PERSPECTIVE: An Intervention in History

by the Equity Task Force of Wesleyan University In recent years, due to the increasing corporatization of universities across the nation, and the pressures of the economy, campus cultures have become more fragmented as students negotiate learning, professionalization, and community engagement.

Wesleyan’s mission as a transformative liberal arts education begins with a “holistic review” of potential applicants who are, in many ways, already fragmenting under these pressures. Moreover, the well-being of students is increasingly affected. We need a sustainable and integrative educational approach that is mindful of the uneven impact of these pressures.CT perspective

The overcommitted student does not have time for thinking. In Spanish there is a saying, “Hay que darle tiempo al tiempo,” we must give time the time. Learning is a process and contemplation is an integral component. Our institutional pedagogy should recognize and inspire a more present, civic-minded, and active learner. It may also serve to counteract the academic, personal, and social dissonance in students’ lives.

Considering this as we forge ahead, it is imperative that we reassess our scholastic values. Indeed, after a period of capitulation to the market, quote 2the University must reaffirm and recenter itself on our source of pride, our intellectual mission. Although it is a sign of our times, opting for digitization and screen culture has only encouraged students (and not only students) to view faculty as “resources,” reducible to delivery mechanisms; the result is no longer contemplative learning, but the passive quantifiable consumption of information without attentiveness to pedagogy.

This growing trend, doomed to become our Achilles’ heel, grossly undermines faculty-student relations and the creativeness and possibilities in the exchange of knowledge. An educational mission is not the provision of consumer-centered services. The consumer model that has allowed the institution to compete is leading us astray from our very educational standards.

Students are not partners in transactions, and faculty and staff also require work environments with boundaries, protection, and inspiration. We must work diligently together to reconcile the disjuncture between our branding and reality as we recommit to an integrative and non-instrumental style of learning, based on the twin strengths of Wesleyan’s scholar-teachers and its dynamic staff.

Moreover, it should not be taken for granted that Wesleyan’s known history of activism (especially during the 1960s-90s) continues toquote 1 determine the campus climate or that it gives students the same sense of belonging as their non-activist peers.  Although students have demonstrated over the years and waged campaigns such as Diver$ity Univer$ity, AFAMIsWhy, Trans/Gender Group, and WesDive$t more recently, in the last decades, evident commitment to social justice on a global scale has been waning on this campus, just as it has nationally.

While recent events indicate a resurgence of some awareness, we must admit and confront the shifting generational tendency towards insularity and the interpersonal, which threatens to diminish cognizance and interest in international matters.

Global strife resonates at all levels, and as such is not unrelated to political struggles at home. And with the pervasiveness and persistent power of structural racism, Wesleyan needs the institutional will and commitment from members of its community to ongoing reflection and engagement.

quote 3Therefore, effective and sustainable solutions will not arrive from above. Students, staff, and faculty together must create a campus environment of mutual respect. That environment depends on shared and deliberately articulated community principles. In this regard, on the one hand, the Office of Equity and Inclusion needs to better define, articulate, and communicate the institutional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. That office should also provide a clear policy framework. On the other hand, that environment will be shaped most powerfully by our collective community practices.

As we reel in the wake of the 2015, we must ask ourselves what we want our relationship to this historical moment of crisis to be. Our view is that we must seize this time as an opportunity to intentionally shape Wesleyan’s future narrative…we should consider which aspects of our history continue to serve our progress, and which condemn us to repeat the past.


This excerpt is from the Final Report of the Equity Task Force of Wesleyan University in Middletown, issued this past week.  The Task Force was created by President Michael S. Roth, and seeks to “address persistent problems of inequality and structural racism that are endemic both in our society at large and at Wesleyan.” The report makes three major recommendations:

  • develop a Center with an “intellectually grounded mission in Social Justice and a focus on intercultural development and literacy.”
  • devote significant resources toward redressing long-term issues of discrimination and marginalization, especially as this affects the composition of faculty and staff as well as the development of the curriculum.
  • establish a standing institutional committee to coordinate, communicate and support change in these areas.

President Roth said this week that Wesleyan “will move forward immediately on all three recommendations.”  Task Force members included Gina Athena Ulysse (Faculty and Tri-Chair), Elisa Cardona (Staff), Antonio Farias (Staff and Tri-Chair), Matthew Garrett (Faculty), William Johnston (Faculty), Makaela Kingsley (Staff), Caroline Liu (Student), Henry Martellier, Jr. (Student), and Shardonay Pagett (Student and Tri-Chair). 

PERSPECTIVE commentaries by contributing writers appear each Sunday on Connecticut by the Numbers.

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