WILLA NIELSEN '17
We sometimes forget that we live in Middletown. Aside from dinners at Tandoor, visit to Metro and the occasional Corner Pocket, we don’t often venture outside of our bubble. It’s important to remember that we live in a community that has existed long before us and will continue to do so after our four years here. Often criticized for a lack of communication and respect for Middletown residents, Wesleyan students have a complicated relationship with the broader community. We are simultaneously residents, visitors, students, and citizens. This tenuous connection between the Wesleyan bubble and the “real world” became abundantly clear after recent events in which the police department became involved in our campus.
Given this relationship and what was both a surprising and unsettling confrontation with police officers, tensions are growing between Wesleyan students and the Middletown police department. This only furthers the divide between our two communities. This past week, Wesleyan’s ACLU chapter decided to act against this tension by organizing a panel discussion. Chief of Police William McKenna, Connecticut ACLU staff attorney David McGuire, and Middletown Youth Services Bureau member Justin Carbonella sat down with Wesleyan students to discuss police militarization, Memoranda of Understanding, and surveillance. However, most interestingly, the emphasis was placed on strengthening relationships. Chief McKenna stressed the importance of transparency and trust within the Middletown community, and his desire to foster the department’s relationship with Wesleyan. On an offhanded comment, Chief McKenna noted that not only police officers, but also Middletown residents sometimes feel unwelcome on our campus. Much like we are navigating the relationship between our school and the outside world, the police department is navigating the relationships between Wesleyan, Middletown, Public Safety and their duty to protect and serve. This rift between the two overlapping communities is damaging to both.
The discussion last week covered topics related to the current ACLU agenda for this legislative session. A considered and thoughtful discussion, this panel set a precedent. Anna Pezanoski-Cohen (’17) organized the event with the intention of starting a larger conversation. She believes that “it’s our duty to integrate ourselves into the community that we’re a part of and facilitating this meeting was the first step in doing that.” Chief McKenna, as well as the ACLU and Youth Services Bureau representatives hoped that this discussion would be the first of many.