Student-led Protest Shakes Up Campus

Byline: by Caileigh Oliver

Posted: November 16, 2012

The sun peeked over the horizon on Wed, Nov. 14 to reveal the Wilson campus covered in posters, signs, and sheets. A number of messages adorned the signs, ranging from “You said we would have a voice, why is no one listening?” and “What Would Sarah Wilson Do?” to “Better Dead than Co-ed.”

This was the first major showing of a protest planned by members of the student body to gain attention from members of the school’s administration. “The protest idea was sparked when students decided they had had enough and wanted to do something about it,” said Janelle Wills ‘14, President of WCGA.

The idea for the protest was first voiced by students attending a Wilson College Government Association (WCGA) Pizza Talk event held after the Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College open campus meeting earlier this month. At Pizza Talk, members of WCGA asked students what they wanted to do in response to the events going on.

“Students were on the subject of the Commission’s last meeting, and how they felt student input was not taken into consideration from session to session,” said Wills. “The point of the protests was to give students back a voice about any of the many issues they face here living in the Wilson community.”

According to Wills, the number of students who participated far exceeded her expectations, which were based on the turnout for a protest held in the Spring 2012 semester to “Save Senior Week.” “Students really wanted this and stepped up,” said Wills.

While the idea for the protest was to be a generalized “student concerns” protest, many students focused on the possibility of Wilson becoming a co-educational institution. “Some students...chose to voice their concerns about the Commission’s recommendation to go co-ed. Due to the emotion behind this issue, it seemed the most prevalent,” said Wills.

Not all students were as enthusiastic about the idea as others, including Lilia George ‘13. George said she didn’t believe in the what seemed to be main cause of the protest, the issue about going co-ed. At first, George explained, she didn’t have much of a reaction to the posters. But on Wednesday, after talking to a male classmate, who is attending Wilson as part of the Adult Degree Program (ADP), and listening to him explain how he felt uncomfortable and harassed by the posters, George changed her mind. She began to make posters of her own, many of which express support for the college becoming co-ed. George explained that she wasn’t making the posters because she was against the cause. “I want to give a voice to people who can’t speak up for themselves for various reason,” explained George.

Not all members of the ADP program feel threatened by the protests. “I’m slightly offended, but equally amused,” explained Richard Holliday ‘13, a male ADP student, who said the protest reminded him of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

“You can’t argue for equal treatment, equal voice, while supporting policies of exclusion for any reason,” said Holliday. “That said, I do think admitting teenage males will ruin what little advantage a single sex education may provide to young women.” Holliday went on to suggest how the protestors could improve their cause. “I think the protestors need to focus their argument to a single, unified message that can unite rather than divide,” said Holliday.

While in the planning stages for the protests, students were careful to only discuss the upcoming events around other students, and crafted their posters, signs, and other materials away from the watchful eyes of administrative figures. However, their silence ended up being what led the Student Development staff to guess what was being planned.

“Students were too quiet…We knew that there was a protest afoot,” said Carolyn Perkins, Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students, although they didn’t know what exactly to expect.

According to Perkins, several staff members “were part of a protesting era,” involved in issues such as the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War protests, so they could recognize some of the signs. “You don’t know exactly what’s happening here, but you can feel the atmosphere has changed,” said Perkins. “Expectation was that if there was a protest, it was going to be creative, emotional,” explained Perkins, adding that they “also expected a backlash of different opinions.”

One of the things that was agreed on by most involved was that the students were giving voice to their opinion. “A positive is, some of the apathy has gone away, and I think that is good,” said Perkins.

Wills agreed with Perkins’ statement. “I think now students realize why it is so important and to take an interest and make sure their opinions are heard when others are asking for their opinion,” said Wills.

Perkins did caution that the Board of Trustees still hasn’t given their final recommendation about anything yet.

Last Updated: February 23, 2013

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