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 Current — Silenced

I came to W&L for the very same reason that a lot of POC students decided to come here – financial aid. I remember talking to my counselor in high school and she suggested W&L because they were diversifying their student body, which gave me a higher chance of getting in and receiving funds. Being a scholarship student in a private school for privileged people in my country, I thought I was ready for the challenge ahead, especially when my presence in the school was to serve towards a quota. 

Yet, the feeling of being excluded unintentionally still surprised me. People talk about the O-week trip as their once in a life time experience and a great opportunity to build bonds, but for me, that whole week was like a slap. From the very first day we met, people already forming groups, and I was always the last one in the line.

Not because my pace was slow, but because no one was noticing me. I remember a night when we were playing bonding game, people were saying their impression of each other. When it was their turn to talk about their impression of me, one of them talked about how they thought I would drop out of college because I looked like I would do that. That night, I cried in my own sleeping bag, asking myself what kind of impression I had given them for them to say such a thing. 

I have never been so silenced in my life. During the whole week, I barely talked, and I didn’t dare to. No one really talked to me, no one cared to get to know me. 

We were having group dinner and members were put in groups randomly to cook by themselves. I was thinking of offering to cook because I love to, and make them my country’s dishes, introducing them to the culture. 

But both of the members in my group ended up not listening to my idea and agree on something else. I offered to twist the dish a little bit, and they decided to do theirs separately, completely leave me out of the group.

Never did I expect that O-week would just be the start. Things got worse during the year. Slowly, I don’t even notice the microaggressions that I faced daily on campus. I choose to ignore all of those and stopped trying to fit in. 

I thought that the worst I would experience was what I went through in high school. But W&L has turned out to be way worse.

WLU ’21L — I Tried to Explain

In the fall after OCI/Interview programs had ended, a group of us were having dinner and talking about the process. A white male told us about a BIPOC female who told him that interviewing with all white male interviewers made her feel uncomfortable. This white male student said he didn’t think that was a reason to feel uncomfortable and made it sound like it was an excuse for not getting a job. Another white male agreed saying he didn’t think that was a reason to be uncomfortable.

I and another person tried to explain to the two white males that this was a reason to feel uncomfortable. But they couldn’t understand why being in a room where no one looks like you would make someone feel this way.

WLU Alumnus — Merit

Like many other POC students, my choice to attend W&L was influenced in large part by their generous financial aid package – the school offered me a full tuition, room, and board merit scholarship that I couldn’t turn down. I was extremely proud of that achievement – I had worked hard to graduate first in my high school class, had won many academic prizes and honors (including national competitions) throughout my life, had an SAT score in the 99% percentile, and had generally felt the accolades I had earned were deserved.

My freshman year, one of my classmates (and someone I considered a friend and am still friendly with), a white legacy student, mentioned that she had applied for the same scholarship, and didn’t receive it.

In the same breath, she said I had probably gotten it (presumably over more qualified candidates like her) because I was a minority candidate.

I have thought about that comment more times than I can count in the nearly 20 years since she said it. I am certain she meant nothing by it, and I am sure she doesn’t even remember saying it. It just simply didn’t occur to her that I could have earned that honor through merit, nor that I might have deserved it more than she did.

I graduated 6th in my class from W&L. My classmate had trouble keeping a passing GPA. And I still, *still*, wonder if maybe she was right.

WLU ’21 — Invisible

An incredibly easy way to make the campus feel more inclusive is to actually practice the speaking tradition. I know some people don’t buy into this tradition or neglect to greet other people for a couple of reasons (i.e., had a bad day/don’t feel like it, innocuously forgot to do so, avert “awkwardness”, wasn’t raised to do so/doesn’t say hi to strangers, etc.)

Doing this occasionally is fine, and I as a POC acknowledge that I fail to live up to this tradition at times for those reasons.

However, HABITUALLY and completely failing to do so is what I take issue with. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that one needs to be a beaming sunflower and say hi to every single face they see.

It only makes me feel all the more invisible on campus when I walk past someone and am ready to acknowledge them with a slight nod or awkward smile, only to be met with a blank stare or a last second reach-into-my-pocket-to-get-their-phone (which makes the awkwardness even more overt) as if I am not there. Things like these are noticed over time.

If we hold the door for each other, why is a simple courtesy to another person so difficult and evasive? Why are “heys” and common respect towards each other seemingly “rationed”?

WLU ’16 — Accomplished

As a POC from a low-income family, I found the recent Redoubt email a bit harder to palate. I’m one of the students who went to W&L “only because they were unable to secure better or more lucrative placements.”

But Herchold has the angle wrong. I know who I am. I know what I’ve accomplished despite ~and to spite~ the elitists who got in my way. 

Let’s be real, Herchold. Our University paid money to recruit people like me. And judging by what we’ve done, I think W&L might have gotten way more than what they paid for.

WLU Alumnus — English Professor

As a student of the previously mentioned English professor in several courses, I can agree that he has a way of making the class feel rather uncomfortable. It is hard to describe–I understand that he wants to convey and discuss difficult issues but does so too nonchalantly. 

I refrain from giving precise personal examples because I would be easily identified, but on numerous occasions he instigated discussion about race/gender/socioeconomic status in a way that came off too superficial and void of empathy. I can’t deny that I felt an odd form of embarrassment because of some of his remarks.

What was more concerning was that these much needed discussions were being held in literature classes that were always 100% white.

The students in these classes were usually underclassmen and clearly had little interaction or understanding of the experiences of POC. It was disheartening to witness these conversations, and the professor in question did not have the adequate approach to tackle these important but sensitive topics. I did not think that he was ill-intentioned and know that he tries to help students in his own ways. 

Zooming out of this particular case, W&L ought to have more POC in their classrooms. As much as I agree that it is not on any one group to educate others, I am certain that if there was a significant portion of POC at W&L these kinds of things would be uncovered sooner and conversations would be much more meaningful.

Until then, the said professor and largely white student audiences will be dabbling about the experiences of “the unprivileged class” in a very uninformed and disheartening manner.

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 ’23 — Acceptance

Being a POC at W&L means a couple things. It means having a constant chip on your shoulder, it means working to kill stereotypes day in day out, it means never truly feeling like you fit in, it means a constant fight between who you are and who the culture seems it acceptable for you to be. 

While, yes, I’ve enjoyed my time at Washington and Lee, I’m always caught in this battle of acting “white” and acting such that I can be accepted.