Middletown Mutual Aid

I came across references to Bryan Chong’s [’21] activism in the Hartford Courant‘s reporting on efforts to defend international students. Since then, News @ Wesleyan has profiled Bryan, and I wrote him to express my admiration for his activism. He wrote back telling me about another organization in which he is active, Middletown Mutual Aid Collective. Bryan explained that he and “other Wesleyan students have been collaborating with community members and institutions – like the North End Action Team, St. Vincent de Paul, etc. – to provide material services and fundraise for the most vulnerable people in Middletown at this time. We set up a Direct Cash Assistance Fund with the purpose of supporting the neediest without means testing and with no questions asked.”

I have to admit that I had questions about the “no questions asked” policy, certainly coming from my own experience of financial aid and means testing, United Way, etc. I had read about the different approaches of mutual aid societies (this is a handy example from the New Yorker), and I was impressed by the partner organizations working with the Middletown group. Kari and I made a donation, and I wanted to let lots of other people know about the good work that Middletown Mutual Aid is doing.

There are lots of ways to lend a hand to our neighbors in Middletown. If you want to learn more about this organization’s important work, you can do so here.

No New Rules for International Students!

In an important development today, the United States government decided not to pursue new rules that would have forced many international students to return home if studying online this fall. U.S. District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced the plan this afternoon, which leaves in place existing exemptions for online study that were put in place as the Covid-19 pandemic forced many campuses to close.

Wesleyan had filed a brief in this case, and we are thrilled by the outcome.

 

 

More Information, More Questions

This week Wesleyan released more information about our plans to open in the fall, plans that rely heavily on the cooperation of our campus community to protect the health of all. Working with the Broad Institute in Cambridge Mass, we expect to provide frequent, simple testing for everyone on campus, and to provide supportive isolation to those who are Covid-19 positive. We will have a mix of online and in-person offerings, with the course listings being updated as I write. Of course, like so many people, I am watching with alarm the resurgence of the virus in several states. We must be cautious. We will be.

Providing more information often leads to new questions, and I know that many families have been contacting the University with queries particular to their own circumstances. We are grouping these together so that we might share broader answers that may anticipate other concerns that develop. We will update the website frequently and respond to emails as quickly as we can.

We will also be holding forums with athletes, arts students, financial aid students, and others. Some of these will be on Zoom, others may use different formats. Stay tuned for announcements in this regard.

Provost Nicole Stanton will soon be announcing a suite of Wesleyan initiatives addressing racial justice. We view these anti-racist initiatives as important steps forward and look forward to discussing them in the coming weeks. We will not lose the energy that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fight against racism.

Finally, we have been working urgently on plans to protect and support our international student community.  In addition to joining an Amicus Brief in support of the Harvard-MIT lawsuit against the new ICE regulations, we are planning to offer our students the help they need to continue their Wesleyan studies, from focused in-person classes to opportunities abroad. This will take different shapes in different contexts, and we are determined to find ways for our students from outside the U.S. to have access to the educational opportunities we offer. We will have much more to say about this soon.

I am grateful for the many questions we have received – among them those that have been relayed to us from the Wesleyan Student Assembly, International Students, UJAMAA and other groups. We will do our best to answer these even as we try to anticipate and address new questions that may arise.

Thanks for your patience, if patience you have to extend our way. Apologies to those who are frustrated by the uncertainties that remain. We’ll do our best to address them.

Protecting International Students

The federal government yesterday issued regulations that will require international students who are enrolled in universities in the United States to return to their home countries if their schools offer only online instruction. In short, during the pandemic, when many students will be studying online in order to reduce the risk of infection, international students will not be able to stay in this country if their course load is entirely remote.

In a cruel addendum to this draconian policy, ICE insists that if a school moves to online instruction at any point during the semester, the international students will have to immediately leave the country. In the spring, recognizing the particular hardship of the pandemic, the government allowed international students to remain in the US even if they were no longer living on a campus. This will no longer be the case under the most recent regulations.

Over the past three years, the federal government has demonized immigrants and undermined the security of many who were temporarily in the United States to work or study. From threats of deportation to the “Muslim Ban” and fulminations on the “Chinese virus,” the Trump administration has stoked hostility to foreigners – or at least to foreigners it paints as undesirable.  Recent restrictions on immigrants were supposedly aimed to help with unemployment, but many of those who might be prevented from working in this country have the entrepreneurial skills that create jobs.

Now, foreign students wanting to study in the United States cannot help but feel the suspicion and hostility coming from Washington. At Wesleyan, we have been fortunate to have about 15% of our students coming from abroad, and they have contributed so much to the educational and cultural life of our community.

At Wesleyan we will take advantage of all appropriate ways to assist our international students during this pandemic. We will support their efforts to continue their education. I hope you will join me in urging our elected officials to stand up for international students and education. You can find more information about how to do so here.

 

Danielle Allen on Declaring Independence and Working for Equality

I’ve gotten in the habit of quoting from Frederick Douglass’s magnificent July 4th Speech, but this year I want to turn to a more contemporary source of inspiration. The political theorist Danielle Allen has written powerfully about the Declaration of Independence, and I’d like just to offer some quotations from her recent conversation with Ezra Klein for my blog on this holiday weekend.

On John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as authors of the Declaration:

That’s an important thing to say out loud because Adams is someone who never owned slaves and Franklin was somebody who was an enslaver earlier in his life but repudiated enslavement and became a vocal advocate of abolition. Both Adams and Franklin were in a different place on enslavement than Jefferson was.

That matters. The Declaration of Independence fed straight into abolitionist movements and efforts. It was the basis of a text that was submitted in Massachusetts in January 1777 moving forward abolition, and abolition had been achieved already in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania by the early 1770s and 1780s.

When we focus on Jefferson, we get one part of America’s story — the story of the slaveholding South. We don’t get the part of the story which was about how abolitionism was developing already, even in the 18th century. That’s part of our story in history, too. We should see it and tell it.

On the importance of thinking of equality and freedom together:

In the 18th century, when people thought about self-government, they often described it as a product of free and equal self-governing citizens. Free and equal always went together. In order to be free, you actually had to be able to play a role in your local institutions. You had to have equal standing as a decision-maker. So freedom and equality were mutually reinforcing.

That concept of self-government predates the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, and the remarkable transformations of the global economy achieved by industrialization and modern capitalism. As the economy transformed, as you saw the immiseration of populations in industrial centers, the question of equality came to have a different balance. There was a new question on the table: How does economic structure interact with freedom and with equality?

So with the 19th century and early 20th century, you began to have a sort of refashioning of the concept of equality primarily around economic concerns and conceptions and castes. That way, there seems to be a tension between a market economy defined as somehow rooted in a concept of freedom and equality based on equal distribution of economic resources. The Cold War brought that to a really high pitch, with the Soviet Union characterized as the political structure in favor of equality and the United States characterized as the political structure in favor of freedom.

But what that debate between those two physical systems did was obscure the fact that at their core, freedom and equality have to be linked to each other. You can’t actually have freedom for all unless most people have equal standing relationship to each other. That’s a political point in the first question. And then you fold in economic issues by asking the question: If we need to achieve equal political standing, then what kind of economic structure do we need to deliver that?

I think it is possible to have market structures that are compatible with egalitarian distributive outcomes. I think you need an egalitarian economy. You don’t need, strictly speaking, an equal distribution of material goods in order to support the kind of political equality that gives people equal standing and of shared ownership of political institutions.

On the relevance of the Declaration for the current moment:

Arbitrary use of police power was at the core of the American Revolution. Arbitrary use of police power and excessive penalty in our criminal justice system have been at the center of many people’s attention for quite a period of time now.

In the declaration, they say, all of our petitions have just been met by repeated injury. Such has been the experience for the last decade too, I think, for people who’ve been working on police reform and reimagining of our justice and public safety system. So I think there’s a lot of continuity. There’s a really strong sense of what rights should be protected and what it means not to have basic rights protected.

You can read more of the interview with Danielle Allen here. The audio of The Ezra Klein Show is available here.

HAPPY 4TH!

Higher Education Needs Antifascism Now

Four years ago I wrote that we in higher education had a responsibility to protect freedom of inquiry and expression when it is attacked by politicians and political movements. This does not mean we should be consistently partisan — on the contrary, it means that we must be protect our mission to pursue research and creative practice without political interference. In this piece published this week by Inside Higher Education, I argue that in our time of populist authoritarianism we have a duty to be anti-fascists. We can do so, I argue, while also protecting the intellectual diversity necessary for liberal education.

 

Historian and author Ibram X. Kendi has powerfully argued that it is not enough to be “race neutral” in the United States. It is not enough to say “I am not a racist” and to hope for a position of neutrality. “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle,” Kendi writes. “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’” Trying to ignore race contributes to white supremacy. Antiracism is necessary for combating it.

The same goes for fascism. There is no neutrality with respect to the resurgent populist authoritarianism one sees in this country and in so many others. It is not enough even to say one is for freedom, or for greater equality, or for peace and justice — for if those things are the case, one must now step up as an antifascist. This is particularly true in higher education.

Fascism has taken different forms in various times and places, but it consistently has certain core ingredients. It promises the return to a mythic greatness and an escape from the corrupt, weak and feminized present. It creates an enemy or a scapegoat whose elimination or domination will allow for those true, full members of society to thrive. And it attacks ideas, science and education in the name of a deeper, pure belonging.

The philosopher Jason Stanley has recently described these aspects of fascism as the “politics of us and them.” Decades ago, Italian novelist and theorist Umberto Eco underscored that for the fascists reasoned inquiry is seen as an enterprise for the weak — for losers — while philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that fascism “relies on a total substitution of lies for truth.” For the fascist, disagreement is treason, and fascist politicians attempt to co-opt law enforcement and the military for their political purposes. Sound familiar?

The appearance of fascist politics in the United States is not exactly new, but what is new is the alignment of this politics with the force of the federal government. For those of us who work at colleges and universities, this raises the stakes in our efforts to provide students with the tools of intellectual critique and creative practice. Many faculty members will want to continue “their own work” because it seems to have little to do with contemporary political issues. While not supporting what they might see as a populist authoritarianism, even nascent fascism, they may not think politics directly relevant to their teaching and research in mathematics, microeconomics, neuroscience or Victorian literature. These folks would rightly reject being themselves labeled “fascist,” but they might see no reason to take a stand and become antifascists.

Same goes for university administrators, especially presidents, like me. College presidents are supposed to be nonpartisan, and they generally agree that it is vital for the educational enterprise that campuses should accommodate a wide range of political views and encourage meaningful conversation among groups with different values and ideas. But it has never been enough to simply declare one’s campus a marketplace of ideas in which truth wins out. One must work actively to ensure intellectual diversity and robust discussion about enduring questions. Given the strong tilt of professors to one side of the political spectrum on many campuses, faculty leaders and administrators should proactively encourage the study of serious issues related to the themes from libertarian, religious and conservative traditions. The defense of freedom of speech or of intellectual meritocracy alone does not do the job. We need to curate broad conversations so as to create greater intellectual diversity, and some people in higher education have started to do so.

Today intellectual diversity is threatened by forces much more sinister than the leftist musings of tenured humanists, and so today, we administrators and professors must become antifascists. Supporting free inquiry and expression in the abstract is all well and good, but when peaceful protesters are being beaten and gassed, we need to do more. Being open to people of different backgrounds is certainly a virtue, but when the forces of order are encouraged to dominate the streets, we must become sanctuaries for those targeted by the state because of their race or ethnicity. We must call out and reject appeals for the violent suppression of dissent, and we must interrupt the appropriation of religious traditions to legitimate a regime that persecutes others in order to animate its political base and hide its own corruption. We must defend free inquiry and scientific institutions from their abuse by political hacks fueled by myths of macho violence. To try today to stand apart from these issues, to take the posture of the apolitical, is today to take the posture of complicity, whether that be in relation to racism or violent authoritarianism.

We can resist the anti-intellectual, tyrannical tendencies of the moment in many ways — without embracing the so-called Antifa movement, itself sometimes a bastion of intolerance. Some of us will take to the streets to protest against racist state violence; others will mobilize people to participate in local, state and national elections. In stepping up forthrightly as an antifascist, the student who is upset by growing economic inequality can stand together with the business leader concerned for the welfare of employees and customers; with the science professor appalled by the dismissal of facts; with the abused member of a scapegoated community; with the conservative distressed by the undermining of the Constitution; with the worshipper insulted by the use of religion for political purposes; with the law-abiding citizen disturbed by the threat to the rule of law; with the veteran made anxious by the misuse of the military; with the university president defending the integrity of the educational enterprise.

All these and many more can step up as antifascists while maintaining a commitment to listening to people with whom they might disagree. Such listening is a skill we cannot do without if we are to practice democracy. The alternative is to resign ourselves to currying favor with those who would dominate through violence and exclusion.

There will be those who disagree, thinking university presidents and professors should do their best to avoid the political fray. I certainly have sympathy with scholars and students who just want to study in peace. But just as now is the time to fight racism in our institutions, now the time has come to defend our very right to study, to critique and to create in peace. The time has come to become antifascists — while we still have the freedom to do so.

Juneteenth and Hopes for the Future

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating freedom and African American culture. In this time of intense examination of racism and the legacies of inequality in this country, we here at Wesleyan are buoyed today by the proclamation from Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 and our partners in the City of Middletown (including Professor Jesse Nasta ’07 and Armani White ’15). The proclamation officially establishes June 19—also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Jubilee Day, or Juneteenth—as America’s Second Independence Day, and underscores “our shared commitment to the spirit of the holiday through our words and our deeds.”

It’s important to mark positive steps, particularly in dark times. We were heartened this week by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the protections for the 700,000 young immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Years ago, Wesleyan purposefully began admitting more DACA students, and they have contributed so much to our campus. In 2016, we declared ours a sanctuary campus as an extension of that commitment.

Earlier in the week, we were also encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extends to gender identity, helping to protect all our friends in the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination. As Jenny Boylan ’80 wrote: “What are these special rights I want? The same ones everybody else has. What is my gay agenda? It is the hope to live my life in peace.”

A pandemic has helped many of us focus on those who are most vulnerable, those who have continued to struggle to be safe, to be healthy, to be free. Today’s holiday and the Court’s recent decisions remind us that we must continue to defend all members of our community, especially those burdened by histories of oppression and systems of marginalization.

This morning I was on a call with Clifton Watson, who directs our Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, and Katja Kolcio, the incoming Director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. We spoke of E2020, Wesleyan’s program to promote learning through civic participation. The energy we see around us inspires us to work for change, and to learn from listening to others about how best to make our lives in common more inclusive, equitable and humane.

Happy Juneteenth!

 

 

Hopes for Opening Wesleyan in Fall 2020

The following message concerning our plans for the fall went out to the Wesleyan community this week. As we said some time ago, we’ve been aiming at an announcement about activating our campus for early July, but we thought an update on our points of focus would be helpful at this point. Shortly after the July 4th weekend, we still intend to release much more information about our plans for residential life, hybrid classes, athletics, testing and other health precautions.

We understand that many families will wait until they see those details, and the public health conditions unfolding this summer, before making a definitive commitment about attending the University in the fall. Our request below about deferrals is just to give the planning team some idea of students’ thinking at this point, as we have shared our thinking now. 

Recognizing this is an evolving situation, we will continue to provide updates on our plans. 

 

Dear friends,

What a spring it has been! The specter of bigotry has been viciously apparent in the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the energy of anti-racism has swept across the nation in demonstrations in large cities and small towns. At the same time, much uncertainty remains as the pandemic continues to increase in intensity in several states. Amidst all the pain, anger and anxiety, we have continued to plan, and I write now with an update on our thinking thus far. Given the current public health trajectory for Connecticut, we are hoping to welcome most students, faculty and staff back to Middletown in safe conditions in late August. One thing we are certain about: it will be good to be together again—safely—on campus.

Our abiding priority is the health and safety of every member of our community, especially the most vulnerable among us, and the realities of the current pandemic mean that this coming semester will be unlike those of the past. Wesleyan is developing protocols in accordance with the expert guidance that best suits our particular situation.

Our contingency planning workgroup is proposing for the 2020 fall semester classes to begin on campus August 31 (one week earlier than initially scheduled) with the possibility of finishing online after Thanksgiving (when there would be just one more week of classes). We will limit visitors to and excursions from campus, and we have more time together during the warmer months of the year. We are developing plans for science labs and art studios, and we expect to offer our athletes on-campus programs. Food services and residence halls will be organized with safety in mind, as will our classrooms and co-curricular activities. For those students unable to return to campus at all this fall, distance- and hybrid-learning options will be available.

We will release much more information about the fall term in early July, but here are some of the key elements in our plan for campus reactivation:

  • Health and Safety—The planning workgroup is working out details for testing, monitoring and contact tracing in close adherence to CDC guidelines. We will implement thorough protocols to limit and document visitors to campus (including tours, lectures and events), as well as to notify the campus community of confirmed cases and community members who may have been in contact with someone who tests positive. Additionally, the University is meticulously following state and federal guidelines for personal protective equipment (including wearing masks in public places), indoor air quality and disinfection protocols.
  • Return to Campus—The workgroup has created a phased approach for reactivating campus that prioritizes student-facing and faculty-support positions to meet the demands of the scheduled August 31 start of classes. This approach allows ample time between phases and employs proper social distancing protocols according to State of Connecticut guidelines. The University will explore telecommuting as an alternative to traditional work arrangements for appropriate positions, and we will make the greatest possible accommodations for staff in high-risk categories. Alternative work arrangements for faculty will include teaching in a variety of in-person, hybrid and distance pedagogies. We continue to work through all available options for critical services for our community—child, family and dependent care prominent among these—and we will provide updates as soon as we have them.
  • Travel–Once students return to campus, we are asking that they not make excursions to any areas where the incidence of COVID is increasing. Our current expectation is that University-funded travel will remain suspended for the fall semester, and members of the campus community who have personal travel scheduled may be asked to take additional precautions before returning to campus.
  • Deferrals—We hope it will be a traditional semester, but we also expect to offer robust remote alternatives, should they be helpful for some students. If you intend to ask for a leave for any part of the academic year, for planning purposes we ask that all students notify Student Affairs of their plans for the fall semester by June 30.
  • Student Accounts and Financial Aid—As the University continues to refine its plans for the upcoming academic year, we are delaying the release of the fall semester bill and the financial aid award notices related to it. We will provide an update on charges and financial aid immediately following the announcement in July. In related news, Wesleyan is in the process of upgrading its online Student Account Center to a simpler and more user-friendly online student account management portal. Details of the new system are available on our website.

Wesleyan will take the necessary precautions and abide by available guidance from medical experts to keep our campus and the surrounding communities safe. But we cannot do it alone. Each of us must play a role and adhere to safety protocols, and we expect to issue specific guidelines to that end which all returning students, faculty and staff will be required to follow.

In closing, it’s important to note that all of these plans are contingent upon the public health context. We will continue to provide updates and additional information throughout the summer, and we encourage you to attend the Zoom forum tomorrow, June 16, for faculty and staff at 10 a.m., where I will be available to answer questions. As we continue to work through the details of reactivating campus, we will send another email update in July to address our plans with greater specificity.

Though we have proven time and again that Wesleyan is much more than buildings and classrooms, there is no denying that learning together in these spaces, in person, amplifies our mutual understanding and the impact of our work. I look forward to our return.

Build an Anti-Racist Community in Which Hatred and Intolerance Have No Place

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. We speak their names with sorrow and with anger. In recent weeks, we confront once again the fact that in America some people so radically devalue African Americans that their lives can be just brutally destroyed. The precarity of black lives has a very long history in this country, but now technology makes it possible for people everywhere to witness violent injustice. We witness, and we are disgusted; we witness, and we are enraged; we witness, and we mourn. Black Lives Matter.

As a historically white institution, Wesleyan has struggled with our own history of racism. Over the last several decades, thanks to the work of activist students, faculty, staff and alumni, we have become more aware of the ways in which the ideology of white supremacy has affected this history and our own present. We try to build a different kind of community – one in which racism, hate and intolerance have no place. This is an ongoing project, and we re-dedicate ourselves to it.

Our Wesleyan education includes the aspiration to act “for the good of the world.” Rejecting hatred and the violence it inspires, we can engage with others to construct alternatives to poverty, marginalization and prejudice. We witness and we choose how to respond; let us do so in ways that prefigure the kind of world we hope to build.

With compassion and solidarity,

Michael Roth, President

 

President’s Cabinet

David Baird, Vice President for Information Technology

Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez, Vice President and Dean of Admissions

Anne Martin, Chief Investment Officer

Sean McCann, Chair of the Faculty

Nicole Lynn Stanton, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Andrew Y. Tanaka, Treasurer and Senior Vice President

Michael Whaley, Vice President for Student Affairs

Alison P. Williams, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Frantz Williams, Jr. Vice President for Advancement

David Winakor, General Counsel and Secretary of the University

Renell Wynn, Vice President for Communications

 

Commencement Thoughts

Last weekend we had a remarkable Commencement… with only a few students and families in attendance along with some staff, and with a few thousand watching online. It was both very sad and very moving to look out over the almost empty field and try to imagine all the seniors, full of accomplishment, being cheered on by their families. And the cheers were there, echoing for us across the miles.

You can listen to my remarks here. The honorary doctorate recipients had important messages to share. Rev. Dr. William Barber challenged graduates to have a positive impact on the world by working for social justice: So I want to issue you a challenge to be instruments of change. To use your degrees, your education, your influence, your intelligence, to be instruments of change.” Brad Whitford ’81 emphasized the importance of civic engagement and our connections to one another: “If we learn anything from this pandemic, it must be that we are all connected on this delicate little planet. And I hope that the pernicious myth of separateness that lies at the root of so much oppression and injustice in this world must finally be obliterated.” Finally Jacqueline Woodson underscored her belief in the power of the graduates to do good in the world: “I see your brilliance. And I see the way you are doing the hard work already and changing the world already. And I just love young people so much, and I love what y’all are doing, and I love who you’re becoming, and I love what this world is going to be because of you.” 

Lots more about Commencement 2020 here— and I especially recommend Caroline Bhupathi’s thoughtful message to her classmates.