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Friday, May 8, 2009

A bad time to discover a funny superlative

Two days ago, there was a horrific murder at Wesleyan, where I went to grad school. It turned out to be the escalation of a long-time stalking. A student was shot, while working at her job in the cafe at the campus bookstore, by a man who had had no connection to Wesleyan or Middletown, and who had been harassing her for at least two years. I can't even begin to fathom the detestation her family, friends, and the witnesses to the shooting must be feeling.

When initial reports came out, I assumed it was either an escalation of tensions between the school and the Middletown community, or an escaped mental patient. Middletown, a town of about 48,000 located on the CT River in central CT, is not the idyllic place that description conjures up; it's rough. I moved there from Boston, where I'd lived for six years. I my four years in Middletown, I witnessed a mugging, robberies, at least one major drug bust, a bunch of kids beating each other with baseball bats, and an absolutely crazy suspected arson. One night I was assumed by men in passing cars to be a prostitute, because of the particular (quiet, residential) street I was walking down, (even though I was wearing a long winter coat, jeans, and clogs). I frequently heard gun shots from my apartment. I still get public safety reports at my Wesleyan email, and incidents in the past year, if memory serves, include an altercation with armed local teenagers at a college party, and the brutal on-campus beating of a male and female college student by some high school students. There is a also a mental hospital in Middletown, and there are a lot of halfway houses around (the mugging I witnessed, from my window in broad daylight, was of a mental patient who lived across the parking lot from me). As for the Wesleyan students and alums I've spoken to who seem unaware of these issues, I can only assume that they just weren't paying attention.

Which brings me to the students. Although I met a lot of great undergrads at Wesleyan (including one who is now my husband), on the whole I and my fellow grad students noticed a marked air of unconscious privileged, and a distinct lack of awareness about the surrounding community (or even the extended campus community...I met upperclassmen who were unaware graduate students existed at Wesleyan, and got a lot of comments like "You don't LOOK 30!" in the same tone that one might say, "You don't SEEM like a Nazi!".)

No doubt this is true, to some extent, of most college student bodies. I know I did my fair share of dicking around drunk in Potsdam, NY, the small North Country town where I spent my freshman and sophomore years of college, and Allston, MA, the Boston neighborhood where I lived during the rest of my college years. But I posit that Wesleyan's combo of wealth and, shall we say, free-spiritedness, combined with Middletown's relatively depressed and crime-ridden situation, make for a unique powder-keg of bad relations. I'm comparing not only to my own undergrad situations at SUNY Potsdam and BU, but also to MIT and Yale, where I've worked for extended periods, and to University of Southern Maine, located in Portland, ME, where I grew up, and at which my father taught and my mom worked.

ANYHOODLE, this has all been a long preamble to the fact that, in the course of the online obsessing about the Wesleyan shooting that I've been engaging in over the past couple of days, I made an interesting discovery. After reading the Gawker's report on the shooting (which, taste-wise, I would rate somewhere between "questionable" and "piss-poor"), I went on to read some other Wesleyan-related posts and found that they rated Wesleyan "Most Annoying Liberal Arts College" a couple of years ago. I find this, and the supporting posts, hilarious and spot-on. For example, they site a course offering in which students study global warming through both "scientific and choreographic" inquiry, as well as an article in the campus newspaper in which radical left students are gently requested not to harass the young Iraq War veterans who will be enrolling.

Had I made this discovery (a) when it was current and (b) when a terrible tragedy had not just hit the campus, I would be disseminating these posts far and wide (probably only to find that everyone else I knew already read them, but whatever). As it is, I'm just musing about the whole thing on this blog that nobody reads. That is all.

Oh yeah. There's also this:

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