WLU ’22 — Strong

In fall term of my freshman year, as some of us remember, the KKK came to our campus in an attempt to punish the community for entertaining a name change.

I remember seeing many upperclassmen of color take in President Dudley’s 1-2 emails on the incident and the too-little support from their peers at the same time as I did. I watched them quickly respond with plans to push the administration to address the root causes of why hate groups felt comfortable enough to come here. I remember looking at the students in awe at how they were immediately so strong and ready to take action. I didn’t know how to emulate that. I felt like there was something missing in me, some secret quality that every student at W&L who isn’t white, cis, and straight should have to take whatever this college throws at them in stride and push for change.

What felt most certain to me was that if I made myself think about how the institution in which I was trying so hard to succeed was at best halfhearted in supporting my and my peers’ right to exist, I would have probably fallen apart. So I blocked out the incident and the university’s response as best I could until recently. Still, I’ll never forget that moment of feeling weak because I didn’t join my fellow students of color in fighting to not be ignored.

Later that year, when I got closer to some of the student leaders I saw as superhuman, I learned how many of them were forced into those roles. They too had moments where, while they were reeling from attacks on their racial and sexual identity, had to summon the strength to defend their right to feel wronged repeatedly–just to push the university to give them the bare minimum of support It’s like they were teaching moments where the lesson was that asking for university support was futile.

That way, we’d feel it fell on us to carry out the emotional labor of supporting our community… even when it was us who needed support as well.

Today, as a junior, I am more involved in inclusion in our community, in part because of that same lesson I had learned with that first incident of hate I saw on campus. I’m driven to do what I can to make it so that no student new to our college ever feels inadequate for not acting “strong” when they need to give themselves time to recover from acts of hate. 

However, so long as students of color and LGBTQ+ students are on their own in supporting themselves, I’m stuck with the near-certainty that that ideal won’t be realized until long after I graduate.

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 ’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?