Members of Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus (KWOC) are preparing for another semester of on-campus activism, but this summer Macalester and fellow ACTC colleges signed a document with Wells Fargo that will improve financial terms if each school continues to use the bank’s purchasing cards.
“We participated in the discussions of the terms in good faith and plan to follow through on our part of the arrangement,” wrote David Wheaton, Vice President of Administration and Finance, in a recent email.
In response, KWOC members plan on beginning another semester of activism on campus. “We spent the summer researching Wells Fargo’s involvement in predatory student loans and investment in private prisons and immigration detention centers and plan to incorporate these into our campaign,” KWOC member Luke Mielke ’16 wrote in an email.
“We went to the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) conference this summer in D.C.,” KWOC member Alisha Roopchand ’15 added, “As well as the National Student Power Convergence in Madison where we talked with a lot of other organizers and students about Wall Street accountability and the overall national KWOC campaign.”
Mielke added that members networked across the country with interested parties, including alumni.
Continuing Despite Probation
In a controversial move last semester, members of KWOC occupied Weyerhaeuser Hall for a day and a half, and blockaded the building for three and a half days, until President Brian Rosenberg and Wheaton agreed to meet with their leadership.
The decision to occupy followed a letter sent by Wheaton to KWOC stating that Macalester would not end its contract with Wells Fargo.
During the Friday meeting, Rosenberg and Wheaton stood by their decision to continue using the Wells Fargo purchasing card program. They said that withdrawing funds would not create any significant change. Nevertheless, KWOC leadership argued that their proposal would demonstrate symbolic solidarity with community organizations. Weeks later the administration implemented disciplinary procedures against 17 students identified as having participated in the occupation of Weyerhaeuser. These students were put on disciplinary probation following a meeting with the Conduct Board. According to the “Questions and Answers About the KWOC Protests at Macalester” found on the Macalester website, the probation restricts students from participation in sports and leadership in student organizations.
“None of the students involved in KWOC protests are being denied participation in study abroad or opportunities for internships,” the page reads.
Probationary measures have largely changed the way the group functions. Mielke could not reserve a conference room for the group or a table at the Involvement Fair.
The Q & A on the Macalester webpage states that students have the right to appeal the decision with the Conduct Board, and many students chose to do so.
Roopchand said that the group is already working around the probationary measures. To start, KWOC members had the International Socialist Organization book them a table for the involvement fair.
Mielke added that alumni support grew after the press coverage of the probationary measures. “The fact that Macalester for the first time in the history of my mind is disciplining student activists is disappointing to the [alumni],” he said. “Like looking at why, why that’s happening and what that means for this school.”
Activism This Semester
“The campaign will continue,” Mielke said. Mielke said KWOC will continue working on campus to create change and convince the student body and administration to terminate the existing relationship with Wells Fargo.
Wheaton wrote that the administration will not stop its use of the purchasing card, but it would be willing to meet occasionally with KWOC representatives.
“We’re always willing to meet with students to hear their concerns and ideas, so we would be willing to meet with KWOC representatives,” he wrote. “Having said that, we have a student body of 2,000 and we need to be able to offer other individuals and groups our time and attention as well.”
He added that the administration will maintain its stance.
“We described our analysis and reasoning for continuing the use of the purchasing card last spring, and the President confirmed that decision with KWOC leaders in April,” he wrote.
Provost and acting president Kathy Murray added that talking with her would not help the KWOC campaign move forward.
“I would be willing to talk with you and others,” she wrote, “But for the conversation to really continue, you would need to have a new proposal and work that proposal through the Social Responsibility Committee process.”
Mielke said the group plans to continue talks with the administration, but it will also continue to spread awareness around the community and in the student body.
“We are working on making our meetings shorter and more accessible,” Roopchand said.
“We are not a secret group of radicals in a basement somewhere,” Mielke added.
Some students in KWOC are concerned about their status on campus.
“We don’t believe we’re doing anything wrong,” Mielke said. “We have our meetings and it’s constantly like, ‘What does the administration consider going far enough to like expel us?’ It’s up to them entirely when we break rules.”
Murray said protest is welcome, but respect for the community comes first.
“I just hope that all students will be respectful of each other and of the staff and faculty of the College,” Murray wrote in an email. “Protest can be healthy unless it interferes with the rights of others.”
Wheaton did not comment on the kind of further disciplinary action that would be taken.
“It doesn’t make sense to speculate on responses to student actions in the abstract,” he wrote. “Any situation will be handled according to established procedures.”