WLU ’21 — Deeply Rooted

TW: Racist & homophobic slurs 

I came to W&L a proud Jew from an upper middle class family in North New Jersey. Many folks, including my high school college advisor, tried to talk me out of attending W&L and remaining in the Northeast for college. I was warned that while many students from the tri-state area attended W&L each year, Jewish, Asian, and Black students had always had a very difficult time assimilating to the white, southern culture that still pervades our campus and sets the tone for most of W&L’s student culture. 

I was not worried. I had attended a diverse private school with all sorts of kids from all walks of life. My friend group in high school was a mixed bag of friends which spanned the socio-economic spectrum. How bad could it be?

Unfortunately, the warnings from my advisor, friends and family were all spot-on. The vast majority of Admissions mailings and website photos I was bombarded with as a high school junior attempted to frame W&L as a diverse, open-minded place. These were all nothing more than propaganda, no doubt part of the school’s Strategic Plan to bring in more minority kids to the school. The admissions tour and information sessions were equally transparent and offensive to many listening to the Admissions tour guide and Admissions Rep that chilly spring morning.    

I should have listened to the warnings. Not even a week on campus, racist quotes were scrawled across the bathroom mirror and stalls in my Graham-Lees dorm. “Diversity is white genocide” read one of the scrawlings. 

This “greeting” remained on our stall door for weeks before it was finally removed – just before Parent’s Weekend. “Mazal Tov” (sic),  “Big Nigga”  and “Fag” (amongst others) would also find their way on to the walls of our bathroom that fall, yet no one seemed to really care. Rampant drinking and heavy use of drugs were also a big problem on our floor with some students and took up a good amount of our RA’s time.

My experiences around W&L’s fraternity rush which begins during the Winter Term were equally disappointing and laden with racist overtones and dog whistles. There is a social hierarchy within the men’s fraternal system where the “top houses” are almost devoid of any minority representation. One night, during a study session, I was advised by one of my classmates to avoid rushing certain “Southern” or “Tier 1” houses because of their lack of tolerance for “diverse” northerners. 

I pressed on this statement and was told that there are certain “good ole boy” houses at W&L that do not take Jewish, Black, or Asian pledges. I was told we had our place, and it was not around the students or in these houses. I wanted to see for myself if this was in fact the case, so I attended several rush parties for “Tier 1” fraternities. Most of the brothers appeared nice, but were quick to shuffle you through the house to meet a group of younger members, who I noticed were only talking to north-easterners like myself and who were holding a RED Solo cups. As it turned out, this frat used color-coded cups to identify “worthy” prospects. In the other room were prospective students holding BLUE Solo cups. All of these students were white and predominantly from the Southeast. They were being rushed by a larger group of brothers, many of whom were officers in the fraternity. What I experienced that day was later confirmed by an upperclassman international student that I had met. 

He mentioned that these houses were off limits to folks like us and also mentioned that W&L still has several secret societies (i.e., Cadaver Society aka C. Corp to its members) which draw most of their members from these “elite tier” frats.   

At the conclusion of the winter rush season, bids were given out and wild parties occurred at most of the frat houses. Two of the southern guys on my hall rushed the top tier, predominantly southern fraternity and were both completely lit when they returned back to the dorm to change clothes. All of a sudden, they thrust my door open and presented me with a blue yarmulke with a W&L trident sewn to the cap. The two were dancing  drunk (and who knows what else) with these caps on their heads. They said that they had just broken into the W&L’s Jewish Student Center, the Hillel House, and taken the caps. They ended up parading down the hall with the hats singing Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song. The next morning, I found one of the caps floating in the toilet.

I ended up finding my small niche at W&L. If I had to do it all over again, sadly, I would not have chosen to attend W&L. There are some great profs here, but overall, it has many deep-rooted problems that will not just vanish if the school’s name were to change.

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 ’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 ’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.

WLU Transferr — Nightmare

TW: rape

I transferred 4 years ago, and I am still plagued by nightmares of WLU. I still wake up in cold sweats thinking I’ll have to go back there.

Like many from lower classes, I only attended due to scholarship. During my visit I was told that Greek life wasn’t that present, that drinking culture was easy to get around, and that diversity was a priority of the school.

I felt pressured to stay, to rush, to drink. It wasn’t until I was raped at a frat party the end of my freshman year that I knew I would do anything to get out of that school.

I tried to report to the Title IX officer, but since I didn’t remember anything (I had one cup of jungle juice and several girls besides me remember nothing from that night), and I didn’t know who it was, so I had no recourse.

It wasn’t until after that I learned this particular frat was known for date rape drugs in their punch. Almost every student on campus, and many administrators, knew this. Despite this widely known secret, the frat stayed on campus because it was a “good ole boys” frat.

I’m not the first to have this experience, nor will I be the last.

My entire second year there I battled crippling depression only heightened by several more sexual assaults, coupled with threats of my safety (due to a separate issue).

Reports to the administration only caused the issues to be worse.

I know for a fact that if I would have stayed I’d be dead now. I would not have survived. Even now, every relationship I have is tainted by the abuse I faced at that school.

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 ’21 — Disrespectful

A white student was being extremely disrespectful to our Statistics professor, who is a POC. She kept saying the professor was wrong and questioning her intelligence, although the professor had done extensive research in her field as a PhD candidate & continues to do research to this day.

When the professor politely explained the answer (for a 3rd time, because the student refused to accept her thorough reasoning & kept arguing), the student said “whatever, I DON’T CARE” in front of everyone. Nobody in the room defended the professor although she looked hurt. Although she could’ve reacted impulsively to the blatant attacks (rightfully so), the professor said “that wasn’t very nice of you.”

The student acted like she had nothing to apologize for while laughing in the back with her sorority sisters and hesitantly forced out a “sorry” in the most dishonest and privileged tone possible. 

This was not the first or last time something like this happened. Students often made fun of the professor’s accent, especially white frat guys.

To this day, I wonder how the professor (along with other POC faculty) manages to teach classes with mostly white, privileged students who are xenophobic and racist, hence fail to show any respect. I wish I would’ve used my voice to speak up, but I sat there shocked and too scared to intervene.

This is the truth about W&L that we are so embarrassingly proud of. Stuff like this happens all the time & there is no accountability. We are more concerned about being seen as “sensitive” by our peers than calling out racism. We go around wondering why POC students don’t feel welcomed.

If POC faculty isn’t welcomed or respected, what can we expect for students, especially outside the classroom?

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 ’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 ’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.