WLU ’20 — Lee

Recently, I got the chance to show a friend of mine around W&L and Lex. This place has become my home, and I was excited to show her around. 

I’ve had the privilege of never quite comprehending just how prevalent Lee, the Confederacy, and racism are in this community. I‘ve learned about this town and this school gradually, and it’s so easy to become desensitized given how the history is portrayed. But to my friend, it sounded like this:

This is where Robert E. Lee is buried. That’s the professor who told the class he has a “colonizer fetish.” That was around the time the KKK came to campus. Turn right onto Lee Highway. That’s George and Bob. Yeah, it’s a cute nickname we have for him. Yeah, he did kill Americans.

It’s across from Lee Chapel. Some KKK members make “pilgrimages” here. I took him to Stonewall Jackson hospital. There were 16 Black students in my year. It said “KK-Keep the name the same.” That’s where the flaggers will stand. The KKK targeted that restaurant. This is my diploma. That’s a Confederate general. You pass by Stonewall Jackson cemetery. At the front is a portrait of him in his Confederate uniform. Yeah, he didn’t want that. They told us Lee created the Honor System. Turns out he didn’t. They hung a Confederate flag there when Trump was elected. The War of Northern Aggression. It was Lee-Jackson Day.

And those are just the things that I hear. I am a straight, white student. I don’t hear the racist slurs when I walk into a party. No one questions to my face how I got here. 

My visiting friend is from South Carolina. She was appalled. She was shocked that we could say Washington and Lee’s names in the same breath—someone who helped create our country, and someone who helped tear it apart. 

She is an International Relations major, and kept asking if the students pushing to keep the name the same know that Lee was a traitor. That his army killed far, far more Americans than 9/11 did. That no one outside of Lexington, including in the South, has any clue what you mean when you say “Lee the Educator.”

WLU ’22 — Sabra

I contacted the school’s administration to express to them how the selling of Sabra hummus in Cafe 77 makes me feel excluded from the W&L community. I explained in my emails and in-person talks with the dean and the EC’s president how Sabra is co-owned by Pepsi Co and the Strauss Group which proudly broadcasts their devotion to a mission that provides support for the Golani brigade, the most notorious brigade in the Israeli army and one that came so close to my own house in tanks and bulldozers the 2014 war and resulted in the killing of my neighbors and friends. 

My own survival everyday in the Gaza Strip is considered a miracle. My request of the school was nothing but to be neutral in the face of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and did not even ask them for any act of justice towards my people.

I explained how Sabra hummus is obviously not the only snack the school could provide. Yet, my request was faced with the “solution” of providing another option, Hope Hummus “alongside” Sabra. This, to me, was a spit in the face because none of our food should support apartheid and genocide.

What made it even worse is how the school never made any announcements to explain to the W&L community why this alternative was provided, because a lot of these members would actually never want to purchase Sabra again if they knew what it funds. I realized at that point that I had to do the job of spreading awareness on my own. I made flyers and started tabling in commons and started asking people to sign a petition to replace Sabra.

A friend of mine once texted me telling me that as soon as I left, some guys gathered all the flyers and threw them in the trash. On another incident, a student asked me if I “was allowed to be tabling in the commons”. I’ve never seen anyone else come across people tabling in commons and ask if they had a permission to be tabling. 

Another student came to yell at me and my friend when we were tabling, and associated the topic of me advocating for the human rights of my people in Palestine to my religion, and told me that I actually have to consider why my religion of Islam through the Qur’an tells me “to kill everyone who doesn’t agree with [me]”. Another student picked up a flyer from my friend when he was tabling and put in the trash right in front of him.

At W&L, some members of the community find it too much for someone to suggest helpful changes to the culture, and to ask to feel included.

WLU ’22 — Conflict

TW: Anti-semitic language

Being Jewish at W&L is a unique challenge. As someone who is white and does not wear a kippah, I am not identifiably Jewish when I walk around campus which I recognize allows me a level of privilege that other marginalized students do not experience. 

That being said, antisemitism still exists on our campus. I have had a few small incidences of antisemitism in my two years at W&L, but one in particular stands out the most. I had been hearing rumors about a boycott of Sabra hummus a while back and didn’t think much of it. 

But then I started getting sent pictures of the posters that were displayed on campus. [Image below]

The posters that contained the words “Sabra Hummus is mixed with the blood of the Palestinians.” The posters continued to make the unsupported claim that Israel is committing genocide and apartheid. 

Whether or not the student knew or intended it, these posters contain blood libel, one of the most insidious and hateful forms of antisemitism that has existed throughout history and still exists today. 

Blood libel is the accusation that Jews kill people (in the origin of blood libel, this was Christians) and then use the blood of their victims in baking matzah (an unleavened bread eaten by Jews on Passover) and then eat it.

I didn’t know what to think after seeing these posters. I felt so confused and upset.

I felt unsafe on our campus as a Jewish person who supports the existence and survival of the only Jewish State in the world. After the Tree of Life shooting happened, the W&L and Rockbridge County community rallied around their Jewish neighbors. How could this be happening? 

Although the posters were taken down at the direction of OIE and Public Safety, the student responsible for creating the posters has not been held accountable. It seems as though we’re all in favor of condemning and taking action against Nazis and white supremacists who hate Jews, but overt antisemitism coming from other outlets is not condemned by non-Jewish students and administrators.

It’s taken a while for the Israel/Palestine conflict to become a contentious topic that is talked about on our campus. 

I believe that there are many productive conversations to be had surrounding the issue. 

What I don’t find productive is starting the conversation with blood libel, antisemitism, and accusations of genocide and apartheid. It’s important that everyone who wishes to participate educate themselves about the conflict from many sides and then come to conclusions based on facts and history. 

It’s a complex issue with no easy solutions and it’s important that we remember that. I have faith in the W&L community that we can elevate this conversation to one that makes us all feel included and welcome on our campus.

WLU ’23 — “Jokes”

It’s been so upsetting to see the normalization of Anti-Semitism in America as a whole and even in my life. 

Last year at school, a friend came into my dorm room and was showing me some videos. I could tell they were supposed to be comical, although completely missing the mark, but one of them was strictly about Jewish people. I was surprised that my friend thought the “jokes” were funny, especially because the video clearly made fun of harsh stereotypes including noses. My friend is a great person, and I don’t think anything harmful was meant by it, but my nose has always been my biggest insecurity.

My mom has asked me if I have ever been made fun of for my last name (my Great Grandfather was Jewish and the reason why my last name is such).

Thankfully I have not. It’s sad, though, because I catch myself hesitating to sign my last name on return addresses for fear that my packages or letters won’t be delivered, and I often wonder if we even get all our mail.

WLU ’21 — Biology Professor

In my freshman year Biology class, I went to office hours frequently because I knew I wasn’t doing very well. I’m a humanities major, I’m not dumb, science just wasn’t my thing, and I expected the professor to understand that as this was an introductory class. Most of my classmates were pre-med, though, so I’m sure I stood out as “the bad student.” Either way, he told me multiple times I should consider transferring because I “don’t belong here.”

I failed our first test, so I went to his office hours for clarification. He continued with his previous comments that didn’t explicitly call me stupid, but he heavily implied that I had no place in his class or at the school. I began to tear up, and I apologized, embarrassed. He gave me a tissue and told me not to worry about it, because “I’m used to girls crying in here.”

I could tell he meant it to be a kind gesture, so I said nothing. 

He made me seriously question my intelligence and capabilities, when his job was to educate. I came in for help and was met with sexism and implicit insult, but somehow it felt like it was my fault for being weak and dumb

WLU ’21 — Deeply Rooted

TW: Racist & homophobic slurs 

I came to W&L a proud Jew from an upper middle class family in North New Jersey. Many folks, including my high school college advisor, tried to talk me out of attending W&L and remaining in the Northeast for college. I was warned that while many students from the tri-state area attended W&L each year, Jewish, Asian, and Black students had always had a very difficult time assimilating to the white, southern culture that still pervades our campus and sets the tone for most of W&L’s student culture. 

I was not worried. I had attended a diverse private school with all sorts of kids from all walks of life. My friend group in high school was a mixed bag of friends which spanned the socio-economic spectrum. How bad could it be?

Unfortunately, the warnings from my advisor, friends and family were all spot-on. The vast majority of Admissions mailings and website photos I was bombarded with as a high school junior attempted to frame W&L as a diverse, open-minded place. These were all nothing more than propaganda, no doubt part of the school’s Strategic Plan to bring in more minority kids to the school. The admissions tour and information sessions were equally transparent and offensive to many listening to the Admissions tour guide and Admissions Rep that chilly spring morning.    

I should have listened to the warnings. Not even a week on campus, racist quotes were scrawled across the bathroom mirror and stalls in my Graham-Lees dorm. “Diversity is white genocide” read one of the scrawlings. 

This “greeting” remained on our stall door for weeks before it was finally removed – just before Parent’s Weekend. “Mazal Tov” (sic),  “Big Nigga”  and “Fag” (amongst others) would also find their way on to the walls of our bathroom that fall, yet no one seemed to really care. Rampant drinking and heavy use of drugs were also a big problem on our floor with some students and took up a good amount of our RA’s time.

My experiences around W&L’s fraternity rush which begins during the Winter Term were equally disappointing and laden with racist overtones and dog whistles. There is a social hierarchy within the men’s fraternal system where the “top houses” are almost devoid of any minority representation. One night, during a study session, I was advised by one of my classmates to avoid rushing certain “Southern” or “Tier 1” houses because of their lack of tolerance for “diverse” northerners. 

I pressed on this statement and was told that there are certain “good ole boy” houses at W&L that do not take Jewish, Black, or Asian pledges. I was told we had our place, and it was not around the students or in these houses. I wanted to see for myself if this was in fact the case, so I attended several rush parties for “Tier 1” fraternities. Most of the brothers appeared nice, but were quick to shuffle you through the house to meet a group of younger members, who I noticed were only talking to north-easterners like myself and who were holding a RED Solo cups. As it turned out, this frat used color-coded cups to identify “worthy” prospects. In the other room were prospective students holding BLUE Solo cups. All of these students were white and predominantly from the Southeast. They were being rushed by a larger group of brothers, many of whom were officers in the fraternity. What I experienced that day was later confirmed by an upperclassman international student that I had met. 

He mentioned that these houses were off limits to folks like us and also mentioned that W&L still has several secret societies (i.e., Cadaver Society aka C. Corp to its members) which draw most of their members from these “elite tier” frats.   

At the conclusion of the winter rush season, bids were given out and wild parties occurred at most of the frat houses. Two of the southern guys on my hall rushed the top tier, predominantly southern fraternity and were both completely lit when they returned back to the dorm to change clothes. All of a sudden, they thrust my door open and presented me with a blue yarmulke with a W&L trident sewn to the cap. The two were dancing  drunk (and who knows what else) with these caps on their heads. They said that they had just broken into the W&L’s Jewish Student Center, the Hillel House, and taken the caps. They ended up parading down the hall with the hats singing Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song. The next morning, I found one of the caps floating in the toilet.

I ended up finding my small niche at W&L. If I had to do it all over again, sadly, I would not have chosen to attend W&L. There are some great profs here, but overall, it has many deep-rooted problems that will not just vanish if the school’s name were to change.

WLU Law — Ideas

This is a response to the June 23rd (2020) email sent by W&L to alumni and students: 

Your words in the email couldn’t sound more unaware. In response to the criticism and feedback you’ve received about the treatment of minority students, you’ve listed initiatives (minority guest speakers; more diverse faculty/students; more financial aid, etc.) that don’t touch on the main concern. If the KKK comes back on campus again, if minority students receive anonymous racist messages again, or if minority people experience any mistreatment such as those mentioned on this page, I’m sure everyone will rest easy with all your initiatives: financial aid (as reparation for future mistreatment); more diverse faculty/student body (to increase the number of oppressed people); and guest speakers to offer insight to minority students about being a minority student.

Sarcasm aside, you should actually address how your students of diversity are treated by their classmates and by the Lexington community. Yes, it also means attention given to your beloved Lee must be diverted to the legacy of minority alumni’s contributions. And, I assure you, Lee won’t notice, but your minority students and alumni (and supporters) will.

Some ideas:

1. Make the student judicial system more transparent and just. Student hearings should be heard by student’s peers (not just during appeals). If peers aren’t elected to the initial leadership positions that make the decisions, then a jury of peers is impossible. Unjust sentencing follows. 

2. Find a way to get W&L students to socialize with people who aren’t from their exact same background.

3. Read this page, solicit concerns, listen to concerns, understand, and don’t throw money at problems.

WLU ’19 — Math Professor

I also had to take a class with the previously mentioned horrifyingly sexist Mathematics professor. It was Discrete Mathematics, a class that every Computer Science major has to take before graduating, and one that’s very frequently only taught by this professor. I guess they don’t care because most CS majors are men, so it doesn’t matter if the few women feel unsafe, right?

He used to wear unique ties every day to class, making us memorize them for extra credit. For the final he wore one with two “hula girls” on it. He made a very specific point about how they USED to be topless and you USED to be able to see their nipples but his horrible wife made him cover them up. He then proceeded to make the men in the class vote on which woman in the class to name his naked hula ladies after. It was so incredibly demeaning and vile.

My friend got a lower grade on her first exam, nothing she couldn’t recover from, but she wanted to do better and went into his office hours. He told her – to her face – that she clearly wasn’t good at math, she shouldn’t try, and he couldn’t help her. A male friend got the same grade, went to his office hours, and got a full and productive hour of help. 

He also mentioned how much he hated that the school allows women now, because he wants to make sexual comments about women’s bodies but the “overly sensitive” female students would get upset.

Most egregiously of all – and the reason why I never reported him (though I’m ashamed for it all the same) – was that on the very first day of class he sized all of the women up, looked us each in the eye, and told us a “funny story” about how some “crazy” student tried to file a Title IX report against him. He found out about it while she was still in his class, and he told us – laughing- that he directly confronted her and got her to admit that he wasn’t actually sexist (because I’m sure she has no reason at all to be afraid) and retract the report. It was a warning to us. If we tried to report him, he would find out, and he would intimidate us into silence.

I had panic attacks almost daily because of his behavior. I feel sick thinking about him to this day.

WLU Law — Outed

Black students have been asking for changes for years. Some Black law students were the committee in 2014. I was not on the committee (irrelevant why I wasn’t now). They were brave and bold. Above the law, a blog of a lot of law students and lawyers read was sent a copy of their demands without names signed (for their protection, I believe). 

One of my fellow students anonymously outed all the committee members in a post on the blog. They got all sorts of death threats, their names were published all over the place. It was a scary time at the law school because people from outside the community were involved in sending the death threats and it felt generally unsafe as a minority student not knowing what angry people might decide to descend on the campus.

WLU ’22 — Strong

In fall term of my freshman year, as some of us remember, the KKK came to our campus in an attempt to punish the community for entertaining a name change.

I remember seeing many upperclassmen of color take in President Dudley’s 1-2 emails on the incident and the too-little support from their peers at the same time as I did. I watched them quickly respond with plans to push the administration to address the root causes of why hate groups felt comfortable enough to come here. I remember looking at the students in awe at how they were immediately so strong and ready to take action. I didn’t know how to emulate that. I felt like there was something missing in me, some secret quality that every student at W&L who isn’t white, cis, and straight should have to take whatever this college throws at them in stride and push for change.

What felt most certain to me was that if I made myself think about how the institution in which I was trying so hard to succeed was at best halfhearted in supporting my and my peers’ right to exist, I would have probably fallen apart. So I blocked out the incident and the university’s response as best I could until recently. Still, I’ll never forget that moment of feeling weak because I didn’t join my fellow students of color in fighting to not be ignored.

Later that year, when I got closer to some of the student leaders I saw as superhuman, I learned how many of them were forced into those roles. They too had moments where, while they were reeling from attacks on their racial and sexual identity, had to summon the strength to defend their right to feel wronged repeatedly–just to push the university to give them the bare minimum of support It’s like they were teaching moments where the lesson was that asking for university support was futile.

That way, we’d feel it fell on us to carry out the emotional labor of supporting our community… even when it was us who needed support as well.

Today, as a junior, I am more involved in inclusion in our community, in part because of that same lesson I had learned with that first incident of hate I saw on campus. I’m driven to do what I can to make it so that no student new to our college ever feels inadequate for not acting “strong” when they need to give themselves time to recover from acts of hate. 

However, so long as students of color and LGBTQ+ students are on their own in supporting themselves, I’m stuck with the near-certainty that that ideal won’t be realized until long after I graduate.