to pay for her tuition, but federal regulations concerning students on F-1 visas also put additional restrictions on the number of hours and the types of work she is allowed to do.

The difference in currency valuation also means it would be impossible for her to fulfill summer earning requirements if she went home. In addition, for FGLI international students and students who live far from Wesleyan, their flights home are not covered, and the prohibitive ticket prices leave them with no other option but to stay on campus during breaks.

But going to the Town Hall, she realized she was not alone. The Town Hall’s use of Mentimeter, a system that allows students to type in their concerns and have them displayed on the screen, allowed her to find others who shared the same worries. 

“I saw so many of them were about work-study, such as ‘abolish work-study,’ ‘work-study is bad,’ and things like that, and there were also mentions about covering flight tickets for international students,” Venus noted. “These are things I’ve personally been struggling with in my Wesleyan experience, so it was kind of nice to know I’m not the only person.”

Lee also felt glad that the Town Hall shed light on the voices of FGLI international students. 

“We rarely see representation of international students in these events, but I feel like it’s important for the board of trustees to know our needs as well, especially for some of us who are facing political turmoil and stuff back home,” Lee said. “Traveling and a lot of things could be sensitive and difficult that, you know, like an average American citizen wouldn’t necessarily think about on a daily basis.”

For Cassell, it is important to have a space where overlooked concerns like these can be heard, so that they can be communicated to the administration. 

“In the Town Hall, we talked about student life, talked about financial aid, and talked about academics, and now I can be like, here’s the document, and bring up [students’ concerns] to the heads of these departments—the people who decide what projects to fund,” Cassell said.

The document Cassell referred to compiles everything people have brought up during the Town Hall, Lee explained, including the challenges that students have reported with work-study. Other areas that the Town Hall’s attendees felt could be more sensitive to the needs of FGLI students, such as pre-major advising and counseling services, were also documented.

However, Venus was skeptical about whether the administration would actually take material action on these issues.

“I don’t know how hopeful I can be about those things being addressed properly by the administration,” Venus said. “I think there’s a difference between being heard and being responded to. [The administration] is really dedicated to hearing from you, but they do not always respond with action.”

Briana Rodriguez Castillo ’23, who also attended the Town Hall, agreed.

“I think that Demetrius and [Assistant Director of the Resource Center] Kiara listen and attend to our needs as much as they can, but you know, their roles are limited,” Rodriguez Castillo said. “A lot of what the University does is performative. They tell us that they’re listening, and they give us a space to listen. But like that’s the bare minimum. Like you were just not meeting the bare minimum for so long. And now they’ve met the bare minimum, they’re like, look, look what we gave you!” 

When asked why action isn’t taken more readily, Cassell emphasized the power of confusing and overlapping policies.

“What hinders progress is always bureaucracy,” Cassell said. “And also, the town hall hasn’t happened for two years. You could have been talking about this with your friends for so long, but you haven’t brought it up with Demetrius or Dean [for Academic, Equity and Success April] Ruiz. But there are always roadblocks that you end up running into, and it’s almost always bureaucracy–and holding fast to rules that don’t really matter.”

During the Town Hall, Dean Ruiz shared the new Equity and Inclusion initiatives that the University has implemented starting this year, including a pilot computer access program through which highest-need first-year students will receive a free Macbook Air from Cardinal Tech Store upon their arrival on campus. The process to request a health insurance grant has also been simplified, and a sizable donation recently has now allowed full financial aid to be carried over to study-abroad institutions that charge higher tuition fees than Wesleyan. 

However, not all attendees felt happy about the new improvements. The computer access program, for example, only starts with the class of 2026, excluding current sophomores, juniors, and seniors who would otherwise be eligible. 

“You know, it’s good to see that things are changing,” Rodriguez Castillo said. “It’s very wild to me, because very rarely is Wesleyan like, here, I’m just gonna give this to you. You usually have to prove yourself to them that you really need it. But man, I could have really benefited from that. It’s the same thing with the health [insurance grant]. It continues to be a burden for a lot of FGLI [upperclassmen], but they’re just kind of forgotten by the administration.”

Venus emphasized that she shared the same sentiment.

“I think the administration is just intentionally waiting for us to graduate,” Venus said. “Because in two years we’re going to be gone, and these issues are gonna be gone with us.”

Some of the new initiatives do cover upperclassmen, but Cassell acknowledged issues with communication, which left students in need unaware of them. 

“During the Town Hall, some talked about not affording certain medical services or things like that,” Cassell said. “And then someone else was like, oh, did you know this emergency medical fund that you can dip into? There were more examples, but you know, this knowledge is distributed on an ad-hoc basis, where it only happens when an admin finds out you’re in need. It’s not consolidated in any sort of meaningful way. The communication issues on this campus are, I think, what comes up most often. It’s kind of difficult to find out what it is that we actually need, because it’s like, oh, did you know something does exist? No, I didn’t.”

Rodriguez Castillo had a similar observation.

“I do find it suspicious that they don’t advertise these things either, and I wonder if it’s because they don’t want people who are still at the school that don’t benefit from these programs to get upset?” Rodriguez Castillo said.

Going forward, Cassell hopes to continue to hold Equity and Inclusion Town Halls every semester rather than once a year.

“My hope for it is that it happens on a semesterly basis into the future,” Cassell said. “Fall semester is more intimate, fewer [administrators], more students, and spring semester we invite more admin into conversation. But I felt it was really important to have this new admin as possible in the first one because so much has happened since pre-pandemic, during the pandemic.”

Similarly, Venus also said she’d like to see the town hall happen more frequently.

“During the Town Hall, I feel like a lot of people were trying to raise their hand and talk. There were so many issues, but we only had this amount of limited time, limited resources, and limited staff members,” Venus said. “So I wish things like this happened not just once a year. I wish we could gather as a community and talk about these things more often. And I also wish that someone from the Financial Aid Office attended this.”

Cassell also noted that the attendees of this Town Hall were self-selecting, and said she will work to improve publicity for upcoming events.

“Who would decide to go to a town hall on a Thursday night?” Cassell joked. “It’s a very particular group.” 

Rodriguez Castillo also wished more people had come.

“There’s just something very powerful about the solidarity in the common struggles when it comes to being low-income, or just being able to face injustices with people who have the same experiences,” Rodriguez Castillo said. “I hope it can be better advertised next time, upping the hype a little bit.”

Beyond the numbers, Lee would like to see a more diverse group of attendees and more representation of students from middle-income backgrounds.

“A lot of trustees talked about how Wesleyan used to be more of a middle-class institution instead of the way it is right now, which is more on the elite, high-income side. Now a lot of [the middle-class families] couldn’t afford to send their kids to Wes,” Lee said. “I realized that during our Town Hall, not a lot of students from that demographic showed up. And I think that is true with a lot of the efforts in collecting data or feedback that we’ve done in the past. So I brought this up to President Roth, but I don’t know if he has any actionable thing to suggest, but that’s something I wanna work on in the future because I feel like I know a lot of people like that and I’m also a part of that community who would have benefited substantially if I had partial aid.”

At the end of the day, both the organizers and the attendees interviewed share the same vision for equity and inclusion at Wesleyan.

“I kind of just want to be able to come to Wesleyan and have it be a safe space for me as a student,” Rodriguez Castillo said. “To just pursue intellectually what I want to pursue, and not feel such a big divide between me and every other person that goes to the Bahamas every break. I wish I felt normal. I wish I felt like everyone else. That’s ideally what I would want.”

Cassell also emphasized her goal of embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion within the foundational functions of the University’s institutional memory.

“I want all of the basic needs of marginalized students to be met in a way that is so systemized and scrutinized like a routine,” Cassell said. “That it’s almost boring to think about equity and inclusion. That is my vision, that is my dream. So then the daily lives of whoever comes after us aren’t preoccupied with their basic needs and therefore can work on other and better things. I want to be measuredly hopeful.”

Rodriguez Castillo wanted to add that advocacy is a long-term game, and that instant gratification isn’t an option.

“But I think I also had to come to the realization that, when you’re doing advocacy, you kind of have to live with the fact that things probably won’t happen until you’re gone,” Rodriguez Castillo said.

Still, Venus is determined to continue advocating for initiatives that she sees necessary.

“I will fight my fight without knowing if it’s actually gonna be effective in the end,” Venus said. “It’s the attempt that matters.”

Sida Chu can be reached at

Elias Mansell can be reached at

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