The good and the bad of history

This year William & Mary is about to celebrate it’s 325th birthday, a momentous occasion in its history. To start off, I was wondering what does William & Mary mean to you?

To me William & Mary represents history. This history is reflected in the present day too. We are all built upon this “One Tribe, One Family,” ideology  and even when you get a campus tour, you hear some of these William & Mary famous alumni who have walked across the Crim Dell Bridge. It’s all pretty much built upon this history. And that’s what William & Mary means to me.

You’re part of the spotswood society right? Can you tell me about that.

So the spotswood society gives tours of the wren building, so we know this building front and back. We know all the history, so if anyone has a question or just wants to know about the building we can answer it.

What do you think are some things about W&M’s history that most people don’t know?

I think most people don’t know that this building was burnt down three times. But I think they also don’t know that this building was built by slavery. I don’t know if they don’t know it, but they tend to push it towards the back of their minds. As part of the Spotswood Society, it is part of our job to make sure that comes to the forefront.

Could you talk about that a little bit? I want to learn more about it.

This building was built by actual slaves and was managed by slaves. Where we have the sunken gardens now is where slaves used to be chopping wood and management for the building. Students here in 1700’s, some people used to be allowed to bring their slaves with them, to clean their rooms and stuff. That is usually not something that is advertised.

Do you think that affects the way we think about W&M and its legacy?

I think it should. I think that students should know that there is this past history. It is an issue that has affected me obviously because I do a lot of social justice work on campus. I think it should affect everyone . I know in the past there has been issues with the Thomas Jefferson statue. And I think they are valid. If we are going to idolize these people, then we should know the bad parts too. Same with the school. If we idolize the school, we should know the bad parts too.

Has that affected your personal views or experiences at the college?

I think it shapes some of my interactions at the university. Sometimes the history and its past issues with slavery and race are ignored here on campus. I think a select group of people who are like “This is what happened, now everyone else needs to see it.” A lot of time it is just ignored. It made me hesitant to join the Spotswood Society a little bit. I wanted it to be a big part of what we talk about. And I know they have been pushing it recently, and now it is a part of our training. We are required to have some knowledge of it. It is very slight.

Do you think there are ways that W&M can get better at those types of issues?

Even the brochures that we have, they don’t necessarily have much about slavery. This is more like “This is where the rich white boys came in the 1700s.” Maybe they will mention the Native American School across the street and how some of them were in this class in this building separated from white students by partition. But I think it is important that it is more in your face when you walk in the building.

So observationally I notice that you are reading a book on race in North America. How has taking those classes been part of your experiences here.

I think it has definitely been important. It has definitely pushed things into perspective with history and put into perspective civil rights and other slavery issues seen in the United States. I definitely think it is important and honestly should be a requirement that everyone takes a class here related to that topic. It really opens your life to things going on around you, in other aspects too not just race.

Anything else that you want to talk about during the time that I am here, about you, life, Spotswood?

I would just say for anyone interested in Spotswood to just do it. I think it  is even more important that more students of color join spotswood too, there are too few of us. And when people of color talk about these issues, it puts it in perspective.

I hear that Spotswood Society does sleepovers in Wren.

I think once a semester we have the building for a night and we usually sleep in the building, which is kind of creepy. And our senior year too, there is another tradition where there is a crypt underneath the chapel, and we go crypt crawling. So there’s more than just history, there is some cool perks.

Any other cool perks that people interested should know about?
We usually do lantern tours around parents weekend and all go together in Colonial Williamsburg to Chowning’s Tavern or something like that. That’s always fun.

Living History

My name is Cody, I am a senior and I am visiting W&M this semester from Siena College through the NIAHD program. It is a partnership between the CW and the history department. During my semester here, I am studying Colonial history and I am interning in CW.

What made you decide to take part in this?

I am an American History major. Ever since I was little I have always been interested in the American Revolution. Fast forward a couple of years and I was applying to Siena, I learned about this program, of which I would actually be the fifth student at Siena to participate in. Being able to engage with the American Revolution in a different way has been a really great experience. I have been able to learn a lot of new perspectives. Being in Virginia, it has a very different experience with the Revolution and growing up in New York, the narrative is very dominated by the Massachusetts experience, so that has been very great. Also being down here I have been able to see William and Mary which has been just a great community of people.

Every day I have been here, I have been very impressed by William and Mary in a very different fashion, from the work ethic that people have to the kind interactions between people and their dedication to their work, it has been very inspiring and motivating to me and my work, to just keep working hard. I have really enjoyed W&M, I would really like to come back here someday.

I am always curious about other Colleges, so it is cool to hear you share that experience. What do you think is different about where you come from in Siena at W&M?

I have compared Siena and W&M in quite a few ways. They are both different atmospheres. I wouldn’t say I don’t like Siena, I love my college and looking back on my college decision, I made the right choice. I love the community there. It is a bit smaller, it is close knit, I have been able to study what I wanted to study. I have always been a very spread out person, I will be graduating in May with a double major in history and political science, and I will be finishing up with minors in German, Broadcast Journalism, pre-law, Revolutionary era studies, and in the honors program.

I am finishing up seven different programs, the most of any student in Siena, and last semester I came out of serving six E-boards, two jobs on campus, and so I have been very busy. I was named Siena’s busiest kid on campus, they did a magazine spread on that. It was a riot.

So I guess in that regard I really like where I have been. But coming here I have been able to see things in a different way. Particularly I have loved the students in my program that are from different colleges as well, and the kids that I have met living in Barrett Hall. I have met kids that I have been able to engage with intellectually in a very diverse way, people here are very big thinkers and having that kind of intellectually stimulating conversations has been so refreshing. And I think that about the resources here too. It’s been great to engage with the culture of having CW right there and an ancient 325 year old campus, and to engage with that space, and to engage with people here than are enthusiastic about the arts, and showing up to the shows and the recitals, and the concerts, to see people engage with the traditions on campus, it has been such a culture I have loved being part of.

Everything my friend who did this program two years ago said about the program and more. He had so much FOMO in telling me about this program because he wants to be back here too. Everything he described and more has been really great.

Sometimes I think being here for a long time, especially being a senior, we take things for granted.

As a history major and an aspiring historian, I look into the nostalgia of places very much, and I eat into it. I guess what I mean by that is what other people have been here, what other things have happened here, and in a place like WIlliamsburg, as Virginia’s capital from 1699 until 1780, we have had some of the most prolific leaders of our nation’s early history that our students go on runs every morning and our students walk down with their Aroma’s coffee. We end up going and ringing the bell in the same building and the same halls that so many have walked through.Something as a historian I like to do is trying to get in the heads of these people, whether it be through the oral tradition, taking the clues of documents, and trying to recreate that experience.

I mean the building I live in Barrett Hall, is older than my college that I go to normally, this was founded in in 1926 and my college was founded in 1937. So there is something about having that shared experience with so many people, over so many years, over so many generations and thinking about all of the things that have changed during that time.Seeing that there is a campus that has witnessed so much history, and a college that was founded here before we were founded as a nation, there’s just something special about that. There are these big ideas, and I eat into that very much. There are a lot of these ideas and research questions that I would really like to pursue in grad school like how our nation’s leadership has been shaped out of people that grew out of here, and how the people that engaged with Williamsburg ended up shaping our country. I am really interested in Colonial history and Presidential history.  It has been a good mix, and having that engagement with history with the area has really been terrific.

One of the things I really appreciate of special collections is that they keep track of so much, for the people that will share that experience later on. I was doing research for my honors thesis on something that is very NY specific, on the history of Grover Cleveland, who is a very forgettable President, but I ended up going and they have all this information on him, who by all modern standards is very forgettable. This college impresses me in so many ways.

So you talk about history and nostalgia, so I think I think something that I often have a hard time with is reconciling our history. For instance the Wren Building was built by slaves and for many colonial history wasn’t a period that you could be nostalgic about because you couldn’t participate in it the same way. As a historian, how do you reconcile this?

There’s a lot of really big points in there. Williamsburg’s history is one that is really hard to reconcile at some points. One of the main things about colonial williamsburg is that if you are picturing the landscape and picturing the experience of people in the 1600s, one of the things that you have to remember is that 52 percent of Williamsburg’s population was enslaved.

The Special Collections has a list and a roster of all the people that the College of William & Mary owned. They just named Lemon Hall after one of those slaves. That is just one of many instances in our nation’s history. We have so much in our history to celebrate, but we also have so many things to question. I guess before coming here one of the biggest things that has changed my perspective of looking at it is how professors in the history department look at the founding fathers more critically than I ever would have before I ever came here.

I guess in childhood nostalgia in learning about the founding fathers, I would consider myself more of a celebrant of them. I just visited mount vernon with one of my classes on Thursday and I really do play into that. But you also have to think that these people did own these other people, you also have to think that states south of us ended up moving Native Americans halfway across the country in the 1830s Trail of Tears to a place that they weren’t familiar with and wasn’t their home, you have to think about World War II and Japanese internment camps, and you have to think of so many points in our history.

And to reconcile that is to recognize that in our history as many things as there are to celebrate, there are many things to heed caution to. There are things that we need to learn from, from our own history, and the world’s history. And to document that accordingly and to document those experiences. One of the things that I really like about Mount Vernon is that they have an ongoing oral history project right now that they started in 2015, that they are reaching out and trying to find descendants of slaves that were owned by George Washington and were on Mount Vernon to capture the traditions and the stories that have been passed down for generations. I think there is a lot of value in projects like that. There is just so much to learn from our history.

There are many instances like that where there is the opportunity to learn more and dive into our history. Because there are just so many stories to tell.

I took a class in VA plantations and I learned about the enslaved person’s experience and being able to learn about it in a place where slavery took place has opened my eyes to history in a different viewpoint, especially hearing from native virginians on their takes on it. Also within my field of history, I have also been considering the field differently.

Before I came here I never knew that there was a discernment between academic historians and public historians, public historians being people that work in museums and academic researchers being professors. They don’t always see eye to eye, but there is kind of symbiotic relationship between the two. Williamsburg is one of the most practical applications of that. Exploring that has been really eye opening.

I think on a personal level, I have been learning more things by taking this semester as a study abroad experience, a study back in time experience, by going out of my comfort zone, trying new things, making  the most out of this experience through the people I have met, and to be outgoing and not hesitant to reach out to people and make new experiences. I think it is those connections and those experiences that have made everything so worthwhile. I have learned so much about being intellectually stimulated in conversation, being able to have that shared experience with others in that way, and it has been really eye opening to me too.

I am interning at the print shop in CW. I usually work every monday. I have been doing in costume, learning about being an 18th century printer’s apprentice. During that time, I have been working on capturing that experience. I have done everything from what a printer’s apprentice would learn like doing press work and I have also given a couple of tours to W&M students. I gave a tour to Barrett RA’s.

I also had the German house come in and do a session learning about printing, bookbinding, and German printing. I got to do their tour of the printing office. I really enjoy getting into costume though, it is an interesting experience.

How did you get into that experience?

My friend Alex who came here two years ago did more behind the scenes work, like computer generation and helping them with their website. My advisor for this program wanted me to do more archival research and that is what one of my friends is doing. I wanted to do more of the interpretation end of it. Part of that is led by wanting to experience history in more of a hands on way and the other part was inspired by the part that I do love to act and getting into costume. I did a lot of drama in high school, and did tons of musicals and plays throughout my high school career. Getting into costume, I thought it would be a lot of fun and I could step into the experience. I applied to the program in the Spring, I had my eye on the program for a while now, for almost three years now.

I had a lot of conversations with my advisers. They were like “I don’t think you will be able to fit it in,” and I was like “Well I will make it work.” I was glad that I was able to. I was able to choose what kind of trade I was able to do. I gravitated towards the print shop. I got to choose what kind of trade I got to do, looking at the different trades I gravitated towards the print shop because I am a journalism major and because I thought I have previously worked at a radio station. And this is 18th century radio. This is the way communication is happening.

Newspaper and the press is the way that communication is disseminated. We have newspapers that we are working on, for instance, people will see a newspaper that is printed on July 5th 1776 and people will buy it and think “Oh, the Declaration of Independence! It must be printed in there.” But in reality, it wasn’t printed until July 19th or so. Because they had no idea that it will happen in that time period. It ends up shaping how the Revolution is captured.

I have really enjoyed working in the print shop, I have another friend that works in the archives and she really loves it. The internship is a really integral part of the program that I am doing. One requirement is the internship and the other is taking a field trip class. Every Wednesday this semester from 8-5, our class has gotten into a little van and gone to all these places across Virginia, which has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all these different aspects of Virginia. Everything from women’s history, to the enslaved experience, everything from the gentrys experience, from Jamestown to Yorktown and Mount Vernon, it has been absolutely fascinating experience.

Why did you decide to come here senior year?

That is another question that I have gotten often. Other people have asked, “Well don’t you want to go through your last hurrah at your own school?” And yes, I was asked “do you have a lot of FOMO about not being there while all your friends are up there?” Sometimes. This was a program that had a really straight goal and I had backup plans in case this didn’t work out.

I was going to come spring semester junior year, which is a really popular time to go abroad, until one of my advisers pointed out that there is this class that you have to take if you are doing an honors thesis, and it happens to be spring semester junior year. So I chose to come here first semester senior year.

And I think it was a really good semester for me to come here in hindsight. If I didn’t come here this semester, I wouldn’t have met the people in my residence hall, which has been one of the best takeaways that I have had. Also I have been able to experience a college with an excellent law school and an excellent grad school. So I have been able to figure out the grad school search while here.

It has helped me step away from the  competition and the kind of high paced nature that I know my friends at Siena have. So while I know while they are getting more cutthroat than I like, as for who is going to what law school and what grad school, I have been able to take a step back from that and figure it out at my own pace. I’ve been able to get different opinions, and I have even been interested in studying at W&M or the DC area.

It also changed my perspective because I never thought I would leave the Capital Region of NY. That is kind of my home base, where I love the history, I am familiar with the resources. And I don’t know I have just had a changed perspective just by coming down to VA for a couple of months. It has been pretty good.
That’s just another thing about being here. People are just very supportive of each other here. I noticed the same thing when I toured law school, there is that same sense of collegiality. I know there are some law schools where there are people ripping each other’s textbooks. The TWAMP experience is very collegial and people are supporting each other in their endeavors, and there is not that same sense of competition, but there is that desire to dedication. And I know that I have several peers that are going on to do great things, they are very ambitious in their work endeavors. Not that I haven’t seen that at Siena, but the level that people are about that, and the amount of support people give to each other for that just speaks greatly about the community here.

Would you consider yourself a TWAMP?

I have been told that I fit the build by some of my friends. And I have asked them “Why do you say that?” And they said because I have end up having the same academic and the same getting involved ambitions, I guess on campus getting involved outside  of classes I have gone to some RHA meetings (I was VP of operations at Siena for 2 years), I started going to WCWM meetings, starting up radio shows there, and some of my friends have said “you’ve really put yourself out there.” And I just see it as putting yourself into what is around you. I love how so many people put themselves into what is around them too. There is just so much and so many opportunities, so many communities to be a part of, things that I really love – like the fact that we have such a rich acapella community here.

Oh yes, we have so many acapella groups. We have at least 14 or 15 at this point. One of my friends recently started FLOW, specifically for voices from diverse backgrounds that might not be represented in the mainstream acapella community.

That’s fantastic, and I just went to the law school and they have their own acapella group called Lawcapella. I was the music director of a capella group last year, and will be returning next semester. I love the fact that there is a supportive music culture. We don’t always feel that at Siena, there isn’t a music department, we have a creative arts department that is more interdisciplinary, so there is a tight knit community in that sphere but not always across campus.

But here you get a a history major, a government major, a film major, a physics major, a business major, and a bio major together to go to an orchestra concert together. I really appreciate that kind of thing. I love that there is an improv community here – I went to my first improve experience I think ever – Sandbox Improv – they did an excellent job.

I remember going to the activities fair and being overwhelmed by the clubs for all of the niche groups, and that was simply outstanding. I think the fact that the community is a bit larger than Siena offers a lot of opportunities.

Last two questions, we’ve been talking for a while now, but earlier you described as a senior you are graduating with many different majors (wow) and were described as the busiest person on campus, how would you reflect upon that experience and why do you do what you do?

I guess if you look back to HS and even middle school, I have a reputation of being everywhere.

(Chuckles heartily). I am only laughing at that because I have the same thing.

And I meet a lot of people that are like that. That is also one of the things I appreciate about W&M, being so involved in things, I don’t stand out, but I have friends that have the same experiences. Being everywhere, and you can probably attest to this too, I guess I ended up joining a lot of clubs and acquiring a diverse array of academic interests. When it came time for undergrad, they were like, “you got to narrow it down to something.” And I said “Do I really?” I didn’t necessarily. Instead of just narrowing down on just focusing on just this history, this political science major, and then ended up still pursuing all those interests I still had in high school and I have made it work somehow.

The more that I have been thinking about history, and I decided I wanted to go to grad school for history, I have been learning more and more how all the different programs I have had play into one another and how they enhance my experience of what I can bring to the table. Being involved in a lot of clubs too has given me an outlet for things outside of classes. Being in a ton of leadership positions and being on a smaller campus, it makes it easier to do that sometimes. One of my jobs on campus is working for the school of liberal arts and working for the dean of the liberal arts as her office assistant, so I have been able to get my hands in grant writing, research that will be released this fall, and research for a communications major that will be offered next fall.

I was involved in two rounds of searching for the next dean of liberal arts. Having those types of experiences I have been able to represent Siena last fall to visit some alumni in Washington DC one was the director of national drug control policy and the other was deputy director of the Department of National Intelligence. So I got to tour the CIA and the White House. And that was a great experience.

I have a done a lot and I try not to talk about myself ad nauseum, but reflecting on it having done so much in many different ways – I wouldn’t say in graduate studies I would narrow myself down so much, but I want to focus on history and I want to lay my sights on some goals I can make academically and figure out what I want to pursue after grad school, and look for ways to foster all of these interests.

One of my biggest historical interests Benjamin Franklin was a renaissance man, you can’t just assign one title to him, you have to assign at least 20. He has so many talents he is attributed with, and I would like to keep that same vein, being able to have thoughts and be knowledgeable about so many things is definitely a part of the liberal arts education, where you think horizontally instead of vertically. You start to think how something applies to a multitude of ways instead of just one. I plan to do what I can to help who I can, to be inspired and hopefully inspire a next generation. Keep working hard because that is what a good TWAMP does.

Last question: What are some of the experiences or memories that you will take with you and remember as you move into the next phase of life?

One of the biggest things I am going to miss is our weekly field trips. I am going to miss having the luxury of going to a different historical site every Wednesday and calling that historical site my classroom. I am a big proponent of field trips and I have been known by teachers and professors alike to lobbying for field trips whenever I can. I have been very successful a couple of times in very BSable ways. I was able to talk into one of my professors into one by asking her, “Dr. Drogan how can we make this a field trip class?” And we were talking about this class the history of technology, and we were brainstorming all the places we could go on a field trip, and she was like “yeah we can do it.” So we did end up taking a field trip.

If I am ever a professor one day, I would love to get into the classroom, I would love to teach classes where we can experience history at a historical site. I am taking a class next semester where it is being taught at the NY capitol building. I am really excited about that because that is one of my favorite historical sites. So I will definitely miss being able to go to a different place each week and being able to travel, I will miss that.

I am going to miss being in the Barrett lounge, just hanging out with the people i have been able to meet, going to Late Night and having deep intellectual conversations over coffee and chicky nug nugs, and being able to go to CW each week in costume, going down DOG street from the 18th century and back, there’s a lot of nostalgia things that I will miss at W&M.

And with that, as I have been trying to recount on those memories before I leave, I have been trying  keep proper documentation and tie things up before I leave, I have been trying to leave things in a way where I keep in touch with the community. With that I want to take my experience here and use it as an opportunity. I am hoping with the ways I have been able to get involved in museums or history, I can get involved with the historical society or with museums.

I have been looking at my local towns recently and there are a lot of local historical sites that might be demolished, with Revolutionary and Civil War history attached to it. It has never been looked at as a museum, but opportunities that my local communities can take more advantage of the local history that it has. I would love to take a closer look at even the history of my own college campus, looking at the local area. I feel like I have learned a lot of tools here and I would like to be that fresh set of eyes, to work with other historians to try and make those things possible.

I would also like to go back to my friends in good old New York with a different sense of having these big ideas and taking a bit more pride in having those conversations, thinking about different academic topics and current issues, and taking the supportive atmosphere of W&M this hype and keep it going. I am looking forward to those opportunities. I am really looking forward to seeing my family again. I miss them a lot. I haven’t seen them since my mom and my brother left helping me move in. I look forward to seeing my family again, and I am looking forward to all of that, visiting museums, and analyzing them/evaluating them in a different way.

I am looking forward to seeing where my friends, especially some of the very ambitious ones, they end up. Because I like being part of that story. They have all been part of mine. I am excited for that. And I am still trying to get over that FOMO of the last couple of weeks, because there is a lot to look forward to.

From Charter to Diversity of History

What are your first associations with the Charter?

I associate the Charter with history and tradition, and probably royalty, you know, “here ye, here ye, the king wrote this.” But then you think about what it entails and what it doesn’t entail and, more specifically, who it doesn’t entail, and you’re like, “Oh gosh, dang!” We almost did it. We did something great, but it could have been better. I love William & Mary, and because I love it so much, I have to criticize and question it in order to make it better.

What are the great parts of the Charter and what could’ve been better?

I think the main thing was founding a center for education. I think that’s a really great thing, and probably the only great thing. I think a lot of people would say that we were progressive for our time and that we were inclusive. And I think that’s a lie. In the grand scheme of life, a life is a life – no matter what kind of condition or parameter you put around it. So denying somebody something as basic as education is disheartening. It is going out and purposefully trying to make someone not succeed. Our society revolves around our economy, and you need to be self-sufficient in order to be successful. And in order to be successful, you need an education. So, if you’re denying somebody an education, you’re denying them their life. And that isn’t something that anybody should take away from someone – especially an institution, especially a college that stands for providing the best liberal arts education. So, to celebrate something that is celebrating the fact that we were denying people an education for such a long time is…ironic. I think that’s the best lighthearted word I could use, ironic. Maybe it’s because of the misconceptions surrounding the question “what is history?” that we tend not to realize that history is written from the perspective of a certain population – more specifically, white males who have money and whose families have influence. Once you realize the bias in our history books, and realize how limited our perspective of our past is, you will realize we’ve excluded all of the other histories from that time frame. In my opinion, it’s not a true history unless it’s a comprehensive body of stories from different peoples of that time.

This isn’t meant to be a hateful bash on the Charter or on the history of our college – because it’s quite phenomenal. Like, we did an impressive thing, you know, being here for 323 years. But I think we tend to idolize our founding fathers and even idolize historians to a certain extent. We fail to realize that not everybody is perfect. We need to start being okay with it not being okay and understanding that we, as human beings, can only strive to get better. It’s okay to admit that we’re wrong sometimes.

Having a day to celebrate the Charter is great, but I’m realizing that maybe it’s not the appropriate vocabulary. Maybe it’s triggering for some people to know that they’re walking in a land and a space that their ancestors built and weren’t given credit. But I’m not sure that the College is always able to acknowledge that, because we like to value a certain history and tradition.

I think initiatives like the Lemon Project are great. They try to highlight those things, but their initiatives are not heavily acknowledged by our College community. That might say something about the College and our students. Who really knows? But, maybe instead of celebrating this document, we should move towards just celebrating how long we have been here in general. I think most people would call that an anniversary or a birthday. When I turn 21, I hope would people say “Happy Birthday!” not “Happy founding of your life.” I think people underestimate how powerful language is and how much good, but also how much hurt, we can instill with our words. So I think Charter Day is great in terms of bringing the community together but maybe not great in the ideals that are behind it.

What qualities would you like to see instilled in future Charter Day celebrations? How would you want to make it better?

My intentions are not to devalue the Charter in any way. The Charter is a piece of our history and it will always be a part of our history. But I think we need to acknowledge the fact that it could be a triggering word and that it was also a document that excluded the majority of our population – well not a majority, that’s a lie – but a good amount of our student body and faculty and staff.

How did you start thinking critically about the Charter?

I would say I never really thought critically about the Charter itself, but more about the underlying history of William & Mary.

For me specifically, my race, my ethnicity, the environment I grew up in, and the current environment at W&M started making me think about William & Mary and our past. Being a minority in a predominantly white high school and then coming to a predominantly white college, it was pretty similar, just on a bigger scale.

I still didn’t think racism existed during my freshman year. It’s like a defense mechanism where you choose to ignore certain things that happen to you because they will bring you down. Because if somebody constantly puts you down by criticizing your intelligence, where you come from, how you dress, or how you talk, it’s much easier to just zone it out and ignore it. I think coming here it became a bit more difficult because I experienced it more often. I’d be in classes with students or just at a party, and someone would say something offensive, either directly or in the form of a micro-aggression. So I think the environment and, you know, my background made me think about it. But also taking Africana Studies classes – it was like proof that I wasn’t crazy, in a way. It was like, “Oh this happens, this is a systematic thing that happens in this country.”

What was cool about it was that it wasn’t just like students of color in this class. There were a lot of white American kids sitting there learning. I think it was interesting to hear their point of view, and how they were like, “Wow, I just never knew,” or “Help me understand better.”

So those classes helped me a lot, in terms of putting into words how I was feeling. They made me realize that it was a real phenomenon that happens to people. So, essentially, realizing that racism can take the form of micro-aggressions, appropriations, any type of prejudice, is what made me think about William and Mary and our past. I wanted to better understand why and how some students think how they do, and what I could do to better our community.

Once I realized there was a problem the next question I asked was, “why does this problem exist?” That’s when I’d be like, “Ok, well, we’re a country that has been founded on the concept of slavery, the concept of belittling others, the concept of capitalism”.

There is this one article I like on history and how we idolize certain figures. It’s basically saying how a lot of times in history we look to pinpoint the enemy. It could be anything from the winners of our wars, to who is the more successful nation – literally everything. It asks why we do this and if this is what leads us to create these social constructs of race and what have you. So why don’t we shift the focus to the struggle, instead of who was the winner? What was going on and why did this conflict even happen? I feel like history does not put enough of a focus on this.

It’s as if we were asking the wrong question. We’re asking who when it should be why.

Right, and we always demand a resolution. We have to have an answer to everything. If it was true history, and truly portraying what happened, there wouldn’t be an answer to everything. Because, you know, it’s life. So why do we continually ignore the fallibility in history, and why don’t we question our history books more? Do the authors of our history books have an influence on how we portray history? I believe it does.

That’s so fascinating, because sometimes we’ve looked to history as if it were a novel with a clear conflict, resolution, and ending. But everyone is going to have a different perception of what actually happened.

Right, but the diversity of authors writing our history books is poor. Look in your textbook, and look up the authors. Is there someone of color? Is there someone of the LGBTQ community? Try to look for whose truths are missing when you’re reading, because if there is somebody that you can name as missing, then it is not a truly collective history.

And usually whoever is in power makes up the smaller portion of the population. So there could be a majority that isn’t in power, even though they’re higher in numbers – their story isn’t told.

Yeah, I mean that happens with a lot of things. I don’t know why. It’s just an interesting phenomenon. Maybe we just need more historians. William and Mary – keep making historians. Fund the Lemon Project. Fund diversity initiatives. Put it at the forefront.


Adapting to Change

“As also, that the said President, and masters or pro-fessors, and their successors shall have one common seal, which they make use of in any whatsoever cause and business belong-ing to them and their successors; and that the President, and masters or professors of the said College, and their successors, shall have leave to break, change and renew, their said seal, from time to time, at their pleasure, as they shall see most expedient.”

“To me, this quote embodies overall how William and Mary has conducted itself historically. The College began so long ago that it was in a completely different time in history: socially, economically, and politically. In the same way that the Constitution was written at a different time for a different type of people, this charter was written at a different time for a different people. But this is a very forward-thinking passage in the charter because it leaves room for the possibility of times changing and priorities changing and I think that is very important in an institution as old as William and Mary. Especially for an institution as old as William and Mary, it’s inevitable that the College will go through a lot of changes and social shifts; the country around the College is going to shift in multiple ways. So I think having this part in the charter is important in allowing the College to adapt to the changing times, changing priorities, and changing goals. Even if they’re just talking about the seal, I feel like it applies overall to the vision of the College.

The ideologies of those attending the school are inevitably going to change. The demographic of the school has changed from including women to including people of African-American heritage, and that will change the goals of the College and the vision of the College because of the new group of people involved in it. This just shows an amazing amount of forward-thinking for a College with this much historic tradition. I think that it’s great to see that it wants to stay relevant. As much as tradition is an important part of our college, which is why we’re celebrating Charter Day, I think it’s also really awesome to know that our college prioritizes being a relevant, beneficial university for multiple kinds of people in multiple time periods.”

From three schools to 100 majors

Anna 02cAre you a history major?


What has been your favorite class that you’ve taken?

“Well, right now for the Capstone Seminar I’m taking is about the French Revolution, which is fascinating because I briefly studied it in middle school and high school, but it was very brief. So now, taking it as an upper-level history course, I’m learning quite a bit about it, which to me, has just been fascinating.”

What has the history of the school meant to you and your time here?

“I want to say everything, honestly. That’s why I came here. I didn’t come here for the sports – I came here for the academics and definitely for the history of the school. Nowhere else are you going to find a school that’s so prideful about its history. And the Wren Building is just so grand, and when you enter campus and see the Sunken Gardens, and the Ancient and Old Campuses, that’s definitely its selling point to me.”

Have you always known that you wanted to be a history major?

“Yeah, pretty much. My dad was a history major, not here, but we went to a lot of historic sites when I was a kid, so then deciding to be a history major wasn’t exactly much of a surprise.”

Do you visit the surrounding colonial areas, like Yorktown?

“I’ve been to Jamestown and Yorktown, Yorktown when I was younger on a field trip. I haven’t had the time to go to the new museum. I went to Jamestown as a celebration of the end of the semester last spring – I just spent the day in Jamestown. I dragged my sister and my mom along. And I try to go to Colonial Williamsburg at least once or twice a week. Usually I just walk around or go inside some of the houses.”

So do you talk to the Colonial actors who work there?

“Some of them actually come onto campus. I met one of the interpreters near my dorm once – he is an alum here.”

How do you want history to shape your life?

“Well, in addition to history, I’m studying economics. I just love learning about history. Majoring in history, it’s a lot of reading and writing and researching. So I would like to apply that to my future job hopefully. If I did work within the field, I’ll stay on the researching side of it.”

So you like to do research?

“Yeah I do. I’m not doing an independent study or anything right now. I don’t have a lot of time for it quite yet.”

What’s your favorite history course you’ve taken so far?

“Last semester, I took Gender History of Slavery and Emancipation with Professor Rosen. That was probably one of the best courses I’ve taken because I didn’t know much about slavery, the Civil War, or Reconstruction. It’s very well documented but they cut it short when teaching it in at least Virginia public schools in middle and high school. So when you actually take a college course on the subject you get so much more. It was definitely eye-opening. And we read so much in that class. We read a lot of narratives written by slaves. It was really fascinating. And in terms of Virginia and William and Mary, it was all very interesting. William and Mary has its own past with slavery, which is in no way excuses the practice but in a way marks the school as a product of its time. Although William and Mary wasn’t the only Colonial College involved with slavery. Many of the Ivies and William and Mary were financed from donations from slave owners and traders. I know now, William and Mary has the Lemon Project, a project dedicated in researching the College’s past involvement in slavery and racial discrimination.”

What would be your dream historical place to visit?

“It’s pretty close, I just haven’t been there. Colonial Williamsburg is very unique; they call it a living history museum. There are only a handful the United States that are similar to that, and I know Plymouth has their own living history museum. And I really want to visit Roanoke in North Carolina because I’ve always been fascinated by that story and the mystery behind it. I’m from Virginia so it’s not too far away, I just haven’t been there yet.”

So what does the Charter specifically mean to you?

“The Charter obviously created William and Mary, the second oldest college, and also the oldest in the south. They started off with three schools: the school of grammar, the school of divinity, and the school of philosophy. Those are the original three, and it’s interesting how much we’ve branched out. Now we have about 100 majors and minors and obviously we don’t have the religious affiliation anymore, being a public university, but just the fact that we’ve branched out is a big deal to me. And because they didn’t have very many American colleges, students had to go abroad which was usually a very big deal for the planters’ class in Virginia. They had to go to England or Continental Europe, and going overseas was already kind of risky, so having an American university here, even just a school in the mid-Atlantic, that was a pretty big breakthrough.”

Have you studied the Charter in any of your classes or in your research?

“In addition to being a tour guide of the Wren Building for the Spotswood Society, I also work in Special Collections in Swem, so I’ve actually seen the Charter. For either Parents Weekend or Alumni Weekend, they had a William and Mary-themed exhibit in special collections, so they had all things William and Mary all laid out, including the Charter. It was really cool. It’s actually pretty small, and there are multiple copies of it.”

Did you see the original or one of the copies?

“There are multiple copies of the Charter. When issuing a Charter, an important document like that, had multiple copies of it sent to Virginia and some kept in England. The Wren Building was actually where the library was for a number of years, at least during the Colonial period. But the Wren Building has also burned down three times, so that’s a problem. They saved the original Charter the school was given after the first fire, but I don’t think they were able to save it after the second or third. They still have a Charter since they made so many printings of it from the 18th-century, and I believe there is also a Latin version of the Charter. I know they have one in a different language, which I would imagine would be Latin.”

Building this community

Allison 02b_ Charter Day Interview with PedenIn celebration of the 323rd Birthday of the College, Humans of William & Mary presents to you a series of reflections on the Charter. Here we discussed the following quotes from the Charter: “…to make, found and establish a certain place of universal study, or perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences, consisting of one President, six Masters or Professors, and a hundred scholars more or less…”

What does that quote mean to you when it comes to Charter Day and the birth of the College?

“So, I think that quote really embodies everything about Charter Day. It’s meant to honor the history of the College, and celebrate the people who have made it so great. Really there is nothing that encompasses the history of the University, and looking back at where we came from. So, the one hundred students, and the six masters that kind of gives you a laugh to see how far that we’ve come. But I think it’s that tradition we still hold so close to our hearts. It’s never too far from our minds exactly what this University has gone through and what it means to not only us but the country really.”

What does Charter Day mean to you personally?

“I think Charter Day is an important moment in the community of William & Mary. Traditions are so important to us, but they have really brought Charter Day to the here and now. I think it’s wonderful how they balance the tradition that they are honoring with acknowledging and celebrating where the University is now. It’s always fun to hear about the concerts they bring or different entertainers that come to the College. All of my friends – it’s always a race to get tickets and to enjoy the time that we have here. Actually, my coach was here for the 300th anniversary. She has spoken to us about all the events that they put on. The whole college went to Busch Gardens and they threw a massive bash. Really just celebrating the history of the University. It’s fun to hear how it was so similar then to now. That we all still find that moment in time so important.”

How has the history of the College shaped your experience here?

“I think the history of the college has a different impact on every person that walks the bricks. My roommate is an anthropology major, so her access to the different opportunities in Colonial Williamsburg – there is a whole set of opportunities unique to William & Mary that are not available anywhere else because of our history. For a business major, it might be that William & Mary has so much of a connection to the country’s history. We have a different lens to view things through. Every moment in a classroom, a professor might look back at how things have changed and really bring a part of that lens to everything we do.”

When we say that it is William & Mary’s 323rd birthday, what does that number mean to you?

“323 is an interesting thing to put into perspective. So many of us travel and look at the rest of the world and the tremendous history that exists there. But coming back to William & Mary that really has the longest history of anywhere in the country – it is such a unique experience. 323 years is the beginning of America effectively. William & Mary has been such an integral part of that, and the growth of not only this area, but the country at large is really a hallmark of the Tribe. We all hold that idea very close to our hearts, and think of 323 years as a tremendous period for us to have come, but also, there is still a good ways for us to go. We all keep that eye to the future.”

Did the history have much to do with why you chose to come to William & Mary?

“I chose William & Mary because of the people. When I made the decision, I think you can’t consider the people of William & Mary without considering the history that brings these people together. I think even in the application process and in the admissions office – looking at the who they chose, honoring the history is such a large part of building this community. The people here are so important to me, and to my experience at William & Mary.”

History Means Something

In celebration of the 323rd Birthday of the College, Humans of William & Mary presents to you a series of reflections on the Charter. Here we discussed the following quotes from the Charter:

“…that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian faith may be propagated amongst the Western Indians, to the glory of Almighty God; to make, found and establish a certain place of universal study, or perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences, consisting of one President, six Masters or Professors, and an hundred scholars more or less, according to the ability of the said college, and the statutes of the same.”

What do you think of these quotes? We can start from the first one.

The first one is interesting, because it talks about the Christian faith and propagating that among Western Indians, etc. At this point, we are a public university, and so those things are not a part of campus at all any more. There is no religious affiliation. You know, the cross was taken down from Wren a few years back and there was a whole scandal about that. It’s very striking to read that that’s in the Charter, yet the daily reality of a student at William & Mary does not embody “the glory of Almighty God.” We do have a lot of active religious organizations on campus, but there is certainly an acceptance of any ideology on campus, so I think it’s not a bad thing that William & Mary today does not reflect the same idea of propagating religion, because I think it makes it a more inclusive environment. This Charter was made in 1693, and clearly that was a different time when religious connotations had a greater weight in society, so we should that evolution in a good way.

Does the Charter empower religious groups today?

The fact that the Charter speaks to religion does bear weight, in the sense that religious organizations on campus, regardless of what they may be, have the right to exist and to practice their faiths, rather than saying this is a public university and religion cannot be a part of student life in a public way. In that sense it is empowering. But there are a lot of people on campus who don’t adhere to a particular faith; they may be spiritual without prescribing to an organized religion, and I think that is now also a common thing that is completely well adopted by people of our generation. So there are both sides to the story. The Charter permits religious belief if you are interested in that, but at the same time, there is room to not be religious.

If that is not the core of the College any more, what do you think is the thing that we still inherit from the Charter?

The Charter talks about the existence of “professors and scholars, one hundred more or less.” Obviously, the College has grown considerably since that time. But I think something that William & Mary still holds very much at the core of its being is that commitment to undergraduate education, which the College definitely promotes. That has been carried forward from the Charter.

Being part of this campus community, we see history all around us. How has the history of the College shaped your experience?

The fact that the College is so old and has so much history bears a lot of significance. I remember very specifically my freshman year when we were taking the oath in the Great Hall of Wren. My OA was telling me how the marble steps to the Great Hall are actually slanted because many thousands of people have walked up the steps in taking the oath or entering that room for whatever reason. You become part of that greater historical context; you engage in the history by being in their same room and walking their same steps. It’s made me feel part of a larger community because there is so much history here. History also makes you aware of the systems of power and privilege. The College has a lot of facets to its history – involvement in the Civil War, talk of the Native Americans in the Charter itself – so I think it makes you aware that we are privileged to have a college education, and that systems of power have not always allowed people of all religions and races to have access to that. Our College has come from a different place and has moved to where we are today, becoming a much more universally accessible place now – that has shaped my experience in recognizing the diversity of opinions, beliefs and socioeconomic statuses.

You brought up the oath. Could you talk about how that sense of morality that the College tries to imbue in every student affects your academic career here?

I think that we take the oath not to lie, cheat or steal very seriously at the College. That’s played a part in academic honesty. Not that any students come here with the expectation of cheating their way through college or plagiarizing, but it holds you to an even higher standard. It is so much an honor system. You raise your hand and, with those words having come out of your mouth voluntarily, it weighs heavily upon you. It makes you aware that it is easy to share information in the wrong ways or to give people an unfair advantage. In my own personal academic experience, it gives me a greater sense of fairness – everyone being assessed equally. In high school, there wasn’t anything like that. It emphasizes the idea of making sure everyone here is on a level playing field.

Why do you think we are celebrating Charter Day?

I think it’s very special that our College still celebrates this Charter. Some people might say this document is over three hundred years old and it has no relevance to who we are today. They say it doesn’t reflect our values any more. But I think in celebrating the creation of this Charter, it helps us chart our history and track where we’ve come from, and appreciate where we are today, rather than taking that for granted. We recognize that there were people 323 years ago who made a commitment to an educational institution overseas – considering William & Mary and the new world – that’s really special. We are one of the oldest colleges in the country. That is not something that should be overlooked. There’s something to be proud of in being part of that history, and it would be a disservice to the community here to let that go, or not to keep that at the forefront of who we are.

In general, why do you think humans are so obsessed with history?

There are a lot of clichés about history like, “You have to know where you’ve come from to know where you are going.” There’s truth in these sayings. I think we are so interested in history as a culture, as a society, because it is the decisions we make that create our history. Looking back is a way to understand who we were and how it has brought to where we are today. Without understanding history, all you have is the present, which is a very decontextualized way to exist. History is foundational to any culture, because if you don’t have a history, how do you understand the values of your society, or whatever religious practices that exist, or your commitment to education and arts? Those things create culture.

What comes to you personally when people say the word “history”?

If you are not a student majoring in history or one of the humanities, at the College when you hear history, the first thing you think of is AP History, textbooks, something that might be a dry, boring conversation. But I think history, in reality, is a lively topic that has a lot of dynamic characters and a lot of interesting avenues to explore. When I think of history, I think of people more than dates or events. Even talking to my great-grandparents before they passed away, there is so much history that people have to share with you. Personal histories connect to history at large. For me, it is easier to understand history through the perspective of people than that of books or places.

You mentioned your great-grandparents. Have they told you any interesting stories?

My great-grandparents on both sides lived in Cuba. My dad was actually born in Cuba. They fled the country and came to the States when Castro rose to power. There was history – power dynamics and political ideology – behind that. We read about those in textbooks, but it’s all very real in my family. Especially nowadays, Cuba is kind of a hot topic with the lifting of the embargo. I am from Florida, and there is a large Cuban population, which is a modern-day artifact of what’s happened in Cuba. It is cool to live amidst that culture.

Back to our discussion about the College. We see in the Charter how founders of our College want some things to keep unchanged while others to morph over time. Sitting at this point in time of history, what do you think is to keep for the College and what is to change?

That’s a huge question, because you are altering over three hundred years of history. I think that we are seeing changes in current times. For example, we just had the flexible housing approved, and the all-gender bathrooms are established around campus. Positive changes have been made and are left to be made in the idea of inclusivity and acknowledging diversity. Those are changes that will be made as our generation gets more accustomed to those ideas and starts to accept them as part of daily life. Apart from that – there are so many facets of campus life – there’s been a push in recent years with mental health and suicide prevention. The College still has a long way to go in those aspects, in addition to sexual assault. There have been a lot of conversations and special teams put together. We get emails about that regularly from President Reveley. Not that those problems are unique to our campus, but I think there is always progress to be made in insuring that any academic environment is wholesome, safe and inclusive for anybody who wants to come here. Those are changes that will also be seen in future generations of students.

As for things to keep, there’s something special about the size of our campus, about the architecture and the beauty. I would hate to see the Sunken Gardens go. We’ll come back in fifty years and some iconic things will still be the same. I don’t think what gives the College its character should ever change. Also as we’ve talked about before, that commitment to undergraduates, how easy it is to get into a lab and do research with professors, to meet with them during office hours – that collaborative academic environment we have here is unique. It is not something to be meddled with in a lot of ways. The Admissions Office of William & Mary has a knack for finding very unique characters. I don’t think I’ve ever met two people on campus that are overly similar. It’s hard to say “you remind me of so and so who also goes here.” Everyone here is different in their own way. That is also something that will continue to exist.

People here are very welcoming. The Tribe is a welcoming place to be. I have a particular story that accentuates that fact. When I was a senior in high school and I had gotten my acceptance letter for William & Mary. Over spring break that year I decided to come tour the campus, because Florida is a long way from Virginia so I didn’t want to come tour until I knew I got in. I visited, and at the end of the tour, my tour guide asked if any people were already accepted to the College. I was the only one who raised my hand, so I got a lot of stares for that. But then after the tour ended, she took me aside and gave me a little extra walk around the campus. She talked with me for maybe an extra thirty minutes, gave me her email and phone number, and we kept in touch throughout the summer. I committed to William & Mary, came here, and we were friends all through my undergraduate career. I was the first person to go on her tour that actually came here, so she referred to me as her tour baby. That really stood out to me because I toured a lot of places and never had that kind of welcoming experience. So that’s definitely something I would like to see in future generations of students, that excitement about where you are, being proud of where you come from and wanting to share that with other people, to invite other people into your community.