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 ’20 — Overlooked

Over the past 4 years I went to this school, I was reminded of times where I had to work harder and endure more to feel like I belonged. Two traumatic memories stand out.

In the first instance, I found out from acquaintances’ social media that my identity as a Latinx was not valued at this school, but instead I was a party favor, a gimmick for other students (via the Sigma Nuevo party that used to be held). I already struggle with my understanding of my father’s culture, and therefore part of my own, because of being forced to assimilate entirely to American culture by my white mother’s family. Seeing folks in sombreros and moustaches like it was a joke chipped away at my mental health. After that, I remember going to study abroad in a different country thinking that I would be safe, only to get emails about the General’s Redoubt and the KKK flyers on campus. I remember feeling violated that GR even had access to my email.

As far as I knew, my directory information shouldn’t have been accessible to anyone outside of the school in the first place. I also remember being angered because to them, I was keeping their desired student demographics from admission. As a low-income, brown student that graduated 4th in her high school class with high test scores, it’s not my fault that folks like me work hard because we might not have an option outside of going to school. It’s also not my fault that within the next ten years, demographic minorities will become the majority in some places, including Virginia. I do know that at this point the only thing keeping me from erasing my association with the school at this point is the BIPOC students who are still there. 

As an alumna I can’t let them down and I plan to raise as much hell as I can for them, because we can’t be overlooked and made unwelcome anymore. Something has to give.

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 Current — Silenced

I came to W&L for the very same reason that a lot of POC students decided to come here – financial aid. I remember talking to my counselor in high school and she suggested W&L because they were diversifying their student body, which gave me a higher chance of getting in and receiving funds. Being a scholarship student in a private school for privileged people in my country, I thought I was ready for the challenge ahead, especially when my presence in the school was to serve towards a quota. 

Yet, the feeling of being excluded unintentionally still surprised me. People talk about the O-week trip as their once in a life time experience and a great opportunity to build bonds, but for me, that whole week was like a slap. From the very first day we met, people already forming groups, and I was always the last one in the line.

Not because my pace was slow, but because no one was noticing me. I remember a night when we were playing bonding game, people were saying their impression of each other. When it was their turn to talk about their impression of me, one of them talked about how they thought I would drop out of college because I looked like I would do that. That night, I cried in my own sleeping bag, asking myself what kind of impression I had given them for them to say such a thing. 

I have never been so silenced in my life. During the whole week, I barely talked, and I didn’t dare to. No one really talked to me, no one cared to get to know me. 

We were having group dinner and members were put in groups randomly to cook by themselves. I was thinking of offering to cook because I love to, and make them my country’s dishes, introducing them to the culture. 

But both of the members in my group ended up not listening to my idea and agree on something else. I offered to twist the dish a little bit, and they decided to do theirs separately, completely leave me out of the group.

Never did I expect that O-week would just be the start. Things got worse during the year. Slowly, I don’t even notice the microaggressions that I faced daily on campus. I choose to ignore all of those and stopped trying to fit in. 

I thought that the worst I would experience was what I went through in high school. But W&L has turned out to be way worse.

WLU ’21 — Campus Culture

TW: Description of sexual assault

This story is an absolute roller coaster of ways W&L’s culture has failed me and people like me. During my Admitted Students’ Day, I was with a current student who I trusted and was dating at the time. He was on Adderall to study that day, though it had not been prescribed to him. While I was in his room, he pinned me down and started doing things to me I told him were not okay. Instead of listening to me when I told him to stop, he flipped me over and I had to fight him off me

He told me his behavior was out of character and only happened because of the drugs he was on. I never reported because my status as someone who hadn’t started at W&L stressed me out, and before I had even begun classes I was worried about my reputation.

I thought about reporting an Honor Violation for his unprescribed use of a drug, knowing that the University may have taken it more seriously, but by the time I had become a student able to report these things, several months had passed. 

I asked a friend to be on the lookout for him at parties in case he tried to confront me (when I removed him as a follower from my finsta account, he gaslighted and threatened me, so I was afraid of what would happen if I saw him in person). Most of my friends don’t know that this ever happened, because this young man was not especially popular and I was worried that people might not like me if my first move on campus was to accuse someone of assault (though I know that the people who are my friends would never treat me this way, I don’t feel that way about the student body at large).

During our relationship, this individual would repeatedly compare my body to his Black ex-girlfriend’s in an explicitly racist way, saying that my whiteness made me more appealing to him for several reasons so nauseating I won’t repeat them. Because of his overall behavior around me, I was so afraid to ever speak up about these horrible things he said and did. It scares me even more now, because he was accepted into a PhD program and can continue to use his influence to be blatantly racist and misogynistic, even if only behind closed doors. I’ve been having nightmares recently about him and how the culture at our university allows people like him to be successful.

WLU Alumni — ICE

This is an FYI for our community so they are aware of what is happening (and why many international students feel unwelcome in this country).

On July 6, 2020 the US immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) released a set of rules for international students to continue their education in the US this fall. The basic gist of it is if your school moves to online classes, your visa will be revoked and you will be forced to leave the US. You will be deported. Once the school changes to online-only classes, international students must leave the country or transfer to a different school that offers in-person classes within 10 DAYS. Even if the school moves to hybrid classes, international students can take a maximum of 1 (three credit hours) online class.

It is not easy being in a foreigner in a new land, speaking a foreign language, but international students have chosen this difficult path with a hope for a better future. International students may not be citizens of the US but they ARE students of the university and are as much of a part of the school community as other students. They deserve the same rights as domestic students. How is it fair that their right to choose what is best for them is being taken away? How is it fair to put international students through this unnecessary stress?

The rule is absurd and cruel as of itself, but it is specially callous given we are in the middle of a pandemic. Many international students won’t be able to go home because of travel restrictions in their countries. And the students who are in countries where the US currently has travel bans will have their visas terminated (google 5-month rule) if they can’t attend in-person classes. 

Not to mention, it is unsafe to travel during this time, and for some, home may not be a safe place right now. Moreover, it is INHUMANE to be interfering with people’s education and lives like this.

If you care about the international students that are part of the w&l community, and thousands of others that are all over the US, please read more about what is happening, be appalled by the callous decision made by the government, and sign the petitions going around. We literally cannot fight this ourselves.

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 — Uncomfortable

At W&L one of the most uncomfortable moments in class for me was in my junior year marketing seminar. I am mixed race, half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. While the professor was lecturing the class about food brands, out of nowhere, mid sentence the professor turns to me and asks about an obscure Asian soft drink from Japan in front of the entire class, as if I were to know about it.

I am totally caught off guard, and sit still for a moment not really believing that she was asking me this in the middle of class. I look around and notice that everyone in the room is staring at me waiting for an answer. I was shocked and caught with an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment and shame. I had absolutely no clue what it was. I look back at her and say, “Um, um, uh, I don’t know what it is” and give a small laugh to try to play off how uncomfortable I was feeling.

I immediately looked back down at my notebook and pretend to be writing something, not wanting to look up or make eye contact with anyone.

WLU ’18 — Bigotry

As an international student, I hadn’t experienced any significant overt racism or racist micro-aggressions before coming to W&L. I had done my research on the college, but felt wholly unprepared when bigotry was directed at me. I was faced with disparaging remarks about my country of origin and negative assumptions about me based on my background. I found most parts of the college to be very alienating and, as a result, participated in very little of the college life there.

I do think that W&L is capable of evolving for the better and it’s great that people are pushing the college to make the environment more welcoming to everyone. But I don’t think there can be any major change until the presence (and the influence) of Greek life on campus is drastically reduced and the student body is racially, economically, and politically diverse.