Yesterday, I spent about twelve hours at my 15th college reunion. I had gone with my friend, Cheryl, without whose influence, I would never have gone. I was glad I went, although I admit I've never been enthusiastic about giving money to Wesleyan, with which I was pretty disgusted by the time I left. For four years there, I was involved with various fights with the board of trustees over South African investments, core curricula proposals, and affirmative action policies. My favorite professors, Henry Abelove, Michael Harris, and Jerry Watts were all mistreated by the institution in various ways, (Harris and Watts were both denied tenure).
The other reason for my particular experience of Wesleyan had something to do with a basic class antagonism to the super-wealthy people I met there who seemed to spend most of their time high; there was a whole contingent in my dorm who spent most of their days smoking pot and playing backgammon, just until time for the exams that they invariably aced. Year after year, I met interesting people who were doing cool things (they were the ones who came to the reunion, obviously) but at the time, in my jaundiced view of everything, the priviledged neer-do-wells were at the center.
Oh, and then there was that whole disastrousfire-bombing and murder of one my once-friends, an entirely different kind of privileged ne-er do well.
So, I made the resolution upon leaving was never to have anything to do with a private college again because I saw Wesleyan's function as being a training ground for the ruling-class, one of whose primary lessons was about how to fuck up and not face the consequences. I must not have changed entirely, because one of the spots I was most nostalgic to return to was Eclectic, the "co-ed literary society" where I spent many weekends drinking beers and feeling miserable and excluded.
Oh, wasted youth!
(and yes, there were great people at Eclectic too, but I was too miserable when I was eighteen to appreciate them).
Of course, I gained a lot at Wesleyan. I often think back to things I learned there when I'm teaching now, and I think about how unfair it is that most of my students will never experience anything like it. The academic experience of Wesleyan, with those small classes, that amazing library, those bright, bright students, and dedicated professors - those were the things I still appreciate about the place, which combines the aesthetics of the palatial, the funky, and the idyllic in a way that's hard to explain. That aspect of Wesleyan was reflected most in the "Wes Seminar" on contemporary public education that I went to yesterday afternoon. So, yes, I really should give money to the school just to fund scholarships for kids from inner-city highschools. I found out that Michelle Pierce, who I'd never met at Wesleyan, as far as I can remember anyway, is doing amazing things in the Bronx. The discussion she facilitated during her seminar had all the hallmarks of those great classes I took there, and it was the best way to reconnect with the university.
The class dinner was also nice. Fifteen years later, it did seem like most of us had grown up.