checkered career

Wesleyan University

This article concerns Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut; a number of other colleges and universities have names that include Wesleyan.

Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1831 and located in Middletown, Connecticut. Founded by Methodist leaders and prominent residents of Middletown, the now secular university was the first institution to be named after John Wesley, the Protestant theologian who was the founder of Methodism. There are about twenty other unrelated colleges and universities subsequently named after Wesley.

Today, Wesleyan is one of the nation's most highly ranked colleges. Wesleyan occupies a position in American higher education between the large research universities and the smaller liberal arts institutions. The University emphasizes undergraduate instruction, but also supports and funds graduate research in many academic disciplines. Wesleyan, along with Amherst and Williams Colleges, constitute the historic "Little Three" colleges. Wesleyan also is a member of the Twelve-College Exchange Program which includes Amherst, Bowdoin, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Trinity, Vassar, Wellesley, Wheaton, and Williams.


Wesleyan was founded as an all-male Methodist college in 1831. Although sponsored by the Methodist conference, under the leadership of the first President Willbur Fisk the college did not have a denominational requirement for admission and in addition to seminarian studies it had an innovative curriculum including electives and modern languages. Fisk also travelled to Europe during his presidency to purchase books and scientific equipment, including one of the first telescopes at a college or university, which is currently conserved at Wesleyan's Van Vleck Observatory. Wesleyan remained a leader in educational progress throughout its history, and erected the first building dedicated to the sciences on any American college campus, Judd Hall. It also has always maintained a much larger library collection than a comparable institution its size.

The campus predates the college. Several prominent citizens of Middletown sought to have a college on High Street, and by subscription raised the funds to build two buildings, today's South College, and the original North College, a Nassau Hall-type building. The first occupant of the buildings was Captain Alden Partridge's American Literary, Scientific, & Military Academy in 1825. That institution had a checkered career and became a center of controversy. In 1829, the military academy moved to Norwich, Vermont when the Connecticut legislature declined to charter it to grant college degrees, and it later became Norwich University. Afterward, the Methodist Church agreed to buy the vacant campus, then consisting of five buildings, North College, South College, a dormitory that extended across the current campus to High Street, Webb Hall and President's House, (now the Latin American Studies Center).

In the 1840s, Wesleyan was already beginning to make a reputation for itself both for the abolitionist sentiments of its students, and with their ongoing association with the Transcendentalist movement. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Orestes Brownson were brought to the campus by the student literary societies, especially the Mystical 7. As national affairs moved closer to war, Wesleyan was put in a more awkward position than many other New England colleges; the Methodist Church was very strong in the South, and a significant number of students were from Southern states. These links were severed after 1861. Not every alumnus who served in the Civil War fought for the Union.

In 1872, the University became one of the first U.S. colleges to experiment with coeducation by allowing a small number of female students to attend, a venture then known as the "Wesleyan Experiment". Because of the preponderance of female students preparing for college in that period, some of Wesleyan's alumni believed that opening the door to coeducation would eventually result in the student body becoming entirely female. Given that concern, Wesleyan ceased to admit women, and from 1912 to 1970 Wesleyan operated again as an all-male college. Wesleyan's decision to stop admitting women subsequently helped lead to the establishment of all-female Connecticut College in nearby New London, founded by Wesleyan alumnae in 1911.

In the days before the invention of the forward pass, Wesleyan was a leader in the development of football as a college sport. For a little more than a decade, Wesleyan fielded teams that played against Yale, Michigan, and Harvard. However these much larger schools eventually were able to far outstrip Wesleyan, and one game, where Wesleyan lost 136 to 0 to Yale (still a record loss in the Northeast), proved that Wesleyan could no longer compete at that level. However, in their only meeting in history in 1883, Wesleyan beat Michigan 14-6.

As detailed by David Potts in his history of Wesleyan, the last decades of the nineteenth century were crucial for Wesleyan. Wesleyan developed the patronage of several prominent families in New York City, (Harriman, Andrus, and to a lesser extent, Vanderbilt), and the institutional ties to those groups markedly increased, while that of the Methodist Church decreased. At the same time, Wesleyan went from being a colorful but minor sectarian educational center to being a well-connected New England college.

Two of the leading faculty members of the period were William North Rice and Caleb T. Winchester. Rice was hired after his graduation in 1865 as the university librarian, and later became a Professor of Mathematics and Geology. In his 51 years on the faculty, he also taught every other subject as needed on an interim basis. His greatest professional success was in his contributions toward completing the first geological survey of Connecticut. He was also named an acting President of the university between two administrations. Some of his carefully hand-written library cards were still in use in the library card catalog until it was retired in the 1990s. Caleb T. Winchester was a Professor of English Literature who began his 50 year career at Wesleyan a year after Rice's. His senior year seminar on 'The English Essayists' won him national attention, and Sir Walter A. Raleigh wryly remarked after his tour of America that Winchester was the only educated American he had met.

Wilbur Olin Atwater, a professor of Chemistry and director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, conducted pioneering tests in human metabolism in the new campus laboratory, the John Bell Scott Memorial, and his work shows the heightened presence of the sciences at Wesleyan in this period compared to some of its peer institutions.

There was a minor building boom on campus in the years just after the turn of the century, which included Fayerweather Gymnasium, (1898), Fisk Hall, (1903), the John Bell Scott Memorial, (1904), Alpha Delta Phi, (1906), Eclectic, (1907). The Van Vleck Observatory, Clark Hall, and the Tomb of the Skull & Serpent Society were designed at this time by the architect Henry Bacon, as was the Hall of the Eclectic Society. Later, starting in the mid 1920s, the Johnstone Quadrangle was created, including Olin Memorial Library, Harriman Hall, Shanklin Hall, and the Hall Chemistry Laboratories. This series of buildings was all designed by the well-known firm of McKim, Mead & White. The completion of these two episodes of building finished the core of the campus and gave Wesleyan its basic layout through to today (although Shanklin Hall is currently threatened with demolition).

From the 1890s until WWII, Wesleyan men were probably most famous for their singing. There were many singing groups and a full men's chorus. There were various tours of singing groups through the early days of radio and especially in the 1920s. At that time, Wesleyan was best known as "The Singing University." Perhaps a culmination of this was a live radio performance at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Wesleyan severed its final ties with the Methodist Church in 1937, a final formal recognition of many decades of practice. The administration ceased to define the curriculum as Christian in the 1960s, and also eliminated compulsory chapel at the same time. Today, many regard Wesleyan as a haven for counter-culture intellectuals, social progressives, and political activists.

During WWII, the Wesleyan student body dropped so much in number that the school was in danger of having to close. The school was made a Navy V-12 officer training location, which allowed the campus to remain open.

In the mid 1950s, Wesleyan, under the presidency of Victor Lloyd Butterfield, began an ambitious program to reorganize itself into seven residential colleges. Three buildings were built as one complex west of the campus, and three more as a complex to the south of the campus. The programs were never fully developed, but the buildings of the residential colleges still serve as the Foss Hill and Butterfield dormitories. Two colleges still remain as academic programs: the College of Letters (COL) and the College of Social Studies (CSS) (see program descriptions below); although they are not true colleges and do not have residential facilities or resident scholars. Nevertheless, both are considered exceptionally intensive study programs and are considered excellent preparation for later graduate work.

The student body became prominent in the political and counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s. In the tumultuous spring of 1970, which saw the Bobby Seale murder case in nearby New Haven, Connecticut and the killings at Kent State, Wesleyan undergraduates played a central role in organizing a nationwide boycott of classes. The college was closed down early for the summer as many students canvassed the community to protest racism and the Vietnam War, but not before the Grateful Dead played a free open-air concert in the middle of Andrus Field (on May 3, 1970.){fact}

That summer, Wesleyan students were primary organizers of the Middlefield, or Powder Ridge Rock Festival, at a ski resort about three miles southwest of campus. Student pharmacologists had become recognized for the quality of LSD produced at the school, and Doctor William Abruzzi declared a drug "crisis" on 1 August and said "Woodstock was a pale pot scene. This is a heavy hallucinogens scene. The concert was covered by the New York Times, and also written about by William Manchester.

Wesleyan was one of the first highly selective schools to actively recruit black and other minority students, and in the class entering in 1965 had the first substantial group of minority students, 14 young men -- 13 Blacks and one Latino. In ensuing years, much press attention was directed to race relations at Wesleyan, leading to a much publicized 1968 article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "Two Nations at Wesleyan" which used a photo of a round table at which 8 black students were seated to argue that blacks and whites did not eat together or interact otherwise. Students responded that the article ignored the photo of an adjacent table at which four black and four white students were seated. The school's leadership in minority recruiting has often been noticed.

Wesleyan's University Press is an important asset to the school. (see below) For several decades a division of the Press, American Educational Publications, produced a series called My Weekly Reader which was a subscription service to elementary schools used across the country. It was sold in 1965 to Xerox for 400,000 shares of Xerox stock worth $56 million. This marked Wesleyan's entry into the stock market, and the next year in 1966, Edwin Deacon Etherington, president of the American Stock Exchange, was named president of the college. Wesleyan since that time has been investing its endowment, with various degrees of success. Wesleyan's endowment more than doubled from 1995 to 2005. As of end December, 2008, it stands at approximately $720,000,000.

Wesleyan's ten year plan, which started in 2000, included the expansion of undergraduate housing, the renovation of classrooms and buildings, and a large commitment in investment in technology used for research and teaching. The Wesleyan Board of Trustees has also approved a $160 million project to build a new science building to replace Hall-Atwater Laboratory.

The University and several of its admissions deans were featured in Jacques Steinberg's 2002 book The Gatekeepers: Inside The Admissions Process of a Premier College.

In the Fall 2007 semester, Michael S. Roth, a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan and former president of the California College of the Arts, was inaugurated as Wesleyan's 16th president.

On May 25, 2008, Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, filling in for the ill Ted Kennedy, addressed the graduating Class of 2008, and urged Wesleyan graduates to enter into public service. Senator Obama also was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Wesleyan University at the 2008 Commencement.


Wesleyan occupies a campus, with over 340 buildings including: the five building College Row; the Samuel Wadsworth Russell House, a National Historic Landmark; Alsop House; Olin Memorial Library (see below); Harriman Hall (which houses the John E. Andrus Public Affairs center and the College of Social Studies); the Exley Science Center; Shanklin and Hall-Atwater Laboratories; the Van Vleck Observatory; Fayerweather (housing theatrical and dance rehearsal spaces and Beckham Hall--for large lectures), the Foss Hill dormitories; the Butterfield dormitories; the Fauver Field dormitories; and 11-building Center for the Arts complex. The campus also has the William Street apartment complex.

Recent building initiatives include the Freeman Athletic Center (which includes a 50-meter swimming pool, the Spurrier-Snyder Rink for hockey, the 1,200-seat Silloway Gymnasium, the Andersen Fitness Center, and the Rosenbaum Squash Center with eight courts), the Center for Film Studies, and a multi-building renovation project creating a 'Humanities District' on the east side of High Street between Fisk Hall and Russell House, which includes facilities for the departments of English, Romance Languages, the College of Letters, Classical Studies, Philosophy, Art & Art History, and Women's Studies.

The new Usdan University Center, opened in September 2007 at the center of the campus, has consolidated dining facilities for students and for faculty, and houses seminar and meeting spaces, the Wesleyan Student Association, Student Activities and Leadership Development offices, the post office, and retail space.

High Street, which is the old center of campus, was once described by Charles Dickens as "the handsomest street in America."

Undergraduate program

Wesleyan's 39 academic departments offer over 900 courses each semester. Undergraduates receive the Bachelor of Arts in one (or more) of 46 major concentrations. No minors are offered, but double majors are popular. Students can also pursue a custom-designed major, known as a University Major. Most classes at Wesleyan are small; the average class size for both graduates and undergraduates is approximately 19 students.

Freshmen are offered First Year Initiative seminars, which are designed to acquaint them with Wesleyan's rigorous academic life and to prepare them for upper level courses by emphasizing writing, analysis, discussion, and critical thinking. Though not required, undergraduates are encouraged in the first two years of study to take a minimum of two courses in each of three areas: natural sciences and mathematics, humanities and the arts, and social and behavioral sciences. In the second two years, undergraduates are expected to take one course in each of these three areas. Writing is emphasized throughout the curricula.

Historically, Wesleyan has been noted as one of the most productive colleges or universities in the United States in the undergraduate origins of PhDs in all fields of study, with exceptional productivity in undergraduates pursuing doctorates in the natural sciences. Wesleyan also is recognized for sending an unusually large number of female undergraduates to graduate programs in the sciences and PhDs generally. Within five years of graduation, eighty percent of Wesleyan graduates attend graduate school, including the top programs in the country and the world. Wesleyan graduates are awarded the most prestigious fellowships in the nation, including Fulbright, Goldwater, Rhodes, and Watson. In 2006, Wesleyan was named a "Top Producer of Fulbright Awards for American Students" by the Institute for International Education. Wesleyan is reputed to have produced more Watson Fellows than any other liberal arts college in the country and is near the top with respect to the total number of graduates awarded Fulbright fellowships.

Even though Wesleyan demonstrates academic excellence and rigor across the curricula, several of its departments and undergraduate programs are particularly well-known, including American Studies, Astronomy/Astrophysics, Classical Studies, The College of Letters (see below), The College of Social Studies (see below), East Asian Studies, Economics, English/Creative Writing, History, Mathematics, Music, Political Science, Psychology, and the Natural Sciences.

Wesleyan's program in World Music employs leading teaching musicians and ethnomusicologists, representing a variety of musical traditions. Javanese Gamelan, South Indian Classical, West African, African-American, and Experimental musics have been permanent components of the Music Department since the 1960s. A Masters degree in World Music and a PhD in ethnomusicology are offered.

Wesleyan is well regarded for its film studies department. The Cinema Archives, run by renowned film historian Jeanine Basinger, documents the film industry during the 20th Century. The archives contain the personal papers of Elia Kazan, Frank Capra, Ingrid Bergman, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Roberto Rossellini, Gene Tierney, Raoul Walsh, Frank Perry, Federico Fellini, Robert Saudek, and others.

Wesleyan also has highly respected theater programs. Wesleyan is home to Second Stage, the first student-run college theater company in the country. Second Stage produces at least one show per weekend during the school year, either in the fully equipped black-box Patricelli '92 Theater or alternate spaces around campus. The Patricelli '92 Theater became available for student run productions when the Center for the Arts opened in 1974, providing the Theater Department with a state-of-the-art facility.

Wesleyan is exceptionally strong in mathematics and science. The University ranks first nationally among liberal arts colleges in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. Wesleyan is also the number one ranked liberal arts institution in the total number of scientific publications produced by faculty members (often with undergraduate co-authors). Additionally, Wesleyan is the only liberal arts college in the nation to receive research funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Medical school acceptances historically have averaged just above 90% and in some years Wesleyan has recorded a 100% acceptance rate. Many pre-med graduates are admitted to the most prestigious programs in the country. Wesleyan was one of the first colleges to establish a separate Molecular Biology & Biochemistry department, and has extensive laboratory facilities. The University is reputed to have the most square footage of lab space per student of any college in the country. The departments also support original post-graduate research programs. An additional laboratory building is also in the planning stages.

Wesleyan offers an astronomy program comparable to those at much larger universities. The Van Vleck Observatory, built in 1914, sits atop Foss Hill near the center of the Wesleyan campus. According to the department's web site, "The telescopes are used for research-based observing programs and sky watching events open to Wesleyan students and the general public. The University owns three telescopes. A , and a are both used for weekly public observing nights, open to the Wesleyan community and the general public. The third telescope, the Perkins telescope, is used primarily for research, including for senior and graduate student thesis projects, as well as for departmental research programs. The Perkins scope is one of the largest telescopes in New England. Wesleyan also has a partnership with the WIYN .9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Students and faculty have the opportunity to spend time in Arizona doing research with the telescope.

Butterfield Colleges

College of Social Studies: The College of Social Studies (CSS) was founded in 1959, combining the fields of history, economics, government, and philosophy. It emphasizes intellectual independence and collaborative and social ties between faculty and students. Students take 7 of the program's 12 (thesis-writing students take 13) required credits during their sophomore year. Sophomore year focuses on the development of modern Western society from historical, economic, social and political perspectives, and culminates with comprehensive final exams. Junior year has a more global focus, while Seniors are required to write an Honors thesis (full year) or a Senior Essay. The program is known for its collegial spirit and academic rigor.

College of Letters: The College of Letters (COL) combines the study of history, literature, philosophy, and a foreign language of the student's choice. The program has a primary focus on the Western canon. Undertaking a chronological study that progresses from antiquities to modernity, COL students take one colloquium together each semester and study abroad for the second semester of their sophomore year; they are expected to be at an intermediate level of study in their language of choice at the time they enter the program as sophomores. During their junior year students prepare for intensive comprehensive examinations on the three colloquia taken up to this point. During their senior year students must write a thesis (full year paper) or an essay (half year paper).

Certificate programs

Wesleyan's certificate programs are "designed to bring coherence to programs of study that include courses from many departments and programs." They are:

  • Certificate in Environmental Studies
  • Certificate in Informatics and Modeling
  • Certificate in International Relations
  • Certificate in Jewish and Israel Studies
  • Certificate in Molecular Biophysics

Graduate programs

Graduate programs

Wesleyan features 11 graduate departmental programs. Graduates receive the Master of Arts, Master of Science, and/or Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Generally, Wesleyan's graduate programs retain a small college atmosphere similar to the undergraduate program. For example, departments feature small administrative staffs, close student-faculty interaction, and open laboratory facilities. Administrators limit graduate course enrollment to 18 students or less.

The following is a list of graduate departments and programs. Some departments offer more than one program, as noted:

  • Anthropology (5 year BA/MA program)
  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Earth Science
    • Environmental Science
  • Mathematics
  • Molecular Biology
    • Biochemistry
  • Music
    • Ethnomusicology
    • Composition
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Liberal Studies Program, (non-departmental)
    • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
    • Certificate of Advanced Studies

Graduate Liberal Studies Program

In 1953, Wesleyan was one of three universities to begin a program leading to a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree, called the Graduate Liberal Studies Program. To date, hundreds of educational institutions have followed suit with similar programs. The program provides for interdisciplinary graduate study independent of the undergraduate academic departments. This replaced the Master of Arts in Teaching program previously offered, and expanded it so that students can pursue graduate study for an endless variety of purposes. A large proportion of G.L.S.P. students are public school and private school teachers from the region, and the others are in different professions, or are otherwise augmenting their graduate studies.

The Graduate Liberal Studies Program offers both the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.) and the Certificate of Advanced Studies (C.A.S.). The former requires 36 credit hours of study and culminates in capstone project or thesis. The latter requires 30 credit hours of additional study and a thesis.

Olin Memorial Library & other library holdings

Wesleyan has a significant library collection, larger than any of its peer institutions, and regarded as one of the most important educational assets of the University. Most of the collection is housed in Olin Memorial Library, which has more than one million volumes. Wesleyan's first library was Rich Hall (now '92 Theater), which was built just after the Civil War. In the early years of the University, there was a general collection housed on campus, and two society libraries, which were in the Observatory Hall dormitory. These three collections were combined to make up the basis of the Rich Hall collection, and the library was supervised by William North Rice, '65, the first University Librarian. Olin Library was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White and built in 1925. Olin originally was much smaller and also contained classroom space. It has since been enlarged twice, the last time in 1992. Olin also contains Special Collections & Archives, and is a U.S. Government Document Depository.

The second largest library on campus is the Science Library which houses the science monographs and periodicals, but also has a large collection called the Cutter Collection, which is an older private collection of mostly nineteenth century English language books of European literature, art, and culture. The third library in size is the Davidson Art Library in Alsop House in the middle of the Center for the Arts, which also contains a large collection of engravings that are regularly exhibited to the public. There is also a Music library and several department libraries.

Wesleyan University Press

The Wesleyan University Press is an important educational asset to the school. When Wesleyan sold the school division, the University retained the scholarly division. During the early 1960s, T. S. Eliot served as an editorial consultant to the Press. All editing occurs at the editorial office building of the Press on the Wesleyan campus. Publishing (printing) now occurs through a consortium of New England college academic presses. The Press is well regarded for its books of poetry and books on music, dance and performance, American studies, and film. The Wesleyan University Press has released more than 250 titles in its poetry series and has garnered, in that series alone, four Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen, two National Book Awards, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. The Press also has garnered Pulitzer Prizes, American Book Awards, and other awards in its other series. The Press offers Wesleyan students employment opportunities on campus during the academic year and three-month "Summer Publishing Internships." Approximately 25 books are released each year.

Rankings and admissions

In the most recent Washington Monthly ranking of liberal arts colleges in the United States, Wesleyan was ranked # 4. In 2006, Wesleyan was ranked # 3. In previous Washington Monthly survey years, the University has been ranked as high as # 2. Wesleyan is also ranked very high in the survey's key academic output categories; currently holding second place in the proportion of undergraduates in liberal arts colleges obtaining PhDs and fourth in fostering scientific and humanistic research. Historically, in the Washington Monthly survey, Wesleyan holds the #1 average liberal arts college ranking in the nation. In the current US News and World Report rankings, Wesleyan is the #13 liberal arts college in the United States. In previous US News rankings, Wesleyan has been ranked as high as #6. In the 2008 Forbes Magazine ranking of American colleges, which combines liberal arts colleges and national research universities together in one list, Wesleyan is ranked #21. Among liberal arts colleges only, Wesleyan ranks #11 in the survey.

Wesleyan is among the most selective colleges and universities in the nation. For the class of 2012, 26% of applicants were admitted. The middle 50 percent of matriculating students scored 670–760 on the SAT Critical Reading section, 670–760 on the SAT Math section, 670-760 on the SAT Writing section, and 30–34 (composite) on the ACT. The median SAT score was 2100, and the median ACT score was 31.


Wesleyan is a member of the Division III New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), fields intercollegiate varsity teams in 17 sports, and competes against traditional Little Three rivals Amherst and Williams.


The University's Freeman Athletic Center features the Bacon Fieldhouse, Spurrier-Snyder Rink, Rosenbaum Squash Center, a 1,200 seat gymnasium, a fitness center, and a beautiful pool. Football and baseball games are played on Andrus Field in the middle of campus, while tennis matches are held at the John Woods Memorial Courts.Wesleyan also recently dedicated Jackson Field, the site of soccer contests, and Smith Field, a newly constructed synthetic turf field and the site of lacrosse and field hockey games. The Wesleyan Crew team rows out of Macomber Boathouse on the nearby Connecticut River.


Situated in the heart of the campus is Wesleyan's Andrus Field, the oldest continuously used football field in the United States. In the fall of 2006, Wesleyan celebrated the 125th anniversary of its first football game which was played against the Amherst Aggies (now Umass Minutemen) on October 31, 1881. During the brief period when Woodrow Wilson was a Professor of Political Economy at Wesleyan, he was an unofficial assistant coach. Currently, Wesleyan has won the Little Three championship outright 12 times (compared to 30 for Amherst and 46 for Williams) with 8 three-way ties; the Cardinals have not outright won the championship since 1970.


Wesleyan won its first Little Three softball title in 2008.


The Wesleyan Varsity crew team has a long tradition as well, going back to the early days of the sport in New England. A century ago, there were additional crew teams by college class year and fraternity, and the shells and equipment was passed down through the class years. Today the Head of the Connecticut Regatta is held in September, officially hosted by an independent organization, but Wesleyan University and the City of Middletown are informally considered joint hosts, and the side by side Wesleyan and City boathouse facilities are used as the home of the regatta.

Non-varsity athletics

The University also has intramural leagues in a wide range of sports, and sponsors the annual Wesleyan Dorm Cup between the various dormitories and fraternities on campus.

Student Groups and Organizations

The student body generally is represented by the Wesleyan Student Assembly.

There are a wide variety of other clubs and organizations, including departmental organizations and other interest groups. A prominent one of recent years has been the Environmental Organizers' Network (EON), which has helped to bring discussions about climate change and environmental sustainability to the forefront of campus dialogue.

One of the most notable student groups is The Wesleyan Argus, one of the oldest college newspapers in the country. It currently publishes twice weekly.

The student body also publishes the Olla Podrida, which was originally a quarterly newspaper in the late 1850s, but which has been the college yearbook since the Civil War and the more permanent establishment of the Argus as the campus newspaper.

In addition to publications, the student body in conjunction with the administration has been responsible for the radio station WESU, 88.1 FM, which has broadcast locally since 1936.

The Debate Society was founded in 1903 and later named in honor of Woodrow Wilson, former Professor of History and Political Economy at Wesleyan from 1888-1890. It captured first place in past years at the annual Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, and Williams tournaments, among others, and has reached the semi-finals of all other major tournaments. The Debate Society also has competed internationally. In 1990, for example, the Society won the National Championships and ninth place in the World Student Debating Championships.

Wesleyan is also home to Second Stage, a student-run theater production group continuously operated since 1973. One of the oldest in the nation, Second Stage provides funding to Wesleyan Undergraduates who wish to produce theater or dance performances with undergraduates working in the roles of director, designer and actor. Second Stage is unique in that it uses the Patricelli '92 Theater, a top-of-the-line experimental theater, for most of its productions. Any undergraduate, regardless of major or experience, can apply and produce their own performance.

Secret Societies and Fraternities

Secret societies on campus include two Mystical Sevens, Skull and Serpent and Theta Nu Epsilon. Skull & Serpent has a small building, called The Tomb, for meetings. The Mystical Seven senior society had a building from 1912 to 1997. The building burned in 1997 and was razed in 2007.

Wesleyan is home to several fraternities, including Psi Upsilon (1843), Delta Kappa Epsilon (1868), and Beta Theta Pi (1890); in addition, there are Alpha Delta Phi (1856), and Eclectic Society (1970). Black fraternities include six of the NPHC or Divine Nine on campus. Wesleyan is included in the Nu Psi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi and the home for chapters of Phi Beta Sigma, and Alpha Phi Alpha. Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta are Wesleyan's National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities. Latino fraternal life is represented by the Sigma Chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. These latter groups all came to Wesleyan after the late 1980s.

Some of the older fraternities possess fine, very large houses adjacent to the campus while the newer ones do not own buildings. In the first half of the 20th century, when Wesleyan was a much smaller all-male college, up to 80% of the student body belonged to fraternities almost all of which were residential. For the past few decades the membership has been about 12% of the student body, with only 3% living in actual houses.

Student activism

Need-blind admissions

Wesleyan adheres to a need-blind admission policy. Financial circumstances are not considered when deciding whether to admit, wait list, or turn down an applicant. In 1982, trustees announced that, following federal cuts to student aid, Wesleyan would begin to consider financial circumstances when admitting wait-listed students. Students protested the decision, and though trustees did not back down from their recommendations, Wesleyan raised enough money for financial aid to avoid putting the new policy into effect. In 1992, the administration again considered a moratorium on need-blind admissions. A student group, Students for Financially Accessible Education (SFAE), organized a series of actions, including rallies, a silent vigil encircling a trustee meeting, a sit-in in an administration building, and a camp-out on its lawn. Wesleyan's need-blind admissions policy was preserved and remains today. For several years, SFAE continued to raise awareness about financial accessibility, offering interest-free loans to students with financial emergencies, and raising money for financial aid through energy conservation campaigns. The group appears to be dormant at this time.

On November 1st, on the eve of his inauguration as Wesleyan's 16th president, Michael S. Roth announced that beginning with the class of 2012, all financial aid applicants whose family incomes was $40,000 or less would not have to take out loans. They would be given grants. For all other financial aid recipients, there would be a general reduction in loans by about 35 percent.

Staff labor unions

In 2001, students of the United Student Labor Action Coalition occupied the admissions building during the month of April to protest the University's use of sub-contracted janitors who were not being paid a living wage. As part of the nationwide Justice for Janitors campaign, USLAC demanded that the University amend its contract with the service contractor to provide for a living wage and to let the janitors form a union if so desired. As April is the peak of college admissions season for prospective students, USLAC had a considerable amount of leverage as the University found itself with a severe public relations problem. After about two days the University conceded to the student demands.

In December 2004, over 250 students occupied South College and trapped President Bennet in his office for several hours to protest the lack of student voices in administrative decision making. The building occupation was followed by a forum the next day, in which President Bennet promised to respond to student demands in January 2005. The motivations behind the occupation, in addition to its efficacy in transforming administrative policy, remain open questions.

WESU & National Public Radio

Another controversy in the same period was the status of the campus radio station, WESU, founded in 1939 as the second college radio station in the United States. WESU broadcasts 24 hours a day. Until 2004, WESU's format had been entirely free-form, with DJs and student staff having complete freedom to program what they will. The University had, at that time, announced its intent to seek an affiliation with National Public Radio, and to drastically change the station's format. Douglas Bennett, then President of the University, was a former president of NPR. The station now broadcasts an NPR feed from WSHU, the college station of Sacred Heart University, for several hours a day. For the remainder of the broadcast day, WESU continues to operate as a free-form station.


Activism around the issue of free speech, especially as it relates to chalking on university propery, bubbles up from time to time in response to the chalking moratorium issued by President Bennet in 2003, although this temporary ban was eventually made permanent. Heated discussion around these topics emerged and the administration hosted a forum to field questions. Students contended that they "chalked as a way of expressing dissent, of raising awareness on topics of sexuality, race, class, and gender, of bringing humor and fun into people's daily life, and of inviting students to parties and club events." Some faculty, students, and administrators found some examples of chalking to be distasteful or offensive and were especially disturbed by those directed against individual persons. While students may still be found chalking from time to time, the campus disallows such practice and punishes offenders via the Student Judiciary Board.

Notable alumni and faculty

Wesleyan alumni have achieved prominence in many fields, including a U.S. Supreme Court Justice; federal judges; U.S. Attorneys; scientists; physicians; academicians; college presidents; CEOs; artists; musicians; journalists; government and political officials; members of the military; winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and Pushcart Prize; recipients of MacArthur Fellowships, Rhodes Scholarships, Fulbrights, Goldwater Scholarships, Watson Fellowships, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Academy, Tony, Emmy Award and Super Bowl winners.


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