Murals and Movement

When did you graduate?

I graduated in May 2017.

Okay, cool. What were you involved in while you were here?

Um. Not much. I was in a social sorority. I worked a lot. I worked in Swemromas and I worked for Phone-A-Thon. I worked for the Flat Hat for the sex column, “Behind Closed Doors.” I think that might be it.

Why do you say that’s not a lot?

Well, it’s not like the William & Mary way of being “over-involved,” I guess.

It sounds like a lot to me. Because I feel like all of those things are so involved in themselves and they’re not just things that pop up every once in a while.

And there were things that I was involved in for a while. And obviously working was a big priority when I was at school because I needed to, you know, support myself. So I wish I could’ve gotten involved in different things and other things, but I guess hindsight is 20-20, right?

I gotcha. And have you taken that hindsight at all into what you’re doing now?

I think it’s definitely influenced it a bit. I think now I don’t need to censor myself or be a certain kind of version of myself because I think there’s a lot of pressure to fit into a very specific box of what it means to be a student at William & Mary. And it’s very different working here, that that pressure doesn’t exist. So, it’s very nice. Or at least where I work it doesn’t exist. It’s not that kind of over-involvement, you know, you need to be positive about William & Mary. William & Mary’s not perfect, so you shouldn’t be completely positive about William & Mary, which is nice, I think.

Did you want to stay here?

I did not want to stay here. But the job itself was, I think, too good to pass up. My job is coming to an end in July, so I’ve been here for about a year. I work in special collections and it’s a year long fellowship. The goal is to expose people from underrepresented backgrounds to library as a career. And I don’t live in Williamsburg, either; I live in Richmond. I commute because I wanted to spend as little time as possible here.

But it’s definitely been very much a blessing. Especially since it’s coincided with the fiftieth. I’ve been working on 50th. 100th. It’s been a really nice time to be working in the archives, for sure.

I know you started your own project, right?  

The one I did is farther back by the bathrooms, by Read & Relax. Which was really great. They knew they wanted to do an exhibit, they asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said yes and I got a lot of freedom to do what I wanted which is really, really nice. And so the exhibit focuses not just on the three women, but the whole history of African Americans at William & Mary. So, from slavery to, you know, segregation, massive resistance, desegregation, and then, today, ‘cause you know, nothing’s perfect. You’re still working towards a lot of things.

And that was really eye-opening. And I think also I learned so much that I didn’t know as a student. There’s a lot of injustices that happened here that nobody talks about and people just don’t know about. So getting to learn about that was really freeing because it kind of oriented me in where I am and who I am at this school; whereas, I think being somebody who is from a marginalized community, it’s kind of strange to exist in such a predominately white space all the time when there’s a lot of very predominant white histories being told … you know everyone loves Thomas Jefferson here, like maybe a little bit too much in my opinion. Like people really, really like him. And like that kind of stuff is really jarring to experience. Even if you don’t realize it or not, it’s kind of strange.

I am always interested in knowing, once you have this knowledge or understanding of reality, but a new perspective of this reality … What do you think is your best way of using that knowledge?

Well for me it’s been a very important reminder that the stories that aren’t getting told are the ones that need to be told the loudest. There are so many things. Like I learned only a couple of weeks ago that in the late 1800s a bunch of William & Mary — white, you know, male students — beat up some freed black man that was just living in Williamsburg. Didn’t get expelled, didn’t get in trouble for it. Nothing happened. But the man was hospitalized, like, it was awful. And it mirrors so closely the things that are happening today it feels wrong to not talk about it. And I think it helps to orient you because you know that there is a longer history. It’s not like you’re the first person walking on this campus. This is a long history of people coming before you, which I think, even if the way that they were there before you isn’t the same, it’s how …. Sorry this is all very jumbled sounding … But I think it kind of grounds you in a sense of reality, for one because you are learning about things that you didn’t know. You understand that there is a legacy here — there’s an ancestry here that’s not by blood, but it’s certainly there. And it’s a nice reminder that you need to be telling these stories. I think it’s freeing in a way. To at least know. Know about the things that have happened.

It’s cool because you seem like a person, correct me if I’m wrong, but somebody who is very focused on the other, or just like in your work here, it’s very much focused on others and telling their stories and everything. Like Humans likes to do, too. I guess what about your story has impacted you today?

I think it’s given me a very interesting perspective. I’m biracial, so I grew up with something that I think is really unique because I don’t think a lot of … I think especially at a school like this you have a lot of cases where white students may not have had black friends or black people might not have had white friends and so I have this kind of perspective from both sides. Like I am very close with everyone in my family and to have that kind of proximity in a time where we are so polarized by race, I think was really unique growing up. And like to have now, I grew up in very white spaces, and so I like to say that I didn’t become black until I turned like 18 because I didn’t realize: one, I didn’t think it was something I should have pride in and two, like something that defined me even if I had these white characteristics. Like I seemed white. All my friends in high school and before were like, “Oh you’re so white.” And everyone calls the black kid who doesn’t like rap music an “oreo” or something like that. And so I think it’s an interesting perspective. I often beat myself up because I think I was afraid to exist in black spaces for so much of my life. I was much more comfortable in white spaces. It’s been interesting.

That’s really important. Honestly for me, any person’s life is so important, like where they are. Everything is significant to me in some sort of way. That’s really interesting to hear especially because I grew up in very white spaces and was one of those people who didn’t have many friends of other races because I was in a very white community. And I am trying to do certain things right now to try and really emphasize that diversity is so important in just making us all empathetic and understanding of one another. And so, yeah, it’s really interesting to hear your story.

I think empathy, I think that’s definitely what I’m trying to articulate. I think a base of so many issues right now is the lack of empathy. And I think diversity of opinions and diversity of just people and experiences leads to empathy. Empathy is something that we need desperately.

So you’re more comfortable now … I don’t know is there anything with your identity … do you still struggle in any way because you were saying you kinda beat yourself up for having not embraced part of yourself when you were younger, but have you been able to move forward from that?

I think so. I think this year and being able to work so closely with the 50th has definitely been very validating. You know like, being in these places that are mostly black for events for this and alumni coming back and talking to them. I feel like it has made me realize that I had definitely been able to be a part of this community. You know, it was not like I was ever barred from it even though I felt like I was. And I also think, I mean, it’s really important for all marginalized communities to support each other. So, I think that fear is maybe, kinda silly, but yeah, I think it’s been validating and I think especially working in a library – I’m going to library school next year – that field is really white, so I’m also really thankful to have grown up and been in such white spaces for so long because I know how to navigate them. In my social sorority I felt like I was always kind of a very loud voice for things I didn’t like. Which I think, you know, was maybe a but annoying but I think it taught me to not be afraid to speak up or, you know, make people uncomfortable because being uncomfortable is incredibly important to learning and growing. So I think I know how to ruffle feathers in a good way and help make those spaces better, more inclusive.

I guess what I want to ask is, what do you do in your free time because it sounds like you’re just doing so many wonderful things in terms of bringing awareness to others and just, like, developing as a human being. I don’t know … do you relax?

So sad, I don’t, I feel like.

No, that’s perfectly valid, too.

Well I think another part of being someone who graduated from William & Mary is learning how to have free time. Like I didn’t understand how to do that. Like I still kinda don’t. Like I go home and watch Netflix, but sometimes I’m like, oh, I need to have a hobby. I don’t have that yet. It’s, like, a very weird thing. I mean I really like being outside. I think that’s a whole another aspect of diversity, inclusion, and breaking down barriers that’s really important to me because nature belongs to everybody and it doesn’t just belong to white people who go glamping. Like, that’s not true.

And it’s important, you know, global warming. We just had Earth Day. I think everybody’s thinking about it. Yeah, I guess that’s what I do in my free time. I go outside. I like being outside. And I’m very interested in the different ways different cultures connect to nature. I really find herbalism and natural medicine very interesting. This is, like, totally tangential, but…

No, that’s so cool!

Because I think we have a problem in society where just, like, pop pills all the time. I think it’s really easy. I think it’s necessary in a lot of ways. Like I have mental health problems, like I take medication and I’m not afraid to say that. But I think, you know, there’s some issues we have as a, you know, like Big Pharma …  all of that business.

Oh yeah. That’s a huge topic with my friends.

Do you have a specific location that comes to mind when you think of going outside?

I mean, I spend a lot of time just on my porch. Wouldn’t be a favorite place. My family really likes national parks as well. We went to a lot of national parks. So I went to Xion this summer and we hiked through the Narrows, where you’re hiking in the water in the river. And it’s just like the most beautiful experience you could possibly have. It’s really just like … after that I was just like, you know, nature’s therapy. It’s totally true. Because it feels cleansing and your endorphins are going, you feel like you are accomplishing something, and it’s fun. And there was a community aspect because there is a bunch of us trying to just trek through this water without, like falling all over ourselves. Swimming under boulders and stuff. It was just great.

So did you know everybody? You said you went with you family but was it just a random group that came together?

It was my family went and it was just so busy. People were very helpful. It was just like very nice. I guess … well it’s not in the Midwest. I was going to say it was the Midwest mentality.

I always find it funny when I go places and people are just really, really nice. On the street, like…

I’m from up north, so. I’m from Massachusetts. So coming down here I was literally going to Food Lion and the cashier was like, “Hey! How are you doing?” Like all that stuff. Like really engaging. And at home it’s just like, “Hi. How are you today?” Like, kinda like the monotone and beep, check the next thing. People fill the spaces here.

Where in Massachusetts are you from?

I’m from southeast Mass, so I’m 45 minutes south of Boston. I’m really close to Providence, Rhode Island.

That’s where I’m going to school, in Boston.

Oh where?

Simmons College.

Oh that’s awesome!

Trying to currently figure out the whole housing thing. It’s impossible.

Yeah, I have a friend who goes to Simmons currently. She might be graduating this year.

Is she undergrad?

Yeah, she’s going for PT type of stuff. They have a great nursing program there, too. I don’t know. Actually, I only know two people there now that I’m thinking about it.

Yeah, I had never heard about it until I started looking at schools and undergrad is all women which I think is awesome. I was really close to going to Mt. Holyoake. Mostly because it looked like Harry Potter, but also the all women thing was nice, too.

The Harry Potter thing was definitely something that I was into as well. Yeah, what made you choose here? Was it in-state?

No I’m actually, I’m from out of state. I’m from Maryland. I visited here for the first time when I was in, like seventh grade and my brother was looking – my brother is three years older than me – and a bunch of us came down with family friends. We came to visit the school and it was hot, I was tired, and I didn’t want to be here. And then my brother went here. He like came for admitted students day, stayed the night with a student, and the next morning was like, “We’re paying my deposit. I’m going here.” And then the next four years of my life was like me coming here twice a year. And it just kind of made sense.

I never really wanted to be under my brother’s shadow in high school but then when I got to college I was like, “No, I’m okay with this. This is fine.” Yeah, and I think looking back maybe I should’ve broadened my horizons a little bit more. Not to say that William & Mary isn’t a great school. It has given me a lot of opportunities. But I also don’t think it’s fair of me to say that I couldn’t be where I am today without William & Mary. The growth that happens in school, or the growth that I had in undergrad, I think I would’ve had elsewhere. Because I think it had more to do with personal challenges than getting an education, necessarily.

I learned a lot and, like I’m glad I learned a lot, but I’ve learned a lot more outside the classroom than I ever did inside the classroom.

Yeah. What’s one of those things that comes to mind in learning outside of the classroom?

Oh my gosh. I think I’ve learned so much of how to be a good person. I was really mean in high school. And I think I’ve kind of learned a lot about intent versus outcome. So just because you don’t intend to something harmful and hurtful doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be the outcome and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apologize necessarily.

I think I’ve also learned the value of an apology. I think that’s a lot more important than people realize it is. Because it helps the healing process. And it helps to build bridges and it helps people to understand each other. I think that’s a lot of so much that I’ve learned – I’ve met so many different people here. And so I’ve learned just a lot of how to be a good person to so many different people and what it means to be a friend and the power of friendship. That sounds like, so lame, but I think it’s true.

Yeah, apologizing has a lot of power. And you have to mean it.

Yeah, I definitely think understanding different people and understanding myself. And I was a film major. I learned a lot about movies. That was cool. I really enjoyed it. But yeah, I think there’s so much to be said for challenging yourself in ways that aren’t just academic. Especially if college is supposed to be this wonderfully transformative thing that I think people make it out to be. They need to seek out those tough conversations. Those harder moments. Because otherwise, you know, where are you going to grow?

Yeah, because this is such a study school I feel like people are in the books all the time and they don’t have the opportunity to have the social growth. And others do. Sometimes it’s a personal type of thing, but definitely think that more is learned outside of the classroom.

I think the only place maybe where … I’m thinking about I remember taking an Intro to Gender Studies class and that was probably when it came to like the kind of interactions that you’re going to have in the real world. That was probably one of the more beneficial classes. Because, again, it was just so many different people trying to fulfill a GRE or a GER … I’m thinking about grad school. But coming together and talking about these issues and even if we all kind of thought of ourselves as liberal or progressive or accepting, we all had different perspectives on what that meant. That was really interesting.

Words are so funny when people see them differently and how they’ve evolved.

Oh definitely. They’re very different. Like I see that, too, at my job. Like there are so many people from different backgrounds, different age groups even and certain words have different weight and meaning and it’s really strange but interesting.

Another random question, but what’s a very “you” thing to do? Like something that’s very personal to you in either how you act or something that you say a lot or focus on?

I’ve been doing this thing a lot lately where I just like … actually, no I’ve always done this. When I’m in Aromas and there’s music playing I dance. I can’t help it. I’m not, like, a dancer. I don’t particularly think I’m very good. But I walked into work this morning and walked into my friend’s office and started playing music – Drake – and started dancing because it’s just stress relief. It’s good. I like that. That’s probably a good one for me.

I also lay on the floor a lot when I’m stressed out. That’s a whole nother thing. That’s the best way to refocus is to be, like, horizontal for five seconds. And then get back up and see the world vertically again.

Wait, I like that. I like that a lot.

One of the questions we are asking everybody as a part of this project is, “If you had anything to say to the future women of William & Mary, what would that be?”

That’s such a good question. I think it would be to not be afraid to be loud. And to speak up and to be, you know, all of the bad, bad words. All the bad words. Aggressive. Or angry, or you know, a bitch. I don’t know if I can say bitch, but …

You can say whatever you want to say.

But to not be afraid to dispel the fear that you are going to fall into a female stereotype. Because if you are doing something that you truly believe it right, that’s not important. And it should really, ultimately at the end of the day what people think of you is not important. It feels important. It’s always going to feel important. But it’s not. It’s about, you know, holding yourself to your values and holding others to your values as well and not being afraid to be yourself. And yeah, be loud.

I think that’s really important. Yeah.

Did you have any people in your life that helped you in being loud or just learning to be yourself?

I think my parents, definitely. Yeah. Definitely my parents. Especially my dad. I remember my dad being like, once telling me about when he was in college – my dad’s black and he was the only black kids at his college, and like he had this professor. He was so incredibly racist and he was just like, “I don’t care, I came to class every day. Did exactly what I needed to do and I wasn’t afraid to be like, ‘You’re a bigot.’” And I was like, okay. If you’re not going to stand down in the face of something that’s just, like truly wrong, yeah. I think that’s good. And you know he’s never afraid to be like, “No that’s BS.” So it’s helpful to have those examples. Not afraid to have an argument.

I’m glad you had that role model in your life.

And I think in my family, too, I have a lot of really strong — very strong, brave women. Between my mom, both my grandmothers, you know, all of my aunts have just been, really like they’ve hit some tough stuff and still made it through which I think is incredible.

In your journey through life so far, what has been something that you’ve been most proud of?

Okay, two. I think one of them is going to graduate school, ‘cause like I didn’t really want to do that four months ago and I didn’t really think I could. But I think the more … that’s like career. And I’m really proud that … I was thinking about and and I’m going to have two degrees by 2020 and I’m gonna have my master’s. I think I’ll be the first in my generation of my family to have one, which is, like, nice bragging rights. But I’m proud of myself because I feel like I’m really working towards not just my own goals, but for my family. And I’m, you know, contributing to something greater than myself. Which feels really good.

I think especially a lot, I mean just growing up, I think especially in black communities and black families, doing things … fighting for better situations. Not to say that I had a bad situation and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. But, like, you know. Like my ancestors were slaves and it’s cool to think like, well, one: I’ve graduated and done well and have been employed by an institution that owned slaves, which feels like a nice FU to them. I sure there’s many, many a white man rolling over in their grave over all of it. It feels good to accomplish something that they never could. For myself and for them.

I’m also really proud of myself for finally getting help for my anxiety and depression. That was a big one. I’m like a year and a half out from doing that and it feels really good. I think it’s really hard, especially for people here, to feel like they can or they should. And, yeah. I’m really proud of myself for being able to have done that and to have those tough conversations with my family and my parents. And to realize that, at the end, I had nothing to be afraid of because I have very supportive people in my lif

I know it’s easy for me, coming from a family who has all gone to college, to forget about doing things for them, or seeing how I can make their lives better. I don’t know, there’s kind of like an expectation, like, “oh, we’ll support you,” and whatever, but really you taking the initiative to make sure you are leaving a legacy behind for those who have come before you is beautiful. And yeah, no that’s really cool.

I’ve done a lot of ancestry work in the past year and to think about all of what my family has gone through and all they’ve worked towards and how they’ve been … I think definitely politically in the United States we’re at a time where history is starting to repeat itself again. We’re moving through, like, a new civil rights movement in and of itself. And so to think that, like … my dad was born in Greensboro, North Carolina months after the Greensboro sit-ins began. They were in the thick of it. My grandma’s told me stories about accidentally driving on the wrong road and ending up in the heart of KKK country. And like, to think about those kinds of things and that my grandma still graduated from college and was a founder of the Black Nurses’ Caucus and like, did all of these incredible things. And I was like, well, if she can do that, then I can do this. And if I can look back and think of these people, I don’t know … they’re in the back of my mind a lot.

Your experiences here … Did you know what to expect when coming here for your fellowship? Because you weren’t necessarily sure what you were going to do. What were your emotions like when arriving here?

It was weird and hard and I think I had a lot of trouble at first feeling emotionally connected to the work I was doing. Like, I was really holding back for a while. It was weird; we were gone for like, the fellow and myself, for a month. We celebrated, we were gone for a month. We came back in June and it was, you know, the first year doing this program, the beginning of this whole celebration that I initially had some pretty negative feelings about. I was really worried it was going to be this really performative like, “Look at us. 50 years ago we, you know, finally integrated the college. Like how cool are we for doing that thing?” When it’s like, no that was 50 years ago. It should’ve happened much far before then. And it had been happening in the U.S. before then, so, I don’t know. I had a lot of very negative feelings and it also felt really lonely because I was like, here with all of these people who are so much older than me and I felt really young and naive and I remember being really emotional the first day of classes because I was like, I’m here again. But, like, I’m not here and it’s just very strange. And it was really hard at first. But I think I finally, like … my therapist told me, “Mallory you need to be emotionally invested in this or else you are going to hate yourself for the rest of the year.” And I was like, oh crap, you’re right. And I think I found ways to get excited. I think that in the work that I was doing I found ways to get hype about it, which is good. And I think the initial – I figured we should meet in front of the thing because everything I’m doing is involved in it, but whatever – when they did the unveiling of the mural, I think that really solidified some of the importance of my job and the excitement started to … started to actually feel excited. And it was also just really wonderful because my family still lives in Maryland and my exhibit wasn’t up yet, but my dad drove all the way down here for the unveiling of the mural. Which was just so sweet. Him to be so willing, for literally just a day – came for three hours and drove right back up – was literally just so nice. And I was like, well if he’s going to be here supporting me, I’m gonna have to get involved with this, like, actually.

It’s cool that… I think a lot of people just write things off right from the bat and don’t change their mindset, but you really did change your mindset.

Yeah, and it’s been very reaffirming, you know. Definitely was because there were people changing my mind. That there were people who were really like, no we’re here to do what’s right and the 50th Committee’s still meeting even though the year’s about to end and there’s, like, momentum. Like this isn’t just going to be one year and then we’re going to forget about these three women again for another 50. Like it’s not going to happen this time. It’s just really nice.

I think, like, for me, actually being able to connect what’s happening around here, like history to reality, is a huge thing. And so, like, it’s cool to see your process, like actually connecting with your work and emotionally investing yourself in it … it’s just like … yeah. It’s hard to do sometimes.

Yeah, I think so. And I think there’s an expectation that maybe you shouldn’t be emotionally invested in what you do. And I think that’s kind of like, important for what you do. And I’m excited to see what the 100th will hold. Because it’s a lot farther out. Like I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I’m wondering if any of the actual … like how far back be have living people. Like I’m sure we don’t have anybody from the 100th class, like the first class, because that was literally a hundred years ago. Those people would be like a hundred twenty-two.

Yeah, actually, I don’t know either. That would be interesting to see.

But they definitely… it’ll be interesting to see what goes on for that celebration. I’ll have to ask. I know people in the community but I just, I don’t ask things.

Sometimes you kind of just forget about it, yeah.

What do you think will keep you doing as you continue on in your education and learning, and just like, activism and awareness?

I think surrounding myself with people who also want to make the world a better place, which sounds like this incredibly hard task, but you know, butterfly effect. You make one small difference and it changes so much. To have other people who haven’t gotten to that burnout … I think a lot of us who believe really passionately in things and in causes will at one point experience burnout, but you have to learn to rest, not give up, and to surround myself with people who understand that concept and other people who are willing to uplift each other for these causes is really important. I think it’s who you surround yourself with. Yeah.

Do you ever find moments where you don’t have that momentum feeling?

Yeah. Oh yeah. There’s been some really challenging times. I think in this year of work, in college, where I really just want to wipe my hands and walk away. But that’s not always the best option. And it should be the best option. If it is, you should probably reevaluate your options. But, I mean, it’s hard not to. We’re living in a political climate where it feels … you really want to give up. And ignorance does seem like bliss at a lot of times, but it’s, you know … you can’t. It just doesn’t seem like an option. Or maybe it shouldn’t be. Even if it’s not you fighting for that cause, you should be able to patch the torch to leave a legacy that other people continue on.

Yeah, especially imagining how much everybody else has done and to just stop after other people have done so much … The people who have shown up for so many events this year and have represented not only themselves but the greater community to which they … I don’t know … served or were a vision for? Like sometimes people have different roles and sometimes you have to be a symbol but also be yourself, too.

Yeah, I think that when the burnout happens it’s about the evolving, shifting, changing if that role no longer suits you.

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