Some Wesleyan students found Roth’s statements “problematic.” The electronic-music public-health organization DanceSafe published a blog post stressing that students may not have overdosed on MDMA, but rather fallen victim to tainted drugs; the preferred reference to the incident on campus became “poisonings” instead of “overdoses.” A senior wrote to Dean Whaley that asking students to turn each other in amounted to “coerced divulgement of information from emotionally and physically traumatized students in a moment of crisis.”
The next day, the Middletown Police Department arrested four students: Eric Lonergan, Rama Agha Al Nakib, Andrew Olson and Zachary Kramer. As an act of solidarity, the campus newspaper, the Wesleyan Argus, refused to identify them, but their names and photographs were plastered on the front page of the Hartford Courant, and printed in a number of mainstream outlets including the New York Times and the Daily Mail.
Many Wesleyan graduates work in entertainment, music, sports, politics, and publishing: The so-called “Wesleyan mafia” includes Matthew Weiner, Joss Whedon, Michael Bay, Amanda Palmer, Santigold, MGMT, Bill Belichick, the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper and the editor of the New York Times Magazine, Jake Silverstein. For alumni, the media’s rush to cover the hospitalizations might have been unsurprising, even though the same incident could have happened at any number of schools. For current students, it was an outrage. As Wesleyan’s neatly groomed 300 acres filled with news vans, students banded together to shut out the press.
“If you see reporters on campus, do not speak to them,” one well-liked student wrote on Facebook the day of the hospitalizations. “You’re not helping anyone.”
“Just saw all the news trucks,” another wrote that Monday. “Please, please don’t talk to reporters. Let our loved ones heal in peace.”
To distinguish itself from the hustling pre-professional mindset often associated with the Ivies, Wesleyan, like other elite liberal arts colleges, promises its students a space of exploration and personal autonomy. As a Wesleyan freshman, in 2004, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the campus gynecologist’s intake form asked which gender pronoun I wished to identify by. The 2015 orientation guidebook tells all incoming students, “You have chosen to become part of a vibrant community, one that will encourage your personal growth.” As William Holder, Wesleyan’s Director of Communications, tells me, “The Wesleyan community values creativity, independence of mind and generosity of spirit, and these do not thrive in over-regulated environments.”
Of course, encouraging a culture of personal experimentation is not always compatible with the age limits (and legal liabilities) present at a residential college. In the wake of the hospitalizations, law enforcement, with help from the university, launched a speedy investigation. When students learned the extent of the school’s cooperation, many felt rattled, even hurt. It was bad enough to know classmates and friends were suffering in hospital beds; for many, it was worse still to see their peers arrested on charges of drug dealing, and promptly dismissed from the school. How could a university ostensibly dedicated to fostering personal growth suddenly crack down?