WLU ’21 — Presumption

W&L is a place of presumption. I’m of Latin American descent and actually hold dual citizenship, though you might not be able to guess based on the color of my skin. 

I’m also a student of Spanish, and once said ‘adiós’ to friends who later informed me it was ‘culturally appropriative.’ I did not go through the trouble of explaining then that I’m actually Latinx, but was rather bothered by my own presumed exclusion from a community to which I have reasonable claim.

Students at W&L have a remarkable ability to reduce others to neatly constructed identities that fit into strictly defined categories. There is little room for complexity of identity because so much is assumed and taken for granted. We don’t want to actually listen to who others say they are, and if we claim that we do, we often fail to hear them.

WLU ’19 — Unsafe

TW: Homophobic slurs

While at W&L it wasn’t uncommon to hear people using homophobic language. As a closeted student, at the time, it was really painful to hear. One instance sticks out to me in particular. A group of guys I was friends with (for context I am a girl) would casually say f****t or f*g in conversation, usually to insult each other. Sometimes I would ignore it, sometimes I would call them out but one day I had really had enough. It was around the time I was contemplating coming out and a group of us were sitting in Dhall having lunch when I heard one of the call another “f****t”. I called him out and then asked the group of them if I could explain the history of the word and why it was so harmful to use. They obliged and I explained the violent history of the word and how it came to mean what it does. I really thought I had gotten through, but then they just laughed and said they were going to keep using it.

I was devastated. Here were guys I considered friends, who I considered to be really great people, being intentionally cruel. I think it hurt even because two of them were peer counselors (riddle me that). I stopped calling them out after that and I decided not to come out until after we graduated because I felt too uncomfortable, and honestly, unsafe in that environment to be out. People I thought were my friends, who I would have loved to taken the time to come out to individually, made me feel unsafe to be me. That’s the reality of W&L. It is the rule, not the exception.

WLU ’91 — Red Square

Walking into a party at Red Square with two of my fraternity brothers who were Black. I walked right in, but they were stopped and told it was only for “certain fraternities.”

I stopped and asked why they did not stop me, as we were all in the same fraternity, and of course their answer was, “come on we’re not racists.” I said “of course you are” and the three of us left the scene.

WLU ’21 — Undocumented

During OWeek, I had to deal with DACA being taken away, throwing my entire life into disarray. The same week, SNU threw their Mexican themed party and attacked anyone who spoke out against it. After that, it’s been series of micro-aggression after micro-aggression and the occasional blatant racist remarks. From the very beginning, I was consciously aware that as an undocumented Latina, this campus was not welcoming towards me and other POC. This feeling has only been compounded due to the school’s unwillingness to treat racism, misogyny, and homophobia as breaking the community’s trust as time has gone on. The administration and the board of trustees don’t see us as part of the community they’re tasked to defend.

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 Transfer – Object

It’s difficult to share my story about the toxic culture at W&L as my time there is shrouded in shame, embarrassment, and trauma. I was assaulted a number of times by multiple students in multiple occasions. 

The Greek system encourages a work hard and play hard mentality that is dangerous. “Blackout” was something to be worn like a badge of honor. Hooking up was worn with a badge of honor. The misogyny there is rampant and is encouraged by the Greek system and “boys will be boys” mentality.

I remember being driven back from a party far from campus in the back of an SUV. Four other girls were packed in the trunk area while men were sitting in seats with seatbelts.

I don’t remember where we were driven or what happened after but I know I woke up in a fraternity house. 

In another instance, I remember waking up in a bare mattress covered in water with my clothes no where to be found. I remember being texted repeatedly to make sure I took the morning after pill by someone I thought I trusted and then that same person refused to make eye contact with me after that. I remember waking up with a stranger on top of me in my dorm room where I had passed out.

I left the school my freshman year in order to seek treatment and refused to return because of the shame and the trauma that occurred there. I now know I was taken advantage of and violated. Being drunk gives NO ONE a free pass to rape or assault someone.

At W&L I learned what it is to be treated as an object, as meat because I was female. 

The honor code is a charade that disappears on nights and weekends. There, honor only exists between white men. BI&POC and women are not treated with honor or respect. 

In all honesty, I’m glad I didn’t get a degree there.

WLU ’16 – Surprised

Freshmen year of college, I had returned from a party on a Friday or Saturday night and was asleep in my bed. At some point during the night, a group of guys came into my room while I was sleeping and photographed one of the men with his genitals out next to my face using my own camera. I learned about it the next day when they all came up to me laughing and asked if I had looked at my camera photos.

The guy whose genitals were photographed next to my face asked me my senior year if I still had the photo (no apology) and then proceeded to try and make out with me in the middle of the day in Lenfest. He was actually surprised I wasn’t interested. Then he proceeded to claim he didn’t know me and threatened me through his W&L email when his girlfriend found out he had hit on me.

WLU ’23 – Joke

I heard two people talking about Black foreign exchange students and joking about him being a “slave.”

Those same students joked about Title IX and referenced a faculty member saying “Let’s r*pe her.” 

Whenever I would speak up to them about their many misogynistic or racist comments, they get so frustrated that they had to be “politically correct” around me.

WLU Law – Defer

I graduated a year after W&L didn’t perform well on bar exams. During our 3L year when everyone was discussing bar prep, the then Dean for Student Affairs, a W&L Law Alum, pulled every black student into his office to discuss deferring taking the bar because he didn’t think we we would pass, and with the rankings taking a hit, it wasn’t in the best interest of everyone involved. 

I left his office with my confidence at an all time low. I didn’t say anything initially because I thought it was just me, but then I heard he did it to others. When I was finally able to wrap my head around the interaction, I realized it was all of us. In a class where less than 10% of the class is black, we already felt isolated from the welcoming W&L Community we were sold. 

I later discovered he emailed all of the racial minorities, but some were lucky and heard from others what the talk was about so they avoided it. 

To have someone in the administration tell you to defer your dreams because you could fail and hurt their pass percentage and rankings is such a slap in the face. To find out he did it to many of the black and brown students is a kick in the gut. 

Luckily, I didn’t listen to him, took the bar, and passed multiple on my first try. Sadly, I do know of two students he convinced not to take the bar initially.