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.