WLU ’20 — Lee

Recently, I got the chance to show a friend of mine around W&L and Lex. This place has become my home, and I was excited to show her around. 

I’ve had the privilege of never quite comprehending just how prevalent Lee, the Confederacy, and racism are in this community. I‘ve learned about this town and this school gradually, and it’s so easy to become desensitized given how the history is portrayed. But to my friend, it sounded like this:

This is where Robert E. Lee is buried. That’s the professor who told the class he has a “colonizer fetish.” That was around the time the KKK came to campus. Turn right onto Lee Highway. That’s George and Bob. Yeah, it’s a cute nickname we have for him. Yeah, he did kill Americans.

It’s across from Lee Chapel. Some KKK members make “pilgrimages” here. I took him to Stonewall Jackson hospital. There were 16 Black students in my year. It said “KK-Keep the name the same.” That’s where the flaggers will stand. The KKK targeted that restaurant. This is my diploma. That’s a Confederate general. You pass by Stonewall Jackson cemetery. At the front is a portrait of him in his Confederate uniform. Yeah, he didn’t want that. They told us Lee created the Honor System. Turns out he didn’t. They hung a Confederate flag there when Trump was elected. The War of Northern Aggression. It was Lee-Jackson Day.

And those are just the things that I hear. I am a straight, white student. I don’t hear the racist slurs when I walk into a party. No one questions to my face how I got here. 

My visiting friend is from South Carolina. She was appalled. She was shocked that we could say Washington and Lee’s names in the same breath—someone who helped create our country, and someone who helped tear it apart. 

She is an International Relations major, and kept asking if the students pushing to keep the name the same know that Lee was a traitor. That his army killed far, far more Americans than 9/11 did. That no one outside of Lexington, including in the South, has any clue what you mean when you say “Lee the Educator.”

WLU ’23 — “Jokes”

It’s been so upsetting to see the normalization of Anti-Semitism in America as a whole and even in my life. 

Last year at school, a friend came into my dorm room and was showing me some videos. I could tell they were supposed to be comical, although completely missing the mark, but one of them was strictly about Jewish people. I was surprised that my friend thought the “jokes” were funny, especially because the video clearly made fun of harsh stereotypes including noses. My friend is a great person, and I don’t think anything harmful was meant by it, but my nose has always been my biggest insecurity.

My mom has asked me if I have ever been made fun of for my last name (my Great Grandfather was Jewish and the reason why my last name is such).

Thankfully I have not. It’s sad, though, because I catch myself hesitating to sign my last name on return addresses for fear that my packages or letters won’t be delivered, and I often wonder if we even get all our mail.

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 ’20 — KKK

The summer after my freshman year, the KKK dropped off pamphlets in front of our homes. This was the first out of three times we received something from the Klan.

My housemate and I were both very terrified, as we are both women of color. We took a picture and dropped it in our GroupMe to alert other students and to figure out the next steps to ensure our safety. An older, white female student dismissed our concerns and included that “they do this every year.”

In a single message she not only normalized the actions of a dangerous, racist organization, but also shut down the concerns of people who are targeted by this group.

What hurt more was that there were people defending her and gaslighting us, saying that there was nothing to be scared of because it had happened in the past. They told us what and what not to be afraid of without listening to us.