WLU ’21 — Change

Before coming to W&L, I was unaware of some of the problematic parts of our campus and community. I never understood how something like having “Lee” as part of our name could negatively impact any other student’s experience because I was raised in a “War of Northern Aggression” household and community. Being that I was white and went to a small predominantly white school, I never questioned the picture that had been painted of the Confederate general. I bought into the same narrative that W&L pushed, showcasing him primarily as an educator and savior of our university. 

I applied to the school because it checked off all of my boxes, especially my need for financial aid. I come from a low income background and was even on scholarship to my private high school so I needed to be able to afford to attend a higher institution.

Luckily, W&L was able to completely meet my needs, and I am incredibly grateful for this, especially since this is not the case for every student. Even through my first year, I was pretty unaware of some of the negative aspects of our campus. That is until I was starting to really pay attention. 

My family members came to parents’ weekend my sophomore year, and some of them were completely appalled by what they saw. They didn’t understand the necessary push for adding diversity to our campus, and I remember one of them saying how they don’t get why W&L will just let anyone in these days. I was completely taken aback because I knew exactly who they were referring to: the POC and LGBT+ students. At the time, I didn’t say anything for fear that I would come across as disrespectful, and I regret that decision because I know that they were also referring to some of my friends and peers.

After that, I started noticing more comments that peers were making: fraternity members using racist slurs, friends making homophobic comments, sorority sisters bashing lower income families. I started to question if I made the right decision of attending W&L even though I was never directly attacked. 

As I was closeted at the time, I felt like I would never be able to really be myself on campus if this was how my peers behaved. In a family group chat recently, they were complaining about the school’s recent push to add diversity, and an incredibly wealthy family member told me to “check my privilege” since she didn’t believe I could have been accepted without them wanting to fill an economic diversity spot. I began wondering if I had peers who thought that about me as well, and I cannot even imagine what it is like to be a student of color or an open member of the LGBTQ+ community if this is what my own family thinks of me.

Our campus has aspects of elitism, misogyny, and racism built within its walls, and as a white student that has come out to only a few friends, I will never fully understand or experience the negative parts of our community. 

Having “Lee” in our name can only further perpetuate these behaviors among students, faculty, alums, and family members. It makes our campus feel unwelcoming to marginalized groups since the university has catered to these mindsets to maintain funding and prestige among elitist and close-minded members of our community. 

It is a small stepping stone, but taking Lee out of the name pushes our university in the right direction for change.

WLU Prospective — Connected

Class of 2023

College was always a far-fetched dream coming from an immigrant family in the South. When I got into W&L I was thrilled, and when I learned I was awarded a Johnson Scholarship I was even MORE thrilled. A full-ride scholarship to an amazing university! During the weeks leading up to college decision day, my interaction with W&L was the complete opposite of the cute advertised brochures and videos. I heard, witnessed, and experienced in my visit to W&L discrimination for being a gay Mexican-American. 

A professor commented on my “good English” while a student expressed he was surprised “queers” would attend “his” school. I absolutely loved W&L, but ended up turning down this amazing place due to those few incidents. 

Now that I’m at a different college, I still yearn to call W&L my home, but I know that I am not strong enough to handle the abuse for being me. I love myself too much for that. While I may not be your definition of a W&L community member, I still feel a part of this school, and I hope that one day my kids can attend this school without having to worry about being attacked for their identity.

WLU ’19 — Homophobia

Though I am white, being a lesbian on campus was difficult to bear, and I witnessed a truly horrifying amount of casual racism. Even upon arriving for my camping pre-o trip I saw my trip leaders -who were there to introduce us to our new community, to make us feel safe and welcome – making racist and homophobic jokes. 

The trip leaders were all white students in the Greek system, already weeding out students for pre-rush. They made jokes about how a Vietnamese woman on the trip was “stinky”, they laughed when the international students put their sleeping bags down next to each other, they made frequent homophobic remarks. They were checking to see who would agree with them, who would let their comments slide, and who would speak out.

These situations were pervasive throughout my entire college career. It was a hallmate mocking his very kind and gentle roommate by making homophobic and racist jokes about him. It was a friend telling me I was being gross and creepy when I told her I thought a woman was cute. Another friend disdainfully saying he “doesn’t support that” when I asked him if he was going to the Equality Gala. It never ended. 

Sorority members told me – an out lesbian at the time – how they hated when girls brought other women to formals; they later mentioned how they didn’t want “that type of girl” joining their group. The “lowest tier” sororities were the most diverse, and they still were insidiously racist and homophobic (including jokes about wearing blackface for Halloween). Other students broke off conversations with me when I mentioned my girlfriend, physically turning away and never speaking to me again.

A Black student – an acquaintance of mine at the time – offered me a brownie during his campaign for some freshman student body position, which I happily took. We were in public, it was broad daylight, but my white peers acted like I was crazy – he might have drugged it, after all. They never seemed to have that same fear about the other white students. 

I watched my peers slowly beat down the students of color with their casual and overt racism, as they ripped me apart from the inside out with their homophobia. I watched my friends fight from the moment they arrived on campus to be seen, to be heard, and to be treated with respect by students and administration alike.

Racism and homophobia are so pervasive on W&L’s campus that it feels like the norm of the world, like there are more awful, bigoted people than there are not

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 ’24 — Scared Straight

I’m just wondering and I don’t know if this even applicable to anyone other than me and my weakness and fear, so this never has to be shown or taken as anything other than a scared girl’s inquiries, but I always looked to college as the time I would figure out who I am, yes mentally, but also sexually and I’m honestly asking if that’s possible at W&L. I don’t know if I like girls or guys, but from everything I’ve seen, I’m kind of scared to try figuring it out at W&L.

What if I do like girls?

What if in the process of figuring it out I’m labeled as ‘that one lesbian’ and ostracized?

I don’t want to have to deal with that kind of fear, especially in an environment that is outrightly known for being meant for a ‘certain type of student’ aka straight, white, and rich and hostile to those outside of the status quo.

I’m being cowardly though aren’t I?

Is it my obligation to figure it out so other people don’t feel quite as alone as I do? I honestly don’t know.

Does the fact that I can put off figuring it out like sexuality is a diet seem right? I’m not sure who I am, but I really don’t think I trust the W&L community to be there for me if it’s not who they expect.

Is W&L inclusive and I just don’t know it? I’m really and genuinely scared to find out. I guess I’ll stay scared straight for now.

WLU ’21 — Liability

In 2018, the Vigil reported that, at the time, at least four LGBTQ+ identifying students had been kicked out of frat parties due to their gender and/or sexuality. These events should indict the Greek system for its openly exclusionary dominance of social spaces and its rewarding of toxic masculinity and blatant homophobia under a system built exclusively for cishets. However, instead the emotional burden has been placed upon queer students within the W&L community as we are left unsure about our ability to participate openly in W&L social culture, lest our safety be threatened through harassment, exclusion, and the potential for violence. Because of these events, I have never felt entirely safe in a frat party setting.

But even before these events became public, I knew fraternity spaces were not ones interested in incorporating my queerness into them.

My first year at a party I overheard a conversation between a group of fraternity members complaining about the annual Equality Gala and that queer students were taking over everything and trying to force “gay stuff” down their throats. However, combine these microaggressions with the knowledge that my friends and fellow community members had been explicitly removed from Greek spaces solidified my anxiety around the W&L social scene. 

Because I am one of a limited number of students on campus who are openly gender nonconforming and I cannot “pass” for straight because of my speech and mannerisms, I have often felt unsafe at frat parties for fear that if I draw too much attention to myself, the house residents and frat members present might think I’m overstepping my bounds as a queer person, as apparently we have done with the Equality Gala and other LGBTQ+ friendly events

My identity as a femme and the queerness through which I live my life, something I take pride in normally, becomes a liability in Greek spaces that I must keep in check, lest I be quite literally removed from the premises. An awareness to this reality has manifested itself in a nervousness at frat parties, where I feel obligated to be hyper-aware of my surroundings and behaviors, avoiding men I don’t know and making sure I’m not ever away from my friends. My worst fear is that I will say or do something in front of a man or group of men at a frat party that will lead to retaliation on their part. I have learned to center the comfort of cis, straight men in social scenes. If I don’t I’m scared of what might happen.

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 ’95 — Association

A few years after graduation, I was living in a large queer-friendly city and ran into a classmate of mine at a party. I hadn’t known him well at W&L at all, and we hadn’t seen each other since campus. He was clearly there with another man, and he was also clearly uncomfortable to run into a fellow W&L grad while with his date. 

It made me unutterably sad at the time that a classmate of mine – who was in one of the ‘top-tier’ fraternities – would have felt so uncomfortable even after graduation for someone else from W&L to see him as queer, even at a party full of friends, with many queer people whose sexuality was obviously not an issue for me. Those of us who are welcoming of all humans are still tainted by our association with the university as long as it is a place that foments intolerance.

WLU Admitted — Circus Freak

TW: Homophobic slur

I was accepted and had an offer to play football. The campus was beautiful and I really liked the coaching staff. On my visit, an older player took me to a party where I was one of two black people out of 25-30. I asked a girl if there were many black women at W&L and she said “not many but don’t worry these rich white girls all have jungle fever.” 

She then introduced me to a group of 4-5 girls who immediately changed the subject to rap when I arrived. A cute white girl led me to a room where she handed me a condom and told me to f*** her with my “big black dick.” When I told her I had a girlfriend she got offended and called me a fa**ot. 

These people treated me like a circus freak. I left first thing the next morning and ended up going to Howard.