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 Law — Ideas

This is a response to the June 23rd (2020) email sent by W&L to alumni and students: 

Your words in the email couldn’t sound more unaware. In response to the criticism and feedback you’ve received about the treatment of minority students, you’ve listed initiatives (minority guest speakers; more diverse faculty/students; more financial aid, etc.) that don’t touch on the main concern. If the KKK comes back on campus again, if minority students receive anonymous racist messages again, or if minority people experience any mistreatment such as those mentioned on this page, I’m sure everyone will rest easy with all your initiatives: financial aid (as reparation for future mistreatment); more diverse faculty/student body (to increase the number of oppressed people); and guest speakers to offer insight to minority students about being a minority student.

Sarcasm aside, you should actually address how your students of diversity are treated by their classmates and by the Lexington community. Yes, it also means attention given to your beloved Lee must be diverted to the legacy of minority alumni’s contributions. And, I assure you, Lee won’t notice, but your minority students and alumni (and supporters) will.

Some ideas:

1. Make the student judicial system more transparent and just. Student hearings should be heard by student’s peers (not just during appeals). If peers aren’t elected to the initial leadership positions that make the decisions, then a jury of peers is impossible. Unjust sentencing follows. 

2. Find a way to get W&L students to socialize with people who aren’t from their exact same background.

3. Read this page, solicit concerns, listen to concerns, understand, and don’t throw money at problems.

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 ’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 Current — Inappropriate

I was in an interview for a position affiliated with a department on campus. During the interview, the faculty member interviewer said I would be the “first [my minority group] person to go through the program” if I got the position. There were similar comments made throughout my interview, despite the fact that my minority status was not relevant to the position I was applying for and was not mentioned anywhere in my application. I did not get the position, and couldn’t get any information as to why upon request. Was I discriminated against? I can’t prove it. At best, I was subjected to inappropriate comments in an interview. At worst, I didn’t receive an opportunity that I was qualified for because of my minority status.

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?

WLU ’21 — Panhel

I’m not a BIPOC but I observed something during a panhel meeting that was disturbing and there were no BIPOC there so I just wanted to put it out there. The president brought up how she talked to several BIPOC students at W&L about sorority rush and they said sororities don’t try to rush them as much as white students. One girl responded something like “minorities don’t seem to want to get rushed”/ “minorities need to show more interest if they want to get rushed” and others quickly agreed. 

It is shocking how easily these girls invalidated the voices of BIPOC and insinuated that BIPOC are responsible for the lack of representation in greek life at W&L. And of course these same girls posted black squares/BLM graphics all over social media. 

After this, sensing a discomfort in the room, the topic was quickly changed. White students repost stories and point fingers at W&L, but WE are the problem. Stop being so performative, accept that we have failed BIPOC on our campus, do better.

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.

WLU ’22 — Exhausting

It is exhausting to be a minority at W&L. I dated a white guy my freshman year and was soon given the nickname “Asian wifey” by him and his fraternity; he later prided himself on advertising the benefits of having an Asian girlfriend. Because it was always framed as a compliment, and because I didn’t want to get made fun of, I would smile and nod along. I wish I had called out problematic jokes and comments more, but I felt like there was no use drawing attention to my discomfort. When I did, they often said that I was too young, sensitive, and/or naive; I just needed to understand that growing up and going to college meant adopting a more controversial sense of humor (this was often accompanied by justification surrounding a different PoC laughing at/making problematic jokes). Sometimes I wouldn’t get a response – just an annoyed look. If I was lucky, they did change… and then acted like they deserved a pat on the back.

When one of his brothers started dating an Asian girl, people started to joke about how we were the same (in our interests, in the things we did for our boyfriends) – and how all Asian girls are the same. When I disagreed, they would argue against me. I would then fall silent, or laugh it off.

I always cringe looking back on it now; I feel disgusted with the gross stereotypes and near-fetishization that I appeared to be complacent with. And the worst part about W&L was not these comments — it’s how widespread this ignorance is. It’s the number of times I’ve had to explain why diversity matters to someone who believed that it was the “homogenous” community of W&L that made it most desirable, the number of students who have been told and internalized that they’re only at W&L to better diversity numbers instead of for their merit, and the number of times I was told it was impossible to thrive (traditionally) at W&L if I didn’t assimilate.

When one of his brothers started dating an Asian girl, people started to joke about how we were the same (in our interests, in the things we did for our boyfriends) – and how all Asian girls are the same. When I disagreed, they would argue against me. I would then fall silent, or laugh it off.

There is an extreme lack of understanding of even the minimal conversation we have surrounding diversity. Students of color lecture countless peers about the importance of it, but it never stops feeling like justification for both the diversity initiatives and our own presence on campus.