WLU Transfer — Forgetting

As someone who transferred out after my sophomore year, due to my inability to continue to “grin and bear it” under the weight of the microaggressions, the classism, knowing I was one of FIFTY black students on campus at the time…. as someone who was closeted and didn’t feel the strength to come out until I was an ocean away and knew I wouldn’t be returning to campus in the fall… I have been thinking about writing an email for a while. But something’s been holding me back. 

I think that I’ve tried my hardest to forget what I felt like at W&L. I think that that is how I coped with the trauma I experienced at that institution. Writing a letter, an email, detailing exactly WHY it is so important to change the name—would bring up a lot of feelings and emotions I’ve worked hard to move on from.

I would just like to let you all know that I deeply appreciate the work that you are all doing. Even though I hold a degree from a different university, W&L was/is still my institution. I spent two entire years of my life there. There are days I wish that I had stayed—but I’m not sure I would’ve survived. 

And to everyone who thinks that this is unimportant—it should NOT be the norm that BIPOC students, queer students, low-income students, are under so much ADDITIONAL mental duress that it affects their education. I gave up a full-ride, took on additional student loans, because I couldn’t take it anymore.

So thank you for speaking up, because I’m still trying to find a way to articulate my feelings.

WLU ’21 — Reality

I constantly question whether the education we receive actually outweighs the shitty people we have to deal with. The sad part is I knew I would feel this way ever since I visited campus for the Johnson Scholarship Competition (I had never even heard of W&L until I started applying to random liberal arts schools on the east coast).

I was shocked by how ingenuine students were and the endless disparities between what the school wants you to think it is and reality. I even had a professor say during one of my interviews that “we don’t have anything for you here” in regards to my academic interests. (They were wrong.) That night I called my mom crying swearing that under no circumstance would I go to W&L. However, when we received my merit scholarship offer, we couldn’t turn it down -and that’s how I got here.

WLU ’16 — Accomplished

As a POC from a low-income family, I found the recent Redoubt email a bit harder to palate. I’m one of the students who went to W&L “only because they were unable to secure better or more lucrative placements.”

But Herchold has the angle wrong. I know who I am. I know what I’ve accomplished despite ~and to spite~ the elitists who got in my way. 

Let’s be real, Herchold. Our University paid money to recruit people like me. And judging by what we’ve done, I think W&L might have gotten way more than what they paid for.

WLU ’22 — Choice

At my year’s Admitted Students Day, I remember meeting another admitted student of color and bonding over our closet queerness. She gave me the name of a student at Red House who “is real with you” on what it’s like being LGBTQ+ at W&L. I went to Red House but instead only found two other students who gave assurances that it’s getting better. 

I later realized that no matter what I could’ve heard that day at Red House, it wouldn’t have changed my decision to go to W&L because I needed the financial aid, full stop. I’ve been thinking about that often, wondering how many other students of color and/or LGBTQ+ students were in the same position and for how long they’ve felt they were at the mercy of a prejudiced school because they couldn’t afford to turn it down. 

Yes, we all signed the same agreement to go to W&L, but not everyone has the same degree of choice. W&L is clearly willing to increase their number of admitted students from URMs, including students who also come from more economically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Ask yourself why they’re happy to admit more minority students but why they haven’t been giving us proper support after we enroll. 

Why on earth should we be content with that?

WLU ’24 — Fears

While I am not yet a student on campus, I did have a tough time coming to choosing W&L as my home for the next four years. I am a gay man, and I was super worried, and partially still am, about not finding my place here. 

Will I be included socially? Will I feel left out for not participating in greek life? Will I feel lonely if I’m not of a higher socioeconomic background? Will I feel comfortable academically when I come from an underfunded public high school? Did I make a mistake when I chose to go to a small liberal arts college with a history of bigotry?

These are all real fears I have that are shared by other members of my class and I’m sure these are fears which turn people away. I hope that some of these things can be changed during my time here.

WLU ’14 — Themes

The Greek system has a stranglehold on W&L student life. Here’s a list of actual party themes during my four years that I can only hope are dead and buried: Old South (complete with antebellum costumes); Filthy Rich / 1%; Dirty South; a tequila shots party where the frat erected a fence attendees had to jump, patrolled by pledges dressed as ICE agents with water guns; a jungle party where the pledges were dressed as, ahem, rabbits (the first time I learned that particular slur); and countless “__ Bros & __ Hoes.” The school seemed more concerned with kegs than the racist, classist, and misogynistic themes.

WLU Transfer – Tired

I’ve been dreading writing this for a while, but I think it’s necessary to share what I endured at W&L, even if some of my experiences reveal my identity.

I want to preface this by saying I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities W&L provided me. After transferring, I was accepted into another amazing university and I think a large piece of my acceptance there was the fact I was coming from W&L.

However, it is only fair to myself and all low-income students on campus to recognize guilt attached to a sizable financial aid package. For me, I would never be able to attend a college without financial aid, but I can also recognize how guilty I would have felt attending a different university at a higher price.

As a foster youth, I have had a lifetime of hardships and continue to face the ways in which I was set up for failure by family, the state, and the education system. When I was accepted to Washington and Lee, let alone any college, I sobbed. I felt like this was finally my ticket out, the one amazing thing after so much sadness and loss. I came for DIVE weekend and had an incredible time, meeting friends I’m still in contact with to this day.

However, when I participated in the ARC program, I began to see signs, but ignored them nonetheless. The KKK came to campus and the administration met with our cohort specifically to have an open conversation. They told us there was a safety plan in place for us, but when we inquired further they did not share this “plan”. This was only worsened by the scandal at the Red Hen. I am a non-passing trans person and upon walking to Kroger, I passed by hateful protests and turned around.

I have never felt so much fear in relation to my identity in my life. The administration did not warn us in time, if at all.

When I came to campus in the fall, I had an incredible time. I felt secure: I didn’t need to worry about money. I had clean water and access to housing and food, not to mention the friends I made. Every day was an adventure, every meal was an insightful conversation. I felt close and connected. I did a damn good job of ignoring the side comments and micro-aggressions. I tried to stay optimistic.

However, when I went to a party at the Pole Houses with two friends, everything changed. Shortly after arriving, someone asked to meet me outside. Naively, I accepted and followed them. I’m assuming this was a member of the associated fraternity, but to this day I can’t confirm that. I was told “people were uncomfortable”. I knew immediately it was because of my queer identity.

I boldly asked him to “say it, tell me why they’re uncomfortable”. His reply was “I can’t change the way people think”. 

I didn’t stop to think. I didn’t stop to update my friends. I was enraged. I went to the outside deck and yelled at the top of my lungs: “I’m being asked to leave this party because I’m gay.” I always hear of community responses on campuses to things like this. I guess I was expecting people to leave or yell with me. However, I’ll never forget the stares, the discomfort and disgusted pity in their eyes that told me “so what?”

I started sobbing and ran down the stares, my friends following. One of my classmates saw me crying and tried comforting me by saying “there’s other parties”. A fraternity brother approached me and told me “our brothers would never do that”. 

When rush came and my hall mates were asked why they’d rush with a fraternity that had homophobic members, they responded “they said that wasn’t true”. With little evidence from the darkly lit party, I launched a Title IX investigation only for it to be closed. I even met with the administration and other queer students, to which we were presented with training modules for the fraternities. I told them that this wouldn’t help, that the issue is accountability. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I remember they dismissed my statement with some other explanation.

This is only scratching the surface. On top of these, I had many comments about my financial aid package and poor academic performance. Classmates inquiring why I never came to class, even making targeted jokes about it. Professors threatening to fail me for absences when the syllabus had no mention.

I am not proud of my transcript at W&L, but I was tired. I fought so hard to leave my circumstances of poverty and abuse and succeeded only to experience constant micro-aggressions and hate that is rooted in the very culture of the school. I tried so hard to bring change at the cost of my sanity and academics. I answered invasive questions, I was vulnerable to complete strangers. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t welcome.

So I withdrew, with no plans of where I’d go next. I was not brave enough for the war fought by marginalized students on campus. I was not equipped to keep fighting in a battle that was so heavily skewed against me.

After spending a year at my current institution and working in therapy, I felt brave again. 

I felt again like the can-do foster youth that WOULD be a success story. I missed my friends at Washington and Lee, despite the hardships. I missed the small class sizes and, honestly, I missed the money and job prospects.

I planned to apply for reinstatement, with the understanding campus was still the way it was when I left. I asked for 4 recommendation letters, I prepared my essays, and I gathered all other materials for a deadline in August.

As a final blow, Washington and Lee moved the deadline to mid-July with little notice. I only found out days before when I checked the reinstatement website again.

I don’t know if I’ll try again for Winter term. I’m so tired of trying and being let down by this university. I’m so tired of my excitement turning into disappointment. 

Washington and Lee is a special place in a lot of ways and I’m so blessed to have the friends I made there, but I can’t keep doing this. I can’t let Washington and Lee invalidate all the work I’ve done to get where I am.

WLU ’19 – Cultural Problem

We have had literally endless conversations about name changes and civility. The problems that plague this university are systemic. The kids who want to go to W&L tend toward racist, classist, and oftentimes sexist viewpoints. Alumni graduate after having incubated themselves into tight cliques of their frat/srat members and classrooms rife with discourse colored by “diversity of thought”. The school is a safe haven.

So, why come here? Because of incredible financial aid packages. Because of persuasive admissions counselors. Because you think that things might be different for you and your class. I didn’t realize that the culture shock of attending this university would run a lot longer than the first few months of my first year. 

I was left grappling with conflicting feelings of guilt over not being grateful enough for my financial aid package, inferiority for not fitting in with the rest of my classmates, anger that my closest chance to gain social capital came with such a hefty price tag, confusion over what facets of social life here I should just dismiss and what I should raise a complaint on, and frustration over having to handle all of that by myself.

Yes, I knew I could always go to OIE or counseling, but that seemed ridiculous. Why should I seek administrative help for what seemed to be a cultural problem? How could I explain it beyond “Not many people are interested in forming deep ties with me due to my race, my politics, and socioeconomic background”? Beyond “I am not willing to sacrifice my identity for the sake of placating my peers, yet I know that without the social boundaries these students are placing upon themselves, we could be friends”?

Bringing BI&POC students into that environment, silencing their concerns with calls for civility, placating them with superficial change – it’s so violent. Making the politically moderate students feel better about themselves by doing the bare minimum to include BI&POC students isn’t justice. Favoring a few token BI&POC and LQBTQIA+ students as the faces of student activism and student-administrative exchange isn’t justice. The existence of the Greek system, especially as it exists now, is violent. The glorification of both Washington and Lee is violent. The endless passes given to displays of support of white supremacy on campus is violent.

A white race economics professor said he didn’t need to attend a professional workshop because he didn’t have any implicit biases. Violence. A black history professor was doxxed and quit. Violence. 2016 Mock Con… the whole thing… violence.

The KKK came to campus and left flyers stating (among other things) that phrenologically, black women are the most intellectually inferior people. A ‘town meeting‘ was held, students spent some time airing their grievances to whoever chose to come to commons, and the night ended. Charlie Kirk… for what? Y’all did that, for what? 

Sometimes BI&POC students seize up when they get to campus, made to choose whether they want to try and ride with the status quo or get unofficially cast aside as some kind of social pariah. If you are white/cis passing, the temptation strengthens. You literally have to choose – non wealthy, non white, non cishet friends, dead parties, dead club events, a committee or commission or two VS a crumb of dignity in the face of the W&L social system. 

We should definitely strive for eradicating racist symbols, but I cared a lot more about the kid who slept across the hall in my first year dorm who was a participant of Groupme Gate than I did about the name. I know they’re all connected – change the name, dissuade a bigot from attending. 

Still, the violence runs a lot deeper than one might think.

WLU Current – Lucky

On the current issue of whether the school should be renamed, I’ve noticed many who are against it use the argument, “Then why did you come?”

Yes, you are right. No one forced me to attend a university with such a controversial name, but I want to make it very clear that not everyone comes from a privileged background.

As a DACA student, beyond contrary belief, no I do not take taxpayers’ money. I cannot qualify for FAFSA or any public aid and my family does not have even a penny saved to take their kids to college. The only way I could attend any college would be by private scholarships (in which there are only a handful) or paying it all out of pocket. If I couldn’t get help, then I wasn’t even going to attend college.

When I was applying for colleges and scholarships, trying to decide which college I liked and which one I didn’t, my high school counselor told me, “You can’t be picky. Take what you get.” At first, I was a little offended, but truth is, she had a point. 

For me, it wasn’t “which college do I want to choose?”, but rather “which college is willing to accept me?” 

Washington and Lee was willing to accept me. Whether I was used merely as a number for a rise in diversity or not, I was secured for the next four years.

Washington and Lee, for whatever it’s intentions, changed my life by giving me a scholarship. When I received the financial aid packet, I was in tears. I had never seen that much money in my life.

I consider myself extremely lucky to attend college without paying a dime. And I tell myself that everyday. Every time I’ve felt excluded on campus, every time I’ve felt uncomfortable, every time I’ve questioned whether or not this school is the right fit, or have felt my mental health plummet because of the school’s environment, I would tell myself how lucky I was to even be here. I would force myself to accept these conditions, and would feel ungrateful if otherwise.

Despite how grateful I am, I still have the right to acknowledge the school’s issues, many of which are only clear to people that have felt excluded and marginalized. The school has a lot more progress to achieve, and my desire for it to be better and inclusive is not “anti-W&L”, but the complete opposite. I cannot hate something that has given me so much.