On Monday April 8, President Paula Johnson stood in front of prospective students and their families in Alumnae Hall to deliver a speech for Spring Open Campus (SOC) — an annual event where admitted students are invited to stay with current Wellesley students, attend classes and participate in events that are designed to teach them more about life on campus. While President Johnson was delivering her speech, approximately ten members of the student-led group Wellesley for Adequate and Accessible Resources (WAAR) arrived with posters that read “Wellesley Doesn’t Care About Your Mental Health,” “Wellesley Wants You for Your Diversity Points” and “Ask Wellesley Why 1st Gen Students of Color Drop Out.” One of these students used a megaphone to project over President Johnson and express that Wellesley does not offer adequate mental health resources to its students. They also pointed out that first-generation students of color are more likely to drop out than other students. Though President Johnson was ultimately able to finish her speech, members of WAAR remained in Alumnae Hall with their posters.
Robyn Fouhou from Silver Spring, Maryland was one of the many prospective students who attended President Johnson’s speech. She expressed in a written statement to the Wellesley News that the events that unfolded felt “awkward and surreal” as an audience member.
WAAR is a student- led group whose members are, according to its mission statement, “dissatisfied with the resources offered to disadvantaged students and the state of mental health on campus.” In addition to the protest held during SOC, the group released a petition a few days before SOC demanding that Wellesley’s administration offer more accessible resources to disadvantaged students on campus and reform the Stone Center. The petition has since received over 620 signatures from students, faculty, staff, parents, alumnae and incoming members from the class of 2023.
Corrine Yoder-Mulkey ’20 is an active member of WAAR. She said in a written statement to the Wellesley News that the large number of signatures suggests that she is not “the only student who has found this campus to be the opposite of accessible.”
Yonder-Mulkey got involved with the group because of her “experiences with disability access on our campus” after she broke her ankle in February. She discussed how a tree fell in front of the only accessible entrance to the Stone Center and Health Services during the second week of February, making it difficult for several students to access the facilities. Yonder-Mulkey shared that the issue was finally resolved last week after “[WAAR] alerted the administration to the situation.”
In addition to the tree being removed, immediately after the protest, one of the demands on the group’s petition was met: Wellesley began running a wheelchair-accessible van for mobility-impaired students.
Rachel Korkodilos ’20 and Aviance Obie ’20 are the co-founders of WAAR. Korkodilos and Obie said in a written statement to The Wellesley News that the group’s demands for more accessible resources and better mental health care didn’t “come out of nowhere.” They explained that the group chose to protest during SOC because “students have been advocating for these things for years, but are met with silence from administrators, and as a result nothing changes. We needed to get the attention of the school and administrators who have ignored these concerns in the past, and SOC was the perfect time to do so.”
Regardless of WAAR’s efforts to advocate for the student body, some members of the Wellesley community disagreed with the group’s decision to protest during SOC. One member of the class of 2020, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed concern over the protest in an interview with The Wellesley News. She stated, “I’m sure [WAAR] had the right intentions. However, I honestly think timing the protest during Spring Open Campus was inappropriate and unfair to the prospies. Wellesley isn’t perfect, but I don’t regret coming here. If students had been protesting when I visited, it definitely would have influenced my decision.” She added, “I think that’s a huge problem because how one group of students feels about Wellesley doesn’t reflect the opinions and experiences of all the students who go to school here.”
In spite of student concern, Korkodilos indicated that the response WAAR received from prospective students was mostly positive. They recounted a conversation they had with a group of prospective students who witnessed the protest. “Some prospies who were actually sitting near us when we dropped the banners and began to chant actually found Aviance and me in Clapp later that day. We had a really great conversation with them – they seemed excited that Wellesley students were honest about the realities many face here,” Korkodilos stated.
Fouhou had mixed feelings about the protest that took place during SOC. While she believes that the protesters likely had valid points, she is unsure of whether SOC was the appropriate place to voice them because it might have “dissuaded students from coming to Wellesley, which probably wasn’t their intention.” The protest also made Fouhou question whether Wellesley is a place where student voices are heard by administration. She now wonders whether protests are “the only way to incite actual change here. If that’s the case, however, it does worry me as a prospective student. I really like this school, but I don’t like that such extreme measures have to be taken to get my voice heard.”
Overall, the protest impacted Fouhou’s perception of Wellesley in two ways. “First, I learned that students here really aren’t afraid of taking risks in order to stand up for what they believe in. I really do respect that,” she said. The protest also made Fouhou aware of the “darker side of Wellesley in terms of mental health and dropout rates.”
Fouhou shared that it is “too early to see if this will cause me to reject attending Wellesley, but I don’t foresee myself turning down this school because of the protest.”
Korkodilos shared that they and Obie met with Dean Horton last week to discuss the first half of WAAR’s demands “point by point.” They will continue to discuss these demands with Horton, and have also spoken with Claudia Trevor- Wright and Dean Garcia. The Wellesley News reached out to representatives of Health Services but did not receive any comments.
In the meantime, Korkodilos urges students who are interested in getting involved with WAAR’s efforts to email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.