For generations of students, the Eclectic Society has been a home for adventurous and ambitious students with an independent streak. At times the society has been highly intellectual, often with an artistic slant. In recent years the grand house on High Street has also been a place to hear popular yet original contemporary music. Eclectic has long been an important part of the social life of the Wesleyan campus and beyond.
Eclectic’s role in campus social life has also led to problems over the years. There have been concerns about the health and safety of residents, and about social events that have gotten out of control. The intense party atmosphere that had recently characterized Eclectic scared off many older alumni who felt that the great House at 200 High Street (designed by Henry Bacon and owned by Wesleyan) was being compromised. When I started as president several alumni asked me to protect the House from too much wear and tear. I found that when I met with current members of the society that they, too, wanted to protect the house. They also wanted to maintain the feisty, creative spirit of the society, and we agreed that with some effort we should be able to do both. I was impressed by the devotion of the Eclectic members, and I went to a great rock band senior thesis performance at the house last spring. How to balance the legitimate community concerns with artistic freedom and campus social life?
If you follow news of Wesleyan, you already know that there has recently been disciplinary action taken by the Student Judicial Board against Eclectic because of an incident at the house in December. The student board that heard the case found that the society had been guilty of violations of the party and noise policies and a failure to comply with requests from Public Safety. They thought a proper penalty for this would be to forbid Eclectic from hosting social/musical events at night through the end of April.
Many students have been very upset about this ruling because it doesn’t only affect Eclectic but the whole musical culture of Wesleyan. I understand the basis for this concern: the society does provide a vital function for the presentation of music in a distinctive setting. Much of the great musical culture we prize at Wesleyan passes through Eclectic. However, if the society can not present music in a way that is safe and that recognizes the rights of the neighborhood, then Eclectic won’t be able to play that role in the future.
I am confident that the SJB and Dean Backer acted in accordance with our procedures, and that their findings in regard to the events of December 8, 2008 were correct. However, based on communication with Eclectic since that time, and my belief that the society is committed to acting as responsible hosts for events, I have reconsidered and modified the sanction in this case.
I take seriously (and appreciate) Eclectic’s desire to host events in a way that works for the artists, is safe for those who attend, and respects the rights of neighbors. This is also my intention and the intention of Student Affairs. So, rather than ban events for the remainder of the semester, I have asked Marshall Ball, Eclectic’s President, and Dean Rick Culliton to work together on a written agreement that delineates Eclectic’s responsibilities for events going forward. If they can reach the agreement quickly, events can resume under the specific guidelines. As long as the events continue according to those guidelines, the ban will remain lifted.
At the end of the semester representatives of Eclectic and Student Affairs can discuss what went well, and where we need to pay more attention to run the kinds of events we all want. If we are unable to run events this term in accord with the principles with which we all agree, then we will not plan any social or musical events at 200 High Street going forward. Thus, this is a probationary period that should allow us to move to a better platform for events in the future.
I very much appreciate the difficult work that the Student Judicial Board did in sorting out the facts in this case. I also am grateful for the thoughtful responses from many in the Eclectic Society, and others who cherish the vibrant music scene on campus. I hope that by developing a framework for hosting events at 200 High Street we will continue to have interesting artists perform in a context that is exciting and safe for those who attend, and that is respectful of the community in which we live.