Realizing Your Truth

Emily 02a

E: What’s been the happiest moment of your life?

Happiest moment of my life. Oh, I would have to say it is when I got full custody of my daughter. When she was five. I got full custody of Kaylee and I was able to raise her. And she’s actually in the Navy here stationed in Norfolk. So, we’re able to have a relationship now, which is awesome. I’d say that was the happiest moment of my life—when that happened. 

E: Is she your only son or daughter? 

She is. She’s 20 and I’m 39. So she’s been in the Navy for a couple years. She was on the Lincoln and now she’s on the George Washington. 

E: Oh, you must be so proud. 

I really am. It’s just…we’ve kind of had an interesting past few years. We’ve been all over the country. We left Tennessee in 2014, moved to Colorado, moved to Oregon, moved to California, and finally we’re here. So, we’ve kind of been all over the place. 

E: So has that been because of her involvement in the Navy?

No, so I’m a software developer, so I work remotely. It’s just one of those things where we just decided to leave Tennessee and travel the country, go on adventures, and that kind of thing. We’re both kind of rolling stones a bit. 

E: That’s amazing. As somebody who is a child and doesn’t have children, it must be really cool to raise somebody and see them grow and develop. 

Yeah, it’s, I yeah, I’m really lucky. We’re kind of each other’s best friends. She’s married now. Her husband Chase, he’s a really awesome guy, but her and I, we have a great relationship.

E: What do you think are some of her best characteristics?

Oh gosh. Kaylee is…I think one of the best things about her is her sense of humor. She’s able to laugh at herself and she’s able to, you know, she takes things seriously when she needs to. She’s funny. She’s genuinely a funny person. Like she’ll make me laugh laugh. When we hang out, it’s basically just laughing non-stop basically throughout the whole day. So I’d have to say that’s my favourite thing about her. 

E: Is that one of the biggest things she’s added to your life other than friendship?

The thing that Kaylee’s added to my life is she has… like your kids call out everything that you have. They force you to be the best version of you that you can be. So Kaylee is like..maybe I’m going to bounce something off of her when she’s older, like as a teenager. Like I chose to involve her in things going on in my work stuff and talk to her as I would with any other friend. And she’s into that kind of stuff. 

E: That’s awesome. 

Kaylee, she’s just pushed me to be the best version of myself. And always forcing me to question what I think. You know, well, why do I think this? Or is this response to her the best one that I can do?

E: Oh, that’s a great father-daughter relationship. That’s really special.

Thanks. Yeah, like I said, I got lucky. I got lucky. 

E: And so, if you don’t mind me asking, were you ever unsure if you would not get custody of your daughter? How did it feel to go through that?

From when Kaylee was a year to when she was five, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I spent a lot of nights, a lot of birthdays wondering where Kaylee was and wondering when I was going to see her again. And it was just a very difficult…it was a hard time in my life.

It was a hard time. But, you know, I just kept pressing on and hoping something would turn out and, you know, I was losing the battles but I would win the war kind of thing. But yeah, it was questionable for a while for sure. 

E: It must be hard to simplify everything that went on, too, and because I’m sure so much went on. 

With parenting there’s no manual. There’s no guide. You’re winging it. You’re winging it! For me, I winged it for 13 years. You know, each day I knew a little more and I knew a little more, a little more, a little more. But, feelings of “I don’t know what I’m doing”…that never really goes away. Because, you know, the things they go through when you’re 15 are different from when they’re five. And so, yeah, you have an idea of kind of what has worked in the past but with different problems that have different solutions. So I guess the takeaway from that is that in parenting, you never feel like you know what you are going. You always feel like you’re winging it. 

E: Well it sounds like there has been a good result out of all of that. 

Yeah, so far, it’s gone really well. So I’m thankful for that. 

E: This one loves you, too!

Yeah, so Bosa. As I said, I got him in Colorado. He’s my wingman. He and I, we spend a lot of time together. He goes to see a dog sitter in the day so I can work uninterrupted and he can get that exercise. But yeah, he loves people. He’s my guy. 

Yeah, I’ve been in the area since April last year. I was living in Northern California, and you know, when Kaylee joined the Navy and got stationed out here in Norfolk, it was like, I’ve been on the West Coast for a few years and I thought what a great opportunity to go to the east coast, and just kind of be over here for a little while. So I took Bosa and we drove 10 days across the country. The first four days were in a blizzard—I don’t know if you remember, last spring there was a giant winter storm near like Montana and that part of the country. I was going through that at the time. And so, for the first four days the weather was so bad I couldn’t get out of the car to take him potty for more than five or 10 minutes at a time. It was uninhabitable. It was wild. It was crazy. 

Yeah, I drove five hours a day and then worked for five hours. So I get up in the morning, start my drive… and I had all my hotels planned out ahead of time and reserved ahead of time. So I had to get to my destination in order to have the trip not be a failure because if I was a day late, I was a day late on all of them because they all were reserved ahead of time. So, every day I had to get to my place.

E: Oh my gosh. Yeah, hopefully you have 4-wheel drive.

Yeah, it was. It was an F150. And I had a big U-Haul on the back of it. It was flying all over the place as well. 

E: Well, I’m glad you made it.

Thanks, me too. Yeah, I love the area. I come here, gosh, at least twice a week. For a while it was every night. This was my after work thing I would do every night. I live like 10 minutes away and we just come here and sit right here and just kind of get some fresh air.

E: Thank you for all of that. Do you have any just like thoughts that you’d want to just put out there…about what you’ve been talking about at all? 

Well, the thing that…I mean like I said I’m 39, you know. Lord willing, I’ve got a long way to go. But I think the biggest idea that I have realized is time. Like, time is the most precious commodity we have. It’s the only thing you can’t—you know, like the song says—you can’t buy any more of it. So the older I get the more I realize how precious time is and how job and income and status, and all that stuff…none of that is important, none of that matters. 

Bosa and I, we live over at [a] campground. I’m wrapping up my lease in my apartment and then for the first time in like 15 years, I’m not going to be applying to, you know, rent again. I’m just like, I’ve got a little 35 foot travel trailer and that’s all I need. So, I guess the biggest takeaway for me is: just have what you need. And you’d be amazed at how little, like you really, really need. And how just even having a small amount of things, man, stuff just doesn’t impact your happiness.

E: Are there any hobbies or things that you have that travel with you when you go everywhere?

Well I’m a big gamer. I’ve got a PS4 Pro and I, you know, I’ve never outgrown games. I’ve always been a gamer at heart and an artist. I’m a creative. I draw and I try to do things that keep myself mentally stimulated. Right, so gotta protect your brain. My body’s gonna fall apart, but as long as my brain keeps, you know, keeps on trucking then I’m good.

Other than that, as corny as it sounds, my sense of adventure—that’s the thing that I keep with me. And I know as long as I’m happy with what I have, then I don’t need anything else. Everything else is just kind of gravy. So, simple life I guess

E: I know like minimalism is a big like idea being thrown out or just like popular. Not to say that you’re necessarily a minimalist, but to see the idea be lived out is cool and to see your thoughts about it.

As much as I can be. It’s all about trimming it away and going, do I really, really need this? And I mean it’s not for everybody. There’s nothing wrong with having a bunch of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with making a bunch of money. I mean, you know, gotta pay the bills and you gotta be able to retire. I mean it’s that stuff’s important. But with me, I’ve just realized that it doesn’t impact my happiness, one way or the other, necessarily. It’s all about getting that good night’s sleep. Sleep a good night. What is that worth? 

E: Where do you think you’ll travel to next? Do you have an idea?

I do. I’m going to be traveling to Florida to spend time with my parents. So my parents live in Melbourne Beach, and they’re getting older, so I’m going to spend a few months, at least on the beach in Melbourne, Florida. And then I’m going to Colorado. And I’m going to go back to Colorado and live near Boulder for a little while.

E: Well, I’m glad you found a lot of, like, truths in your life. What brings you happiness. That’s really cool to hear about. 

Thanks. And I like the word truths, because that’s really what it is. We’re all looking for truth, right? We’re looking for things that we know were believed to be true. And then it’s about validating that and going, this is what I think is true. This is the way I think I am. Am I really this way? Your whole life is about realizing those truths about yourself. Which means you get to know yourself even better. The more you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of yourself, right. Because getting to know yourself is like anything else anyone else; it takes effort. It sounds weird, but that’s what I found.

Staying True to Your Values

M: So I guess since you guys were already talking about it, what were you up to here over the summer? 

K: I was working on my English thesis, I’m an English and History double major, and it’s on Othello performances in America, from just before the Civil War, to just after the Civil War. 

M: What made you interested in that or led you to want to do that? 

K: I was in a class last year and we were reading the play and I thought it was really interesting. It’s just an interesting play on race, I don’t know if you’ve read it. But it’s about a Moor, a black man, who is tricked into killing his younger white wife. It’s a very graphic and terrible topic but it was interesting how they talked about race in the play. I also wanted to explore it in 21st century America and see have things really changed, how people see race at this time, and how they interact with the play. 

E: How has that affected the way you go about your daily life and conversations? 

K: It’s made me pay more attention to certain things. Like it’s interesting talking to African American people and also white people about it, because people react a little bit differently. I was talking to a black friend about it and he was telling me about all the stuff that I never really thought about. It was horrifying…for example, he was talking about how he was horrified at his own skin color when he first moved to the United States from Samoa. He would take these intense showers to “scrub the melanin away.” I never thought about race that way. I’m mixed race, so I’m only a quarter white, mostly Latina. I never really thought of myself as white, but that’s one of the tenants of being white in America: you don’t think about it. 

M: What would you say your relationship with your heritage is? 

K: It’s kind of weird because I don’t think about it constantly. I think about it more when certain discussions on campus happen on race. I was born in the US and raised in an environment where I didn’t have to worry about defining myself. But when you go to college, you talk to all these people from different backgrounds. It’s like being in this undefined space. I can’t completely identify with the white experience but I also can’t identify fully with the Latino one either. 

M: Was there a specific moment or instance that highlighted that duality and where you chose to define yourself? 

K: Watching my sister join high school was kind of a defining moment. She obviously has the same genetics that I do, but she was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States. She was too young to remember Puerto Rico that well. In high school, that was kind of her time to try to define herself and she reacted by being extremely Latino and embracing the culture. Almost to exaggerating, you know. For me, that was kind of weird to watch her talk in a slightly different accent as though she had been brought up in a different place than she was. She would only listen to Latino music and hang out with certain people. It felt kind of forced to see that, and I asked her why she was doing that. She said, I’m Latina. But what made her say that? What claim did she have to that? That was kind of the point where I was like, what is fair for us to claim? 

E: That’s a lot, and I don’t think there’s an answer for that either. 

K: I was thinking like, nowadays, what you are is defined by how much you suffered. There’s this doctrine of privilege and stuff. With what I was talking about earlier is essentially describing white privilege. What exactly is that? There are things that factored into my experience, not necessarily race, but gender and where I grew up and things like that, which affected my experience. Defining your experience by just one factor is not the full picture. I think it’s a mistake a lot of people make. 

E: What do you tend to focus on in your background or upbringing that is important in your everyday life? 

K: Education was always really important to me. My mom grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is a very poor part of New York. The way that she really escaped that environment was by pushing herself extremely hard in school. She raised me and my sister with the same discipline, that we should be grateful for our education and that we should push ourselves really hard. Being smart was my “thing” when I was younger, and that was a part of my cultural identity. Like, my parents suffered so now I have to work hard, you know. 

E: How often do you reflect on that? 

K: I actually reflect on that a lot now that I’m a Senior. It’s really hard to find a job right now in English and History, especially a good-paying one. And so, I feel a disconnect from what is traditionally thought of as “education.” I also think it’s because I’ve been talking to so many more people in the poor parts of Williamsburg and Newport News, and I’m realizing that these people have really deep problems. I’m interested in mental health and I’ve talked to a lot of disabled people, and a lot of them have more complex problems than I’m answering by just analyzing a word that [John] Milton [author of Paradise Lost] used. I’m reflecting now, on, why does this all matter? Am I being productive with this, especially if I might not get a job in this later? 

E: Senior year is definitely a lot. What do you want to keep with you moving forward wherever you end up going?

K: I guess I just want to be true to myself. It sounds kind of cheesy but that’s kind of how I define myself. Especially in these transitionary periods, from middle school to high school, and high school to college, there are times as a teenager that you want to act like everyone else. But it’s important to stay true to your values. And I guess A) figure out what those values even are, and B) stay true to them and to yourself. I see that in the way I dress. I don’t wear Vineyard Vines or Brandy Melville, or whatever people are wearing. It’s because in high school, I couldn’t wear certain things, like this [points to choker necklace]. That [inability to wear what I want] limited me. So now, wearing what I want and having my own opinions, while still [respecting] other people’s ideas […] is important to me. That was a very convoluted answer to a simple question!

M: That was a very thoughtful answer! 

E: Props to you for staying true to yourself, it’s definitely hard. There are so many pressures for people to conform in one way or another, or not continue thinking about what their values are. 

M: What do you think holds people back from having more nuanced views or expressing themselves freely? 

K: I’d say social pressure. If you’re in certain organizations or clubs, there’s a push to dress a certain way and act a certain way. I think there’s almost this language that gets developed. People talk the same way and use the same slang, and there are certain assumptions about them. You’re kind of assumed to be a liberal if you go to this campus. So, people will casually talk about how “we” stan AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] or “we” stan Hillary Clinton. Just very collective language like that. It’s difficult on a college campus where everyone is talking like that to speak your truth, because there really isn’t an outlet to. I don’t think there’s a club for people in the middle. I don’t know, maybe you do join a Moderates club and you find out that people are secretly really conservative. What do you do then? 

E: Yeah, it’s a lot to reflect on in a campus environment. 

M: What do you hope to see changed then, like, what would you want for the incoming freshmen after you? 

K: I think there needs to be less of a separation between the staff and the students. I’ve talked to the staff about this kind of thing, and they seemed completely clueless about the environment that the students are in. I think there’s this idea among the students that teachers and administration are like, The Man, and that we should rise against The Man. Which, to a certain extent is true. I think people need to listen to each other more, keep a more open mind, and I guess just talk to everyone. That’s how you learn things. Just talk to people. Talk to people you disagree with, that’s how you grow as a person! 

E: Yeah! Conversations are great when they’re a conversation and not just a “talking at” someone. 

K: I’ve talked to very conservative people on campus that are more open-minded and willing to talk. There are liberal people like that, too. We need to be having conversations, civilly and patiently, for sure. We still need to have dialogue, because otherwise we’re not going to be able to move forward. 

E: There’s always an opportunity for someone to acknowledge truth in something, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s a lot. In the spirit of telling your own truth or the Humans spirit in general, is there anything you want others to know about you? 

K: Personally? I think that’s all! It’s pretty obvious what I believe if you talk to me. I’m a shy person but still have a lot to say. I’m not a conservative, or even really a centrist, but I think that we should listen to anyone who defends their ideas with reasonable points. I hope this interview encourages people to listen to one another, not just jump at every opportunity to lecture them. I am concerned about what will happen to our generation if we don’t learn to listen.

I’ll Follow the Sun

 What is your favorite rainy day activity?

I think my favorite rainy day activity is probably staying inside and either listening to music or playing guitar.

I’m still learning guitar, and I play a few instruments. When I was younger I tried to learn, but it didn’t really work out, so I was like, “I’m gonna give this another shot.” In my apartment my windows are like right next to my bed, and when it rains, I like to open the windows and listen to music. I don’t know, it’s just a comforting thing, and it’s the same with playing guitar. 

 It’s like a really good answer. So, how long have you been playing guitar?

Like 6 months now.

Do you take classes here? Or just kind of self-taught?

I’m just teaching myself. Yeah. Some of my friends gave me tips. I practice chord progressions, and that’s really helpful with playing songs. Like I started off knowing nothing about chords, so I was just looking up songs with three chord progressions and it has helped a lot, especially playing songs that you like. One of the first songs I learned was Jolene, and it’s only four chords, and it’s so easy. That’s kind of the song that I always start off with because it’s so easy, so it just gets myself warmed up.

So what’s your favorite song to play?

I don’t know, but when I first started playing back in sixth grade, my mom got me these two books and they’re all Beatles songs. It has all the chords, and one of my favorite things is to go through and play all the songs I knew as a kid, like “Yellow Submarine” and “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Those are probably some of my favorites to play.

I saw that you have a tattoo.

Yeah, it actually says “I’ll follow the sun.” Last February, my great-grandmother passed away, and it really hurt. She called me her sunshine, it was always “oohh my sunshine,” and “I love you, my sunshine.”  She was a WWII survivor. She lived in France when the Nazis came in. She didn’t talk about it a lot, but her family had to live in the sewers and steal food and clothes. I got really close to her, and I really looked up to her, because she was such a strong woman. So in high school I took French because of her, and I tired to learn so we could speak in French together, but it didn’t really work out because she had a thick southern french accent and I could never understand her. She had Alzheimer’s, and last February I just remember I was in class in the Wren, and my mom texted me, “There’s something going on.” At the same time, my sister was pregnant and my first thought was, “Oh my God, there’s something wrong with the baby.” I was like, “What’s going on?” And my mom asked me if I was in class and I said, “Yeah, but just tell me.” And she was like, “Meme’s not doing well.” And I just got up and left class because I kind of knew at that point. She was 91. Actually this fourth of July she’ll be 93, so, yeah, it just really hurt. I don’t know. I felt like the family on that side didn’t care for her that much, to most of them she was a burden, and knowing how much she loved me, I feel like I didn’t do enough. I didn’t call her enough, I didn’t send her enough letters, I didn’t tell her enough how much I loved her. After that, I just wanted to get something to really remember her.

I really wanna get a kite tattoo in honor of my grandmother, so as soon as you said that, I definitely understand where you’re coming from.

It’s really pretty, too.

Thank you, I actually just got it done three weeks ago. It’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now, probably since last February. And my best friend goes to VCU Arts, so over spring break, I asked her to draw me something, like just a simple sun, and I just told her, “Just draw.” So we were at lunch, and she drew this and it was so much more than I thought. I was thinking a lot more simplistic, but when I saw it, I was like, “God, that’s what I want.”

That’s great because, then, you have your friend aspect in there, and it really means something to you.

Yeah, this is probably my favorite tattoo. Last May, I got one on my foot and it’s in my mom’s handwriting. It says “ILYTIAB,” and it’s something we say to each other. It means “I love you to infinity and beyond.” But even as much as that one means to me, I love this one. I look at it constantly. 

So it seems like these tattoos always mean a lot to you.

I’ve only gotten three tattoos, and I’m definitely not against tattoos that just look cool. Like tiger sharks are my favorite, and I love sharks. I wanna get one of an outline of a tiger shark, but the tattoos that I’ve gotten so far are really important to me. I guess I really love tattoos because I can show people what’s important to me. People always ask about tattoos whenever they see them, so I get to tell a story with it, and that’s one of my favorite things.

Thank you so much for talking with us.


Friends are Everything

So what were you up to today before Chick-fil-A? 

It’s been kind of a boring day for me, I’ve just spent the morning working on some paper and projects. I’ve been working on a final paper for my data science class, I’m a junior studying Government. I’ve taken a couple of data-ish classes. 

How do you feel about them? 

It is a pain! [laughs] It takes forever to finish a project–the codes never work the first couple of tries, but when you do, it is very satisfying! 

So what motivated you to take data science classes? 

Mostly through the research lab that I’m involved in, I work with Professor Settle in the Government department. We do a lot of data stuff — we’re interested in the psychological underpinnings of political behavior and what causes someone to lead in a political discussion, specifically people who tend to lie in a political conversation or look like they want to agree. 

Have you felt a lot of frustration when working on these kinds of projects, or were there times you just wanted to give up in the process? 

Oh yeah, all the time! [laughs] 

Can you tell me about a specific instance? 

Yeah! We just had a project due last week, and it’s this thing where I know how to make the code and I know how to write it, but the numbers were not telling you the right thing. I was sitting with my friend in Sadler with fries and just trying to work through it. I never really made a close friend in my class before, but we definitely hit it off really great. 

It’s really great to have that emotional support, especially in a hard class.  

Absolutely! It’s always helpful to have someone that you can tear your heart out to. It’s always great that people can view you where you are, from a class project or to anything like that. I’ve definitely had a solid basis of my group of friends since freshman year, and I never really made the effort to meet the people in my classes besides maybe asking for missed notes. I never really knew this friend before, we kind of just sat next to each other on the first day of classes. We randomly started talking. She is just the most happy and bubbly person. She sat down on the first day of classes to tell me all about her day and all that was going on. I was like, wow, this is great, to meet someone in a totally different context. 

How have these experiences shed light on you as a person? 

My friends are everything to me, whether it’s sitting with them, doing work, hanging out on the sunken gardens, any time I spend with them is the highlight of my day. I love to hear every little detail about what’s going on in their lives. They’re there to support me, to celebrate with me, and I am definitely grateful to have that experience at school. Before I came to William & Mary, I expected that I would meet all these friends and have really great relationships. I thought it was super cool that they were sprinkled all across the country–that we didn’t know who each other, but pretty soon enough we’ll be so important to each other. And it’s so cool, now having experienced that moment. 

So do you think that the expectations you came into college with have been fulfilled? 

I’ve definitely gotten everything and more out of William & Mary that I wanted to. I knew that this was going to be a good experience for me and that this place was going to be my home. And even still, the speed with which that happened blows me out of the water. I feel so special to have that, and it’s special to William & Mary. 

Of Learning and Change

So how are you feeling at this point in the semester?

I currently am feeling pretty good. I know I have a lot of work coming up, so I feel stressed about that. But I don’t know, I feel pretty calm right now, but yeah, there’s a storm brewing ahead.

You’re a junior, right? So how has being an upperclassman been different than the first two years of college?

I really like being an upperclassman. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like on campus. I have kind of taken a bigger workload this semester. Because I want to have a more relaxed senior year. But yeah, I like it.

How have you had to prioritize things in your schedule, because there’s a bigger workload like others, other people or other things that you care about?

I definitely see less of some of my friends this semester than in the past, which is kind of sad. But I’m pretty good about trying to schedule lunch or things like that to see people. But I’ve definitely felt overwhelmed in terms of my extracurricular activities and just setting aside time to do stuff like that and then also just time for myself, working out especially. It’s kind of hard to find time to do that if I have class all day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And I don’t want to get up super early. And then when I’m done with class, I’m tired and hungry, and I just want to be alone for a little bit. So yeah, it’s been interesting but I’m kind of starting to find a balance now, now that we’re close to the end of the semester.

What do you wish you could have told like your freshman self now looking back?

That’s a hard question. I would say that people and things change. And you’re not always going to be friends with the same people and you’re not always going to be doing the same activities, and your major is going to change. Lots of things are going to change in a very short period of time, and it’s gonna be very overwhelming, but it’s okay and it’s for the better. And you’ll find your way, and what you’re supposed to be doing, whether it be in college, or not, later on, but you find your way, eventually.

How do you feel about change in general? Are you regretful about anything that’s changed, or is it more like you’re always moving forward?

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to regret anything. So, I don’t regret anything that’s changed. Some of the changes, if I think back on them, it does make me sad but a lot of them have been good and positive, and I think all of it just really helps shape me or the person that I am today. And I’ve learned a lot about myself, these past two, almost two and a half years here. And I’m honestly thankful for all the changes because I have learned a lot about myself and I think it’s good character building and experience and it’s part of life.

What’s the biggest change that you’ve undergone in college, big realization or turning point?

I’ve had a lot of friend changes. Well, I mean I’m still friends with a lot of the same people – I haven’t had a falling out or anything with anyone. But in terms of who I’m closest with and things like that have changed a lot and I think that’s because I’ve changed. I don’t think I’ve changed, and I say this because I’m biased towards myself, but I don’t think I changed in a negative way. I think coming out of high school senior year, I was very comfortable with who I was and I knew what I wanted, I knew what I liked, and then coming here freshman year, I was very overwhelmed. It was a new experience having to make new friends again, having had the same friends since elementary school or middle school. That confidence in myself was definitely shaken, a lot. And I tried new things and just hung out with different kinds of people trying to find who I was again. And I think the past two years, I’ve still been trying to find the confidence in myself that I had when I left high school. I think this year I finally am feeling very good about myself and the things that I like to do, I know myself very well. And I no longer let people around me or my friends or anything influence me in ways that I don’t agree with.

Has there been a specific person that’s like really been supportive of you trying to find that confidence again, in college or family or anyone else?

Yeah – I would probably say my best friend here. She was in my freshman hall. Her name is Mary Cook. She has been a consistent person by my side, since freshman year. She supports me in everything that I do and I don’t know, I just feel very comfortable around him. She’s always there when I need to make a decision and I’m not good at making decisions. So that’s helpful to have. But yeah, I really, really appreciate having her as a friend. And then my family of course. Coming to college, I realized how much of a homebody I am and how much I love my family. I talk to my family many times during the week and I know some people who don’t talk to their family at all. I know I don’t understand everyone’s family stuff, but I really appreciate my family and being able to talk to them multiple times a week is very important to me and they help guide me and my decision making struggles as well.

When you first met Mary, did you think or know that she was going to be such a consistent friend throughout college?

I figured that she and I would be friends, but initially, she was closer with another one of my friends who I thought we were going to be best friends forever like we were two peas in a pod. And we’re no longer as close like we’re still friends, but we’ve kind of grown apart. But yeah, Mary and I grew a lot closer together. So no, I didn’t think that, but as I got to know her better, I realized how good of a friend she is and how well we get along together.

What’s something that you’re looking forward to throughout the rest of the semester?

I’m in the choir. And I was in the Barksdale Treble Chorus last year, which I really enjoyed and I’m in choir, this year. I just really like singing, and my favorite time of year to sing, is during the holidays, especially coming up on Christmas. I just love all that music and all the winter concerts and the caroling and things like that so I’m very excited for that time of year. Even though it’s stressful with other things, it’s kind of nice to take a break and sing because I really enjoy doing that.

Any goals you have for yourself, in terms of personal growth throughout the semester and into senior year?

I’m currently working on self-motivation as a goal because I am definitely a person who gets burnt out a lot. I recently have lost interest in some of the things that I normally would really like to do, including just normal academics. I like my majors and I like the stuff that I’m learning but I just feel like I lack that spark or interest, and so I’m trying to work on being more mindful of being able to motivate myself better and find things that help me in that process. So I guess that’s kind of a very like broad, vague goal, but it’s something overarching that I’m working on

What’s one piece of advice that someone’s given you during college that’s been helpful?

Coming into college, I had a lot of people around me telling me that these are going to be the best four years of my life. And I feel like that puts a lot of pressure on college. You’re supposed to expect it to be the best four years of your life, even though you have no idea what that means and you have no standard to compare that to. And so I think coming into college, I had that expectation a bit. At one point I got upset over something, and it just wasn’t feeling like the best four years of my life in that moment. And I don’t remember who said it, but people were telling me that it doesn’t need to be the best four years – it can just be about the change and the learning process. You’re learning stuff in school, but you’re also learning a lot about yourself and you come out a better person for it. We just can’t put that pressure on school, because I don’t think every year needs to be the best year. So I think it was important, people telling me no, that’s not the case, and you shouldn’t think about college that way.

I remember some random adult telling me, “Oh, just remember college is the last four years, that you have to kind of be a kid,” and I think that’s more helpful advice because then you take advantage of maybe not taking everything too seriously.

Father & Son

CD: We’ll just start easy. So are you an alum, or what brings you over here?

F: I’m not an alum. Today’s Election Day, which is a big deal to us. I like to make sure that my son, my kids—I have a daughter as well—see what the electoral process can be. I do work and fund work like what’s happening here with the campus vote challenge and Young Invincibles to try and get more young and more diverse people into the electoral process. So I’m hanging out around Hampton Roads all day today to see how the different little projects are working out. I love for my son to see what it’s like to help strengthen democracy. 

ED: Can I ask you what’s the coolest thing about your dad?

F: It’s a high pressure question!

ED: One cool thing!

N: That whenever he has a chance to stay home with us he does.

F: That’s a good answer, son.

ED: Is there something fun that you did recently when he was home?

N: Wait, in our house?

ED: Yeah, when he stayed at home with you guys.

N: Well, I don’t really remember. 

ED: But that’s cool that you remember that his presence means a lot to you. That’s really awesome.

CD: I see that you guys have matching shoes! Is there a story there? 

M: Yeah, he got those shoes and he actually wanted to have matching shoes with mine. I had had these for a month or so and he wanted the same ones so we’re shoe twins… What else would you like to know?

CD: You said that you traveled around a little bit, right? What’s the coolest or the most involved place you’ve ever been?

F: Really good question. So, on Sunday we did a pretty cool event at Norfolk State and I was able to bring the actress Kerry Washington into town and so we had a room full of about five or six hundred people that really engaged and we called it the She-roes of Democracy. So she was able to talk to four or five young women and I think all four of them were—yeah, there were four panelists—all four of them were undergrads. And she got to talk to them about the different things that they do to help sort of raise awareness within the community about exercising their right to vote and being a more involved citizen. And I took my daughter to that. So that was very very cool, to see that kind of turnout and that kind of engagement. It was fun. 

ED: What do you think brought you to these wants for your children and these values that you hold? Where do they come from?

F: So I’ve kind of been an activist my whole life and then having gone into the private sector and established a career…a couple of years ago, so many things happened in the political universe that were just so very disturbing. And my daughter who at the time was six came home just bawling her eyes out because somebody had made fun of her and asked and sort of challenged whether or not she was Muslim or something like that. So at that point I realized that it was time to sort of put career things aside and see if we could come out here and make a real difference. So I just want my kids to understand what democracy is supposed to be, and what fairness and inclusion in this country is supposed to be, and just trying to live that out in front of them. 

ED: That’s really cool. It’s really lucky to be able to do that for them for sure.

F: Yeah, it’s important. (to Nelson) What is it like being here today and hanging out on campus?

N: Fun. Well, it’s more fun than I thought it would be!

F: So, tell them—come here real quick—and tell them what we were able to do a few minutes ago with the football over there.

N: Oh, yeah. We thought that we were going to get in trouble because we were in the football stadium and I finally realized that there’s a track, that there’s also a track in football stadiums. And then when the guard came out, he was about to lock the door and then we came out when he was about to lock it then and was just like “I’m glad I caught you.”

F: We found an open gate so we went out there and he caught a football in the middle of the actual football field which was kind of fun. And he’s a super gymnast, he won a gymnastics meet here last spring, I think. 

CD: Wow, congratulations!

ED: How does it feel to be doing all those cool things?

N: It’s fun! Sometimes it can be a little challenging and you can be kind of pressured, but it’s fun. 

ED: Yeah. Did you make friends or did you learn anything really cool through your experiences in gymnastics? 

N: I made a lot of friends in gymnastics, and they’re really good because it’s just fun that you have different people to know that they’re alongside of you. 

ED: That’s really great, yeah. Support from friends is the best. I wish you all the best with that, that’s really cool. My younger cousins, they’re about your age, they’re in gymnastics too. It’s really cool to see them grow through that. 

F: What else would be helpful?

ED: Well, we always just allow people the opportunity, if they have something about their own life or their own story, that they just want to share.

F: Yeah, well, I think we did a little bit of that, right? Talking about why we’re here, what brought me into this field of work and why I make sure that I, you know, rope my kids into it as much as possible. So yeah, and it’s important also just that what we’ve learned and what I tend to invest in in terms of these initiatives is this idea that young people and diverse people are, you know, historically underrepresented in terms of their share of voice. So whatever we can do to amplify that is good. So to see this nice little atmosphere and have them camped out and feeding whoever wants to come by and get something to eat—hopefully that’ll inspire people to get involved and remember at the very least to vote. Because it’s not really, this isn’t really a sexy election year, so we’re doing our best to make sure people remember.

ED: That’s great…Nelson, is there anything else about yourself that you want to share with others?

N: Not really.

ED: Not really? Cool. Well, thank you. Thank you for talking with us today.

Ups and Downs, and Everything in Between.

So how are you feeling about graduation and everything?

Super weird, because – I’ve told people this a couple times, but there was this moment, like, Sunday night before the last week of classes where somebody was like, “This is your last week of undergrad,” and I was like “Holy shit, it’s my last week of undergrad!” And it was just so weird because up until that point, I had been so ready to get out of here, and then all of a sudden I was like, oh, maybe there are some things I’m going to miss…I guess one of the ways I’ve been trying to handle that is by creating a bucket list of things to do before I leave. We’ll see how many of them I actually get done, because bucket lists are impossible like that, but I’ve decided that it’s better if you don’t get everything done on your bucket list because then that means you have to come back.

True, that’s a good way to look at it.

Yeah, I feel like I’m cheating when I say that, because the point of a bucket list is to finish everything…

But you don’t have to finish it now!

Yeah, that’s not my version, so I’m gonna go with that.

What are some of the things on your bucket list?

One of them was to spend some time sitting on my roof outside of my house, because my bedroom window leads right out onto the roof, so my girlfriend and I ate popsicles on the roof the other night while the sun was setting, and it was really fun. Another one was to make pudding pie, which is like pudding and then a gluten-free crust so Nora can eat it…and we tried to make it, but it failed miserably, so it was more like pudding soup but it was still tasty…Another one was to see a movie at Movie Tavern because I had never done that, and I got that checked off. Oh, and then I wanted to eat s’mores at Aromas, have you ever gotten s’mores at Aromas?

I haven’t.

It’s so fun! They bring it out, and it’s like, they have all the makings for s’mores and a little fire in the middle of this tray.

That’s awesome!

Yeah, it was really good. So checked off a couple things, got a couple more to do.

So you mentioned that you had a change from being ready to get out to being a little sad to leave, do you know what brought that on? Was it the last week of classes coming, or anything else?

I think it’s also that it’s finally becoming real that I’m leaving. It’s still not super real, Michelle took my grad pictures with Nora this morning which was so fun. And we were wearing our grad gowns, and when I put it on I was like, oh my god, what if I actually fail some of my classes and this is actually not the time that I’m graduating? Like what if I miss a requirement that I need? So it got to the point that I was really nervous that I was not actually going to graduate—which I think in some ways, like, I’m more cognizant of the reality that I’m going to graduate because I’m so worried about not graduating. That’s, like, very convoluted but it kind of makes sense?

Yeah I get it, definitely. So what do you think you’re going to miss most about college, or being here in general at this point in your life?

I don’t know…I mean I’m obviously going to miss the people. It’s gonna be very weird to not be in a place where I just am with all of my best friends all of the time. I think I’ll end up in DC so I’ll be close to a bunch of William and Mary people, which will be really good, but it’s not like I’ll hang out with them every night. So that’s gonna be a really big change, that I’m not necessarily looking forward to because I’ve found a lot of really great people here. And I also am gonna miss the classes in some way, because I’ve had a lot of fun with research projects I’ve done, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of taking advantage of the academic experience that William and Mary has to offer. It’s also just, throughout my time here, I’ve been really, really excited and passionate about the studies that I’ve been working on. And so, I guess stemming from that I’ve started thinking maybe I want to do some sort of research assistantship for a little while out of college, because I’m not sure if I’m completely done with, like, researching things and using those same things except in a job way, not just a school way.

What’s some of the research you’ve done here?

So my studies over the past couple of years—I’m majoring in Hispanic Studies, and minoring in American Studies—but basically everything that I’ve done has been sort of related to oral history, which has been super cool. Kind of inspired by Humans at the start, which is kind of fun. So I’ve done more and more research on oral history in a variety of different classes, but I think the most important one that I’ve done is, I did an independent study this past fall about a play I saw in Spain. And the play is called Presas de Papel, which roughly translates to “Women Imprisoned in Paper,” and it’s about women who were incarcerated during the Franco dictatorship in Spain. And it’s written by descendants of women who were actually incarcerated, so it’s a very personal history, and it’s a very important history for Spain because there is so little recognition of the women’s experience during the Franco dictatorship. It was a really important play to see, and I really loved it. I messaged one of my professors who taught a class on Franco and his dictatorship’s aftermath, and was like, “What can I do with this? I’m not sure I want to do a thesis, but I really want to continue working on this play because I think it’s really cool and important.” So she suggested an independent study for the fall, and I ended up doing an independent study and I got funding to go back to Spain in November for a little less than a week which was insane, but that’s an entirely different story. And I was able to see a new version of the play as well as interview a couple of different people about their ancestors. One in particular was the descendants of Matilde Landa, who was this super famous icon of the Spanish Republic, and she was a really, really important leader for the Republicans, I guess rebels, counter the Franco dictatorship. That was really amazing to get to talk to them about their experience and their family history and how that’s impacted their lives. And at this point I have a pretty close relationship with the creators of the play and the actresses, and it’s just been really cool to kind of be a part of that and use my skills to help further their story.

That’s super awesome. So, kind of switching gears here, you were studying abroad when you saw the play?


What was that like, how did that contribute to your experience here?

Last summer I studied abroad in Cádiz for the first part of the summer, and then for about a month afterwards I was volunteer farming, wwoofing—do you know what wwoofing is?

No, I don’t.

It’s basically just volunteer farming, but it’s through a website, so I was doing that on a farm outside of Madrid. I was there for about a month, and that was really, really cool. And that’s when I saw the play. And that was also I think in some ways more formative than the study abroad experience, because I was by myself—I only spoke English when I was calling home or calling Nora—so it was a very different experience. It was also really cool to farm because I had never done anything like that before. So that was really interesting, and I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to study abroad, because the fall of my sophomore year I studied in DC, which was awesome, but it meant that I was not quite sure if I wanted to take a full semester to go abroad. So it was super cool that I got to do the Cádiz program to actually go abroad since I was not feeling like I could take another whole semester away from campus.

Yeah, that’s really cool. How did you come into the volunteer farming thing?

Well I had been wanting to wwoof with a couple friends for a while, but it just didn’t work out for me to do it with them and it was a way for me to stay in Spain a little longer and continue to use my Spanish on a daily basis and continue learning Spanish and do something a little different. So I decided that I would kind of just take the risk and try and find a farm that matched with what I was interested in doing, and it worked out pretty well.

That’s really cool, that’s an awesome experience. So you kinda touched on this, but what initially drew you to your research, your major, what you’re eventually going to be doing?

So immediately after graduation I’m going to be going home, and I’m gonna be working with my mom at the Harrisonburg City Public School’s welcome center. We register students for school there. All kindergarteners, all preschoolers, and then grades first through 12, all students who speak another language besides English at home. I’ve done that for the past four summers, so it’ll be kind of nice to return to something normal before going out and doing something completely different. But in terms of how I kind of got to this research project, I think it really did start with Humans, and it also started when I did my DC semester. I studied there with Professor Zutshi, who’s a history professor here, she’s amazing, I love her very much. She taught the semester on conflict resolution and nation-building in South Asia, which was super cool. And so over that semester we had read a book about the use of oral history in post-conflict zones, and that’s when I started doing more research about oral history because I was like, “Oh my god, this is the academic form of what I love about Humans!” I was really excited to find something that combines my passion with academics, and so I wrote a research paper on that which was really, really cool. And ever since then with any class that asks for a research project of some sort, I always do something with oral history just because it’s such a broad field you can tie it into whatever you’re doing. So then spring of my junior year, I took a class called El Franquismo y sus Fantasmas, which is like, “The Franco Era and its Ghosts,” so about the history of the Franco era and also how it is perceived today in Spain. And so that’s what got me interested in that particular history, and I did a little research on oral history following that class as well. And then when I was in Cádiz, I did a whole different project about the Franco era and oral histories and testimony and the use of testimony, which was super cool. And then it all kind of culminated with Presas de Papel.

So it sounds like you kind of got started with that because of your experience with Humans, so what drew you to Humans in the first place?

Yeah! Well, when I was in high school, I discovered Humans of New York and I started a version at my high school, Humans of HHS, which was really fun and rewarding to me. I really loved the idea of just finding these intimate connections with complete strangers and giving them a space to tell their stories. I had been doing journalism for a while at that point—that was my senior year of high school and I was part of the newspaper starting my sophomore year—so Humans gave me a part of the newspaper that was kind of my baby, and I was able to help it grow into something that was bigger than me which was really cool. And so once I got to William and Mary, I immediately reached out to Humans of William and Mary like, “When can I join? I’m ready now!” And they were like, “Wait for the application, we’ll be posting it soon!” So that was really cool, and during my interview I talked with Dani, she graduated, was it last year? No, it was two years ago at this point, that’s crazy! She graduated two years ago, she’s just this really incredible person, and during that conversation, we talked for like an hour, maybe like an hour and a half, and it was just really crazy to be in this space where I was asking this complete stranger all of these questions and she’s giving me these very genuine answers, and that made me be like, “Okay, this is something I really do want to be involved in.”

So have you had a favorite particular moment with Humans or anything like that?

Yeah, so my freshman year we were doing a series of interviews for Charter Day, and reading students a section of the charter and asking them about their feelings about it. And I did an interview with a woman who, as she was reading it she was telling me, “You know, I feel really disillusioned right now.” Because she was going through the reporting process for sexual assault, and it was not at all the system it claimed to be. And so our interview was a lot about her process of maneuvering through that system, and how she’s trying to make it better. She co-founded an organization called 16(IX)3 here on campus, and it’s not very active anymore, but I ended up doing a couple of follow-up interviews with her and the other members of 16(IX)3, which was really cool, and trying to give them a platform to spread their message because it’s really important. It’s called 16(IX)3 and the 9 is “IX,” like the Roman numeral of Title IX. And I ended up getting two of my good friends involved with the organization as well, so even though I wasn’t able to stay part of it, one of them was very involved for most of their college experience which was really cool. But that was one of the few interviews where I really had, like, this immediate, real conversation with somebody, which was really powerful and I’m really grateful for her opening up to me about that. And I’m really happy that I was able to give space to her message.

It’s cool how that became an ongoing thing, like with the follow-up interviews and your friends joining and everything.

Yeah, it was really cool. And, like, I always wish that I could’ve done more with it, but you can look back all you want and wish you could’ve done more with something when it’s not always possible.

Yeah, you can only do so much. Kind of ties in but also kind of different – if you could tell yourself, like as a freshman, or give an incoming William and Mary student a piece of advice, what do you wish you knew?

That’s a really good question, I wish I knew a lot of things. I mean, this year especially has been really tough, but I think I would tell myself to go to counseling earlier and to stick with it because that’s a really important resource. Maybe go off campus earlier for counseling, just because the counseling center here is so overbooked that they can only give you appointments on a semester basis, and I think that I would’ve done counseling more regularly throughout college if I had gone off campus earlier. I would also tell myself, or any incoming freshman, to really listen to what your body wants and what your mind wants and respect that. I know that I have pushed myself a lot to do things that were not the best for my mental health, so I think listening to that a lot sooner and being more selfish about my time and what I want to do with my experience here, I think would have made it easier in some ways. But I also think college is a really important place to learn all of that, so I feel like the biggest one is to just use your resources—oh, and the Wellness Center! So good! Go there all the time, for everything! It’s an amazing resource on campus and there are some really amazing things that people are just not taking advantage of the way that they should. I went to my first yoga class there in April and it was insane. It was so beautiful, the rooms are just really nice and they have these giant floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the trails, so when I went it was all of this beautiful green and it was incredible. And so calming, exactly what I needed. I’ve tried to go every week since then because I know free yoga is not gonna last for must longer, gotta take advantage of it! But also don’t feel like you have to take advantage of everything, because there are so many opportunities here, just find the things that are important to you and do that, and don’t feel guilty about the things you can’t do.

Yeah, that’s true. I have to try that yoga sometime though!

You’ve gotta go! The Wellness Center is so good!

I guess for any of those things, were there any specific points where you really found those things out?

Well I think that this year especially has been really hard, so I’ve learned a lot of this, this past year… Going to Spain in the middle of the semester for, like, not a whole week was really discombobulating – if you’re gonna go abroad at some point within the semester, miss at least a full week of classes, it will be okay! Because that was just crazy, I felt like, as soon as I was getting into a routine there, I was back, and I had no idea what was going on for the longest time. So, yeah, would definitely recommend taking more time when you’re doing those sort of things. And I started off-campus counseling at the end of last semester, and I think I realized a lot of this stuff through that, I’m more aware of judgmental thoughts of myself and how I have a tendency to not be very kind to myself in my head. And so I think being aware of those things is super important, you can’t fix them right away, but so long as you know that they’re happening and it’s not necessarily the truth, then it’s a start. Starting, still figuring things out. It’s actually really funny, I read this note that my mom had written to her parents when she was in college. And it was a beautiful note, really well-written, and she used all these metaphors, like, being tossed around by the waves or something like that, talking about how she felt really alone and confused in college. And in some ways it was really comforting to read that, that my mom had experienced a very similar thing 35 years earlier, and it’s okay to be so confused, and so stressed and anxious. There are people here to support you, and there are people going through similar things. That was really cool to get a chance to look at because I was like, “Wow, I feel like I wrote this.”

That is really cool, to kind of know that you’re not alone in that, especially coming from your mom of all people.

It is really sweet.

And then just one last thing—what would you say has been, if you can pinpoint a favorite moment or experience that you had here, a memory of any kind?

That’s a really hard one…I think one of the most important moments, and also one of my favorites, is the night that I kissed Nora for the first time. Well, she kissed me. I came into college with a boyfriend, thinking I was straight, and then I met Nora, and even in the fall semester when I was still dating this other boy, I had, like, told my friends at home, “Yeah, if I was ever to kiss a girl it’d probably be Nora.” And then that spring after my ex and I had broken up, Nora and I ended up hanging out a lot more and I ended up being like, “Oh shit, I think I really like her.” I didn’t actually tell her that for a long time because I was worried about messing up our friendship because she thought I was straight, and I knew that she was gay, but I didn’t know if she liked me, and it was just very confusing. And so then, one night I invited her over to watch The Terminator 3 because I had to watch it for class. I invited her to watch this really dumb movie with me, and at that point I think she was a little suspicious because it was a really stupid movie. So we watched the movie, and we returned it to Swem, and we were walking around, and we went back to my dorm and we were just laying on my bed for, like, ten minutes in this really awkward silence. And then finally, she was like, “so, about what Vega said?” Because her friend Vega had been, like, questioning about whether or not we were a couple, or into each other or anything, and I was like, “Yeah, I kinda like you,” and she was like, “I kinda like you too.” And then we were quiet for another five minutes, and then she was like, “Okay, I think this is the part where we kiss,” and I was like, “Yeah, I think so too.” And, like, it’s been over three years since then, and I can’t believe that we’re actually graduating, it’s so weird. But I think that Nora is probably the most important thing that has happened to me at William and Mary, so it’s been really cool that she’s been basically here for everything, all the ups and downs and everything in between.

Laugh the Hardest.

When you were coming in as a freshman what were your expectations for the next 4 years?

So I actually didn’t want to come to William and Mary originally because I grew up here. I wanted to go to NYU and be a city girl. I had this weird idea that William and Mary was really preppy and really nerdy and there were people here that are aggressively competitive. And I found that that wasn’t the case really early on. Everyone is very supportive and quirky and cool, so it was really different than what I expected. Also a lot more fun than I expected.

What are you feeling now as you get really close to graduation and is that different than how you expected to feel?

I think I am still in denial. I don’t think I’ve hit a point where I feel like I’m about to graduate yet. But I also feel like everything I do is the last time I’m going to be doing it. I just took a picture on my Snapchat saying I’m going to miss the Sunken Gardens; that’s really corny but there’s just a weird sense that this chapter is about to end and nothing will be the same. Even if I come back, it won’t be the same as it was as an undergrad. I’m very sentimental but I’m not really sad about it – I’m kind of ready to go. I feel like leaving on a high note is always good.

Looking back are you surprised about where you are now…going into the future, would anything have surprised you if you had told your freshman self about you now?

I don’t think I imagined finding my best friends in life. I had a really close group of friends in high school, but I found such an incredible community here that is really amazing and something that I’d be surprised by when I was 17 coming in. I think academically and career-wise, I wanted to do journalism when I was coming in here, and I’ve taken a completely different path.

What do you hope W&M is like if you come back in the future?

I hope to see a greater range of people coming to the College. I think there was a lack of diversity in a lot of important spaces on campus. I’m looking at you B school. Seeing greater diversity in all aspects being welcomed at the College would be really important for when I come back.

If you could do all 4 years again, would you do something differently?

I think I would be more confident in myself, especially at the beginning of my college career. I was really insecure about everything about myself. So I definitely wouldn’t care what people thought of me and would definitely be more open with people. I’ve had great friends so being more vulnerable with the people around me would’ve been something that really would’ve helped me in college.

What do you think is the biggest way you’ve changed or grown as a person?

I think it kind of goes along with that. Learning how to be vulnerable and learning how to be open with other people about my needs and experiences have been the most important way that I’ve grown in college. I feel like I’ve always internalized a lot of my experiences. It’s just part of my personality and part of my life that I wouldn’t openly express my emotions in situations or ask for help easily, which would make me seem really reserved and stoic. Since I’ve come here, the learning I’ve done regarding how to be emotionally open with other people has been the most important. When you’re able to express yourself in healthy ways, people find it easier to be vulnerable with you. This is something I’ve never been good at in the past, but I’m growing now to understand that letting your guard down is necessary.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Asking for help. My dad is always like: “You need to learn how to ask for help.” So I’ve learned how to reach out and having people tell me it’s okay to ask for help.

If you could give advice to freshmen, would it be along those lines?

Mhm, use your resources. And I think we do have great resources here but they’re not super well-known. And also find something to be very passionate about whether that’s activism or joining a club. You should put yourself in the community and fight for what you believe in.

What advice would you give someone that wants to get involved but doesn’t know where to start?

I would just join everything. That’s what I did. Freshman year I just came in and joined way too much. Then I just narrowed it down to communities I felt really welcome in like Humans – I’ve been here since freshman year. So I just found places I felt really comfortable. Not everything you do is going to be for you. But just putting yourself out there is the most important thing.

What are some of the small moments here that you think you may have taken for granted?

I think being within walking distance with your friends – I took that for granted. Being around your friends and being around people who are like you and finding spaces where you feel welcomed is something that I definitely took for granted. As well as being intellectually active. I feel like this was a good opportunity to explore things. Like going to class…I took that for granted.

What do you see in the world that needs changing and how do you think you can make a difference?

I’ve always been a big believer in that being kind or respectful to the people around you is the most important thing. So I think if everyone can just do that, that makes the biggest difference. And also what I said before, finding things that you’re passionate about and getting really involved in them.

When’s the last time you laughed really hard?

I laugh every day. I have a really annoying laugh. People tell me my laugh is high key aggressive. More like a cackle. But who cares? I always laugh the hardest around my best friends; they make me feel the most like myself.

What would your friends say is your best quality as a friend?

I think I have a sense of humor about everything. I don’t really take things too seriously and I feel like my friends appreciate that.  I like to listen to people, and I try not to project my feelings onto other people. Who knows if I’m successful.

The Journey of Doing Things.

So, why did you pick William and Mary in the first place?

The school itself. Honestly, I think when I look back at the application process for college, I didn’t begin the process until fairly late–not until the beginning of senior year. That was when I heard William & Mary’s name come up from other students in my high school who had gone to William & Mary, or from teachers who thought that William & Mary would be a good fit for me. I knew that in my college search process I wanted to focus on smaller schools, because of my desire to have a stronger relationship with my professors; to engage more in class, and to grow more as an individual and student. So with those factors in mind—I applied. I also really liked William & Mary’s application question! There was one open-ended question, I still remember, that allowed students to assemble something, whether it was an art display, or to write an essay. I chose to design a shoe-box collage of supplies, and I designed the supplies in the form of different fashion trends, combining two of my quirky passions: supplies and design. The application question was a good way for me to know that William and Mary values more than just the academics, or the typical college admission essay.

Now, as your time at William and Mary comes to an end, do you think that the school was able to satisfy those expectations?

I think that the school presents multiple avenues for you to express yourself beyond the major that you chose or beyond your academic interests, but you do have to seek them out.  I think it can be difficult if you are academic centric (which I definitely was when I was in high school) to encourage yourself to broaden your involvements. The fact that most William & Mary students are heavily involved around campus inspired me to seek out these opportunities. The activities that you can join also combine multiple interests. For example, joining Humans of William & Mary allows me to learn more about people while also dabbling into other creative outlets, such as photography and interviewing. I am passionate about both these activities, but I might not have pursued them independently if they weren’t part of one community, or one house under which I can explore multiple avenues.

Do you think that you synthesized the things that you learned from Humans of William and Mary into your academics? Do you see those things intermingling ever?

That’s a really good question. To be honest, when I first started getting involved in extracurriculars at William & Mary it was more separate. It was like filling different boxes: school friends, classes, and extracurriculars, which mirrors the mentality I had in high school, where not all activities (i.e. honor societies) are integrated into one’s growth.  I think I’ve grown to see my activities as part of my independent growth—like my classes, they enable me to think about the world and develop new questions. Being part of Humans, for example, provides me with a sense of community and opportunities to meet people outside of my routine involvements. I have been particularly helpful to engage in conversations with others and to be exposed to others’ vulnerability and thinking. I think these learnings from Humans allows me to better express myself and alter my perspective of extracurriculars as things on a checklist, and instead as avenues to grow myself in different dimensions.

So you mentioned how Humans has allowed you to engage in conversations with yourself. What are those types of conversations that you have?

I think when I talk to people I am often surprised at how these conversations do not shy away from vulnerability, doubt, and depth. I’ve really grown to appreciate people’s vulnerability. It has, in turn, helped me grapple with challenging aspects of college, be it mental health, or the limited mentality that plays into being fixated on grades. I think that when I have conversations with people who are willing to be vulnerable it inspires me to talk to my friends and to do the same. I can balance expressing my positivity, while also reflecting on more challenging emotions, so that others get to know me beyond just one side of how they might see me on a normal day.

If you could pick one location on campus that could be considered an effective representation of everything that is William and Mary what would it be?

I think that if I had to pick a place that I enjoy and one that also embodies William & Mary it would be the terrace. I feel like there are always opportunities on the terrace to meet people, engage in spontaneous conversations, or run into friends. These are not only indicative of a small school, but also people’s willingness to engage with each other despite busy schedules. Because I do spend a considerable amount of time working independently on campus, studying on the terrace always brightens my day. There is rarely a time that I do not see someone I know in between classes and activities. Many people at William & Mary are incredibly busy, but even those short conversations or hugs are incredibly meaningful to me.

Do you spend a lot of time on the terrace?

I spend more time there since I’ve moved off campus, because when I lived on campus I spent more time in my dorm. Since moving off campus, I don’t like going back home in between my schedule, so I have found more places to unwind, and the terrace is one of those. I really like the Wellness center too! &, of course, The Grind. That entire area of campus is a good place to relax and do work outside of the typical work environments (for example, the library or a classroom). Plus, there is usually someone to talk with for a wholesome study break!”

Do you have one meaningful memory or a collection of memories from your experience here?

Definitely a collection. I’d say from Freshman year on there have been several defining memories. I think Freshman year many of these meaningful memories were with my Freshman hall. I lived in Botetourt, Fauquier specifically, so a lot of our outings and dinners were at The Caf  as a freshman hall. I realize now how much I cherish these moments, because it’s wonderful to have meals with people and process the day, which can be harder as people get busier. In terms of other moments, I’ve had special moments around Williamsburg and off campus–for example, taking walks in CW or visiting the Williamsburg Botanical gardens. Senior Year has also been full of great memories. I took a trip to VCU to visit friends, and it was wonderful because they are friends that I’ve had since middle school.  I think overall these moments occur when I embrace spontaneity and traveling!

Do you have a favorite place off campus?

A lot of times I go to New Town, usually for  Panera Bread! New Town was also the first place my Freshman Hall explored off campus, where we all had Sweet Frog together by the fountain. That was a good time! Since then, and because I have a car now, I go to New Town to visit Panera or the Bookstore. I love spending time in bookstores. Another one of my favorite spots is the campus bookstore in CW. That’s a spot where I like to retreat to if I don’t want to study in Swem.

Do you have anything that you want to add?

I’d just say that while thinking about graduation, I feel a mixture of emotions.  In some part, though, I feel ready to branch out and try something different. I’m thankful that much of my college experience taught me to embrace difficult emotions because of the invaluable learning that comes out of it, such as facing rejections, which was a strong component of my Freshman year. Many people question whether they would change something, or do something differently. I have thought about this question, but each time, I have concluded that I would not change anything about my college experience. In the end, whatever opportunities came my way, or didn’t come way, led me to a place where I am understanding myself better and leading with more confidence. I think that is part of the journey of doing things, not understanding them in the moment, and reflecting on them later. I think that, unlike in high school, college teaches you that you are not alone. It is also important to realize that what one sees is not always the truth. If someone was to judge me from the outside, they could incorrectly assume that “she’s so happy all the time,” which is not the case. Recognizing that our first judgments are normally incorrect is a lesson I definitely take away from college. People do not simply snap their fingers and feel happy or accomplish what they have.  It takes hard work, much of which lies behind the scenes. Therefore, when we compare ourselves, we compare ourselves to a highlight reel, or our idealized viewpoint of a person. Of course, our campus is full of smart and talented individuals, but it is important to realize one’s limitations: we can’t tell what people are going through, so it’s not worthwhile to assume and compare yourself.

Excited about life.

Hello, Rishya!

Hi Sophie, how are you?

Good! So, this is your senior interview. So a question I have for you, is, what made you want to be involved in Humans of William & Mary?

So, I talked about this a little in my application. I wanted to be in Humans of William & Mary since my sophomore year. But I remember being really intimidated by the application because I didn’t really know how to answer a lot of the questions, but then on top of that I’m your typical William and Mary student, overcommitted. Then senior year, I had free time, and I was like, “what do I do with this?” I still had a lot of commitments in the fall, but I knew my spring was  going to be empty, and I was like “this is my chance,” I’ve wanted to do this for three years and now I’m finally going to do it. The reason was mostly because I really like talking to people. Not even talking to people as much as listening to people’s stories. I genuinely love making friends, and I love meeting new people, from the bottom of my heart in the most genuine sense. I love hanging out and just listening to people talk about their stories. I remember when we did our first interview with Michelle, and we interviewed a transfer student, and she was so happy and we just asked her about herself and what she was doing. It was the most basic question, but she had so much passion and was so happy, it reminded me of why I joined Humans and why I joined William and Mary in the first place. You get to see that from people who don’t necessarily come out and talk about what they want to talk about, they don’t have positions in which they are able to do that.

Yeah, exactly. That’s awesome. And I agree that it does make you appreciate it a lot more because it is so easy to get overwhelmed and forget what makes William & Mary special. That’s awesome that you wanted to do Humans because you are a people person. Have you always been a people person?

I think so. I think I have, but a lot of my friends aren’t, so I always thought that “maybe I’m not.” But it took me a long time, like junior year of college, to realize that I actually do enjoy talking to people and enjoy meeting new people. And the reason was mostly through school and through college, all of my friends were introverted, which is totally fine, and I very much appreciate that, and I think the reason that I’m friends with all of these people is because I like listening to them, and they’re usually people who don’t get to talk in big group settings, and that’s who I’m usually drawn to. For the longest time I thought that I wasn’t, because all my friends weren’t people persons so I must not be a people person, and it took me a long time to realize that I’m very much an extroverted person and that I very much get my energy from being around people and from being around people that make me happy. So it’s not that I wasn’t, I think that I always have been, it just took me a while to realize that this is what makes me happy.

Yeah, that’s so cool, and that leads me into another thing that I was curious about, how do you think you’ve changed, now that you’re graduating, since you’ve joined Humans? Or since you’ve been a freshman, what has changed within you?

Let me answer with William & Mary first. I think that they’ve both been very transformative experiences in general, but with any college experience, it’s changed me in so many different ways than I thought were possible, and to this day I don’t think I know how much I’ve actually changed, I just notice things that I’ve done in the past and I was like “wow, that’s so weird, I never would have done that if I was anyone else or if I did things any differently.” A lot of things here have helped me grow through experiences in my life. Like, sophomore year was really rough for me, just like experiences that you wouldn’t expect to happen, like all of my friends are wonderful people, so I just didn’t expect that. I also tend to get attached to people very easily, not in a bad way I think, just I think that these people are good for me, so I spend a lot of time with them and invest a lot of time with them. And then that led to a lot of specific problems and it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the way we reacted to different situations was very different and I had to separate myself from the situation because it was affecting my life. And that really changed me, and I asked my friend last month how I had changed, because they had known me since freshman year and we had gotten closer, and he was like “I don’t even know who you were freshman year,” and I don’t even think I knew who I was. I feel like coming here, meeting so many different types of people that are so passionate all the time in everything that they do has been so much fun, because it made me realize that I could find something that I was passionate about. It’s just so nice when people just like talk about what they care about, it’s such a nice feeling, you can see it in their eyes how happy it makes them. I think that really changed me and made me be more appreciative about focusing time on things that I actually do care about, investing time in people that I care about. I think that’s what William & Mary has taught me, that it’s okay to spend time with your friends if it means that you are happy at the end of the day, you know? And joining Humans, again, after being at a low my junior year, I felt like I was done changing and growing, and that I had one more year of just like, chilling. Humans showed me once again why William & Mary is the place that it is and why it is so special to a lot of people, because every single person that I’ve interviewed and the people in the organization care so much about making the school a better place, and making this organization more visible through spreading love, and that’s something that’s really important. Talking to people has showed me how much more important that was.

That’s wonderful, and it’s been so nice to work with you, I think I’ve learned a lot from the upperclassmen seeing how you guys have interacted with the organization and how you’ve applied it to yourselves and your lives. So you’ve said that you’ve grown a lot through Humans and through William & Mary in general, so going into the future after graduation, my last question for you is, what is your one wish for the future?

I wish that I will do something that makes me happy, and that I don’t settle for anything less. That’s what I’ve been doing already, but in the future. My family tells me to get a job, whatever that is, that will keep me afloat. What I realized in this whole process is at the end of the day I need to be doing something that makes me happy, that makes me realize what I’m passionate about, something that keeps me on my toes every single day. I need to be excited about doing what I’m doing.

Excited about life.

Yeah, excited about life! I need to be able to wake up in the morning and be like “yes, I’m so excited that I’m going to work today or I’m going to school today,” I want to be happy about everything that I’m doing. I think having this has been a really important part of my life. I don’t need be happy all the time, I think that’s unreasonable, but I need to be like, proud of how far I’ve come and be like “I’ve worked really hard to be here, and at one point this was what I wanted,” and I want to be okay with myself.

Learn, think, and grow.

How are you today? How’s everything been going?

I’ve been okay, not super good. Yesterday was fine since I finished my senior seminar. I think today, it hit me a little, that oh lord, I have a final on Tuesday, and stuff like that. I don’t want to freak out about it, but that’s me, I get anxiety. So before this I was working on a take-home essay, which is inconsequential to what I’m going to be doing later.

Is that something you’re doing over the summer?

I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after graduation, it’s probably going to be searching for a job and talking to people.

Ah okay, do you think there’s a reason why these give you anxiety?

I think that’s just the way I am, I stress out about things because I want to do my best. Even though my best may not be A level material, I still stress out because that’s how I get stuff done. If I don’t stress out about things, I’ll just be really lazy about it. Sometimes the work that needs to be done, doesn’t get done. I’ve never turned something in late, but at the same time I’ve procrastinated and had to be like “Okay, I really need to focus.”

Is this something that you’ve been grappling with? Or something you want to change?

No, this is not something that comes in between me and my life. Sure sometimes I stress out about stuff and I might need someone to talk me down off the ledge, but it’s not something that defines me. I guess that kind of answers your question. It doesn’t prevent me from doing anything. I just walk around with a lot of things on my mind. That’s what I like to do – I think a lot.

What has been something you’ve thought about recently?

When I say I like to think, I just randomly notice things. It is random details where it’s something about the bricks. Right now my mind is focused on the bricks on the Daily Grind where it’s smoke charred or things like walking to class or handing in a paper. I randomly think about facts in my head, not like inquisitive thoughts or deep philosophical things.

Has that affected your experiences on campus or the way you approach your work?

I guess in class it has definitely helped make me ask questions when I don’t understand something. I sometimes have Professors who don’t like the way I ask questions that maybe are inconsequential. But it’s a way for me to get a better understanding about something. It’s not a way that I manage my stress, but I kind of just go with whatever I’m thinking and stuff like that. And I definitely think it bleeds into how I write. Sometimes I write without a certain clear train of thought. I put down a ton of words that sound okay in my head. Then I go back and edit it down. It’s weird being a senior and I’ve never looked back at my freshman writing. If I went back, I would not know what I was thinking back then. Versus now, I can see that I have a writing style. Not that many people here, at least, know how to write well. I mean, it’s tough. Compared to being a business major or someone in the sciences, you pretty much have a job right after college. For English writers, you hate what you’re doing but you also like it. It’s a balance between hating writing papers and learning.

Yeah! Every time I see you, you’re always working on a paper in the Daily Grind. Can you walk me through how you approach writing a paper or a big assignment?

I have no idea how to answer that question! I haven’t even thought about that!

Or even, if you’re there most of the time trying to write, how does being in the same environment affect the way you think or come up with new ideas?

I guess with how I start to write, I either have a prompt or I have an idea of a prompt, or I use some Sparknotes.

That was my high school life!

Sparknotes or blogs on poetry or other works is so helpful, especially when you have to come up with your own argument. It’s so helpful to look at what some people have to say about the book and you’re able to compare it to whatever your thought process is. I go for that a bit and then create a thesis statement. And then I edit that thesis statement and start writing. From that thesis statement I should already know what to write. In terms of the Daily Grind, it doesn’t help me write, it’s just where I study in the mornings. It’s just what I do. I could never go to Swem in the morning.

Have you ever experienced just terrible writer’s block?

For a bit. It’s not like super terrible but I’ve had it a number of times. But normally, what I think about writer’s block is that if you have writer’s block, you just don’t know the subject well enough. You just don’t know what you’re talking about. Because if you know what you want or going to say, or even how to say it, you can just write it. I can only write 4 or 5 pages a day or something like that, but I haven’t struggled to come up with a thought. So it’s not necessarily that I have writer’s block, sometimes my mind just shuts down for a bit or I take a break by getting some water. I’m always thinking about whatever paper I am writing about.

Is there any advice you would give other people who may come across a “writer’s block?”

I think it’s mainly having a really concise thesis statement, like X relates to Y or this relationship means this, or something like that. I think it was wrong for me to say that one just doesn’t know the information well enough, it’s also a matter of how do I articulate my argument. And when you have an argument in mind and you want to just follow it, it’s fairly easy to talk about it if you’re also really passionate about it. Sure I’ve struggled to write papers, but I’ve never struggled to write. It’s weird talking to a non-English major because it’s just a skill that you have to do. If you don’t give yourself the space to write, then you would struggle.

What is a topic that you could write on and on about?

Humans rights law and international law. I mean I can write about both subjects, but international law pertaining to human rights is a really broad field and I really like it. I can look at state constitutions and also what the world is doing. And I am able to incorporate my passions. Another topic I can write on and on about is education. That was my senior seminar where I wrote about busing and education and I can probably write more about it in regards to Henrico County in Richmond and Virginia. If I am very passionate about an idea, I can have a lot to say about it.

When did you realize they were topics you were passionate about?

The first long paper I wrote was about, I think, the European Union and I also wrote a really long paper about international law and rights. I think those two papers showed me what it meant to write really long papers and to just go on about a topic. You have to put in a lot of time and effort and if you put in that much time, then you’re going to be very dedicated to the craft and what you’re going to write. If you’ve been following a topic for a very long time then you’re going to be invested with whatever you are doing.

How do you hope to continue this passion after college?

I’m probably not going to. I want to read more after college, that’s kind of something I really want to do more after college. I do want to go to law school. I’ll probably have the opportunity to do super long papers at law school. As the same time, if I don’t want to go to law school, then I’ll be okay. If it fancies me, I might write a research paper, I might not. It just depends on where my interests lie and what my time is like.

Do you still see writing the same way after this?

I don’t think I could work as a super creative writer or a news writer. It’s just not for me.

So what do you hope to do?

I want to be a lawyer. I want to help people. My dream job, I’ve been telling this a lot, I want to work at the U.N. I think it’s a dream of mine and something I really want to do.

Why is that your dream job?

I just want to help people. I think that’s where my talents lie.

How have your experiences at William & Mary then shaped your aspirations?

I’ve known a lot people and I’ve realized that people here are really weird in their own way. Everyone has so many distinct personalities. I’ve learned how to just, deal with people and I think that’s kind of central to what I’ve learned here. Over the last two months, I met so many new people, but I don’t know if I have the time to grow those friendships and just it’s kind of something I’ve learned. To make friends quickly. But I’ve also learned which are the long-lasting relationships versus the people you’ll see on campus only. It’s something I’ve learned that rather than struggling to make friends, I know the people that I will keep in touch with much later down the road. There were some people from out-of-state were they were the only ones that came from their high school. They didn’t know anyone, so they had to make their own way. It’s different for me where I had two really close friends from high school in my freshman dorm. It was awesome. But it also meant that I hung out with them a lot. It’s something like that where I don’t have a lot of close friends. Sure, there are people that I enjoy talking with and hanging out with, but at the same time I don’t know if I’ll still be able to later on. It’s a good thing I know who my close group of people are, I know I want to still be friends with them five years down the road, and I know they still want to be friends five years down the road, too. Junior year was pretty easy because I knew who I wanted to hang out with.

For the friendships that you may not have seen to last long, did you ever have any regrets?

I had some freshman year. Though we might not have meant to be friends, I beat myself up a lot since I felt excluded from things. I was caught up in a friend group that I felt excluded from and wasn’t invited to things. I was in a friend group, or I thought I was in a friend group, but it didn’t work out. I’ll still say hi to my freshman hallmates, but we are not really close. I think that’s a good question to think about. My freshman hall was a bad group of people, not bad as in personality or character, but bad as in we did not see each other eye to eye. And I kind of thought we were going to do pretty well, but I straight up have no idea where people are. Where they are working after graduation and whatnot.

How were you able to come to terms with that? Was there something or someone that helped?

Colin, my roommate. I met him my second semester freshman year. Also joining Humans of William & Mary where I really bonded. I think I joined Humans because I wanted to friends. I applied on a whim, and I did not care whether or not I got in. I got an email back saying I got in and I was like, oh, something is actually happening! It was, yeah, kind of the moment that I realized I was actually part of something. Coming into sophomore year was a good time. I kind of knew everything. I thought I was able to know who I was at William & Mary. Joining InterVarsity as well, I had a good group of people to be around as opposed to freshman year when I was always with my freshman hall. It played into who I hung around. It was an environment that was not, habitual, I guess? LIke I appreciate what we did, I’m happy that I got to hang out to them. Out of respect, we’d say hi to each other. And but I’m not going to go out of my way to do so.

Yeah, I totally feel you on that. I had a similar freshman year experience.

Yeah, but I’ve still hung out and talked to some really cool people.

Well, I guess last question. Now that you are leaving, is there something you wish to see happen on campus? Or maybe something for the future incoming classes?

I haven’t thought of this… I think for me, there are a lot of things I wanted to do. I just didn’t do them because I didn’t know how to balance my time. I wanted to explore more than what I have done. But I am not going to say about the whole college, because if you know what you want to do, then do it. And if something comes along, take the opportunity to do it. If you want to do it, then do it. I’m also not telling you to do everything. If I explored every opportunity, then I would not have had the time to study. You come to college to become a better student and person. These opportunities are not there to stress you out. They are meant to be outlets, outlets to enjoy being around people. You’re meant to really learn and think and grow. That’s kind of what I’m going to say. Just to learn, think, and grow.

That was a great answer!

I mean I tried. [laughs]


Path of Spirituality.

So how’ve you been lately? How’s everything going with senior year?

My senior year has been interesting because I think for a lot of people, when they think of senior year, they think that, “oh! It’s going to be the most fun year, and it’s going to be exciting and all that.” Honestly, it’s been one of my header years at this school. Part of that is because, academically speaking, even if you’re taking classes that you enjoy they get more difficult in level. You have more work in them. Your involvements have grown and you have a lot of people you want to spend time with, too. It ends up adding up to be a lot. But, I think that on the other hand, it’s been steadily bringing me to a point of feeling more okay with the idea of leaving. I feel that I’ve gotten the value that I would have by being in this place. At the same time, I will for sure miss the people that I’ve interacted with. In that sense, it’s a freeing feeling.

Did you come into senior year with any expectations, and how they did go?

I thought that I would be better balancing my own mental health and my social interactions with the work that I had to do. That didn’t really end up panning out the way that I expected it to. But at the same time, on the other hand, the types of bonds and close relationships that I wanted to have at this point, I feel like I’ve been able to get them. With everything, there are things that turn out the way you want them to and some that don’t, but you learn to adapt. My plan for after college was going to grad school but then I got rejected from the grad schools that I applied to so I had to rethink what I wanted to do after I left. What I have now for after graduation is a really cool job and I think it will help me out of my academic burn out more than going straight to a PhD program would have. Sometimes the path forward isn’t the path you envisioned first, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad path.

Where there a specific instance(s) that made you realize you had to reconsider certain choices?

I don’t think there was a specific instance, but something that I notice in myself is that when I feel overburdened by life, I tend to retreat inwards. I would start to isolate myself from the activities and the people that I generally enjoy being around. Something that is or was a warning sign for me is when I find myself spending a lot of time by myself. I am an introvert and I enjoy having time for myself, but I think there’s a difference between using that to recharge and actually using that to avoid everything.

How do you feel during those times? Is there something that helps you through them?

One of my hobbies is music. This year I actually started learning the guitar and before that I had played the piano since the fifth grade. I’ve been singing for a while, too, and I didn’t formal start doing voice until college. This last year, I was like, “yeah! I want to pick up a new instrument. I might as well.” So I picked up the guitar, and the nice thing about it is that unlike a piano, I don’t have to worry about portability as much because it’s easy to take anywhere! I really connect with music so I really enjoy being able to play. That sometimes helps me work through times where I’m not feeling that great. I also like writing a lot, fictions specifically. I think it’s interesting sometimes to be able to tackle problems I’m experiencing in real life, but to put them onto a character in a different setting, and write them working through it. It ends up informing my own thoughts about how I can deal with whatever is happening to me. It’s also really nice because, academically speaking, the geology department is very supportive. I feel very connected to it. It’s nice that I can just walk in there and talk to some of my peers and professors. That also tends to help me feel better. There’s also friends, and spirituality, and all that.

Have you been doing music and writing for a while or was that something you picked up in college?  

I’ve been doing both for a bit. I’ve always been connected with music because my parents have always been so that was just a part of growing up. My dad knows how to play six different instruments and my mom sings. He knows how to play the harmonica, the harmonium, there are also classical Indian instruments, like the bulbultarang (which means “song of a nightingale” and kind of a like a banjo but different because it has keys), there are also these drums, called the tabla, and then the wooden bamboo flute called a basuri.

In what way did your dad and all his instruments influence you to pursue music?

In general, his appreciation for music, aside from playing, but to listening and all that, has been an influence on me. I didn’t start playing an instrument until fifth grade, which was when I started piano and that was a really nice journey for me. I was doing lessons regularly until I graduated from high school. It’s been nice while I’ve been at college because Ewell has the practice rooms. Sometimes I go in there and practice for a bit. And like I’ve said, recently I’ve acquired a new instrument.

Has your relationship with music or the way you perceive music grown or changed over the years?

Yeah, I think so. When I was really young I just wanted to do things by the rules that my teacher was giving and I didn’t experiment as much. As I got older, I experimented more by putting the melodies I heard around me into piano outside of lesson time. That was all very intuitive. It wasn’t something I was doing formally necessarily. When I came to college, I was thinking about what I would minor in. And I chose to minor in music, which was an interesting dimension to add because I hadn’t ever really thought about things like theory, ethnomusicology, where you study the different relationships music has with cultures. I hadn’t thought of those things as much. When you look at old composers like Beethoven and Mozart, you don’t just look at their music but also their lives and what was happening in their lives that influenced their writing. You kind of get to their emotional state. I hadn’t even considered any of those dimensions until I came to college and started studying it. I think that overall, I have more of a comprehension and appreciation for it than I had previously. And it’s nice because music is one of those things I want to hold onto, at least as a hobby, for the rest of my life.

That’s awesome! Besides music, have there been other things that have been constant throughout your life or your college experience?

I did mention writing – that’s something since seventh grade, so it’s something more recent thing but still something I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy that a lot. I write all sorts of things—poems, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, novels. Well, I haven’t finished a novel yet but we’re working on that. It’s hard to write a novel when you’re a full-time college student.

Do you hope that one day you will finish a novel?

Yeah I think it would be nice. It’s hard because when you’re a writer you have so many ideas. For me, I sometimes get to five or ten pages in a concept and then I’m like “okay, now how do I move forward from this?” There are some people who spend a lot of time outlining and all that, but I’ve never liked outlines. [laughs] But then I just end up sputtering words sometimes.

I would also say that something that has always been a constant for me has been religion and spirituality. My parents are both really religious and spiritual people but I’ve never felt forced. It has just come naturally to me as I’ve grown. When I came to college, the first organization I joined was the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh Organization here. I spent the last two years as President of the club. That is definitely something I’ve been very invested in as I’ve been in school, too. It’s been interesting because when I was at home and surrounded by my spiritual community, I don’t think I ever appreciated the extent to which it was important to me. I was around it all the time and it was something that people talked about. When I came to college there was not that many people that practice Hinduism and there are even less that are Jain or Sikh, so our school hasn’t been the most diverse in that sense. You really have to fight for the representation and to even be able to have enough of a following to put on events. At the same time, it’s also inspiring because our events like Diwali and Holi end up bringing these huge crowds, like 100-200 people, when there was like five people that made the event happen. There are people that are connecting and enjoying, and that has been very rewarding. I also think that some of my best conversations at the College have been through interfaith dialogues. And that’s something I didn’t really do much of before I came to college because I had my community around me and it was easier to just stick with them. But when you’re in a new environment, you have to branch out and try to understand other people’s perspectives more. I’ve really enjoyed any part that I’ve had in both one-on-one conversations and at interfaith events at our school because I think that’s really important. At the core, a lot of religions have the same beliefs, and obviously the way they go about them is different. Instead of focusing on those differences, but focusing on the similarities, there are a lot of opportunities for growth.

Was there anything that really struck out during these interactions?

I was always very accepting of other people’s religions but until it was actually explained to me and laid out, I didn’t know that there were that many similarities. I thought that was really cool, actually. That means you can have conversations with people around the same framework even if you’re not doing everything the same way. There are the rituals and all that that people do, but then there’s the philosophy at the core of the religion. I think if you talk about those similarities more, it leads to more interesting conversations.

Was there a conversation that really resonated with you?

Yeah, so there’s this guy that graduated last year, his name is Akbar. He’s Muslim but there was this time that we were having a conversation in Jamestown, I mean, Hardy. And we were actually talking about specific verses from the Bhagavad Gita, which is a prominent Hindu text and the Qaran. It was really interesting to see the way those ideas lined up. There was this time he was talking about the idea of idol worship and how Abrahamic religions don’t like the idea of idol worship. People look at Hinduism, especially people who look at it from a Western perspective, as worshipping the idol itself. That’s not actually what’s happening—it’s a symbol meant to symbolize God’s presence. But we think that God is everywhere and in everything, every atom and all. It’s like, he used a metaphor in that when you’re trying to describe a feeling, that you can’t get that abstract, just intuitively. That’s why we use things like poems and art forms to conceptualize the vastness of the universe into something we can all visualize and comprehend. That’s kind of the way I see having idols in Hinduism, we could not imagine that on our own, so we are using that symbol to connect that energy. I just thought that that was an interesting way of thinking about it.

Having been the president of your organization for two years and also being able to meet people of differing religions, has your personal relationship with religion changed?

I was more regular of a practicer at home than I have been in college, and I think that tends to happen to a lot of people because it’s hard when the schedule picks up. It’s also hard because Williamsburg doesn’t have a place of worship for Hinduism. If you want a temple you have to go to Richmond. Especially in Hinduism when you conceptualize God as being everywhere, you don’t have to go to a temple. But just in general, the lack of support from adult figures has been difficult to an extent. I guess a good example of that was in sophomore year, there was a panel on interfaith, and I was asked to be the panelist representing Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and every other person on that panel was either a professor, a reverent, or some other kind of religious figure. It was a huge honor to be on that panel and represent my religion, and I appreciated it a lot, but it also hurt on another level because I’m like, a kid! Not like actually a kid, but you know, I guess I could speak to Hinduism, but Sikhism and Jainism aren’t even my religion so I felt weird about that. Another thing about that is activism, like religious activism. I didn’t encounter much of that when I was at home. I would get bullied about my religion at school sometimes but I was generally in a comfortable setting. Then when I came to school here, the administration hasn’t necessarily been supportive to the greatest extent. We are a minority group and our voice hasn’t been the loudest. There aren’t that many students on this campus interested in being involved in an organization like HSJA and a lot of the responsibilities have fallen on me. Taking that all on me has been challenging at sometimes but I don’t think that’s turned me off from my religion. It’s just been difficult that it’s something that I would want to love and freely practice but I have to be caught up in the administrative aspect of all that. That’s not my tendency so it becomes difficult.

So to end, what do you hope to see for William & Mary and the incoming freshmen in terms of the space we have for minority religions?

I think that the school has been getting better over the years that I’ve been here in supporting religions. I think the school has a lot of work to do, definitely. But it is also difficult if you don’t have the resources to support people of diverse backgrounds because they won’t want to come to the school. But if they don’t want to come to the school, then the school doesn’t have an incentive to make those resources, then it ends up being a bad example of a Catch-22. Something has to start somewhere though, so that burden should fall on the school because at the end of the day, the student has the right to choose a school they feel they will be most supported in. I also think the generations following in our organizations are getting more interested and are collaborating more with other organizations and having a more formal prayer space instead of a classroom. So I think if we’re able to implement things like that, then it will be easier to get more people more motivated to participate in that. It’s hard because when the organization is small, there’s only so much you can do yourself so you have to work hard to attract people to come. Like I said, I think the school has gotten better so hopefully things can continue on that trajectory.

One Loving House.

I see you guys are eating the new Mediterranean bowls, how is it?

J: So I’m not on the meal plan, but last week’s tacos at the truck seemed cool. Didn’t we say we were going to come here and try the different menus?

A: Mhm. Last we were going to have tacos on Friday but then I got strep!

J: I’m out of food right now because I have to go grocery shopping, so the truck came at good time!

Are you guys upperclassmen, then?

Both: We’re juniors!

Ok, how’s that going?

J: I think it’s going well!

A: I feel kind of old though, I don’t know half of campus anymore though, like you knew people older than you and then new people keep coming.

J: Especially since living off campus, if I’m ever here for more than 5 hours, I feel like I’ve been here for too long, it’s weird! I don’t live in a dorm anymore.

A: Not living in a dorm also separates you, too.

Do you guys live together?

A: Well I live upstairs and Joanna lives downstairs.

J: Yeah, I live directly below Alexis. She likes her music and podcasts loud.

A: In the morning I like to be in the kitchen listening to the Daily or something.

J: We live with three other people too, so it’s a full house.

How did you guys all meet?

J: Well, Alexis and I met at a pre-orientation trip, Pathways. And then one of our other roommates, I knew from high school, she’s one of my best friends. We were really good friends in high school but we didn’t room together coming in because she didn’t know until the first day of August when she got off the waitlist. She nagged a single because they just gave her a single and got really lucky! The other two of our roommates was on [Alexis’s] hall freshman year, in Yates. The four of us roomed together last year. Our friend was on the Lacrosse team and four of her teammates moved out of the house, so we four, as a unit, just moved in together.

A: And I went to high school with her, so we’re all very interconnected! People at William & Mary know each other in all different ways.

How’s living together? Have you guys grown closer because of it?

J: Well we’re living together again next year!

A: We feel very adult, now, because we have to do laundry and dirty dishes, grocery shopping, the cooking, and swifering now. And bills!

And just one last question, what’s your favorite thing about each other?

J: I think my favorite thing about Alexis is that she’s just very genuinely herself. She’s one of the most genuine, and wholesome. I think that she, not that’s stubborn, but she doesn’t compromise her values and she will go into anything herself. You can always count on her to be herself.

A: It’s funny she says I don’t compromise my values, because I commended her about this yesterday, but she’s very into personal growth. And I think it’s a very commendable thing to look out for yourself, but also she’s a super compassionate friend. There are so many good things! [Joanna] is also a great listener – if I need to talk about something, Joanna is not going to interject herself into the conversation, she really wants me to express my feelings, and that’s a really good thing to have in a friend. Even for herself, she aligns her life with her values, and she’s taking this Flourishing class so you can really tell she’s flourishing, and we’re yoga buddies!

How cute!

Gratitude Journal.

Okay, so you’re doing homework. What are you working on?

S: I’m just drawing.

Drawing. On your iPad?

S: Mmhm!

Wow. That’s incredible.

L: Yeah she’s really good.

How’d you get into that?

S: Well, I just can’t bring all my paints and stuff here, so then I just started drawing on my iPad.

Okay, how long have you been painting, drawing, doing art?

S: Forever.

Forever? Okay, so when you came out of the womb…

S: I just came out of the womb and I started drawing.

Okay, awesome. What are you drawing right now?

S: My sister.

Are you an art major?

S: No, I’m thinking physics at the moment. I’m not sure yet.

Okay, so art’s just a hobby.

S: Yeah. But I do want it part of my career. I don’t know how to incorporate it.

Art and physics? There’s gotta be something.

Do you have any hobbies?

L: I like to run and read. And bake.

Do you have a favorite book?

L: Not really, actually. I don’t know. I like a lot of different things.

What are you reading right now?

L: I’m reading the third book in the Me Before You trilogy. It’s really good.

Oh, that’s sad.

L: Yeah, it is pretty sad. But–

S: We like our sad–

L: We like our sad books. [laughing] Yeah, I like sad, realistic fiction.

Have you seen the movie?

L: Yeah, pretty good.

Yeah, that got me. Do you have a favorite recipe?

L: Not really.

You just bake whatever?

L: Yeah.

So why do you guys like to hang out in the Wellness Center?

L: It’s pretty.

S: It’s really calming. We like to sit in the sun. Like before this, we always have bench time. After class we sit in the benches outside of Small for, like, hours. Well, we sit in between for an hour, but then I’m just like always there. Because we just love sitting in the sun and doing work there.

Then bench at Small?

S: It’s like the circle benches and the trees all have pink flowers that fall on you. And there’s a lot of bugs, but we still really love it anyway.

L: But it’s been too cold, so we come here instead.

How did you guys meet?

S: We’re hallmates.

What year are you guys?

L: Freshmen.

Where do you guys live?

L: Lion L.

S: GGV. I totally forgot what it was for a second. [laughing]

Did you guys know each other before?

S: No, our friend group just like formed.

L: From people in our hall.

S: Yeah. And now we do everything together. Like all the games. Every single one.

Do you do Caf dinners together?

L: Yeah.

S: Yeah, we do Caf and Sadler. We always play games. We love Just Dance. There’s so much Just Dance. Like my roommate’s incredible. Gets five stars on every single one.

Who has a Wii?

S: We have a hall Wii in our-our–

L: In the lounge.

S: And all of us brought games. Like I brought all the Just Dances. This other guy brought the Wii and we all just play. This other guy brought all the controllers.

Oh that’s amazing. Do you ever whip out those dance moves in any other context.

S: I mean I feel like–

L: [laughing] No.

S: Just besides dancing while we walk. Or like, sing. But that’s mostly what I do.

L: Yeah that’s a you thing.

S: That’s a me thing–dancing and singing. I always have a song in my head. Like I wake up with one and I just like constantly sing it. So I look like I’m talking to myself when I’m walking, but I’m just constantly singing.

I love that. What song do you have in your head right now? Or today?

S: Uhh, hmm. What song was I–

L: You always have one. Oh, you were just singing!

S: I was singing this entire time.

L: I forget what you were singing, though.

S: Right this morning I was listening to a song called Butch by Saint Motel, which is like an indie rock band. And that was really good. And then I started singing a bunch of bad pop songs that just came in my head. Recently, I’ve been waking up with the Alma Mater suck in my head and I don’t know why.

Oh my God. Go Tribe. I don’t think I actually know the words to the Alma Mater all the way through.

L: I just know, like, when you scream William & Mary.

S: I just know ‘Hark upon the gale.’ That’s basically all I know, but that’s always in my head.

Okay, so what’s your favorite thing about each other?

L: That’s a hard question.

S: I like how caring she is. Like she’s always looking out for me and making sure I’m okay. Like, even yesterday everyone thought I died at dinner because I got distracted because I saw my other guy friends from the dorm, and I sat and talked to them for forty minutes and then she was like looking around–

L: I searched the dining hall. I was so scared. I went out to the bathroom and looked under the doors to see if I saw her feet. And then I went back into the dining hall and left again and there she was.

S: And when I’m upset she’s always there for me. And now we started a gratitude journal together, so know we’re writing stuff that we liked about our days and stuff we jointly did together that we enjoyed.

L: Yeah, that’s a fun time.

Is that just with you guys or the whole friend group?

L & S: Just us.

L: I think they’re secretly jealous.

S: I think they are too.

Do you write in it every day?

L: Yeah, well–

S: For the days we started. [laughing]

L: Yesterday was only the second day, so.

S: So I started one in the beginning of the year. And we were dying at what I wrote because it’s really cringey, like who I used to be friends with.

L: It’s fun to have stuff to look back on.

Especially in these years.

L: We’re hoping that if we do it together then we’ll keep each other accountable. I like how fun Sindu is. Like she can be serious if you need to be serious, but also she has her own pizzaz that she brings to everything.

S: I’m kind of more of the distracting one and she’s the one that gets us focused. I need her for my study sessions. We were in chem last semester together and then I would always talk and sing. And I would always draw on both of our notebooks.

L: She drew on my notebook all the time. She said that our teacher looked like a pear and so my whole notebooks just has, like, pears.

S: And with bob haircuts on them. I’d draw like a bunch a flowers and then I’d turn them into turtles. And then I wrote song lyrics in them and that’s like all over all my stuff. I can show if you want.

Wow. We would love to see.

L: Now she’s teaching me how to draw turtles. I’m not as good as an artist as she is.


S: I have like another big page of stuff in here somewhere.

Oh my God that’s beautiful.

S: And I always have lyrics everywhere.

So you have class together. What is this class you have?

S: Last semester we had chem together.

L: Now we don’t have any classes and it’s very sad.

Dang it, you’ll have to plan for that.

L: Yeah.

S: I think we’re going to take bio together. Basically I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, so I’m just going to take things and everything.

L: And I don’t really know what I’m doing, either. So it works out well!

That’s fine. That’s totally fine.

L: We’re trying to take the MACE career exploration course together to figure things out.

I always wanted to do that. And then I got too old. ‘Cause you can only do that as a freshman or sophomore. And then I was like, um, I still don’t know what I’m doing. I could still use that; that’d be great.

S: ‘Cause I love creative writing and art and everything, but then I also love science and I don’t know what to do about it now. Because I only took, like, physics and math and everyone was like, “Oh, I’m going to get a PhD in physics,” and I went around saying the same thing. And then I’m like, wait a minute. I don’t even know if I want to do that anymore. Because I don’t think I can do anything that doesn’t incorporate creativity.

What about you? What are you interested in?

L: Um, I know I want to work with kids. But I don’t know in what context necessarily. So, I’ll probably major in psychology or education or health science or something. But, we’ll see.

So, because you’re a freshman, I have to ask this question: What is one thing that you’ve learned at William & Mary so far?

L: I’m kind of learning that there’s a lot of opportunities out there and you kind of gotta figure out what you want to do and what’s more important. I think it’s been hard to try and figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life. And also, just my time at William & Mary. I’m figuring out there isn’t time for everything and you got to leave time to just hang out with your friends.

S: Yeah.

Sit on the bench at Small.

L: Exactly.

S: I’m learning, too, how to have fun and relax with people and not be afraid to be myself. And surround myself with people who are similar to me in a sense that they respect each other. And we just have fun and we don’t have a lot of drama in our friend group at all. All we do is just laugh. Like we’re the really loud ones in Sadler. So everyone just turns around and is like, uhh.

That’s character-building, being that friend group.

Did you guys form this friend group during orientation, or was it more towards the middle of fall?

S: I think it was during orientation.

L: It was mostly during orientation.

S: Yeah. Most of our hall is good friends with each other. It’s like us, a solid six-girl group, and then we’re friends with some of the guys. I think I’m friends with a lot more of the guys than you. There’s one guy who lives below us, and to tell him I was coming, I stomped really loudly on my floor. And then he was like, why are you breaking the building? And then I ran downstairs.

L: The walls are very thin in GGV, so you can hear–

S: Everything. There’s one girl who sings “Country Road” and “Mo Bamba” at three in the morning.

L: Like opera-y.

S: I try to harmonize with her and everyone’s like, we can all hear you.

There’s truly nothing like a freshman dorm. And then you get into sophomore year, things start to change.And you feel so nostalgic for your freshman dorm.

S: One of my friends and I talk to each other through the ceiling. So she lives like, this side of me, and we open the ceilings, we can see each other’s head, and we use our flashlight and we start talking to each other.

You can open the ceilings?

L: Yeah, you push up the tiles.

S: Yeah we open the ceiling tiles and we went into the ceiling and then we talk to each other. [laughing]

L: The wall isn’t all the way up, so you can see into the other person’s room.

S: And it’s easy to reach the ceilings. Every morning I hit my head because I’m here and the ceilings just right there.

You climbed in the ceiling? Let me get that straight.

L: Wait, no, no, no. ‘Cause her bed–

S: Her room is like right across that way. It’s on the other side of the hall.

So you can see her through the hallway?

L: Like when you push up the ceiling tiles, you’re in the ceiling. But the wall between their rooms doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling. So you can see over it. So if they pop their head up.

S: And we were like dying. My roommate was just watching as all the ceiling dust was crumbling on the ground. And she was like, “What are you doing?” And me and my friend were dying of laughter.

Yeah, I lived in Botetourt and we had the ceiling tiles. And we would always check to make sure that things weren’t hidden up there. Because some people would just hide stuff. And it’s just like a treasure hunt.

S: Some guy in Lion K found a Chewbacca suit up in the ceiling. We’re just like, uhhh.

L: But there’s nothing in ours. We checked.

L: We had one day when one of our friends came over to all of our rooms and we checked each others’ ceiling.

Okay, so if I have one more question: When was the last time you laughed really, really hard?

L: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like we laugh a lot. It’s too much laughing. But that’s not a bad thing.

S: Like we have one friend who can’t listen to a word anyone says and then she’ll just start laughing. And we just look at each other and we die of laughter. Oh, it was dinner when we saw the football player. We laughed really hard at that.

L: Oh yeah. When you started–

S: Okay, so we are obsessed with all the games here. So we go to gymnastics games, basketball, football, soccer, field hockey. We’ve been to all of them. And we know a bunch of players by their numbers. Like, yo, number 19 is in our class. I, like, died when Chase, the 9th grade basketball player was in my COLL class. Like, I was so excited. And then during dinner we saw… who was he, Number 19?

L: Number 9.

S: He’s Number 9 on the football team. And we saw him and my friend was like–we stopped our conversation–we’re like, Number 9 is here. And then I got up and craned my neck. And I was just like, Sindu, sit down! I was like, where, where?

I used to be like that with basketball team.

L: It’s cool to know them.

Yeah, they’re like normal college athletes roaming around.

S: We’re like so excited to see all of them. [laughing]

That’s funny.

Sindu, is this a snitch on your backpack?

S: Yes.

Books or movies? Or both?

S: Both.

What’s your favorite book?

S: Half-Blood Prince.


S: Um, well, I like how they brought in love and normal teenage  problems into it. And then I loved all the action and I loved the backstory of Voldemort because I think he’s an amazing character.

And I love the story of Snape, too, and how he’s the half-blood prince to Harry and stuff.

It’s always amazing to me how she came up with that. Like how che conceived that.

S: But I like a lot of them. The Deathly Hallows is also one of my favorites. I didn’t like it as much as a movie, but as a book I really enjoyed it because it was super action-packed. I love the Chamber of Secrets because I love snakes and spiders. One of my friends told me he hates the book because he said snakes and spiders ruined it. And I was like, we can’t be friends now.

Do you have a favorite book series?

L: As a kid, I used to be obsessed with the Series of Unfortunate Events. But that was elementary school. I was never super into Harry Potter.

S: See, I’m in love with Harry. I think of the perfect guy for me, and I think of Harry.

L: Well I came to tour the college and I really liked it. My mom’s like, if you’re gonna go here, you need to read Harry Potter. Like, you’re going to be so left out of everything. So that summer I was like, alright. And I read one through five. And then..I stopped.

S: You skipped the two best ones, Leah.

L: And I haven’t really seen the movies either.

S: No, I only read the books in high school. Like, that’s when I read them for the first time and I loved it. And it became my favorite. But I watched all the movies before that. I told myself I hated fantasy books, and I realized I love fantasy books. Like I read my sad, realistic fiction books–

L: I’m more of a realistic fiction.

S:–and then sci-fi movies.

L: And rom-coms. We do a lot of rom-coms. We usually do a rom-com a weekend.

That’s incredible. Do you guys have any plans for Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day?

L: Probably a rom-com.

What’s your favorite rom-com, or what’s one that’s on the list for this weekend?

L: Hmm. What did we watch the other night that was a little weird? Oh–

L & S: Easy A.

S: I did not like that.

L: I did not like that one that much. We watch a couple Christmas-y, cheesy ones.

S: I liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Oh that’s a good one.

S: I was like, I relate to this girl; I’m terrified of driving, I romanticize everything in my head and never do anything in real life. I was like, this is me. And then she actually got the guy in the end, and I was like, yes.

L: Yes.

S: I see this future.

That’s funny.

S: What other ones have we even watched?

L: I don’t know. I lose track.

S: Yeah. But we’ve seen so many movies. Because we always go to our friend’s room. Even if she’s not there, I’m always like, we’re having a party in [her] room.

L: She has the softest carpet, so.

S: She does.

L: We all just sit there.

S: And then I have the biggest computer and we all watch a movie on it.

I made a list of all the movies I watched in 2018 and I got through January, and then I just gave up.

L: That’s a good idea because then you can look back.

S: Yeah we watch horrible movies.

L: We also watch Kids Baking Championship together. It’s a really good show.

S: [laughing] We watched it at the Wellness Center on Tuesday.

L: ‘Cause we’re watching the current season, so we have to wait. It comes out on every Monday, so on Tuesday we watch it.

So is it like the Great British Bake Off, but with children.

L: Yeah, sort of. It starts off with like, 10 kids-ish and then each week someone gets eliminated. And we just laugh at all the kids.

S: They’re always super extra. BUt they’re also really sweet. Like if one of them is crying and other people are done, they’ll come and help them even though they’re in a competition.

L: It’s pretty wholesome.


Just Engaged!

So since you guys just got engaged, how did you meet?

Caroline: We met online!

Devin: On Match.

C: A long time ago. Six months ago. When we met, it was his first time meeting someone online, and it was me having a really bad day and not wanting to go, but then we ended up meeting. And I think we’ve spent every single day together ever since.

D: Since August 28th, we’ve spent every single day together.

C: He’s in the Navy and I work locally, so we’re making it work. He’s about to be deployed, so I’m excited to have the same last name. We just got him [the puppy] recently, and Jamie [the older dog], I’ve had forever.

What’s his name?

C: Jackson. Right now, he’s just a little bit of a toddler. He chews on everything, poops on everything. But Jamie is really obedient. So, we’re trying to get him to watch her.

How did the proposal happen?

C: So, I grew up in Williamsburg, and actually worked in Williamsburg for most of my life, so I come down here and tell him everything. My brother was in the Fife and Drum Corps and that kinda thing. To me, this is nostalgic, now that we live in Hampton. He proposed on the Palace Green, and that’s where I used to work, so it means a lot to me. And this is the place that he picked so it’s a good spot. And my parents approved. It’s been a big day. When we started talking about marriage, I said, “Please don’t propose on Valentine’s Day,” and he waited one whole day!

D: It was gonna be last night when you got home from work.

C: But now, we’ll have our own story. We’ve been talking about it, I think we’re gonna get married next month. We’re just ready. His last name is Sibby, so my name will be Mrs. Sibby and that’s hilarious. I’m ready to be Mrs. Sibby.

Do you guys know where you want to get married?

C: Probably in Hampton. He has family out of town and I have family here, so just trying to find somewhere really simple. I know what I want and it’s gonna be really easy and simple.

Reaching a Hand Out.

What year are you?

I’m a Junior after this semester – I actually just transferred here this semester.

Oh! Where’d you transfer from?

I transferred from Tidewater Community College in the Norfolk campus.

So what made you want to come to William & Mary?

I’m planning on double majoring in Sociology, with a concentration in Criminology, and International Relations.

Did you always know you wanted to study that, or was it something you discovered along the way?

International Relations was along the way, but I’ve been wanting to do Criminology from when I entered college.

What made you interested in Criminology?

It was a culmination of my experiences of growing up watching way too many crime shows, and starting to have questions of, why did someone do this? Or, why would someone go towards this? And then, the semester before I transferred here, I got really deep in looking into private prisons, recidivism rates, and things along those lines. I looked into the program here, and I was like, wow, this is the place for me.

How has your interest in this subject affected the way you see things today?

I feel like, yes, sometimes people do bad things or seem irredeemable, but our system is very punitive, we punish them after-the-fact, rather than helping someone beforehand who could have lived a completely different life if someone had just reached a hand out. There are some things that need to be changed, like the way we go about our juvenile system. We don’t help them, we say “you did something horrible, you’re going to prison,” and those people that go to prison end up doing the same things when they come out. It’s just a cycle. There’s the mindset of once a criminal, always a criminal – once you do one bad thing.

If you could change one thing about that today, what would it be?

I would say there needs to be more outreach programs for youth, especially, those who are in lower-income schools and neighborhoods, because those are the children that are most likely to be affected by crime and to go down the path of crime. And the one way, surely, to change someone’s life is to give them the opportunities they don’t currently have. The more opportunities you present to them, the less likely they will go down that path and perpetuate the cycle.

Have you had any personal experiences or knew of anyone who was affected by this?

One person I just barely knew; he was just some guy in my Government class in high school, and things had always gone wrong for him. The school said that as long as he attended classes he’d be fine, but he had to come to school wearing an ankle bracelet every day. Something happened one day where the fire alarm was pulled during lunch – we all had to go outside and it started turning into a riot. The person who got blamed for it turning into a riot, was him. I didn’t know him that well, but I knew that it wasn’t him. They blamed it on him because he was wearing the ankle bracelet.

Do you know what happened to him after that?

I don’t know, but I wish I could say I wish him the best, but from the way our system is, once you’re in it, it’s really hard to escape it. The school-to-prison pipeline is, you go in as a kid, you stay as an adult, you leave as an adult, you come back as an adult. The truth is, if you’re been in a prison for more than 2-5 years, that’s a good chunk of your life. If you go in as a 15/16 year old, you’re missing out on your development and your childhood. Yes, if you’re doing something really wrong, you deserve to be punished and reprimanded for it, but if we can prevent this beforehand, then what’s the point of punishing people, sending them to jail, and perpetuating the cycle?

What do you hope to accomplish, then, with your education here in Criminology? I know it’s a big question, so you can definitely think about it.

I’ve actually thought about that a lot. One of the things I want to do is delve even deeper into private prisons and how they perpetuate the cycle of recidivism and deepening their pockets. I know there’s already been a lot of research and studies on it, but I want to look into it further. There are plenty of other countries that do have their own private prisons that work without funneling a population over and over again. I want to use my International Relations major to go around the world and study how different prison systems work. I think it’s either Denmark or Norway, but they have a system of non-violent criminals living together in a condominium apartment, nicer than the home I grew up, while also having a lower recidivism rate. I want to use my Sociology major for the numbers, seeing the groups that go to prison, who is funneling them into prison, and ultimately, find a way to lower it.

That’s awesome that you know what you want to do and are so passionate about it, but how has it been pursuing that at William & Mary? Was it hard to adjust?

It was kind of hard adjusting at first, because I live off-campus. I don’t commute so I take the bus. I really love the Trolley Line, but I have an 8 am and it doesn’t start running until 9 am, so I have to make sure to catch the Red bus. One time I missed two buses, and a lady, all bundled up in layers, pulled up near me and asked if I needed a ride. I was suspicious and half-okay, but I didn’t know her. I personally have a philosophy of not getting into anyone’s car unless you know them or called for that car, because Virginia, especially Norfolk where I’m from, is the midway point between New York and Florida. There’s a lot of human-trafficking in Norfolk, because it’s the midway point, has ports, and it has military bases.

How did you find out about that?

One of my friends from TCC started talking about [human-trafficking], and the more I listened to her, I looked into it. They even had a FBI special agent come to our school and talk about. I’ve had so many people try to pick me up in Norfolk. Also, that’s why I’m sketched out by public transportation because I had to take public transportation when I was in Norfolk, and I had some stories about that. Have you ever been on a public transportation bus and have your bus drive by a drive-by shooting? That’s one that I can cross off. I used to think that the stuff that I experienced in Norfolk was the norm, but once I started talking to the people and OAs here, I realized Norfolk was pretty bad.

Wow! That’s crazy!


The Daily Grind.

Do you hang out in the Grind a lot?

Yeah, I do come to the Grind a lot.

What’s your favorite thing about this place? Why do you come here so often?

The last manager who was here had been here for 18 years, so this place was very set in its culture when I first started coming. And a friend who graduated 2 years ago used to come here a lot, so she was the one who first had coffee with me here. And she unofficially was like, “Alright, this is gonna be your space,”. That’s how I started coming here, and then it kinda turned into this place where no matter how my day’s going, I can always come here and rely on a cup of tea and good conversation with the people who work here. Scott, the old manager, was a great dude. He was kinda crotchety and grumpy, but there was something really nice about having this space to come to and rely on Scott making me a cup of tea and a breakfast sandwich, regardless of what was else going on in my life.

Do you still work here?

I don’t work here anymore. I worked here from last June to November, and was actually saving up money to go to Copenhagen, which is where I studied abroad.

Tell me about Copenhagen.

I went abroad there spring of my junior year, and it is just an incredible city. There’s something about that culture that really speaks to me. The Danish people in general can come off as closed off from the outside but once they open their homes and their hearts to you, they are some of the most loving and welcoming people. They’ve got an incredible sense of humor and I’m still in good touch with my host parents, who are part of the reason I’m going back. It’s a really special place for me.

How do you think your time in Denmark changed the way you saw William & Mary?

It completely changed the way I saw William & Mary. I think before I went abroad I needed a break from school, which is part of the reason I went. And I feel like the majority of people who go to college generally hit a point where they need some space to reflect, and that was a huge goal of mine in Copenhagen. I was alone for most of the time in Copenhagen, so when I came back I had all the more reason to appreciate the people I have here and the community that I’ve found. I made another group of friends at the start of my senior year, which I didn’t expect, and it made me appreciate that community all the more.

You’re a senior and you’re almost on your way out. What is a piece of advice that you would give to any William & Mary student?

I think that generic advice for anyone entering college is to keep an open mind, not only to experiences that you might not be comfortable with but also with changes that you might see in yourself that you wouldn’t have expected to see. But to a William & Mary student, I think I would say that anytime you think that you know this college, there is always another corner that you can explore. If you at any point feel that you’ve gotten everything that you can out of this place, I feel like there’s usually a surprise waiting for you around the corner. That’s what I’ve found to be the defining characteristic of my time at William & Mary. Every time I think I’ve hit a dead end or I feel like I’ve found the bottom of my experience here, I’ve always been surprised. I’m trying to maintain attitude this last semester, which is a little difficult given that  I’m a bit of a cynical senior, but that’s the advice I’d give. 

It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Just to start, what’s your year and your major?

I’m Class of 2019, so I’m actually a super-senior and I am an Anthropology major.

What made you stay another year?

I took a semester off because I was dealing with mental health disabilities, and I wanted to take care of that before coming back to campus.

So how was that semester off, what did you do?

I thought it was amazing, because I got to know about myself. I did volunteering and explored classes outside of what I was interested in. I got a better understanding of what mental health is, it was a great experience for me. And when I came back to campus the next semester, it was a fresh start for me. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

How were you able to learn more about mental health – was that through the volunteering, classes, or experiences you had?

It not the volunteering experiences – I went to therapy; there was also Dil to Dil, a mental health platform for South Asian students where they get to share their experiences. It was amazing to hear that other girls and other students who were South Asians like me went through the same experiences I did. It’s really uplifting to hear everyone’s stories.

Is mental health viewed a certain way in South Asian culture?

I think, like in every society in the world, it is still a bit of a taboo. It’s something that is not talked a lot about and something that needs to be worked on. The fact that people at William & Mary are being more willing and open about mental health, and have a platform where they can talk about that, is wonderful. Having more awareness for mental health for everyone is very important, especially if you go to a very rigorous and academically challenging school like William & Mary.

Wow, did you think it was hard to confront those issues?

Like any disability or obstacle in life, it is always challenging to confront them, but it was a lot less scary than I thought it would be. For me, I wish I confronted them sooner. In the end, I confronted them and that’s what matters to me. I learned from my experiences that if you have any feelings, just talk about them and confront them head-on because you will only get good out of that experience.

Were there people that were super influential to you when this happened?

Absolutely – my family, especially, my parents, my brother. A few of my really close friends were super supportive and were amazing with me throughout my journey. They were patient with me when I was trying to figure out what kind of person I was – they were just the best and I’m happy I surrounded myself with a good group of people, from William & Mary, from high school, and even from my childhood. It was great to let them know I was becoming, not a different person, but my real self. I hoped they would still accept me for that, and they did.

Was your change to your real self more internally or externally?

Since it was internal, it definitely did change my external. When I say becoming my real self, it was like seeing the world not just through one emotion or through one view, but being able to process so many different emotions – which can be scary at times but also a very beautiful thing because you’re able to see the world through a completely new lens and you’re able to process emotions and relate and have empathy, sympathy, kindness, and compassion. Those come from learning from your mistakes, jealousy, anger, and suffering. I describe it as if you were engulfed in ice – you’re frozen in that state for a while, but when you go to therapy or when you find coping mechanisms, it kind of melts that and you’re able to see things from a fresh new perspective. Analogy of the day!

I’m really happy for you and I’m sure you’re not alone. From this point, is there advice you could give to anyone who might also be dealing with this?

I think my advice for anyone struggling with mental health is that while the illness does not define you, do not be afraid to accept and confront it head on and most importantly, to have faith and love in yourself. I am still working through it, and even though it’s something that I wish I didn’t have, in a way, it’s actually helped me so much. For me, it was the accepting it and not trying to push it down that really helped me. I accepted that it was part of my life and that it was part of my personality, and the things I have done to help cope and help be more understanding of other people have really changed me and that is a really beautiful thing. Someone with mental illness should not be ashamed of it or try to push it away, they should embrace it and try to be proud of it in a way, because they can help people to understand and gain empathy

Was there a specific moment or experience that really stuck with you during this process?

It’s so funny- I think the one thing that kind of stuck with me was the corny line in the first book of Harry Potter, where Dumbledore says “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I was dwelling on not just my dreams but also my insecurities and all those bad thoughts in my head when I wasn’t living the life I should have been when I knew I had so much more potential to be something that clearly wasn’t in my head. Living isn’t only confronting bad things, although that’s part of it, but learning something from them and learning to grow as a person and not dwelling on the things you wish you were.

So this is your last semester. How do you feel about that?

I feel very excited but it is very bittersweet. For me it’s a feeling I never thought I’d feel before. I am going to be sad once I leave here, because I have made a lot of good friends here and my experience has taught me a lot. I am also excited to not study for tests!

Is there anything you’re really looking forward to before graduating?

One thing I’m looking forward to is taking classes for my major and being a TA for ballroom dance.

Wow! How is being a TA for that?

It’s a lot of fun! It’s very weird being on the opposite side and being called a “teacher’s assistant” but I think it’s great! It also helps me get in touch with a dance form that I really like. I think if you really like something you should go for it and see how it suits you.

Diversity with Inclusion.

Can you tell me about yourself and your story?

My name is Fanchon Glover. I go by Chon. I am from Greenwood, South Carolina. I am an only –child, first generation student, and in February, I completed my 23rd year at William & Mary.  My first role at W&M was assistant director of Multicultural Affairs, then I became director, and then had a brief stint as interim assistant vice president of student affairs when long-time Vice President of Student Affairs, Sam Sadler retired. In 2008, I became the Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Initiatives, and in 2010 I was named the university’s Inaugural Chief Diversity Officer. I have had multiple opportunities to serve the university in various leadership roles.

I attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina- a small, four-year, private, Presbyterian church-related institution. I received a BS in Sociology in 1990. When I graduated, I never knew anything about higher education as a career. My alma mater gave me my first professional job upon graduation as the Coordinator of Student Volunteer Services and Minority Affairs. That opportunity also made me the first administrator of color at Presbyterian.

After my first year working at Presbyterian, I knew that higher education was my “calling.”  I began working on my Masters degree in Higher Education Administration part-time in South Carolina.  When the job at W&M was announced, I left Presbyterian and re-enrolled in the Master’s program at W&M. I earned my Masters and Doctorate degrees in Higher Education Administration at William & Mary in 1999 and 2006, respectively.

Now, I have the fortunate opportunity to teach in the EPPL program each spring.  I teach a course entitled, “Leadership in Cultural Competency for graduate students enrolled in the Counseling, K-12, Higher Education, and Gifted Education programs. It’s truly great to be in the classroom!

When not working, I enjoy watching sports – football, college basketball, and tennis are my favorites. I am an avid, loyal Pittsburgh Steelers fan!  I also enjoy spending time with friends, going to the movies, community service, reading and travelling. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; and The Links, Inc.; both of which are women’s organizations that focus on leadership and public service.

What have you learned from your different roles?

I’ve learned so much! I’ve learned collaboration, partnership, and most importantly, the value of relationships.  In the different roles, I have had the opportunity to work closely with students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and parents.  Very few positions provide that breath and depth of interactions.  All of the roles have helped me grow as a leader and get a fuller understanding of how the full university works. With D&I work, it is never best accomplished alone. We collaborate and partner on a regular basis because penultimate this work has university-wide span.

I have learned the value of each person’s voice being heard and represented at all tables. I always knew but it has been reinforced, that listening more than talking is crucial; that action without works is invalid; and I echo what author and poet Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. We are all in this together!

How do you think you have been able to contribute to that?

I try to be authentic and genuine. I always tell people, no matter where you see me you should see Chon. What you see is what you get–WYSIWYG. I try to meet people where they are. I practice active listening because I think people sometimes talk much more than they listen. I would hope that through my words and actions, people see the way I do things, that it would promote that I truly care!

Every person I meet has something to teach me. Even the person I disagree with the absolute most has something to teach me. And because I think people cross our paths for various reasons, it becomes very crucial that I thrive always to be authentic.

You mentioned conversations and connections. What are the ones that have shaped you the most?

 I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet some incredible people who come to campus. Out of all the people I have met,the one that has had the most impact on my life is Myrlie Evers-Williams.She is the wife of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. in the driveway of his home in front of his wife and kids. When I had an opportunity to bring her to William & Mary as the speaker for our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration, at the end of the program, we all joined hands and sang “We ShallOvercome.” As I was holding her hand and singing, I can’t even explain the feelings that I had. I was holding the hand of a wise, strong, resilient, African American woman who had literally held her dying husband as he took his last breath as her children watched. His life was taken because he was African American and courageously fought for me and others to have the right to vote and an equal chance at life.

We have to begin talking and stepping out of our comfort zones of connecting with only people who share known similarities. Once you take the time to  talk and learn about a person, you may realized that you have more in common than you have as different.


What conversations have really made you think?

I think some of the most interesting conversations have been those where I disagree with a person. Sometimes I have to dig really deep and it’s hard because each one if us is strongly committed to our thoughts, and it may yield in agreeing to disagree, but engaging in a courageous conversation of civil discourse is one of the most important things that we can do to begin healing the ills of our society.

 What are you grateful for?

 Outside of life and the opportunity to continue life, I am most grateful for my faith, my family, and my education. My mom and dadwere married for three months, when my father drowned. My mom was a month pregnantwith me, so I never had the opportunity to know my father. My t mom moved back homewith my aunt and my grandmother. I was raised by three strong African American women. I’ve alwayshad that support and encouragement, but most importantly, role modeling and examples of resilience and perseverance.

In 2007, I lost my mother and two years ago I lost my aunt, and my maternal grandmother had died when I was 13. I am blessed to still have my father’s side of the family, but losing the members of my nuclear family has been tough and a real paradigm shift to a “new normal.”

I will be forever grateful for their time and presence in my life and what they taught me. I’m grateful for their struggles and the sacrifices they made to set me up for a blessed and productive life. By statistics, many would have said I wouldn’t succeed, but I did.  My license plate reads “BLSDWM” and it means “blessed woman” because everyday I am truly thankful, grateful, and blessed. A mantra for me is to  “Lift as I Climb.”  I haven’t gotten to where I am alone, I have mentors, friends, and others who have guided me along the journey and  I see it as my duty to pay it forward because to whom much is given, much is required.

I am very grateful for having completed my formal education. I am the only person in my family to earn a terminal degree.I’m grateful for my faith that sustains me through a lot of stuff and is what keeps me grounded. I have so much to be thankful for and I try to find at least one thing to record as gratitude each day because I don’t want to take anything for granted.

Where do you see us growing? What is the future? What would you like to see?

 William & Mary has a rich history, but it hasn’t always been inclusive. My goal is to ensure that William & Mary is reflective of the diversity that exists in this world represented in our students, staff, and faculty.  I want this to be a place that truly respects, values, and celebrates inclusion and what that means in being excellent.

I would like to see a well-integrated curriculum so that we are adequately preparing our students to be critical thinking leaders in a global world.

As for the future, I am excited and encouraged for W&M’s future with President Rowe at the helm of leadership.  Her vibrant, thoughtful vision for innovation and inclusive makes me hopeful for

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

 Diversity is the identification of all those things that are unique about a particular person, such as race/ethnicity, sex, political ideology, ability, faith, SES, and others.

Inclusion is the empowerment of all members of the community and whose worth is valued and respected and they feel ownership in the university.

An analogy is that diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance.

In light of the 100 years of women, what would you say to the women out there?

 I’m excited that William & Mary has taken the time to honor, commemorate, and celebrate two areas of history whose story has not been fully told—50thAnniversary of the first African American residential students and the 100thanniversary of co-education and the admission of the first women students. Much of history has yet  to be written and I look forward to being a part of that discovery while creating new history.

We have to continue to be bold and keep up the momentum for change, inclusion, and innovation.  President Rowe states “we change to preserve that which we value.” Let’s work hard to continue making William & Mary’s history and present inclusive of all voices!



Learning and growing.

What year are you here?

I’m a junior.

What book were you reading?

I was reading Faces of the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell.

What is it about?

He talks about how systemic racism is still very much present, but he explains it in a way that kind of opens–in my opinion–my eyes to the issue as black male. So it’s really interesting. I really like it. It’s for Intro to Africana Studies; it’s Africana Studies 205. It’s a really interesting book! It’s given me a lot of different narratives.

His writing is really, kind of pointed and I think I like it that way because if you can’t be direct and straight-to-it about a certain subject, then you kind of skip around some points. And he doesn’t really do that. I’m really enjoying it.

Do you think you want to emulate that in your own life–being direct in how you communicate with others?

I think…well okay, yes. I think I am already very direct. And I’m trying to actually reverse that kind of quality in myself because sometimes being too direct intimidates people and I’ve learned, like, not to do that. [laughing] So I’m just trying to pull that back a little bit. But I do think having a more direct way of speaking to people and communicating is a great way just as a practice as a human.

What’s something you’ve already been able to reflect on while reading that? You were saying it opened your eyes to how you see your own life.

Well, for example, he was talking about — I don’t know if it was personally him or if he was telling a story of somebody — but, basically it was talking about how Martin Luther King Day is like a victory for Black people and African American people as a whole, but it doesn’t help the still current factors — low socioeconomic status and less education and things that we are still at a disposition for. So, it’s just like, wow. Yes, we celebrate and it’s great and it’s still used as a white narrative like, “we gave you this.” Like, “you guys still have the right to vote.”

It talked about more stuff about how we have these basic rights and we’re guaranteed racial equality, yet we’re still kind of fighting for them in this day and time. So he used the Martin Luther King Day example, and I was like, what, oh my God, I’m so shook right now. Like this is so crazy; he’s so right. And the fact that we have it and we celebrate it, but it still does not help the fact that there are currently black people suffering from this systemic oppression that still exists today.

One thing we get to do from listening to others and learning through other people’s experiences is we get to reflect on our own, too. So I’m glad you’re also getting this process through this reading.

Also, I really like your bracelet!

Thank you.

Did somebody make that for you?

I made it myself. So, Phi Sigma Phi is having recruitment and one of their nights was arts and crafts. And so, I started off doing a kind of twisted version and I learned that I was doing it wrong. And so, I started doing it right and then, I was just like, you know what, I’m tired of doing this. So, I just kind of, did this. But I like it’s not…I’m usually really in tune with form and symmetry. I really like symmetry. Like, my favorite number is four.

That’s my favorite number as well!

I like evenness and symmetry, and so this was a shock to me that I was like, oh my gosh, I kind of live for this. Because I like uniform.

Yeah, and it kind of makes you step outside your comfort zone.

Yeah, and it’s so crazy that something so little can go into something like that.

Do you think you’ll continue to wear it?

Oh, yes. I do think I will continue to wear it because I really like the colors that are associated with it. And it was just a little fun thing that ended up being like, okay, this is kind of personal now. Okay, I’ll keep it.

So it sounds that between your bracelet and your book you’re challenging a lot of your own values and your beliefs this year.

Yeah, and I think that’s a good part of growth. Especially within your own self. Because if you can’t grow and learn and have more knowledge, then how are you expected to survive in this environment? Just like one, as a college student. One, as a person in the world, that’s how you succeed in life basically. Learning and growing. Like, it’s so crazy that two little things far from each other are placed in the same category.

Yeah, no I just thought, “I really like where he’s going.” You challenge yourself to think outside of your own box. I really appreciate that. It’s amazing.

How do you think you do that for others? How do you challenge others or help others grow?

That’s an interesting question. Well, in my Africana Studies class, I think in terms of Black identity and things of that nature, I think alluding to and talking about the community in itself, and talking with the community and trying to understand our place as a whole is a great way to do that. And think we do do that in some ways, and so that’s good. Personally, I don’t know how I can help people grow, because I’m still growing myself and I don’t want to infringe upon anybody else’s movement. I may do subtle things that I may not realize that I can’t speak on right now. But also, I don’t know actively how I help people grow. [laughing] It’s kind of a hard question because you don’t really think about it that often, especially if you’re really focusing on yourself and trying to do things yourself. But like, maybe sharing my experience with people can also help them grow. Just different things like that.

And how would you like to see society grow? Like, in the future, what do you want for you and your family, your friends?

Definitely along the lines of race relations I do want to see more equality but also equity within race. And I think just as a society to learn we are actually all equal and we all deserve the same basic rights, but also the same treatment and the same attitude for all of us across the board. And I just want to see society grow to learn that we, as a people, need to not only be uniform, but a forward-thinking society. Because I think some people fail to realize that we are the future. And if we continue to use the same concepts that were used in the past, it’s like history repeating itself. And so it’s like, why repeat yourself when we can grow and become a better society as a whole.

What lesson have you learned from those around you? Like those people really close to you?

I learned a lot of basic things just about my identity as a whole, but also about the world. And how sometimes you can be so cut off from realizing what actually is happening in the world. I can’t really speak on that, because that’s a much more deeper, philosophical type of thing. See, I am just trying to get past everything that’s on the surface, so I’ve never really thought about that, but that’s a good question to think about from now on: how do I surround myself with people and how do I learn from them?

But I guess I do surround myself with people that I am similar to. And then being that we are similar, we can grow together and learn about each other. But, I never really thought about how I actually learn [from them].

Is there something you want other people to know about you or that you want to tell other people?

Um, I don’t know what I would want anyone to know about me other than I’m just an average college student that’s just trying to make his way through this academic environment and live his best life. I guess to people out there–to stem from all the things I’ve just said–I would take life slowly, and try to learn and try to implement different processes and thoughts and forward ways of thinking in your life and see how it changes. But also, to actively self endow. Or self-search. It’s more of my own own philosophy, I feel like you have to know yourself in order to be able to know other people. And allow yourself to be opened up and things like that. And I have had the worst time through actually getting to the point of like, oh, okay this is why I am the way I am. This is why I can’t connect with certain types of people. And this is why I work on this and that, and the other. Self-identity is so important and I feel like sometimes we don’t even have enough time to think about that. But it’s so important in the fact that it helps us connect with other people around us in the world.

I really appreciate the way you use words. It just flows very well.

That’s actually so crazy because I’ve just been trying to work on that, too. I used to think of something to say, but what I would think would not be what I said. And it kind of just like bunched everything together and didn’t make sense. So I’ve been trying to use forms of language that are not only easier to understand but still hold the same intellect and intelligence, in a way.

Finding Home.

C: To start off, what is the happiest memory you’ve had within the past year or so?

I’m a freshman, so it’s been pretty great here. I have to say that I am very happy here. I would say that the happiest memory since I have been here at William & Mary has been getting really really close to my friends and exploring the school and getting to know people. It’s been great. I know that is very general so I do apologize

C: No its fine!! Is it a different type of culture coming here to William & Mary than it was in high school? Trying to adapt to meeting a bunch of new people and experiencing new things for the first time?

Oh definitely. I am from California so very far from here [on the East Coast]. Being *here* specifically is very different already, whether it be culturally or weather-wise. I wanted something different, something new coming to Williamsburg, and I think that I got what I wanted. It was really good for me to kinda be forced into a new situation where I am surrounded by all sorts of different people and having to live on my own for the first time ever in a totally new environment. It showed to me how much growth I have done. I am more resilient or capable than I thought I was.

C: Have you experienced or noticed any other areas of growth besides what you just mentioned over the past couple months?

I still don’t really know what’s going on. But yes, definitely. I have matured and grown as a person over the past couple months. I am much more open with people. I was very introverted and quiet during high school. And I feel like what William & Mary has done, which is another reason why I love this school, is help me feel like I can be much more open to people. I go up to people and introduce myself. I feel like I am more accepting and willing to meet people when I am new social situations. That is totally new for me.

C: Would you consider yourself more talkative?

Yeah. Because everyone I meet here is interesting and interesting in their own way. Once I meet someone and get to know them, I have recognized that everyone has something strange or interesting or quirky that makes them unique. For them, there is something that makes them really cool and can impact their perspective on the world.

C: Is that what drew you to William & Mary? That weird, strange, quirky uniqueness about people? Or was it about the academics?

I think that now that I am here, I can see that, most certainly, the weird quirkiness of the campus is what drew me here. I don’t know how to explain it, but being a History major, I love the history of the campus and being near CW. When I first visited here, I just fell in love with the campus. I could not really explain my thoughts and feelings at the time, but I definitely think that [the history and weirdness of the campus] is why I wanted to come here. I really liked everyone here and liked the environment and how people seemed very open, essentially how you described it.

C: Very different from the West Coast?

I would say so. I loved growing up in California, but at least here, there are a lot of different types of people that all try to get along. That is something pretty important on a college campus. Out in the real world, it may not be like this campus and its bubble, but at least this place is home-y.

C: What are you looking to get out of the rest of your freshman year but also your time here at William & Mary?

I would say that I want to keep that sense of wonder of being at college and at orientation for the first time all four years here. Like I said, during these first couple months, I have been so excited to meet new people and explore new avenues at William & Mary. I do not want to over the next couple of years be stuck in a rut or follow a routine and not try new things. I want to expand my horizons and social circles. Obviously, I want to get a great education, and this is a great place to get that. I want to see what’s possible for me. I do not know what I want to do career-wise when I graduate but I hope to understand myself a bit more in the upcoming years.

S: What has been your favorite moment here? It can be an extraordinary moment or it can be just a seemingly normal moment that you absolutely loved.

Oh I think I know one. I know that this is going to sound very freshman-y but I was in the process of joining a new club. Going out to get food or going on random walks around campus at night has to be a high point of my limited time here. I do remember a good time though. One time a group of friends of mine wanted to go see Matoaka super late at night. I do not know why, but we have never been there so we decided to go out in the pitch black darkness. Completely unsafe, but we walked there using only our phones and this small light map to guide us. By navigating our way using that small little map they give you during orientation, we made our way all the way around behind the business school. I am so surprised that we didn’t get lost and have to call the police or something. But we found our way there in the pitch black, and it was actually really beautiful being there at the theater in the darkness with nobody around us. It was really great, and we got to know each other pretty well. I noticed that you don’t get to do that sort of stuff during high school. You have parents watching you and making sure that you are being safe and whatnot. I am really happy that I have the liberty to do stuff like this here at William & Mary. It is a part of freshman year. There are a plethora of things that you can do. A world of possibilities. Moving forward, I hope that there is always something that I can explore or discover or try out.

S: Just one more question, what has made you smile?

Oh in one of my clubs, FASA, we are doing a play called “Culture Night,” which is our annual presentation of showcasing Filipino culture. I’m a cast member and seeing everyone put a lot of effort into making the play happen has definitely made me smile.

C: Thank you so much.

S: Yeah, thank you for talking with us.


Kindness, Mercy, Justice

How has your day been?

Pretty good.

What have you been doing?

Just got out of class. We have been talking a lot about civil liberties and civil rights. It is really funny cause I was talking about a case concerning the Texas 10 Commandment Statue at the Capitol Building. It was a 4-3 split decision saying that the historical context of the Judeo-Christian tradition was really important for this country and that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was like “that is bullshit.” Pretty much it is an infringement on civil liberties and the establishment clause since the State is not supposed to induce a religion. It was a really hilarious debate since this current Supreme Court is now more conservative than ever before. I just sat there thinking that this [debate] was going to be really interesting because even though it and other statues like these endorse every Judeo-Christian message on the face of the planet, is it likely that every religious message in this country is going to be erased or demolished or taken away? I don’t think that is a smart thing to do.

Do you like your Civil and Political liberties class?

It teaches me that one of the most important things in college is humility. I wish a lot of people including myself had more of that because I think that we go into the sake of arguing just for the sake of arguing.

Discourse for the sake of discourse?

Right. It gets us nowhere. And I just wonder since I think this country is not as broken as people make it out to be.

Are you saying this [statement] simply as an American or as a Christian or what?

Yeah. As an American and a Christian who has been living in the states for a very long time, my entire life essentially, I wonder if religious people and those who aren’t religious agree on basic global issues since we do not want to hurl insults at each other. We do not want to discount the other for the false value in our positions being hasty understood and validated.

I am a Government and Philosophy major, so my thoughts are rooted in these teachings. The thing  that keeps me sane is that I still have my friends, or I may be fooling myself into believing that I still have meaningful friendships. Maybe you are a better judge of that Campbell, but who knows. I think friendship in its most simple form is that “I understand you, and I understand our differences. And I respect those.”

It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with you.

 Yep, in fact it means that I am willing to listen with you and sit across from you and not demonize you for what you believe or for how you act. These are things that you learn in elementary school and should understand on a basic level. These things are really very basic and yet, it is so rare now. I always ask people what they get out of arguing. There is nothing that you achieve from arguing.

I think you only feel more anger from arguing.

You just get angry and pissy. You are not happy and simply feel frustration. And even for religious people of which I am, [arguing] accomplishes nothing for me. Humility and understanding people can accomplish things on this campus, but trying to act all intellectual and one up a person, whether they are the same background as you or not, is not something that I find fun or valuable. Yeah, I come on sunny days like today and sit here on the Sunken Gardens and just ponder these things. I find rest. It is absurd the amount of stuff that you have to deal with every day so I unplug this way.

In a conversation between people, do you sometimes predict whether they are trying to be argumentative or do you try to come in with an open mind?

I try my best to come into the conversation with an open mind. Here at William and Mary, coming into a conversation with an open mind is critically important, especially considering I have a disability. My disability makes me see myself as different. Different in the way that people see me and how they are going to start conversations with me. Campbell, I have lived in the hospital and at school and at home. I do not think that people understand the literalness of that statement and its weight. That time in solitude taught me to hear things out and respond less to the noise.  

What is it like living with a disability? Have you noticed how people sometimes react differently? Do they view you differently?

I think so. I think there are two ways to view that. There is the viewpoint of seeing how the [disabled] person is maturing through and over [their disability]. This person is emotionally over it and not suffering from the mental struggles it often causes. On the other hand, I have seen the other extreme of the spectrum where they expect the person to not have a normal and wide enough emotional bandwidth and thus lack an emotionally normal friendship with people. These two viewpoints are both very uncomfortable, and I know ultimately misses the point of striking up a conversation.

For both being seen living with this disability and talking with you?

Exactly. I want to be seen as normal, but with a little bit of knicks and visible scratches since nobody is perfect. I think my [disability] comes off a little bit more uneasy since it is physical and you can see it. When I slip and fall or when I am late or when I have to excuse myself from class, I notice people staring. Like I notice them looking at me in confusion. And I never really know what or how to respond. So let the awkwardness stand.

Why do you have to excuse yourself from class?

I get sick more often than most people. If a virus is going around, I am the first person that will probably get it. The considerate way to act is to say that you are sorry that I am sick or that I am missing class. If you are my friend that is—I do not assume that everyone should do X or should do Y— for most people asking how I am doing and if I can get anything for you goes a long way. I think those little things are helpful to people with disabilities, people with access to this campus in the most comfortable way. I think this is true for a lot of minorities on this campus, which can extend to religious minorities, ethnic minorities and see if they deserve the same respect.

What are some things that you want this campus to change since you are a Christian and disabled?

Take time out of your life. Take active time out of your life and get interested in something that you have no natural interest in, and yet benefits someone else. Take time out literally means your time is going to be used. Your comfort zones are going to be extended. One of the things that I do is spending time with people who are of completely different ethnicities than I am.

Do you do this simply because you want to learn?

Yes. For the sake of learning and since I just do not know. I think that is so important because it is not only beneficial for yourself, but also keeps you really centered. It does for me. My religious community (Agape) keeps me centered, but also expands my own opinions since people on this campus have radically different opinions than my own. It is really valuable for me to understand that this is a very colorful world. Earth has all different kinds of people speckled across all spectrums.

Do you want any changes done on this campus from an administrative standpoint and from a community standpoint?

Yes. Totally. I wish more professors and students could be more honest about the things that they need. For the student side, if you need an extension and if you are grinding on a paper at 3 AM, you should feel comfortable to say that you need an extension. The student knows whether or not that is a moral thing to do. On the professor side, I always wonder why they assign these papers all at the same time. It is weird and for some who have a typing disability on my left hand, I am sitting there thinking that it is absurd that the professor only gave me a week to work on this paper. When I ask for an extension, they always question on many occasions whether I need the extension or not, which is totally absurd. It takes 50 percent more time for me to write a paper than the normal student so yes I do need an extension.

Have you encountered any hilarious interactions on this campus regarding your disability?

Sometimes. Professors ask why I didn’t do this assignment on time or why I didn’t ask for the extension earlier. I always question in my head whether the professors are blind and cannot notice my disability when I walk around. Like no, I do not know what more I have to say. I try to advocate the best I can say, but I treasure my professors and I do not hold this worry against them. I know them and most other people have no idea what it is like to live with a physical or mental disability. I do not count it against them. On the professor’s side, I wish that they could say that their door is not only open to academic things but for other help and how they will not come in with any preconceived notions of you. I think that is really important. When I talk to my friends, yes they are a group of friends that I am really most close to. Yet, when I go out and extend beyond that circle to a wider crowd, I do not care about your gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. I do not want to sound preachy about this, but we are all in the same boat. It does not matter what religion you believe in. It doesn’t matter what gender you are. It does not matter what political ideology you ascribe to, because the point is to understand the other that is not you. Because for so long, my disability or my depression, I have no idea which  (and this has gone on for 20 years), has inevitably made me the other and this is the uneasy comfortableness that I have to live life with. For people that are curious enough to ask about my disability and the surrounding stories, I will respectfully answer your questions and feel free to ask. Don’t feel so uncomfortable and feel the need to be so respectful that we lose our friendship, because the minute you do that, everything kinda unravels.

I remember the first time we met, one of the first questions you asked was, “What’s up with your walking?”.

I do remember that.

You had an uncomfortable look on your face when asked that.

Yeah I remember thinking “well shit. How do I ask this dude about his walking since I know that he has a disability.” And I think I just kinda went for it and asked you since I was curious that you showed up late to class pretty consistently. You were really fine with me asking that question too since it is probably a question that you have experienced a lot over your 20 some years.

It is that easy and it is okay to be blunt if you are willing to have a genuine conversation. If the person who is disabled doesn’t have a thick enough skin to answer those questions, then that person will have to understand that people have sincere questions. Some people have better ways of asking questions about your disability, but it is a matter of relative comfortableness when it comes to answering these questions. These questions are uncomfortable and they inherently have to be. And, I respect that. To the people that ask me questions, I actually applaud it. I think any disabled person should applaud it since it shows that this person has tried to bridge the gap and asks questions that are inherently uncomfortable.

To be completely honestly, I think the majority of our government class are uncomfortable to even approach you and ask about your disability and ask about everything.

My disabilities are only physical and it is undoubtedly true that they have mental and emotional repercussions. However, the disabilities themselves aren’t mental, and I hope that people understand the difference between them. It is totally fine for people to feel uncomfortable about being around me because disabilities are an uncomfortable thing to talk about. Granted it isn’t the best first impression to ask “what is wrong with you.” And I never took your question that way.

Yeah of course, coming from a background where you don’t interact with a lot of disabled individuals, first impressions are always scary. It is the first thing that you notice, yet it shouldn’t become that big of an issue. Talking to people with disabilities is uncomfortable, yet after interacting with you, I still notice your disability, yet it hasn’t become a big issue or problem.

It’s not, in fact, let me tell you a story that gives me a good laugh. I remember running into a professor late at night and asked if I was okay. I replied that I was fine since I naturally limp and stumble over myself a lot due to me not being able to control the left side of my body. She replied, “Okay good because I thought that you weren’t sober and were struggling to walk.” I politely responded that I cannot really control this “stumbling”. She turned bright red and walked away pretty embarrassed. It kinda goes back to what we were saying about how to approach people with disabilities since the first thing that you really shouldn’t ask is what their disability is or why they are struggling to walk. Yet, I knew her intent was in my interest and I was the dumb one because I didn’t know how to respond to her to absolve the obvious incoming guilt trip, but I felt like I needed to say that I have a disability.

Could you say that asking about your disability is almost comparable to the question of where you are from?

Yeah. I understand the similarities between being disabled and being a foreigner in the waspy culture of America on the East Coast. I want to see the best out of anyone I meet. If people like me ask what is the most lacking thing on this campus, it is kindness. It is really to say that I do not know anything about you. Thus, I cannot conclude every single minuscule thing about you. And frankly, I should learn everything about myself first before trying to learn more about other people on this campus. How do I figure and see the other? I hope we eventually realize that all these social, political, religious disagreements we are having are not all that worth it. The three most important things to me are kindness toward all, mercy that reconciles people’s brokenness, and a humble justice that lives to see a better world. Maybe I am a ridiculous dreamer, but I hope it is a dream worth having and ultimately sacrificing for.

To ‘Create Lasting Monuments’ with Others

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I came to William & Mary from Houston, Texas in 1992, initially as a year-long replacement for a professor who was going on leave, but almost as soon as I arrived, the English Department had just received another line, so they offered me a full-time position, which I accepted. When I first arrived, I was strictly teaching literature classes, but I was a poet, and I didn’t know how to say to the department, “Hey, look, I’m a poet.” Eventually they found out, because if you’re a poet you can’t keep that a secret, especially if you go around reading poems. I eventually became a part of the creative writing cohort that was housed under English.

Then I became part of another cohort, which started the Black Studies program. There was the Black Studies program and the African Studies program, and after about ten years, the two programs merged to create Africana Studies, which is now in its tenth year. So throughout my career here, I have been part of three different departments: English, Creative Writing, and the Africana Studies, and I’ve been busy.

It has been my good fortune to work with colleagues across disciplines. I have worked with jazz pianist Harris Simon, who’s in the Music Department, and we’ve done poetry readings between here, New York City, and Oxford University. So that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve worked with theater. Before we had Black Studies, we had a professor in Theater, Speech, and Dance who wanted to teach courses on African American Theater and invited me to team-teach an Introduction to African American Theatre course. I also had an opportunity to work with professor (Bruce McConachie) in American Studies, who was working on recording the oral narratives of citizens of Williamsburg. He invited me to shape a script from the narratives, using the methods of the Grass Roots Theatre Project. It was 1994-1995. We premiered the production titled Walk Together Children in Phi Beta Kappa Hall, which I’m most proud of, and the whole town came out to see it.

And, of course always, my students. I have enjoyed teaching a variety of courses across disciplines, whether in Creative Writing, African American literature, or Africana Studies. I’ve enjoyed my students immensely. I’ve begun in the past four years to teach a course for Africana Studies titled “Black Expressive Culture.” My students have enjoyed taking it, partly because it  is not just literature, but expressive culture across mediums and genres. And, you know, the subject of that art, the forms that it takes, the ways in which it employs certain synthetic strategies–African American, African diaspora, Western tradition as well–So, that’s been a lot of fun. To create art with the students, get them sometimes to make art just so they get a sense of what it is to recreate certain alternative artistic practices.

What is your motivation for starting that course? Do you think something was missing or could be added on more?

Yes, we had African and African diasporic literature courses, but we didn’t have a course that theorized about the literature and culture across mediums and genres, specifically cultural productions as those productions reflected the social and political realities of black people. And we didn’t have a course that gave students a chance to creatively respond to the art they experienced.

So, the start of that course was really social, political, intellectual, and historical. Nearly twenty years ago we here at William & Mary created the Black Studies program, understanding that there were many Black Studies courses on campuses across the nation. When we started the Program here, we knew there were principles underlying Black culture of which Black art is a part. We thought about how we wanted articulate those principles at the curricular level. And as for my Black Expressive Culture course, I wanted it to consider the enduring elements you find in Black art, whether it’s Black craft (quilts, for instance); Black dance; Black storytelling; the Black sermon, the Black vernacular speech. In our early discussions of Black Studies, articulating these ideas in a systematic way became the impetus for our discussions and research, as we shaped individual courses, including the syllabus for “Black Expressive Culture.” I think the course is still evolving, but it includes some of the things I think a William & Mary student should know coming out of here. A William & Mary student should know for instance who Bill T. Jones is. He’s a famous choreographer, who has done genre-changing work in his field. He’s a black, gay man who initially had the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. And Arnie Zane died of AIDS. Bill T. Jones decided to keep the group together under the name of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance. Toni Morrison goes without saying, but what about Judith Jamison or Kerry James Marshall, black artists who have, in their own way, impacted how we think about art.

Going off that, how has culture influenced you and your life?

As a little girl, growing up in the segregated South, listening to my mother who was a pianist and also a school teacher. She, of course loved music, although  she didn’t get to perform on the stage or anything; she directed the choir. But what she did, as long as I remember since the time I was born, was play music, whether she played it on the piano or whether she played it on phonograph. And she would play a wide range of music. Little children’s, ditties, to Bach, Beethoven….And when she had time, she would talk to us about, you know, she would play something for example, like, Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” And she would talk about the time signature and the reason why it’s so unique. And the title of the song was “Take Five” because there were five…I think she said there were five beats to the measure. And usually there are four beats to a measure, or two beats to a measure, or three beats to a measure. And she turned on the Leonard Bernstein Hour, which was on Sunday afternoons, where he played classical music and talked about it; he broke it down for you.

So her love of music and of beauty…that’s something that I got from her. My father enjoyed jazz, too, but I associate that with my mother. I couldn’t play the piano, but when I asked her for a saxophone because (I wanted to sound like Stan Getz or Paul Desmond because they made the saxophone sound so beautiful and so cool), she bought it for me for Christmas. I hadn’t thought, when I looked at it, I hadn’t thought, “Well you’ll have to learn how to play this thing.” But, you know, I learned how to play. I would say that that’s where some of my love of music comes from.

What was growing up like? And how did that motivate you or shape to come to the place where you are?

Well, you know, I grew up in the South. And I grew up in a time the South was still segregated. But the time I was about, say, six years old, I was in Nashville. I was born in Texas. But we didn’t stay there long. My father was trying to earn enough money to go to medical school, so he took us to Detroit where he drove a bus. So for a couple years, you know, we were up there. His last year of medical school we moved to Nashville, where he completed his medical degree at Meharry Medical College.

Coming to Nashville at the beginning of the 60s was the exact same moment when people like John Lewis, James Bell, and Diane Nash were there in the Civil Rights Movement. Strategizing, beginning to march, beginning to carry on protest, beginning to meet at church, beginning to meet on Fisk University campus, the very campus where my mother and father had attended, the university her mother had attended and where I eventually attended. And so those were exciting times. Tumultuous times.

So growing up, I think we had gotten to Nashville–and we hadn’t been there a very long time–and my father came home one day and  told us that there had been a bombing. And they had bombed attorney Attorney Looby’s house–the attorney who worked with people like Diane Nash, James Bell, and John Oates–people involved in the protest. He would bail them out, he would go before the judge. And luckily no one was harmed. His house was in shambles.

So, these were the kind of times that I first became aware of race as this political and social realm of contention in America.

That shaped how I thought about myself, my family, my place in the world, our place in the community, and my place in the universe. When I was a little girl, thinking, listening to my mother play those spirituals, I actually sat there and said, “I wonder how these spirituals are of value.” I didn’t quite know at that age what I was trying to articulate, but I wanted to know how are these things of value? And I wonder if anyone else but me thinks they’re, you know, totally beautiful and haunting and just…you know, soul.

I wondered about that. So maybe in my position today, I can articulate their cultural and historical value and influence now, so I’m glad that I can do something that I always loved to do. Growing up in Nashville was a tumultuous time. [And I had a famous classmate in Nashville, at Wharton Elementary School –Oprah Winfrey.] I knew it was a special thing because she had always had this amazing energy kind of energy, and she had always been a person of strong conviction. At the time, as children, of course, she was (as she is not) strongly convicted that one must tell the truth and one must do good. We were children, and we didn’t have very complicated goals, but when you think about the belief in upholding truth and good in the world, well those are abiding values forever. That was one of the highlights, I would say, of my life: to have known someone like that.

And then we moved to Mississippi. Civil Rights Movement still going on. And by ‘68 we were back in Texas, but this time in Houston. And I attended high school there and then I went onto college, graduate school.

Could you talk a little bit about your own experience writing poetry? What do you write about? What is your creative process like? What is your purpose behind it?

For many writers, writing is a form of inquiry and discovery. It is a way to make something. I can’t sew or anything. I don’t paint. But it gives me a sense of satisfaction and purpose to sit down and try to figure out how to tell a story, whether I am telling a story of fiction or nonfiction or in poem. All require different strategies. Writing gives the writer a way to matter in the world. If you share what you write,  maybe somebody else can get something out of it. Gertrude Stein once said, “I write for myself and for strangers.”

I write about family, the weather, and I think I try to write just about anything that comes to mind. I am drawn to poems about family, about relationships. Since I have been here, in 2004 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

You know, that was kind of a wakeup call. And when I thought I wasn’t going to be around, I started thinking about what was important to me. And I think that’s when I realized that family, they’re the ones that are standing by you even when friends don’t always understand what you are going through, or maybe they’re a little hesitant to come forward. Although I should say this, friends and family for me, they’re very supportive. My colleagues at William & Mary have been very supportive.

So one of the subjects that I’ve been writing about is the tumor and the effect on my life and my sense of identity. In 2004 the term “neurodiversity” wasn’t, nor would I have linked it in any way to myself. So I am now part of a neurodiverse community. And I realize that just like being a part of any other minority community, it’s hard for other people to understand what you’re going through and what that means when you say “neurodiverse.”

How has your relationship with students been part of your experience?

I hope that I am being effective as a professor, as a teacher. Sometimes I am effective and other times students don’t see me as effective. I get emails from students saying, “I enjoyed your class” and I have to go by that. And other students I don’t hear from. [laughing] There’re always going to be those who didn’t enjoy the class and didn’t think that they did so well.

Do you wish there were thing your students or community members knew about you that they don’t already know?

I’m working on memoir essays. I’m trying to work through that because it’s hard to talk about domestic violence but also include the fact that you love your parents and that they’re good people. I can’t put it any other way.

So I’m trying to work through that as a writer, and I’ve published several chapters from the memoir that sort of try to break that experience down. But also try to also give a sense of how one gets through it as well and learns enough to not pass that tradition on.

You’ve been through a lot of periods of rapid change in your life. What are your reflections on those changes and also do you have any thoughts on today?

I would say maybe a few weeks ago, William & Mary put on the production, Into the Woods. I took my granddaughters–I have two granddaughters, one’s twelve and one’s fourteen.

And I had heard about the play when it was on Broadway, and I had heard a snippet of a song. Well, I love Stephen Sondheim, love his music. And before I went, I did know the plot of the play. I had seen on a movie that was shown on TV. And so I thought, okay, I understand what this was about, but I didn’t really get it until I was able to sit there and watch the performance on stage, these young performers interpret the script of the play and the score of the play. It all came together.

In literature, history, and culture, the woods have always been a place of danger, a place of wonder, and magic, and adventure. The play represents the woods as myth and symbol for the subconscious. How have we dealt with the woods in the history of civilization? We’ve told stories. I think I know something about what it means to be in the woods and whether you are lost or know how to navigate your way out.

I think that’s something of wisdom I know now. My wisdom is based on the fact that I don’t know everything, and in some cases I don’t know anything. And so, it’s wise to sometimes be cautious. And sometimes it’s wise to be like a child in the way in which you share your wonders. Maybe even your sorrow or your joy. I try to do a little bit of all of that as an artist who teaches. I think the ability to do that comes in handy in the classroom. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but these are the tools that I bring into the classroom with me, realizing that this is what I mainly do, and this is what I have done for almost 40 years.

What advice would you give to students who may also feel like they’re “in the woods?”

I would say to the student who feels like he or she is in the woods, that…here’s another cliché, the sun will come out tomorrow. Problems won’t always feel insurmountable, and that this too, shall pass. Hold on to yourself. And one of the best ways to hold onto yourself is to look around you and see who else is in a similar position. And may the two of you, or the three of you, or the four of you, or the five of you can get through it together.

But first, you have to start with holding onto yourself and taking care of yourself. A well-known poet friend of mine said  there was a time when they didn’t feel like they were worth taking care of. And so they didn’t take care of themselves. But, when you’re young, and healthy, and strong, you don’t think about being 60 years old, or 80 years old, or a 100.

So, I would say, take care of yourself. Do those things you need to keep yourself strong and healthy. Get your rest, get your sleep. Eat well. Don’t do things that you know are harmful, including opening yourself up to emotional turmoil. So if you see something like that happening, don’t repeat the cycle. Break the cycle. And those people who feel like they can’t make in class, talk to somebody. Structure your life and your academic program in such a way that you can take it in bite-sized chunks and people can work with you. Because, I think here at William & Mary, we understand that. And the administration understands that, from what I’ve seen. You know, the willingness to work with students who have issues that might be obstacles to success.

In wrapping this up, do you have any reflections on the anniversaries and thoughts toward the future?

Oh, yes indeed. This year has been very monumental. In fact, today was the last official meeting of the 50th and the committee for the 50th–and I’ve been on that committee. The students, especially the African American students, have talked about how they’ve appreciated this last year. We had a number of events, cultural events across disciplines. We’ve had scientists, I’m thinking about Professor Shante Hinton. We’ve had activists come. We put on our own performances, and I’m referring to Professor Leah Glenn, with whom I collaborated on a performance, which inaugurated the year, the celebration of or the commemoration of the 50th and the three women around whom the celebration was organized. Who stood for the Black people before them who came to the university and could not get official academic credit, or who could not live on campus, who had to come to campus, take the classes, and leave..

So, being able to remember this moment in the school’s history and for this year to culminate in President Taylor Reveley’s reading–or proclamation, if you will–of the school’s official apology for its role in supporting and perpetuating  slavery, was momentous I think. I don’t just think it–it was, it is a momentous statement.

So, as a member of that committee, I hope that as long as I’m here, every single day that I’m here I can commemorate our being here and understand the significance of that through my teaching and through my efforts, along with others, to create other lasting monuments on campus. And perhaps the most important monument would be one to learning itself. And simply standing in the classroom and being prepared to teach during my tenure here. The same thing I would say for the upcoming–and it’s really already started–the 100th anniversary of women in attendance at William & Mary.

And I don’t know how many women professors we have on campus, how, many female staff we have on campus, whether it’s administrative staff or facilities people…I would hazard a guess that the majority of people of facilities, that there are a lot of Black people in facilities, and our students on a daily basis see more Black people maybe cleaning the dorms, or cooking, or having fill their tray in Sadler Center or in the other Campus Center, or whatever, than they see in the classroom. I would like to see much more diversity at William & Mary.

And the last question, what does being a women at the college mean to you, and what advice would you give to other students or people of the future?

When I first came to William & Mary–1992–for the first time in the college’s history, I think, five women faculty members were hired in that year. And that’s amazing to think that English department–I think the English department has led the university in the practice of inclusivity.

I would say to women students that I think that things have changed. I think the university is more responsive to aggressive acts against women on campus. Things can only change for the better, they will continue to get better as we as a community continue to look out for each other and believe each other instead of turning our backs, or downplaying bad behavior.

So, that’s what I would say to the young women who are here this year and forward, that you can do anything. Our women students are amazing. And that goes for many of the students I’ve had in my classes. Some of the students I’m teaching this semester, they’re going on to graduate school or they’re going into the city or the countryside, and their goals are big goals; their dreams are big. I’m confident that they will achieve their dreams and change the world and come back to tell us about it as alums.

From Doubting to Doing

Alright, I was just thinking to start off, what’s your favorite fossil?

Ooh, great question. So I think that my favorite fossil that I’ve ever seen was in a museum collection in California. I opened a drawer and they had an opalized clam. So it was a clam that had been recrystallized, you know, it was completely made out of opal.

That sounds really cool.

And today I think it’s the prettiest and coolest fossil I’ve ever seen.

Wow, so what made you want to go into paleontology?

If you had told me in high school in college that I was going to become a scientist, I would’ve laughed at you. I hated science all through, kind of, middle and high school. I had gone to a math and science magnet school to escape my local school, which had huge issues with gang violence and all sorts of problems. And as part of this math and science magnet school you were required to do a hands-on science project before you graduated. And so, I was really passionate about history and I chose a topic that was as close to history I could get, which was paleontology. And I was researching topics and I stumbled across an article in Discover magazine about pterodactyls and whether they could take off from the ground. And I was like, this is kinda cool. It’s almost history but not quite. It’s almost science but not quite. And so I ended up studying that for my class project, but it basically snowballed from there and I ended up winning a science fair based on it, I went and did an internship with the Smithsonian for a summer, and I gave a talk at a conference my senior year of high school all on the project. And what I discovered is that I really loved research in science. I didn’t like the coursework in science, because I didn’t like the memorization; I felt like it was really recipe book. I felt it was not very exciting. But I really liked the research. And the research was so much more creative, and so much more social than I thought it was gonna be.

That science was so much more creative and so much more social than I expected it to be, and it was so much more fun than what I was doing in the classroom that I got hooked. And I kinda limped my way through all the required courses in college and grad school to become a paleontologist. But I was not one of those kids that was super passionate about dinosaurs when I was a kid.

Yeah, that’s really cool. I think I kind of feel the same way sometimes: that I enjoy the actual research that I’m doing than the times I have to sit in class. I mean obviously, in the Geology department we’re lucky ‘cause all the faculty is pretty great, but still.

Well we try to teach the way we do research. So we try to teach the process of research science, rather than, sort of, the pattern. I feel like SOLs and so much of the stuff you do in middle and high school is really just all about memorizing and spitting it out again, and that’s not what science is, even remotely. And so, in geology we try to teach the discovery side and the sort of process side of science.

Yeah I think it’s easier with geology sometimes because you can actually go out and drive like for two hours and go to the Blue Ridge Mountains and actually see the stuff that you’re talking about in class.

You can do it chemistry, you can do it in biology, you can do that in physics…I think you can do that in all the sciences. And you know, I think a lot of the professors here do, but these standard, traditional way we’re taught science-—super boring.

So what’s your experience been like being a woman in science?

That’s a long conversation. So I’m in a field I should say, first of all, that has historically been very homogeneous. Almost all white men. And it’s still almost probably about thirty percent female? 70 percent male. And we still don’t have decent racial or ethnic representation at all. You know, it’s been an uphill battle.

I think starting in high school I can remember I was tracked into the slow track in science, and when I asked why the teacher said, “Well you know, you’re a girl. You’re not going into science, why do you care?” And sort of every step of the way there was, you know, I was always the only woman in the class, I was always the only woman in the lab, I was the only woman on the field trips. And it, you know, after a while it’s pretty exhausting.

I did face—not going to talk about it today—but I faced a number of biases both professionally, but also sexual harassment, sexual assault, that sort of thing, in the field. So I dealt with this at almost every institution I went to. Yup, every institution I went to. But at William & Mary, in general, I’ve actually had a really positive experience. And in our department where we have had historically had a lot of women, I’ve had a really positive experience.

That’s good. So, I was going to ask a question and then I forgot. [laughing] I guess, what made you decide that you wanted to come to a college and be a professor and research rather thanI mean, I don’t know what it’s like for paleontology, but I know for planetary science there’s ways to just be a straight researcher.

Yeah, so I’ve always been passionate about education. After I had that science research experience in high school, when I started college I was really excited about trying to bring that same experience to other kids. So when I was a freshman in college, I started an organization called SMART— the Science and Math Achiever Teams—where volunteers at my university would go out into the local neighborhood and we’d work with inner city middle school kids on science projects. And so, it was fifth through eighth graders at the local middle school. And they could choose whatever project they wanted to do for the semester. By the time I graduated, we had, I think, 300 volunteers and 300 kids that we were working with. And when I went away to grad school, I started it at my grad school as well, and I started it at three or four other campuses. And I really enjoyed working with the kids. I loved working with the teachers, I loved working with their parents.

And so I knew I enjoyed education, and I was really sort of passionate about public outreach. When I got to grad school and started TAing, I loved to TA. I loved being in charge of the lab and helping students understand the bigger picture concepts from lecture. At my grad school I was only required to TA twice, and so I very quietly volunteered for free and TA’d several times to get more experience.


I also knew that I was passionate about museum education. So, I volunteered at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for about three years before I graduated. Again, on the sly. In scientific research there’s a number of professionals who believe that all you should do is research, you should focus 100% on research. And that wasn’t my personal philosophy, but it was the philosophy of many of the people I worked with. And so I kind of kept pursuing my interest in education and public outreach, but I kept it on the down low.

And then when I was graduating, I was specifically looking at liberal arts colleges. I really like the mix of research and teaching. I feel like the teaching makes my research better. I feel like the research I do with students makes my teaching better. I love working with and mentoring William & Mary students. And I actually hadn’t intended to end up at William & Mary. I was graduating and I had my post-doc go to for two years of funding, and this job came up. And it was the first job I applied for, the first interview I got, and I got hired. So I got very, very lucky. There are only about four jobs nationwide in what I do, and I just got really, really lucky. But it’s been the perfect fit for me. Like as soon as the job ad went up, I knew that this was my perfect job. So, I was really lucky.

That’s really wonderful. Yeah, I mean, I think most students here, even people who aren’t in our department, would say you’re one of the nicest professors that they know, just because you always do seem to make that attempt to actually engage with students and really make sure they understand—and I mean, I’m saying this and I’ve never even taken one of your classes. But, this is because everyone who hears that I’m a geology major, they’re always like, hey, have you taken a class with Rowan? [laughing] Not yet!

But I guess, you know, I think it is kind of typical of our department to have more of that sort of personal relationship with your students, but in general, what motivates you to do that?

I love interacting with students. And I really, really love working with William & Mary students. I’ve worked with students at three or four different institutions, and William & Mary students are actually really special.

You know, again, I think I learn as much from them as they learn from me. And you know, all teachers get frustrated and burned out. But the truth of the matter is that there’s no way I would’ve been at William & Mary for 17 years if it weren’t for the William & Mary students. They really do make this place very special.

And, you know, I’m excited to come to work every day of the week. I’m excited to work with William & Mary students. So, I don’t know, I think William & Mary students are generally really open to learning. They’re enthusiastic. They tend not to show a lot of entitlement or to be very entitled. And I love the raw enthusiasm. There are a lot of students here that are very bright but don’t necessarily know that they’re very bright. And so it’s fun kind of working with them and working on self confidence and, you know, working on what they are capable of doing. Challenging them and seeing how far they can go.

Yeah, that’s really wonderful. I think especially for women sometimes, it’s easy to feel like they don’t belong in a science department and all of that. So it’s really wonderful all the work you and, I mean the department in general, does to make people feel more welcome here.

We really do view the geology department as a community. Our doors are always open to anyone who is even remotely interested. Or even not that interested in geology. We want to be an open and inclusive place. And I think many of us have studied in institutions that weren’t necessarily open an inclusive at times when geology wasn’t as open and inclusive. So it’s important to us to build that community, and just support each other and to have that welcoming atmosphere.

So, like, what would you say is one of your most interesting experiences or stories that you have from your time at William & Mary?

Ooh gosh. [laughing] There’s been so many. So favorite stories with William & Mary students. I mean I guess a lot of them are field based. And sort of silly things or, you know, issues that come up in the field.

There’s plenty of those. [laughing]

There are plenty of those. I guess one of my favorite memories is taking students to the Bahamas. I’ve taken students to the Bahamas for spring break now three times. Most recently on a COLL 300 class. And so there’s something really magical about being able to walk over a fossil coral reef that was deposited something like 125 thousand years ago, and then that afternoon go snorkeling over a live reef and see all those organisms living that you’ve just seen in the fossil record. And be swimming with sharks and barracuda, and giant-spotted eagle rays, and lionfish. That’s been kind of an amazing experience to be able to take students out. We go swimming in a cave—it’s a tidal cave—um, and we get to go swimming in a cave and get to see stalactites and stalagmites and bats and cave sponges and cave shrimp and all these different organisms. And so, that’s a pretty amazing trip.

I’ve also taken students down to Alabama, Mississippi, that area. We have run up against alligators. We’ve almost been washed away by barges. We’ve done some amazing fieldwork with ladders and ropes hanging from cliffs, while giant spiders are sort of over our heads. Yeah, I think my favorite stories from William & Mary are always going to be field-oriented stories.

We do do a behind-the-scenes trip to the Smithsonian every year, and I like that, too. We get to see a lot of random bits and pieces of the museum that other people don’t get to see.

That’s so cool.

There are brontosaurus leg bones lying all over the place and giant skulls of triceratops and, you know, massive pieces of mammoth fur from frozen Siberia. And we get to sort of see all those things behind the scenes and talk to the curators and hang out with them for a day. That’s always a good time, too.

Yeah, I mean I guess it makes sense, though. ‘Cause when you’re in the field, that’s when you get, I don’t know, it’s a more casual atmosphere and you get to actually, I don’t know, interact more than you would in a sterile classroom setting.

I think geology is a field in general. There’s a lot more interactions. Not just William & Mary; it happens at a lot of schools. But there’s a lot more interaction because you spend so much time in the field. But there’s also, you know, a lot of geological opportunities that exist in the lab, and museums, and that sort of thing. It’s not all field work. It’s not all camping. It’s a lot of, like a lot of lab work and museum work, too.


Yeah, I mean, I’m thinking of a field that has very little field work unless you want to be there.

Planetary geology. Well, you know, I fully expect you to be on the first mission to Mars. You know, human mission to Mars. I can see your name right there.

Would you go to Mars?

Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah, I just had this conversation actually with my husband the other day. Yeah, if I was offered the opportunity to go to Mars, a hundred percent.

What if it was a one-way mission?

I would wait till my daughter was grown, then I would go to Mars. [laughing]

Okay. [laughing]

Yeah, no, I’m assuming it would be pretty much a one-way mission.

Yeah, I mean, at least, like, yeah, for the next ten or twenty years, that’s all I could imagine it would be.

We’ll see. Give us time.

So if you knew someone who was kind of struggling with feeling like they don’t necessarily belong in the sciences, or just in general with seeing their own brilliance or self-worth or anything like that, what’s some advice that you would give them?

Yeah, so self confidence is a very interesting thing. So I personally struggled with it for years and years. All through high school, college, and grad school. It wasn’t really until I was teaching for a few years here at William & Mary that I actually started to feel confident. I actually started to feel like I could do this. I already had a job, but it wasn’t for several years after that, that I felt, oh my gosh, I might actually be capable of doing this.

It’s a very common feeling people have in science. And it’s especially common for people who are coming from underrepresented groups, whether it’s women or people of color. And I guess one thing I would say is I always had an internal monologue going—that I wasn’t smart enough, and that I wasn’t good enough, and that I couldn’t do this. And it didn’t really matter that other people were saying you are smart enough, you are good enough, you can do this. I wasn’t really listening to them, I was stuck in this internal monologue.

And I actually think that my grad school experience took longer because I spent so much time doubting myself. And I would look around and the other people in my program…there would be all of these people who would never, especially the men, never doubted that they were capable of it. They never spent one minute in self reflection, but I was always in this negative feedback loop of thinking I wasn’t good enough. And you end up wasting a lot of time. So, I guess my advice would be: until you develop your own sense of self and your own self confidence, listen to other people. So, listen to your parents who are telling you, you are good enough. Listen to your friends who are telling you that you’re smart enough. Listen to your professors who are telling you that you’re more than capable of doing it. And borrow that self esteem from them until you can build it yourself. Make sure you’re spending much more time every day doing science and much less time asking yourself whether you can do science.

I really do think this is an issue, especially for women in science. We do doubt ourselves so much more than the men do and it does slow us down. And the extent to which you can “fake it ‘till you make it”—and I’m using the little, like quote hand signals here—“fake it ‘till you make it” is really important in science. Sort of looking like you have self confidence and self esteem is more important in science than it is in a lot of other careers. And so, you know, borrow from your friends, family, and professors. Take that self confidence from them. You know, they wouldn’t tell you that you weren’t capable of it. They wouldn’t tell you that you weren’t capable of it if they didn’t mean that. So, take it and try to run with it, would be my advice.

That-that’s pretty good advice. [laughing] So, what, you know people talk about imposter syndrome and things like that a lot—

It’s one-hundred percent real.

But I’ve always wondered, I don’t know, sometimes for me personally it does feel more like the reason I feel that way is more because of my own thoughts rather than because there’s a system that’s like, you know, built against me. And you know, I’m not saying that the system is flawed in some ways, but I’m saying, I don’t know, I think that for most people if they did have more of a sense of self confidence or self worth, they would be more able to overcome those things.

In some ways it doesn’t really matter what’s causing it. You know, that effect is there and that effect is real. So, you know, the way to react to it is to try to build up the confidence of your friends and your peers when you see them struggling. You know, for professors, we try to build up self confidence of students when we see them struggling.

Yeah, imposter syndrome. I really feel like I dealt with it, and I feel like I still deal with it occasionally, but I felt like I dealt with it on a daily basis for years and years and I will never get that time back in my life. And I would’ve gone through so much less emotional turmoil if I had just simply let myself be and let myself do, rather than doubting the whole time.


I mean one thing I think you can do that’s very proactive it to seek out mentors and advocates. So, you know, a mentor is someone who can give you advice, help you sort of understand what career directions you want to go in. You know, help you deal with some of these big issues that are coming up in your junior year, senior year, and beyond. An advocate is someone who advocates on your behalf in a system around you, right? An advocate is someone who, for example, helps sell your senior research project or helps you get into grad school, helps sell you as a candidate for grad school. Helps sell you as a candidate for post doc, eventually.

A good mentor will be both a mentor and an advocate. But these generally are not people that you just bump into in your career. I’ve always had to seek them out. And some of the best mentors I’ve had—like Heather McDonald, who’s in my department—are people that I have sort of sought out, and they very kindly agree to do it. But it’s something you have to seek out. It’s not just something that happens to you. You have to explicitly search for it.

So don’t wait around, you know, for that mentor. It’s not like a fairy godmother. Don’t wait around for that mentor and that advocate. Actually go and seek them out, and then you are building your support system as you move through grad school, as you move through this possible field of science.

Yeah, I mean, especially because in my personal experience, it makes sense that sometimes you would need to search for that elsewhere because I’ve definitely had mentors before—well, research advisors before—who were not necessarily, like the best mentors. And um, if you already have a poor sense of self worth or something, then when the person who’s like in charge of you is also saying things like that, then it can be really difficult to still see your work as worth something.

Well and you also have to separate your work from your sense of self, right? You know I, all through high school, undergrad, and grad school, I got a lot of criticisms of my science. And those criticisms made me a better scientist. Criticisms about my writing, about my math, about my experimental design, my statistics. That’s what makes you a better scientist. But that’s not who you are, right? So, who you are is when your mentor says, “I think you’re really bright,” or, “I think you’re more than capable of doing this.” Or, you know, “I think you’re really great at blah-blah-blah.” Like those are the little gems that you take and you hide away for a rainy day. And you can’t take the constructive criticism personally. Because it’s not about you, it’s about improving you as a scientist.

And I do think you need to pick and choose your mentors and your advocates really carefully. If people are really thinking about going off to grad school, if they’re thinking about getting involved in a scientific career, who you spend your day-to-day time with in grad school—your fellow grad students, your grad school advisor—that’s hugely important. And every grad advisor has different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, so you need to find the one that works with your personality. Does that make sense?

Yeah, that does. I think that well, I guess in general, if there’s anything else I haven’t covered yet that you would like to speak to, knowing that this is something that is for the hundred year anniversary of women, or anything like that.

Can I tell a story?


So, I was talking to one of our alum—we have a pretty young department here at William & Mary. Geology is a little more than 50 years old. So we’re a pretty young department in an old university. And one of our alums was telling me that when she went in here in the 70s they still had house mothers. And when women left the residence halls every morning, the house mothers would measure the lengths of their skirts and make sure that they were ankle length so they could go out. In her example, on geology field trips, in their ankle length skirts, without being inappropriate. So they would leave their geology field trips in their ankle length skirts, and then the geology faculty would let them go to a gas station and change into jeans and hiking boots so they could go out in the field and do their geology. And I just think, that wasn’t that long ago. That was the early 70s where women at William & Mary were required to wear full length skirts to be able to go to class and to be able to go on field trips. And we have come such a long way now. We have women who are running these field trips. We don’t have the dress codes anymore. I think it’s fascinating to sort of think how far we have come.

And this is something a lot of people don’t know: William & Mary is ranked in the top ten undergrad programs in geology in the country in the recruitment and retention of women in our science. We’re actually the subject of a National Science Foundation study a few years ago why we had been so successful despite those full-length skirts. Why we’ve been so successful and and why we often have a female-dominated graduating class in geology. That’s very unusual in our field. And so, it’s just exciting. Exciting to be a woman geoscientist at William & Mary. It’s exciting to be here for the hundredth anniversary, to see that happening, to see all the alums coming back to celebrate.

That’s wonderful.

And geology’s going to do a special celebration. I know you know about it, but we’re going to do a special celebration where we invite all the alums back to celebrate at Homecoming. We’re going to do a day of talks from women geoscientists and people who identify as women geoscientists. And our alumni population…they’re going to talk about their science and their experience as women in science. We’re gonna have a lunch with current students. We’re going to have mentoring opportunities, and we’re going to have a big keynote address. So we’re super, super excited to celebrate with the college.

I’m excited, too. Alright, well thank you so much for your time. I learned a lot from that, too. I mean outside of this interview.

Women in Data Science

I’d like to start off by reading part of what the individual that nominated you said. He/she said: “Professor Settle is not only an inspiring professor, but also a woman in Data Science who is a mentor for women who are interested in pursuing opportunities in this male-dominated field. She is incredibly knowledgeable, admirable, and a strong woman who has pursued her passions with poise and confidence. This far in my life, I have never encountered such a dedicated and sincere woman who wishes to inspire other women.”

Could you tell me a bit more about your work in Data Science and academia?

I’ve been interested in helping students with their data analytics skills since I got here six years ago. For a long time, it was just helping individual students figure out which courses they should take given their interests. But now we have a formal Data Science program with a minor and a self-designed major. We’re brand new, and so it’s exciting to be building this from the ground up. Right now I serve as the Director of Undergraduate Studies. When you’re new, you’re working to develop the curriculum, but there’s so much that’s important that happens outside of the classroom as well. Developing the right support structures, out-of-classroom opportunities, internships, teaching fellows that can offer office hours – these are all just as important. For me personally, it was not easy to learn to code and I struggled with it a lot at first. I was only able to be successful because I had two very good friends in grad school who spent hours and hours patiently working with me. That’s always made me want to pay it forward. I think, especially for women, that sometimes if someone don’t think of herself as a math person, it can be easy to put up a mental block in what she thinks she can accomplish. I don’t want anyone to believe that they’re not capable of learning these data science skills if they’re motivated by the puzzles and want to be able to tackle them.

What was your reason for wanting to learn how to code?

I did it because I needed to. I didn’t learn until my first year of grad school. People don’t realize the extent to which political science is a quantitative field, and I needed to learn how to analyze the data that I had collected. There are other statistical programs that are more user-friendly, but my dissertation advisor used R and everyone around me was using R. The figures that you can make with R are just infinitely better than those from other software programs. And so I said, if I’m going to be real and I’m going to do this right, I’m going to need to learn how to use R to analyze my data. So it was really out of necessity, I knew that if I wanted to stay in the program and be successful, then I’d have to learn it.

Have there been any specific challenges that you’ve faced as a woman in the Data Science field?

I think this is a problem in several different disciplines, but at least within the realm of political data science, the people who are interested in methodology itself are disproportionately male. There’s this one political methodology conference that I attend, and it’s so skewed male. There’s something about the gender ratio within a group in that there’s a tipping point, where if there’s too many men compared to women in the group, the whole dynamic can change. This isn’t because the men themselves are doing anything intentionally, but it’s just human nature and interaction. There have been a lot of times where I’ve been the only woman in the room, and I’ve had to learn how to assert myself and not be intimidated by that dynamic. That was a big part of grad school — realizing that it’s okay to be the only woman and that I can’t let it hold me back in being my genuine self. As I’ve gotten older, I want to be bringing more women behind me and supporting them. I’ve tried to initiate more opportunities where women feel comfortable asking for help, because I think that was one of the biggest challenges for me. I was fortunate to have great friends and a great advisor, but I think it can still be hard to ask for help as a woman if you feel like the gender dynamic is stacked against you.

Is the Data Science minor program that we have at William & Mary still male-dominated?

No, not at all! That’s one of the really exciting things about the program – I’m pretty sure that we’re close to parity in women. There are more male faculty involved, but that’s just indicative of the broader trends within these disciplines.

You mentioned that two of your friends helped you a lot in graduate school – were they also female?

No, they were both male, but they were just truly patient people. They were friends first, and classmates second.

Is there a specific individual that you think you’ve helped through mentoring him/her while at William & Mary?

Yes, she’s actually visiting now. Her name is Meg Schwenzfeier, and she’s a 2014 graduate. My first year was her junior year, and another faculty member had introduced us when I was here for my job interview. Meg had taken a computer science class in high school, but she hadn’t really coded or programmed much since then. I encouraged her to learn R, since she’s incredibly bright, and I wanted her to help me with some projects and be able to use these data science skills towards her own honors thesis. Within the first two months of learning R, she just totally bypassed me. After undergrad, she went to work for a progressive consulting firm that helped Democratic candidates run experiments to test the efficacy of their campaign messages. She then moved to the Clinton campaign, and was in a very high-level data analytics role for someone her age. Now she’s in the first year of her PhD program at Harvard. She’s so smart, and way past me at this point, so I was involved just a bit in the beginning of her journey. It was great to feel like I helped her jumpstart her involvement in data science and analytics.

Definitely, and I’m sure having a female role model in a field that she was interested in pursuing really helped. My last question is: what is a piece of advice that you would give to female students interested in pursuing Data Science?

You always need to remember what got you interested in the first place. What is the problem in the real world, or what gets you excited to actually work on a problem and solve it? Maybe even write it down somewhere. So when you get frustrated, and you’re banging your head against the wall and ripping your hair out over this coding, you can remind yourself that you’re going to be part of an effective solution to a problem. Remembering your motivation is such a good incentive to push forward. Secondly, ask for help early and ask for help often. One of the things that we’re trying to do in the Data Science program at William & Mary is build a system of peer mentorship. You should always have multiple avenues to ask for help, and I think that if you ask for help before you’re totally at your wit’s end, you’re more likely to keep pushing forward. Lastly, shed any preconceptions you may have about who a data scientist is or what they look like or what their background is. The thing that data scientists have in common is this quest to use data to study problems and find solutions, and so as long as we focus on that, there’s nothing that can hold us back.