WLU Law — Outed

Black students have been asking for changes for years. Some Black law students were the committee in 2014. I was not on the committee (irrelevant why I wasn’t now). They were brave and bold. Above the law, a blog of a lot of law students and lawyers read was sent a copy of their demands without names signed (for their protection, I believe). 

One of my fellow students anonymously outed all the committee members in a post on the blog. They got all sorts of death threats, their names were published all over the place. It was a scary time at the law school because people from outside the community were involved in sending the death threats and it felt generally unsafe as a minority student not knowing what angry people might decide to descend on the campus.

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 ’08 — Overt

I will always remember the first cocktail hour I went to at a certain very southern, very conservative fraternity (known for pledging only white men) where all of the bartenders were black men and the frat brothers addressed them all as “boy.”

I had never experienced such overt racism in my life and I remember going completely numb. The racism was constant, it was accepted as ‘the way things were in the south’ and I’m still ashamed of only speaking up sometimes, when instances were too disgusting for me not to say something and call it out (ie rampant usage of racist and homophobic slurs at frat parties.) Even then it gave me a reputation of being “difficult,” “crazy,” and a “bitch” in the Greek system.

As a white woman at a school with deeply embedded misogyny, even with my immense privilege of being in a “good” sorority and from the “right” socioeconomic background, I felt powerless.

WLU ’18 — Harm

My first year at W&L, I made a comment (intended to be a joke) to a friend who’s black. I learned later, because my friend was patient and gracious enough to share with me, that my words hurt her. Even though my intention wasn’t to be hurtful, my words stayed with and hurt her. My intentions did not matter. I screwed up.

I’m still grateful to her for pointing out how what I said was problematic. She helped me think more critically about my actions so that I can try to reduce harm in the future. But even more so, she took the time to educate me when she shouldn’t have needed to.

In my experience at W&L, I saw (and still see) an unfair dynamic: Too often, we put too much on BIPOC friends to educate and push for change. 

And too often, BIPOC students at W&L don’t have the space to say when something is problematic or hurtful, whether that’s socially, in the classroom, or in another situation.

As white allies, I believe it’s so important to be aware of how we harm the BIPOC people in our lives, regardless of how good or benign our intentions are. We need to be better and be self-critical. We have to be open to hear when we’re causing harm or when we’re participating in a harmful system and then change it. We have to create spaces for everyone in the W&L community to have a voice, and not expect individuals to constantly make that space for themselves. We need to do the work to make W&L a better university for every student. We should want that.

WLU Alumni — Otherness

When I went to W&L I had white friends and peers say to me, “Sometimes I forget you’re Asian.”

What is that supposed to mean? 

I don’t believe there was positive or negative intent behind that statement. However, at the time I took it as a compliment (which I think speaks to how much I had internalized the white superiority that is so ingrained into the culture of the university).

While I recognize this is nowhere near the levels of suffering my black peers have experienced on campus, it is a painful reminder that when you are not white, you will always be identified for your otherness at W&L. 

Looking back, I think it’s important to ask ourselves how the university’s inaction in educating its students on racism has contributed to a harmful environment. We need to make the university an inclusive place for all students.

WLU ’23 — Burden

Prior to college, I never saw my identity as a black girl as a burden. But coming to Lexington, this identity has meant that my W&L experience does not belong to me. The weight of bringing the University’s diversity statement into fruition falls squarely on students of color.

We are charged with educating our peers inside the classroom and out. We are asked to share our experiences which they then invalidate and to give our suggestions for change which they then ignore. Everyday we are forced to defend our existence as they promptly showed us when they threatened to take away Sankofa unless we “showed enough interest.” Despite all this, they throw happy photos of the same students of color on every screen on campus and show us off for admissions tours. W&L has to do more than just want diversity. Students of color just want to be students. 

We go to school to receive an education and to create better lives for our families. That task is already difficult enough without asking us to perform so many extra roles without any reciprocation. 

We are not diversity workers. 

We are not teachers. 

We are not therapists. 

We are students.

WLU ’23 — Uncomfortable

So many of my classmates continue to defend a racist who committed treason against this country. We talk about honor, we talk about caring about all students. I’m in a fraternity, but still I cannot think of a day on campus that I am not made uncomfortable simply because I’m black. 

I am constantly reminded of the man who fought to enslave my people and the only acknowledgment of the struggle that they endured is a tiny little sign you have to be 20 feet from to see. It’s a joke. 

How would you feel going to a school who’s namesake fervently believed that you were incapable of being educated?

WLU ’21 — The Cost

Upon my initial arrival at W&L, I tried my best to ignore the obvious. When my parents and I first arrived to Lexington for move-in day, they did the exact opposite. They genuinely were confused at why every highway, road, and statue on campus and in Lexington honored the confederacy. To them, W&L mirrored a parallel universe in which the south won the Civil War. Had you known nothing about U.S. History, just based off the statues, you would’ve thought that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were American heroes who fought bravely too free/uphold the nation.

As a black man, these were obvious red flags and I tried my best to ignore them reminded myself that I’d be here for four years.

For the next three years, whether I was blatantly discriminated against or subject to microagressions I did my best to just move on through just talking about it with the ones close to me and always respond calmly to provocation.

I ask myself now: was that really the right thing to do? Should I have just spoken my truths instead? 

Sure, W&L has definitely served me well both socially and in my career pursuits. But at what cost? I’m thankful that my close friends and I have always been able to have the conversations that many students at W&L and Americans in general are just beginning to have. They provided a healthy outlet to talk through just about anything. 

However, every person of color shouldn’t just be expected to just “get over it” and have thick skin. That is simply unrealistic. It’s time to stop ignoring the obvious, clearly it doesn’t work.

WLU ’23 — Imperfect

I’m a white student that grew up in a small town in SC. Due to a history of racism, my high school of 2,500 students was 90% white, so when I came to W&L I was amazed at all the different races and cultures I saw represented. It was a whole new world for me and I loved my first year.

I worked at the bookstore, and every time I met a prospective student I eagerly told them all about why W&L is wonderful. One time, my Black coworker overheard me, and made a comment about how her experience was far from perfect. We had a conversation afterwards about her perspective as a minority at the school. It was really eye opening for me and I’m glad we had the conversation. After that, I was able to view campus in a different light and understand that even though the student body is more diverse than my hometown public schools, we still have a long way to go. 

If you’re a white person reading this, I want to encourage you to take a minute and talk to your Black friends and friends of color about their experience at school. Make sure to talk to all of them, because everyone has a different story to share.