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.

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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.

Nice.

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.

Yeah.

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?

Sure!

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.

Envisioning a Community of Support

What piece of advice would you give to future William and Mary women?

The one piece of advice I would give is to not be intimidated when you are the minority voice in the classroom. Many of the subjects such as STEM, geology, business, and even some history classes are male dominated and they tend to dominate the class. Do not let that scare you. You are just as knowledgeable if not more so, and what you have to say is important.

In your interview, you spoke about your experiences at an all girls high school (I believe, I may be misremembering) and how that differed from your learning experience at William and Mary. Can you explain this idea in detail and how you adjusted to education at William and Mary?

Yeah, that’s right! My mom went to an all-girls college and was adamant I went to an all-girls Catholic high school. When I hear from so many of my friends that they hated high school and don’t talk to their high school friends, I get sad because my experience from the beginning was probably some of the best times in my life, not that I am someone who lives in my high school glory days, but our community was so bonded it genuinely like a sisterhood. I was in a sorority at William and Mary and I would still say nothing compares to AHC. These girls supported me and still support me and everyone in my class to this day mentally, spiritually and professionally. Outside of the community, going to an all-girls school I never had those feelings that because I am a girl I can only do certain activities and pursue certain careers. I saw female leadership as a norm and my all-girls school reinforced that idea and the idea that women are and will continue to be powerful leaders. It was funny because when I freshman at William and Mary I thought it was so weird to have a class with a boy and that boys go to school too and are actually smart and articulate. Going to an all girls school I truly just saw women as “the smart ones.” I don’t know if that’s bad. [laughs] So coming to William and Mary, it was an adjustment, but I never felt intimidated my male counterparts or timid in class because I knew that I was not less than.

Also going to an all-girls school I realized how important it was to support other girls and become a future example for younger girls because it truly does make a difference, and everything is so much easier together.

What has been the greatest challenge for you as a woman at William and Mary?

I feel like my biggest challenge as a woman, but specifically as a woman of color at William and Mary, is that I felt like I had a responsibility to break the mold that society constructs and perpetuates for women of color. I felt an invisible pressure to beat the expectations my professors and peers had of African American women. I’m not saying that William and Mary is a hostile place for women of color, but last year marked the 50th anniversary of African American women being accepted into the College of William and Mary. The second oldest college in the nation. I think while that is something that should be celebrated, it is also something that should leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Even 50 years later, I had classes where I was the only African American woman. And although I know I am not inferior to my peers, that environment is intimidating and inherently creates pressure. However, this challenge never discouraged me from being who I am and doing what was needed to be done.

Senior year: weird and happy about it

What do you think is something people might not know about you from first glance?

I think that upon first glance, I can look pretty intimidating. Lots of people have told me that, but when you get to know me, I’m chill, I’m basically a large teddy bear. There’s no reason for anyone to feel threatened. I like to try and be welcoming, but that’s just really who I am. I don’t really smile excessively, only when there’s reason to. Like I definitely do, just not that much. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I decided my theme for the year, because I am a senior, is that I am over caring about the “who’s cool” stuff. So I have decided to get aggressively weirder and weirder as the year goes on. Just really let myself be who I am regardless of social pressure. So I just bought an Irish tin whistle and I’m learning how to play it.

What inspired you to get into the Irish tin whistle?

Let’s see, why did I get one? I was kind of just online fooling around. I’ve been interested in Irish folk music these days.  Not for any reason, I just randomly got into it. Like I studied abroad, but I studied abroad in Scotland, so it’s not the same. My ancestors were largely Irish, and we have a family farm there but there’s a huge generational disconnect. So I’ve been listening to this music, and I played to a lot of music as a kid, and I thought, “Hey why not try the Irish tin whistle?” So I bought an Irish tin whistle.

What is something else that you find yourself embracing this year?

The tin whistle thing is pretty interesting. I decided to go vegetarian and/or vegan, doing Meatless Mondays and taking steps towards that. I think it’s good for the environment, but I’m pretty relaxed about that. I am doing modern dance, which is fun, because I think it’s something I would not normally be into. I am doing it for a requirement actually, but I probably would have taken it anyway because I don’t have a lot of academic classes I need to do. I would  graduate early but there’s a rule that you need to do the last certain amount of credits at William & Mary, but I’m in no rush So I am just hanging around and I want to get more involved, like with the whole Mechanical Mondays thing. I was a volunteer bike mechanic when I was studying abroad in Scotland.

There was this random Scottish dude who would come and help fix bikes. He’s like a fairly old guy, probably 60 something. Apparently he was a grade school teacher for 45 years, woke up one day and said, “I hate this job,” then quit it and became a bike mechanic. But his shop is in the back of a hair salon. So you have to walk your bike through the hair salon to get there. it’s hilarious, and it gives me a lot of perspective on certain things.

I don’t know if I told you this, but I am a computer scientist. I went to the eye doctor recently to get my glasses fixed. They dilated my eyes, and I went home. I wanted to write some code and I couldn’t see and thus couldn’t code, and I was like, “holy shit, if you can’t see you can’t write code.” I mean I’m sure there are ways, but my specialty is machine learning and artificial intelligence, so I am currently working on an artificially intelligent assistant that could write code for you. You’d be able to speak key words and write code by speaking it rather than typing it. That’s another thing I am doing this semester.

Was that inspired by not being able to see?

Yeah it was that one time I went to the eye doctor.

I also do random projects, like creating Tinder for trees. it’s exactly Tinder but you use pictures of trees instead of yourself. I figure I should probably do projects that actually help people, but that sounded like fun.

We need conversation spaces

When was the last time you did something you felt like you weren’t obligated to do?

My sister is applying to college right now. And not out of obligation, but out of sisterly love, I’ve been trying to pull together resources for her in terms of preparing for college and deciding which colleges to go to. When she was starting high school, I made her this high school handbook, different chapters about different things I knew she would encounter while in high school. Now I’m doing the same thing for when she starts college. So I have a chapter about living with another person, and a chapter about going to sports games, and coping with academic stress, and going out.

That’s really sweet. How many years apart are you guys?

We’re four years apart. So she’ll start as I graduate.

You feel like you have a lot of wisdom to pass on to her?

I guess as we’ve grown up, I’ve always been the person that she looks up to, instead of my parents. My parents complain about this a lot. If my parents ask her to do something, she won’t do it, but if I tell her to do something, she’ll do it. Our relationship has really grown stronger since coming to college, and I don’t want to go through four years of college without having something to give her that she can look to when I’m not available on the phone. She can think, “Yasmin did these things, so I can too.”

What do you think is the most helpful piece of advice for her?

She’s a really smart student. She’s very, very academically successful, and I feel like this is something that happens a lot for William and Mary students is where you do well in high school, and then you comes to college, and it’s kind of shocking how hard you have to work to do well in class. I’m trying to talk to her a lot this, this year. She’s the kind of person that doesn’t have to study or when she does it’s really easy for her. I want to tell her to put in the time and effort into her work, but at the same time, I don’t want her to put too much weight on it. She needs to focus on learning things in school, internalizing the information, not internalizing the grade. The county that I went to high school in and the county she goes to high school in is very competitive and grade-focused – “Where are you going to college? What are you going to do with your life? How are you going to be successful? That kind of thing.” – It’s good in sense that it focuses you on trying to work hard, but it has a negative effect because it puts you into this mindset where your self-worth is based on what your grades are. I want her to understand that she has a lot more to offer than her brain. She’s a very loving person, she’s a very funny person. I want her to find things in college that help develop her personality. I obviously want her to do well academically, but I don’t want her to focus on that. I want her to find herself and find what she is passionate about and continue the things she was doing in high school and blossom in a more holistic sense than just academics.

Was that transition hard for you, coming to college?

A little bit because throughout high school I was surrounded by that competitive atmosphere. I very much had that, “I must do better than my classmates or at least as well as my friends, otherwise I can’t talk to anyone about what I’m going through.” So coming to William and Mary, it was hard to adjust to how much work I had to do to succeed in my classes. Everyone around me seemed to be right where they needed to be, and everyone seemed to have the grades that they wanted, so I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about school. If I talked to people I would talk about how much fun I was having, all the things I was doing outside of class because I didn’t want people to know that I was really struggling in Economics. I couldn’t say, “I have a C in a class right now.” As I started to form friendships with people and get to know people in my class, I realized everyone was in the same boat. I don’t know anyone who at some point didn’t feel that William and Mary wasn’t the place for them. We think of this school as very prestigious. It’s the “smart people school.” When you tell people that you’re going to William and Mary, they’re like, “Oh, good for you.” There’s so much pressure from people inside and outside the college to do well, and again, similarly to what I want my sister to experience and what I’ve worked to instill in myself, I’m more than just the grades that I get. Yes, it is important to well. It is important to work hard, but there are other things that I can pour myself into. And once I found non-academic things to be excited about because I was happy with my extracurriculars, I wanted my academics to be on the same level.

My freshman year I joined the African Culture Society. My parents immigrated from West Africa and the West African aspects of my heritage are really important to me, so joining that club, and joining a dance team, and being able to be surrounded by other people of African descent and other people with interests in Africa allowed me to have a creative outlet, and allowed me to separate things. Living on campus, things are constantly, school, school, school, school, school, and when you find things that aren’t school it allows your brain to compartmentalize in a good way.

Yeah, for sure. Are you and your sister pretty close?

Yeah, and it sounds cliché, but she really is my best friend. My sister is one of my absolute favorite people and I’m so thankful to have her in my life. I’m really glad with how we get along. I was really worried coming to college because before college, we lived together obviously and would see each other every day. I was afraid coming to college that the connection would falter, but I feel like going away was the best thing that could’ve happened for us. She calls me all the time. She harasses me constantly, but it’s a good thing.

Have you always gotten along?

No, oh no. We used to fight, and we still fight, but not nearly as much as we used to. We used to argue about everything. We’re both very in-charge, take-charge people, so she thinks that I’m too bossy, and I think that she doesn’t listen to be enough. Those are things that we fight about, but as we’ve gotten older, I feel like there’s more we can talk about and I don’t feel like I have to shield her from things. This has been really cool because we’ve been able to have some important conversations, and she’s been able to talk to me about things she wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable talking to my parents about, or things that I didn’t get to talk to my parents about enough, so I want to make sure that she’s able to ask all the questions she has. We’ve definitely, definitely gotten closer since I’ve come to college.

That’s kinda cool. Sometimes there’s this worry that the distance is going to make it a lot harder.

Yeah, that’s true, but FaceTime and phone calls have made it pretty easy. I have friends that will tell me they call their parents once a week, and that’s a lot for them. For me, literally every single day one of my family members calls me, and it’s usually my mom or my sister. My dad knows that I’m trying to get work done here, so he’ll call me about three times a week, but my mom and sister will call or text me every day. It’s really nice because my family was really close before I left, and I’m very glad we’ve been able to maintain that family dynamic. We’re also checking up to see how we’re doing. There was never really a question about whether or not I’d maintain that relationship. For some people, coming to college means, not in a bad way, that you lose contact with people because you’re not used to consistently talking to people, but that hasn’t been an issue for me. I rely on my parents in terms of stress relief. If I’m stressed those are the people I call.

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Do you have anything you would like to say to the William and Mary community?

It’s not related to what we’ve been talking about, but there’s a lot going on in our country right now, and there’s a lot of tension and a lot of issues. I feel like on this campus we have a divergence of interests represented. We have a lot of different kind of people with a lot of different kinds of ideas, and beliefs on campus. If we can work to facilitate conversations with one another about politics and about what is politically correct, if we stop being afraid of having these conversations, if we stop trying to have them with people we know think the same way as us who we know we will agree with, if we can work to show people these conversations are possible, it will help us with leaving campus and going home and having these same conversations with our families and our friends.

I’ve been looking on social media at the things people say and the arguments people have, and this sounds so, “Everyone come together and get along!” and obviously that is very difficult to sit down and talk to a person who is saying things that are abjectly against the things that you believe and abjectly against the kind of things that you emphasize as important to yourself. This is something that I really do have to keep reminding myself because especially during the election time because people were supporting a candidate that I abjectly did not like. I figured, if you vote for him, you’re against me. I don’t know how to articulate this, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. My dad always reminds me that we need to focus on listening to one another – listening, but not diminishing the voices of people who have something that needs to be said. What happens on this campus a lot is that there are people who speak up, but they end up speaking on behalf of people who have their own voice, who have their own things to say. I think we need to work on not just creating safe spaces, but creating conversational spaces where people can say, “This is something that you believe in. I don’t understand why you believe this. Explain it to me.” And then being able to say, “Okay, so these are the issues I have with that. What are the issues you have with me?”

I am tired of everything turning into a debate, everything turning into an argument. If you some to someone, and you are prepared to debate with them, you’re not going to have a constructive conversation, and both of you are going to walk away angrier and if anything, more polarized than you were before.

Anger is a motivating emotion. It’s an emotion that can get you to act on the things you believe and act on the things that are important to you, but it needs to be anger that is channeled that’s not towards people, but it towards ideas. People and ideas are intertwined, and that’s an understanding factors, but when we have these conversations then it becomes more of a, “you, you, you” and less of a, “concept, concept, concept.” It becomes difficult to interact with people.

Do you have friends who you find it difficult to talk about things like this with?

It’s not that I feel difficult talking to them about it. I just don’t know who to approach the concepts without making them feel like I’m attacking them. I know that I have friends who I would disagree with on a number of things, and I want to be able to have these conversations because we’re in college and we’re adults, and we should be able to articulate our feelings and our beliefs without there being an issue. I don’t know. It’s one thing when it’s a stranger and you have no intention of interacting with them again, and you can say your piece and be done with it, but when it’s a friend, there’s a personal aspect to it because part of you is feeling disappointed that if you and a friend are on different sides of an argument, It can feel as though, not that they’re personally against you, they’re against things that are very personal to you. They’re against things that are very integral to what you believe. It can be difficult having conversations with those people because they’re still your friends, and you want to maintain that relationship, but you want it to evolve, and you don’t know how to go about doing that because you don’t want them to feel like you hate them, which is unfair. It’s so sad that we’ve reached this point where you have to be afraid to say things because you don’t want people to think that you’re speaking against them. There are issues in the world that you should be able to articulate without people taking it personally, but that’s just kind of where we’re at right now.

Say you want to do racism, and racism is a very complex concept, but there a lot of base things about racism and the way it works in the world that people don’t understand, and they see racism as an action, and there are many cases in which people act out on racism, but racism can be a very internalized and latent thing in people’s natures and in people’s minds. They don’t realize the way they think about something or act on something is racist in nature. It’s those kind of conversations that are difficult because those are the people who feel like they are on your side, who feel like they are living life the way they should be. When they think of racist, they think of a bad person. Yes, racism is bad, but there are good people who have racist ideals. It’s interacting with those people that I feel is difficult because I don’t want them to as though me saying something that they’ve done or the way they think is problematic makes their whole activism in society rendered obsolete. It’s just that the way that you think is based in a racist ideal.

I think a good example of this is the taking a knee thing. People have been saying a lot in the news that the athletes are ungrateful by taking a knee. Ungrateful to whom? About what? What is it that Black Athletes should be grateful for? Who do they owe this gratitude to? You can unpack this, and people are saying that Black athletes don’t have a place in politics and this is not the time for a political gesture, but saying that Black athletes should stick to athletics conveys people’s belief that they are worth nothing more in society than entertainers. That doesn’t make sense. They live in this society, they are affected by the politics, and why shouldn’t they be able to make a political statement about it? People say it’s unpatriotic for them to take a knee during the National Anthem, but there really is no sensible correlation between athletics and the anthem. It’s fine, but no one ever said they had to be tied together. People keep saying that the men and women who are fighting on behalf of this country are dying to protect the flag. That’s not true. They’re dying to protect the people in this country, they’re dying to protect the constitutional rights of the people in this country. One of those rights is to protest peacefully. It’s interesting to see how people were faster to argue on behalf of the White Supremacists and Nazis and their march in Charlottesville on their beliefs, however abjectly problematic they are, than to let these athletes take a knee during the National Anthem. I saw a tweet that said, “If people were as upset about a knee in Freddie Gray’s back as they were about the knees that these athletes were taking during the National Anthem, we wouldn’t have a problem.” I feel like people like to focus on the wrong things, and blow those out of proportion, instead of focusing on things that really matter. Like the way that this whole debate has evolved in the past few days. They’re not taking a knee because they don’t like that Trump is president. This is something Colin Kaepernick started doing while Obama was still president. It’s about the loss of Black lives at the hands of people who are supposed to be protecting them. It’s about social equality for Black people. It’s frustrating how it starts as one movement and people who are against it, take it and construe it, and that’s what gets blasted out in social media, and that’s what the media runs with. They keep talking about how this is a protest against the anthem, how it’s a protest against Trump, and the true narrative of what this protest is about has been lost. Yes, Trump contributes to the protest, but he’s not what it’s about.

It’s interesting to compare freshman year to now and the conversations that are being had. Not to say that I’m afraid, but now you walk around, and you look at people, and you wonder, “Would we agree about these things? What conversations would be have if we had a chance to talk about things?” It’s getting to the point now that people are so set in their mindsets and the way they want to think about things that I don’t know how to go about initiating these conversations in a way that leaves us open to a change in thought.

I want to be a person that people feel comfortable coming to ask questions when they don’t understand an issue that they think might be relevant to me. I don’t want people to be afraid to talk to me about these things because they worry I might combat them. They should know that I am firm in my beliefs, and I will have conversations with people how are acting in a way that I don’t think is right, but I want people to know that I am a resource and I can have constructive conversations with.

At the end of the day, sometimes it’s important that you feel convicted because it’s with conviction that comes change, but I don’t want to be known as “The Convicter.” I want people to say, “I can talk to Yasmin. She might call me out, but she’ll do it in a way that is meaningful.” That’s what I want. And I also want to be someone who can change her mind about things. I just want to talk to people. I’m tired of just stewing in my feelings by myself. I want to have conversations about them with people I don’t agree with.

I was at a family party a couple weeks ago, and my uncle invited a man who started talking about immigration and many politically hot topics, and he was covering them all in a way that was problematic to me. It was the first time I had to articulate these things to someone who was not going to believe what I had to say. It was an amazing experience. My sister was also there, and it made me so proud because my 17-year-old sister was not afraid to talk about what she believed in with a 45-year-old man. It was also really important for me again, because it is so easy to talk about these kinds of things with someone that you know agrees with you. When you have to articulate them in a way that expresses what you’re saying to someone who isn’t thinking about things in the same way, it forces you to construct your ideas in a way that makes your argument understandable. Now I know that I can have these conversations with people. I was really proud of myself. I was able to listen to the things he was saying, and he was able to listen to the things I was saying.

Art, meditation, and friendship

Lyla 02b.jpgAbner: Ah, I’m getting wrecked by mosquitoes, I knew this was gonna happen. They always go for my calf muscles, where I can’t defend myself.

Katie: See, this is why I come hang out with you.

Do you always come over here [fence of the Crim Dell] to sketch/draw?

A: I just kinda go generally around campus. I kinda got bored and I was like I need to waste an hour of time before I go play basketball. That’s all there is to that story.

Being on William and Mary’s campus, I feel like the Crim Dell is such a common image, have you sketched it before?

A: Nope, this is the first time. And it will probably be the last time because these mosquito bites are really starting to add up and it’s getting kind of annoying. The scene itself is pretty nice.

Is it charcoal that you’re using?

A: Yes, pressed charcoal to be specific.

Why do you use charcoal?

A: I like charcoal because I’ve drawn in grayscale for the past 6 months or so. And as an extension, I like using charcoal because it can be both very minimalist in the sense that you only have really black and white to work with, but you have such a wide variety of possible textures that can still be very expressive. And because it’s in black and white, you really have to know how to express your idea because otherwise it will come out very flat.

Have you been an artist for a long time?

A: (in a mimicking, elderly voice) I’ve been an artist ever since…

(Katie laughing)

Ok, then how did you figure out you have a talent for these things?

A: I’ve always drawn ever since I was a kid. Except when I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing. Of course, I experimented with stick figures and stuff like that, then my dad would make fun of me and I would stop. But, I think what really got me into drawing was watching cartoons, because I was so enamored by seeing the simple acts of a cartoon acting like a person and them being a person, and seeing them go through these amazing things. I think seeing all those things as a kid has translated into me wanting to draw those kind of things myself.

Are you just his friend? You just come and hang out with him while he sketches?

K: Sometimes, when I can find him. He pops up all over campus.

How do you guys know each other?

K: We met through meditation club. They have a club and we both attended.

A: Advertise the meditation club while we’re at it.

Yeah, tell me about the meditation club then!

K: Shameless self plug.

A: Katie will have to do that because I’m technically not part of it anymore.

Are you a leader of meditation club?

K: I am. Yeah, I helped the original, unofficial founders start it last year. It wasn’t official technically until this summer. But we made it into a club together and we wanted to bring a service to the campus, because meditation has so many benefits. I mean I know it’s changed my life, so we felt inspired to create a club that literally brought people together through meditation and gave them a chance to get away from reality, and stress, and anxiety because so many people here have that.

Can I ask how meditation has changed your life?

K: Yeah of course.

A: You may go first, I have an answer for this one as well.

K: Oh no, you should go first.

A: Me? Ok. So, I believe meditation has helped me in the sense that it’s helped me connect to my environment. Because once I became meditative – actually, I don’t wanna say became, because it’s not something you become, it’s more of a journey than a destination, and that’s very important actually. No one’s spiritual journey is actually complete. Anyways, with that tangent out of the way, I think the meditation has helped me, like I said, connect to the world around me. Even what I’m doing right now is a form of meditation, I think, because I am encapturing this entire scene into this two-dimensional world, but I must still convey the energy of the environment, and the way the world feels realistically when they see it. So that must explain why I get so tired after drawing these, but it’s like the new form of meditation I’ve discovered. The idea of what most people have of meditation is some person sitting near incense, doing like some sort of pose, and being like “Ummmm…” But no, it doesn’t have to be that at all. It’s very unique to the person I think.

K: No, but that’s true. It’s not about sitting in a circle and chanting.

A: That sounds more like a cult actually.

K: That does sound like a cult. We are not a cult.

A: Are you sure about that?

K: No, I’m very sure. Abner, thank you, you’ve turned this into a bad advertisement. No, but I feel like meditation is self-serving, in a way. It’s like finding your flow, finding your peace. I mean, for me, meditation was about in some ways finding answers. For me personally, it was realizing that the external world really can’t do anything for me, in the sense that all the answers, all the validation, all the truth is within me. Finding out all that I am is good enough and all that I am is fine. And the external world really can’t do that. But meditation for everyone just holds so many benefits. Yes, it can provide answers but it also just helps you relax and recenter yourself. And also, meditation has a lot of scientifically-proven benefits, like calming you down, helping you regulate your nervous system, increasing blood flow, all these different scientific benefits. But like Abner said, there’s also spiritual benefits and mental benefits and emotional benefits.

I think it’s funny because it seems like so many people are intimidated by the idea of meditation, because it seems like something unattainable for a lot of people. They just can’t imagine themselves sitting and thinking and breathing and that’s it. And it’s kinda sad that people are less open to it. I think it’s because we’re obsessed with doing things, so we can’t just do nothing.

K: And that’s why it’s so fun. You just get to be, nothing more than you, nothing less than you are. You can just be. And that is intimidatingly powerful. I understand that.

A: That’s a good point you’ve brought up. Sorry to interrupt, but if I did…

K: You did, Abner. (laughs)

Yeah, no interruptions allowed.

A: Oh, I’ve done it now. She’s gonna like fire a beam of energy at me, killing me. (laughs)

K: Yeah, that would be very meditative of me.

A: I think one of the few things I like about Legend of Korra, is that Tenzin had this one quote, because Korra was complaining that she wasn’t meditating right, and then Tenzin’s like, “There’s nothing to do, just let your mind and spirit be free.” (Katie mmmhmms) And I think that describes it very well in a very quick nutshell.

Can I ask you what you’re listening to?

A: Various jazz right now. I just put it on Autoplay, I started out on Chet Baker. Right now, I’m on Miles Davis, Milestones, a great piece.

And so like do you just walk around campus, and stumble upon him?

K: Pretty much, he’s like a leprechaun or something. I’ll just be like “Oh, there’s Abner,” he’ll just be like popping up.

Where have you found him?

K: I found him in Swem one day. That was like the first time I saw you. You were in the coffee shop.

A: Oh, I remember now, I was drawing Swemromas.

K: I found you outside Sadler. That’s the last time I saw you. You were sketching, and then Sophie came over, and the we all started watching cartoons.

A: Yeah, that was fun, I enjoyed when that happened.

Hey, look, those people are crossing right now!

A: Uhhh, stay still for a few more minutes. There, it’s fine, I got their shapes down. See, stick figures are actually useful, because once you get far enough, humans just don’t really look humanlike.

Katie, are you an artist at all?

(Katie laughs)

A: Oh man, that was a good answer.

K: I mean, a little bit. I sketch but it’s not really what I do. I like playing music, I like playing piano. I walk around Abner, and I’m like “I am inferior.” (laughs)

A: If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think the opposite. When I walk around you, I think, “Cool, budding talent,” not “Oh, she’s so inferior to me.” Cause everyone has to start from somewhere. Before John Coltrane was playing wherever, he had to learn the scales. No one just starts off a genius. Everyone needs some sort of coaching some way or another.

K: That’s true, and I’m a life coach.

You are? How did you get into that?

K: So, I wanna go into counseling anyway, and I had a friend who was developing a program, and I was like, you know that would be something I’d be really interested in doing. So, life coaching is basically like therapy without calling it therapy. It’s encouraging people and guiding them to change their own lives and I think that’s amazing. I love doing it. I feel like in some ways I just do it on a daily basis anyway.

What do you think is the most common advice that you give to people? What do you find yourself saying to people?

K: Honestly, I think the thing I yell at people the most is “You are amazing.” I don’t think people hear often enough that you are fantastic just as you are.

A: I don’t believe you. Haha, I was just poking fun…

K: You are fantastic just as you are Abner, thank you very much. But no, I think in this world, you’re always supposed to be more, you’re always supposed to be better, and I think it’s important for people to stop and realize, you’re fine. You are enough, right here, right now. I think that’s such an important thing to hear and to know, so that’s probably what I say the most. Another thing I say is that your past doesn’t make you.

What years are you guys?

K: We’re both seniors.

(Abner groans)

Well then how do you guys feel about being seniors then?

A: To be honest, I’m very tired of this college and I want to be out of here as soon as possible.

Like you’re ready to be in the real world?

A: I guess, for lack of a better word. But like whenever anyone says ‘real world,’ I’m like “well what,” because like technically everywhere we go is the real world.

Ok, fair point.

A: But, anyways, because of various experiences I had in junior year, I just don’t wanna be here anymore. The energy just feels too closely associated with the really bad experiences I had junior year, so I’d like to be gone, away from this place, so I can actually have proper healing take place. Because all this is nice, but I feel like all it’s doing is putting a bandage on what is a very deep wound. But that was a sad answer, so Katie you might want to say something else.

K: Wow, that’s a lot of pressure on me. For me, I don’t have quite as deep an answer. I’m happy that I’m graduating, I feel ready to graduate in a lot of ways. I mean, now and then, there’s this moment, “oh yeah, I’m graduating and some of these people I will probably never see again.”

A: Ah, yes, the never seeing again. Sorry, yeah, that hit home.

K: It does feel like it’s a happy chapter coming to a close for me. Maybe a very different perspective than Abner. I feel excited for the next step. I like change, I think change is so natural in the world. Rather than fight it and resist, it’s better to embrace it.

A: The only consistency is inconsistency.

K: The only constant thing in life is change.

What is the most exciting thing about not being a college student?

A: No cockroaches, first of all.

(Katie laughs.)

A: Aside from the horrendously gigantic insects…I mean, to go off on this brief tangent, those things are terrifying. I didn’t have to deal with them until I came here.

K: It’s not like they go out of their way to scare you, Abner.

They’re just trying to live their lives.

K: Exactly, they’re just existing. And you just happen to be an observer.

A: Ok, to be fair, I don’t think humans are meant to be in Williamsburg to begin with, so they have dominion of this place, as far as I’m concerned. They can have the swamp all to themselves. Anyways, the thing I’m looking forward to most after this is all done, is actually finally making a name for myself. Because I perform a lot and I feel like I could, with of course luck but mostly a lot of work in the right setting, I could become someone like Chet Baker and Miles Davis and John Coltrane, because I think I’ve set myself up with the right set of skills and I have the knowledge of the genre to do that. And in order to be a successful jazz artist, you really need a city and not a small town in the middle of nowhere.

Oh, now we’re shading.

A: The further away the objects get, the less defined and more blurry they become, which is what I needed to do to bring out those effects. So now, it’s actually starting to look like how it’s shaded.

Wow, that completely transformed it.

A: Mmhmm. It’s always fun to watch, because no matter how many sketches I do, I never get tired of watching that.

K: Because you never quite know how it’s gonna turn out.

A: That’s what I love about charcoal. No two sketches ever turn out the same, no matter how much I refine my technique. And how the little figures in the distance are hard to see, which is great, because they were hard to see.

K: That’s probably my favorite sketch of yours.

A: I just completed one earlier today that someone playing instruments.

K: Oh my god, the water, Abner.

A: I unintentionally made this look like nighttime. Oops, I accidentally messed up this spot, but that’s ok, I can just fill it in.

Lyla 02c.jpgSee, that’s why I can’t be an artist because I’m too much of a perfectionist. I’m not spontaneous enough,.

A: Plot twist, I’m actually a perfectionist as well. Working with charcoal has helped me give that up, because you’re never gonna get anything perfect with charcoal, it’s a a bit of an unpredictable medium. So, you just have to learn to work with the imperfections. Something that also helped, is a stopped throwing away pictures that I messed up. There are roughly 35 or so sketches, and one of them I did so poorly, but I decided to muscle my way through it and actually learn something from it. The fact that I finished it and looked at it to see what did work and didn’t work, I learned more from it. And looking at that picture actually helped me with this one, because these branches in front were the type of thing I messed up in the first one because I couldn’t figure out how to make them pop.

What would you say to a William and Mary student? What’s one thing that you think everyone on this campus should know?

A: Invest in yourself and your won’t be disappointed. Far too much of this campus is very much doing all these things for 30 other people and sending out your resume to all these businesses that will ignore you. But, just take yourself out to dinner, read a book, climb a tree, invest in yourself. People do not do that enough, myself included until this year. And then, if you do that, the people that do end up in your life will be attracted to that energy and they’ll be more likely be much more solid friends because of that.
K: I can back off of that. Just reminding yourself that you matter. We’re called a tribe but you are a very important member. I am a firm believer that everyone has meaning. You make the world a better place just by being in it. I love this quote that I shared with a friend: “The force that created the mountains and the oceans and seas, also created you.” You have as much significance as the most important thing that you value. You’re powerful and you’re amazing and you should carry that with you. You are enough. I could say that to everyone. Because they are. Everyone’s so amazing, and they need to know that.

One woman, four careers

Grace & Emily 02a.JPGThis interview was done by two of our members. Their questions are denoted by E or G.

E: What do you do at the hospital?

I’m a surgical assistant.

E: What brought you to that occupation?

It’s a longer story than you probably have time for. I got my Masters at William & Mary in Education, did that for twenty years, and then had a mid-life review of what I wanted to do. I decided that I wanted to go into medicine.

G: When did you make that transition?

I went to EVMS (Eastern Virginia Medical School) two and a half years ago, and I’ve been doing this job for a year now.

G: Are you glad that you made the decision to change occupations?

Definitely – it’s been an interesting career change. I didn’t know as much about the medical community as I do now, and the people I work with are fabulous. We work really well together to ensure that people that come in for surgery are well taken care of.

E: What’s one of the most difficult things about the job?

Seeing the patients come in because a lot of the times they are really sick and you can’t help but feel really bad for them. If it was your family or your loved one…you would never want anyone to go through that. Both of my parents passed away and they had so many medical issues before then, so when I see some older folks, especially because there’s a lot of elderly people in this community, it brings me back to my parents.

G: Has there been a specific instance in your medical career so far that has reassured you that it has been the right career choice for you?

I’ve helped with C-sections, and I’ve really enjoyed that. Seeing babies come out healthy and seeing the moms with them, it’s incredible. The neat thing I discovered is that every baby has a unique voice. Some people think that crying all sounds the same, but it doesn’t. Every baby sounds different.

I try to come here and walk before I go to work because it’s always so beautiful and there’s always neat things to see. Every season it’s different.

G: Do you have to work really long hours?

I’m 11 am to 7 pm today. Depending on the day, I’ll be on call, so tonight I am on call 11 pm to 7 am. On the weekends, we share shifts, so I’ll be on call for 24 hours on the weekend, either a Saturday or a Sunday. Sometimes you don’t get called in, and sometimes you work all night long. The last time I pulled all nighters was when I was your age, but now I’m doing them again! I did one a couple weeks ago, which was doable, but the next morning I was really tired.

G: Do you ever feel like your career gets in the way of other things that you want to pursue?

Yeah, because I’m at the age now where I want to travel more and exercise, but I do enjoy my work.

E: It’s so nice to see someone who gives up themselves for others, it’s just a really nice occupation.

Thank you. It’s been really neat because everyone I work with – the nurses, the surgeons, everyone – they’re wonderful.

G: Could you speak more to what made you want to change your career?

I worked for twenty years as a wildlife biologist and then an environmental educator. I really liked that job and enjoyed working with kids, but after my parents died, I started to reevaluate where I was and what I wanted to do. I had always been interested in medicine, so I just figured that it was time to try something different. I do miss working with kids though. I would take middle school kids to Florida to learn about habitats down there and we would go snorkeling and see dolphins, turtles, and alligators, so it was really fun. But this career is completely different and I’ve done a lot of really cool things through it. It’s just different.

My dad was always into education and constantly taking classes no matter what age he was, so I think he would approve that I decided to go back to school in my fifties and start over.

Throughout my life, I was a zookeeper, a wildlife biologist, an environmental educator, and now I’m in medicine. And I might change again! I’ve got plenty of time left – there’s so much out there.

Growing up in a Military Family

Can you tell me why you decided to choose William and Mary?

So William and Mary for me was always my dream school since I was four years old. I decided I wanted to be here after I came here on a trip with my parents. I found out about the rich history behind the College and you know at the time, being in kindergarten learning about the founding fathers and Thomas Jefferson. I was like, “man it would be really cool to be a lawyer like those guys and go to college that is really close to home.”

Do you still have that dream of being a lawyer since you are in the ROTC and Army?

I kinda abandoned my lawyer dreams around high school. Ultimately, I would want to be a politician. But, this law school is something that I definitely have not checked off my list. I do plan on still serving after college since I am contracted with the Army. But, you know if the opportunity ever arose, I would not write it off.

I mean when you got your acceptance letter from William and Mary, do you remember anything from that day?

So I was actually working on a group project for my school news team, and we had just finished filming. Then, we went to McDonalds, and I was having a pretty bad day since stuff with some girls were going down. I was pretty down. I got a text from one of my friends saying, “hey did you get your mail?” I was like “no why?” He didn’t get into William and Mary, and I was like yikes since I thought that this kid in my school was sure to get in. But yeah, I was like, “yikes. Decisions came out.” so we kinda ate real quick, and went home with my god brother. And we opened my letter, and I got in. I remember I screamed, and I went to my parents’ room and told them. They were so happy. My dad was kinda like, “congratulations. You did what you were supposed to do” type of deal.

Kinda the philosophy there was, “getting in is the easy part. Finishing is the hard part.”

Do you live your life with that philosophy? Kinda live your life by the hard way and not the easy way?

I would say once you get there in retrospect, there are different things you could have done, but ultimately, getting somewhere isn’t the hard part. It is finishing. You have to finish the fight. And that is where I think a lot of people screw up in life. It is like the dog chasing the truck. The dog will chase and chase and chase, and once he gets to the truck, he has no idea. So you have to finish it.

Is that why you are going into ROTC because you kinda want to finish?

So I joined the Army more so because I’ve wanted to find a way that I could serve best. I have a very strong patriotic and civil duty. For someone with my skill set and my talents, I feel like I could best serve from a military position. Especially growing up military, I have had my whole life exposed to it. My dad is still active duty so.

 

Does he go up to Washington a lot?

So he was actually recently stationed at the Pentagon. He works with CASCOM (Combined Arms Support Command). And, he writes doctrine for the military now.

Besides your dad, is any of your other family serving in the military?

Three of my cousins. My dad’s cousin. I have a very large extended family and I do not know all of them. But from the ones I understand, I have three cousins in the military. One in the Navy, two in the Army. And then, my dad’s cousin who is also in the Army.

I’m guessing this is a kinda biased question, but Army or Navy?

Army. Go Army Beat Navy.

I don’t know. Like my mom’s side of the family have all gone to VMI. But, I guess I never really been around the military. Does having a military family change your values?

Absolutely. It definitely changes how I view things. How I look at things. It changed my perspective especially with world views and politics. It has some sort of factor into that. I think that one thing that growing up military which most military families can attest to is the discipline and self-initiative and how important that is. Now like being a part of the system- realizing how ingrained they [these values] are within you with everything that you do. How it really can help benefit just not the military career but life.

I’m guessing if you could change one part of the ROTC here, what would you change?

ROTC?

Yeah the ROTC Program here at William and Mary.

More exposure really.

Get out into the real world?

Not even the “real world.” Just campus. I feel like we have a very small presence on campus. Partly because of people’s political views and partly because of the size of our program. But i really feel like you know cadets on campus really tend to do well in their community and have a lot of the best interests of not only the William and Mary community but Americans at large. And, I feel like we have a lot to offer and would like to see the campus not write us off so fast.

Why do you think the campus writes y’all off?

I don’t know. I think a lot of it is misconceptions in the military. I think a lot of times when people see guys in uniform standing up at tables, you think, “oh recruiter recruiter stay away stay away.” And a lot of times, that has nothing to do with recruiting. It is just getting our faces out there where you get to see us and we see you.

I guess the problem with this campus is that there is a misconstrued idea about the military being very conservative.

Of course, here at William and Mary not all of us, and I know tons of people who do not identity as a conservative and I know tons of people who do not identify as a liberal. And we are a very mixed program. And I think the military is the perfect place of people who see differently politically but can put their differences aside to accomplish a mission and achieve some sort of end state. I feel a lot of people especially on campus aren’t necessarily able to do because when you have discourse, it turns into yelling fights and angry people walking away with no sort of knowledge or insight gained into the other side. I think if we look at programs like the military, it is the perfect example of guys who have very different views, but are still able to use those views to find common ground and work together.

I think you mentioned this before, but where do you want to go after the military or after you serve?

I actually want to practice politics. Like that is my ultimate what I want to do. Ultimately, what I do in the military is kinda going to shape what opportunities will open for myself. But hopefully, I am trying to get into logistics for the military so hopefully that will open up some type of management jobs and maybe I can get into some lobbying for companies and stuff. And kinda, put my foot into the door so.

Are you a Boy Scout because I know a lot of people in the military are Scouts?

I was not a Boy Scout. I was a Cub Scout for a year. And then, I stopped because I wasn’t able to make all the meetings and stuff. Growing up, I was a big baseball, football, and soccer player. I did all three. Then usually during the winter, I would even throw in basketball some years. But yeah Cub Scouts never really worked so I never really joined back in.

Kinda phased out?

Yeah definitely phasing out sports. So by the time I reached high school, I was playing soccer and football. Then by it was time to play varsity, I was only playing football.

You grew up already in a military household so you didn’t really have to learn the ideals of being a Boy Scout because I feel like being a Boy Scout, you have to learn these things.

You know I feel like Boy Scouts teaches young men honor, duty, valor- all that stuff. And like for me, that came through sports. Those are the same values through sports and different methods. Boy Scouts is fine like I have nothing against the organization and program. But, it is very political. Sports are something that anyone can pick up a ball and play. And you see it across the planet like with the Olympics. You see people come together and you see friendly competition through it. You might have your boy across town who plays for the rival team. Hate each other on the field, but afterwards you dab em up. So like, sports has always been just a  nonpolitical source. Best players are going to play. No shame in it, let’s just get after it. Let’s get after a goal. And yes, the military is highly political, but on a lower level, that is kinda how it works. It’s you and the team. You guys have a mission. Figure out how to get it done. And make it happen. There is no, “this person said this. And this person said that.” Just get it done. Make it happen.

Did you get recruited for football [here at William and Mary]?

I was recruited my junior and senior year. I was not offered any kind of scholarship though. I was a walk-on- recruited walk-on. So basically, that means if you get into the school, you can play on the football team. So that is kinda how that worked.

Are you a platoon leader for ROTC and a captain on the football team?

I am not a captain on the football team. But, how our ROTC program works is we do leadership rotations. So I have served as platoon leader. Currently, I am the executive officer for our company which is a position that is in charge of planning transportation and planning schedules. I basically the guy in between the seniors and the rest of the company. So whatever the seniors are planning, I am in charge of making it happen and giving direction to the rest of the cadets in the company.

Has that kinda helped you transition from this leadership role in the ROTC to how you are playing on the football field? Kinda how you are helping the younger guys?

I think with ROTC, it is just kinda solidifying leadership. My role on the football team is very different than it is on ROTC. On ROTC, we have a lot more say so because we do have elected captains. On football, it does not mean you cannot be a leader. I’m pretty big on helping out. I’m kinda the guy on the team that helps out whenever I can. Huge on pushing the guys on the right direction and making sure that people are doing right and make sure you are doing what you are supposed to do. Make sure you stay on the team. Taking care of the guys. And that is something you learn in the military too. Take care of your team.

Have you gone out of your way to watch over some of the guys on the football team?

All the time. That has nothing to do with being a football player. It is just being a decent human being. You know if anyone is in trouble, drive over get em out. That’s life though. I do it for anyone. In ROTC, I do it for anyone. If some kids call, “hey we know this guy. He needs help” I’m doing it absolutely.

Kinda drop everything?

Yeah. Just get it done. Somebody needs help, help them or find them help. If I can’t help, I know a guy.

I guess like your personal philosophy of trying to help everyone makes you popular and well-liked across this campus.

Maybe. I have always lived with being nice to everyone. I have no hard feelings for anyone. Try not to carry a chip on my shoulder. Smile to everyone you see. There is no reason to walk around upset or anything. Just always, see the good in people. People are generally good. And even though people have wronged you, just keep moving forward. And I think people recognize that kind of vibe. You can see that kind of aura around you. If you are a positive person, people will gravitate towards you. And, I feel like if you can do that, it will help you in life.

Going back to your family, do you have any siblings?

I do. I have an older sister. She goes to VCU. She is in the nursing school there, and she is graduating next week. I have a younger brother. He’s a senior in high school. He just signed to Saint Andrews in North Carolina to play football. So he will be wide receiver. He signed a full ride scholarship. He is 6’6” 200 pounds. Beast of an athlete.

Not as big as you or bigger?

He is taller. He is not as muscular, but definitely taller. He is going to be a pretty stellar athlete.

How has it been being like the middle child in the family because there are all these misconceptions of the middle child?

Middle Child Syndrome? I think it’s real. Don’t listen to what anyone says. I think middle child syndrome is real. Which is fine, but like you know, the oldest is definitely weird. I had all my siblings very close in age. All two years apart. My sister was definitely the babied one. And she is the oldest. But she was the only girl. She didn’t really cause that many problems. And my brother was the hellraiser. But, because of how close my brother and I were, it was easier for my parents to lump us together, and I would usually take the brunt of the fall for him because as the older one and the more responsible one, it was my fault that he did whatever he did. I was like, “that’s bull” but whatever. You learn to live with it.

Did it kinda help establish your own independence coming into college?

Yeah and high school was really a place where I felt that I didn’t have to go out of my comfort zone to do the things that I did. I had a pretty impressive resume, but I didn’t really have to do anything out of the ordinary to do. I feel like coming to college has pushed me into a new direction. And it has forced me out of that comfort zone a little bit and forced me to do things that I normally wouldn’t have done. And ultimately made me a better person. It’s created a different individual than what my parents saw at home. And i think that really separated me from what they had thought of me. I don’t think they had known me too well.

I guess being in the ROTC, it has brought you and your dad closer together. Common bond?

Yeah my dad wanted me to go to West Point. And I got in[to West Point]. I declined because William and Mary has been my dream school. I really wanted to go here and really wanted to play football here. So that was some tension between my dad and I, but the football thing kinda brought us together in high school. And then the Army thing gives us some common ground. And more so, it is understanding my dad a lot better after being a part of the organization and understanding why some things might be the way they are. It is hard to explain things to the outside, but once you are in the organization, you see why things are the way they are. And see why people act the way they do. So it was more i could understand my dad. We got pretty close over it [the Army] yeah.

Did you dad serve overseas?

My dad has deployed twice to Kuwait, once to Afghanistan, once to Iraq, South Korea, Mogadishu, and he has done a couple of other tours.

Did that affect your childhood?

Yeah I didn’t grow around my dad. I wasn’t around my dad much as a child. Most deployments can be from anywhere a week to a year. His longest was a year in Afghanistan. But yeah, I was raised by my mom for the most part. My dad was always gone which was hard because when my mom got into a car accident and was paralyzed, my dad came home. That was when he left the Pentagon because we didn’t have a caretaker.

We had to have a caretaker since I was still in high school. So my dad had to leave the Pentagon and come to Fort Lee. That was when he started working at CASCOM. So that was weird. It was the first time I was living with my dad for an extended amount of time since I was in sixth grade. So it was a couple years. You know middle school is pretty developmental and beginning of high school even is too. That was some tension there. When my mom passed away, it was just us for a while. It was weird and different dynamic for a while. And my dad is the type of guy who likes to have complete control of a situation. It comes with it [the Army] sometimes if you are not able to recognize that. My dad also has an extreme type A personality.

I think that is a lot of people especially for those on football and ROTC. Especially for you. I can tell you are type A.

*laughing* I try. But, yeah the way my mom ran things so when he came in, he changed things and shifted things around which created tension with all my siblings. But, you know we found our groove. And once she was gone and it was just us, we really came together and made it happen for us.

Do you kinda remember what is was like to live with your mom? Was it kinda weird lacking that paternal presence in the house?

No because even though he wasn’t around as much as we would have liked, my dad made his presence known. He always called home, and we always knew “man of the house was Keith.” We always knew the right thing to do. There was always standards. Never mess up. There was no lack of structure. My mom always made sure that we knew how much our dad loved us and what he was doing for us and the country. So you know, very understanding. And we knew if we messed up, we would still feel the wrath of Keith so there was still that. I remember once in sixth grade, my friend was bullying this once kid and moved this kid’s chair from out from under him. And he blamed me. And this was my friend. They called my dad in Afghanistan. I got chewed out for two hours.

Even though it wasn’t you?

Even though it wasn’t me. To this day, I swear on my life, I did not move that kid’s chair. It was Dustin. Absolutely. He still laughs about it. They called my dad in Afghanistan. And that man cussed me out on the phone for two hours in front of all of those people. I stopped hanging around that crowd for a good while.

Where you hanging around a sketchy crowd in middle school?

I have been hanging around the same dudes since kindergarten. I have had the same six friends since kindergarten. Dustin has always been the troublemaker. He was definitely the prankster.

Did your friend ever know not to mess around with your dad being in the military and everything?

Yeah, but Keith was also a father figure to all of my friends. All of my friends looked to my dad like their second dad. Whenever my house was always the safe house and whenever Keith was home, everybody would come over and always talk to Keith. And even now, everyone has my dad’s number to call Keith if their is a problem: school, home, whatever. First person they go to is my dad.

I know being in Chesterfield, did a lot of your friends not have a father figure in the house so they looked to your dad?

Out of all of them, I would say my whole group had pretty stable families. But you know with that, “family problems.” One of my friends did not have a dad, and he stayed at my house a lot. My dad always took him under his wing. Every family has their problems, but they would always go to my dad because you know my dad’s and my mom’s relationship wasn’t perfect. They looked at my dad as a guy who at least understood what it should look like and ways to handle it. My dad didn’t grow up with a father. My dad was adopted and grew up with a single mom in middle class Texas. He kinda “gets things.”

Are you from Texas?

I am. I was born in Fort Hood.

Fort Hood. Was it by the military base?

So Fort Hood is the military base. Abilene was where I was technically born which is near Fort Hood within a driving distance.

When did you move to Virginia?

I moved to Virginia when I was five. I’ve lived in Virginia. I’ve lived in Texas. I’ve lived in Georgia, Mississippi.

I’m guessing you found stability in Chesterfield compared to a bunch of other military families.

We moved around a lot between the ages of one and five. When we came to Virginia, the war broke out. They don’t move you during deployment. And my dad always deployed so that is kinda why we stayed. My dad’s claim to fame in the military was his success on the battlefield. He was constantly being deployed and constantly doing things that kept him out of the country which is why we never had to move.

Do you expect yourself more out of yourself [because of your dad]?

Of course. I know that I have big boots to fill. I always hold myself to a high standard though.

Do you think your officers will recognize your dad?

A lot of them do. [William and Mary] actually have a new professor of military science coming in who knows my dad. They worked together way back in the day. So I mean it’s a small army. A lot of people know a lot of people.

I’m guessing since your dad has made this big impression on people and you’ve made an impression on this campus, do you expect all of these connections to pay off in the future when you look towards either being a lawyer or a politician?

I try not to look at it like that. I try to look at it people being people. Being a good person. Being kind and generally caring about people. People can pull strings later down the road and let’s build together. That’s kinda how I look at that.

 

The Beauty of Stories

What’s your favorite smell? And why?

Oooh, yeah, great question. So my dad loves to put things in his pockets, he’s notoriously known for just putting things in his pockets. That also means food. Sometimes he’ll pull out a cashew from his pocket, and we’ll all just be like “oh, yeah, that makes sense, he took it with him.” Sometimes he will take bacon with him, which happened one time when I was in middle school. It was turkey bacon – my family likes turkey bacon, we don’t do real bacon, we just don’t like the flavor. So Dad put this bacon in his pocket, went out to do yard work, forgot about the bacon stack, and then put his clothes in the laundry. His clothes eventually made it into the dryer, where my gym clothes were. So for all of middle school, I smelled like a baked ham. The bacon smell just filled up the dryer and all of our clothes smelled him bacon. We’d be in gym class and all the kids would whisper “where is that smell coming from?” and I would be like “that’s weird, I don’t know.” And it was always me. Somehow it’s a really comforting smell and it makes me laugh, too. Not a lot of comforting things can also make you laugh, but this is both of those things – the smell of turkey bacon in gym class.

Did you ever attract unwanted attention?

So like from dogs or people?

Yeah.

Definitely kids. But I was popular enough in middle school that I could be looking around with everyone else and be like “yeah, someone does smell like a honey-baked ham, that’s so bizzare.” Someone should have deduced at some point that it was me, because no matter where I went, it smelled like bacon, and it never came off. We would wash our clothes multiple times and it just never left.

That’s really impressive.

Thank you. Yeah, it kinda just stayed.

I think it’s a cool thing to ask because I don’t think people always think about things like that.

I started asking friends what’s their favorite sound. I think that’s a cool one too. I like smell though, because we don’t often pay attention to smells.

What is your favorite sound?

Bare feet on anything. I have so much time before being a mom, but I love little kid feet especially. It’s a really fun sound. When little kids are first learning to walk, they don’t wear shoes or socks, usually. You hear these feet just trying. That also means that I love bare feet on anything. Grassy surfaces has a distinct sound, and hardwood floors and tile floors. It sounds like family, it sounds like comfort, and it sounds like natural love.

That’s really cool! I’m trying to think about how to word this question, but what would you say is your sense of family? What would you consider your family?

To me, family are the people you want to run to in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and everything in between. People say “yeah, they’re always there for me” and they list things like “when I was stranded” or “really sad” and things like that which are these lows. I love to be like “oh, yeah, they’re my family and I love them because…” basically anything really mundane. Family should be people you can be around and want to be around all the time. But that’s hard. Because sometimes you love people so much and there’s different people for different situations and different feelings. So I know not to go to certain family – and when I say family I’m including friends because there is no distinction between true friends and family. There are people I’ll go to if I need emotional support, or if I need to build a bonfire on a beach, or if I need to pick a lock, or if I need a good, strong hug. They’re all different people. It’s tricky because within a family, you’re supposed to have the role of parent and sibling. Usually when we talk about family, we are talking about sibling-like family. We say things like “he’s like my family because we’re best friends. He’s basically a brother.” Nobody says “he’s my family because he’s basically a parent.” That’s not a pretty normal thing. I think the parent role is tricky and it’s really fluid and there’s something really beautiful about families where you get to play the parent role for your parents. That can come sooner or later, but hopefully it happens. Hopefully you live long enough to get to see your parents the way that they see you. Where you and your parents switch roles. I hope everyone gets to play the parent role in their family for their parents at some point. I think that’s really important to me and something I’ve had to learn this year, where I’ve had t make medical decisions for my mom and I’ve had to stay up rubbing her back with her and I sing the songs to her that she sung to me and I’m a lot more tone deaf than she is so it’s not great. It’s been – it feels like a good end to our relationship, to know what it feels like to be a parent to your own parent. Yeah? Okay We  did it! We got through eventually.  I don’t know if there was a point in any of that.

No there’s always a point. That’s the point of Humans!

Oh, that’s true. You’re right.

It’s interesting though because earlier you were talking about how we have different people for different things, and I was talking about this to one of my friends earlier this semester. For example, when we pick someone to be our significant other, suddenly we expect that person –

To be everything?

Yeah!

Oh, I talk about this all the time! Yeah, and it’s unfair to people! That’s why I’ve always said this – the distinction between my significant other and best friend, or friends, is nothing. I think that’s weird to some people. I treat my “Sig-Off” exactly the same as I treat any friend. People expect your boyfriend to be the listening ear, the good hug, the shoulder to cry on, the celebration guy, and I think that’s unfair and weird. You shouldn’t strip your friends of all their other roles and put it on someone new. When I date someone, I’m going to be like “yeah, I love you, but your hugs are literally not as good as Danny Rosenberg’s hugs. They’re never going to be better than his hugs!” And I think that sometimes the “Sig-Off” can get nervous because of that. Because when you love someone you want to be everything to them and I think one of the biggest parts about learning to love someone well is recognizing that you can’t be everything for them. You have to share that with their best friends and family and…just anyone.

Yeah,, because I feel like it ends up putting too much strain on the relationship, honestly, if you start trying to expect them to do everything. So I know you like to ask other people this question, but when in your life have you felt most free?

Hm..this is hard because I don’t tend to feel constrained a lot. I really want to give you different answers. We’re going to start with one. This past summer, the guy who I think of as a second dad to me – he was my dance teacher for a bit. I formally danced for a bit when I was little, but I actually danced in high school, so he was my teacher and coach. He’s one of my favorite people and an alum of William and Mary – he graduated fifteen years ago. So he met his boyfriend here even though his boyfriend didn’t go here – there’s a really cute story about how they met. They dated for two years of college and then graduated. They had been together for a while by the time Palmer proposed to Chad, and that was when I was working at Starfish – so two summers ago. This past summer, they were like “we’re getting married in Massachusetts. This is a very loose term, but Provincetown, MA is kind of the gay center of the world. It was the most fun thing for me because they asked me to be their flower girl. I had just turned twenty-one and I thought “am I too old for this?” but I wasn’t. So I did it and it was really freeing. Everyone was just so excited for their wedding and you would just walk around this small town where half the people are drag queen performers or drag kings and the other half are just people who are really compassionate and accepting. They’re there because they want inclusivity, because you don’t go there if you hold a chip on your shoulder at all. As I was walking around the town and down the aisle tossing petals it just felt like a very supportive community. It was really magical. It was wonderful to be there at a place where everyone went for inclusivity because they care a lot. You felt like you were in this small town where everyone was friends with each other and no one had to hide parts of themselves, which was really special and beautiful.

My other freest time involves my best friends, Danny – Boy Danny – and Alexis, my roommate of all four years whom I met here. Today is actually the anniversary of the day I accepted her proposal to be roommates. We texted each other at the same time about it, which was great! It was real tender. The three of us have this tradition where at some point between Blowout and leaving for the semester, we go to the beach at night, which you’re probably not supposed to do, and build a bonfire, which you’re also definitely not supposed to do. It’s funny because Danny is like a Boy Scout but he’s also a little kooky. So sometimes he’ll say something like “I didn’t bring any fire-starters, guess we’ll just have to figure something out!” He definitely does it intentionally, because it’s a challenge, in a way. I remember stripping headphones in the dark and touching the wires to a battery until we got a spark and putting tissue paper there, which was how we built a fire. They’re people who inspire me to do dangerous things but  I also know they’ve got my back on it. I feel very fearless when I’m around my best friends. Sometimes we skinny dip and the water is weirdly cold because we also do this during Fall Blowout. But we still go in the water, sometimes it’s just me, usually it’s me and Boy Danny, Alexis is like “you guys go ahead, I’m going to hold your wallets.” When I’m with them I feel so free. Usually Danny brings his ukulele, he’s a musical genius, so he’ll be like “Name a song! Oh sure, I can probably play that” and just strums it out on his uke while we sing along, very badly. That’s a very William and Mary experience that I don’t think I would’ve found anywhere else and will find anywhere else. There’s a freedom that comes from the deep trust and adventure with best friends.

Wow, that’s so cool. I really want to build a bonfire!

Yeah, he’s literally like “okay, your tools are the items in my car, and – go!” So in my free time I basically just google how to start fires. I feel like I should learn how to do those better because during the battery stuff, I really thought we were going to die. I was like “we’re going to get electrocuted. This is how it ends!” Danny’s also a brilliant photographer so he has his flash, so I was like “can we try the flash on something and see if fire starts, you know if it’s really intense?” It’s cool.

I love creating things. I think that’s another freedom.  It’s the fact that the human mind is capable of infinite thought. When you have a creative idea or a creative outlet, you are at your most free. Eduardo Galeano, who is my favorite poet/writer/speaker has a poem about prisoners of war in Uruguay. He has this line that’s like “the only thing keeping them alive is the fact that they can scratch on the wall and know that someone can try to picture what they’re doing.” You know what I mean? Just because of the sound and knowing that there is another human there. He also says that “the walls are the publishers of the poor.” I love street art and grafitti. I love creating, any sort of act of creating, like holy fuck, sorry, but that is just freeing, the freest thing a human can do.

What would you say is your favorite kind of creating, right now?

This is a very loose term of creativity. So Boy Danny and I, sometimes we play games with egg. We buy eggs – it’s okay because we donate to food pantries later to compensate for wasting food, I still feel really guilty about it a lot. We get these eggs and I’ll just get a text from him that’s like “meet me outside in ten minutes, you don’t have to wear shoes.” We’ll then go to Matoaka or a field and we will play egg tag, where the rules are made up in the moment and you can’t see where you’re throwing so you just have to blindly alternate throws. It’s really fun. We’ve been crafting “beggsball”, which is baseball but with eggs. We’re going to do it before the year ends. And you get so messy. The way we start each game, no matter what game it is, is by facing your opponent. Then you take an egg and you put it right on top of their head and count to three and smash it. The egg drips over you and you go to your respective sides and then the game begins. I love creating things that are unconventional and messy, because I think we fear messes too much in life. It’s the same thing with summer rain. Summer rain isn’t something I create. But why do people run indoors when it rains in the summer? You’re not going to get hurt, you’re not in danger, it’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s nourishing when you sit out in it. So I love creating things with eggs; all the games we play with our eggs.  We always come home and are disgusting. And of course, it doesn’t end right there. We have to have deep life chats while we look at the stars. So then by the time I go home the egg is crusty and it just flakes off. I want to believe it’s good for your hair but that’s just what I tell myself. I’m like “oh, it’s a treatment.” So his car has a lot of egg in it now. So I love creating things that are messy.

I’m also a big believer in the creative spirit behind movement. I get all my feathers ruffled when someone says they can’t dance because that’s inherently not true. I’m the Ratatouille of dancing, where he’s like “anyone can cook!” I think anyone can dance and that’s a true fact. As long as there is something that you’re in control of moving, it is dance. So when I worked at Starfish, I did a lot of dance therapy. It was basically  asking them to show me how they felt in a movement. It takes people a while to warm up to it, because they throw their hands up and they’re like “I can’t do it.” And I respond “that! That was a movement!” Then we expand on it, and it becomes something else. It’s really fun to interact that way. Probably one of the most consistent lifelong creative things for me that is still true today is creating movement, because it’s just the most inherent way in which a person can express themselves. Even if you look at babies, when they don’t know how  to speak yet, they move and they indicate how they feel. When you’re in a tantrum, you don’t think “okay, I’m going to place my right arm here and my left arm here!” You do it.  So I wish that everyone considered themselves choreographers or movement creators. I wish that people actually took the time out of every day to summarize how they’re feeling after the whole day in a 3-count movement. I think it’s very therapeutic and it gives you something you’re proud of when you feel like you’ve been able to express yourself.

That’s really cool! I’ve never heard someone refer to dance as creating movement before and that’s such a cool idea.

I think it’s kind of funny because in philosophy we have a term for God, “The Unmoved Mover.” It’s basically that no one can move Him but He can move the rest of us. I didn’t grow up in a house that does theology so I don’t have religion. I don’t really know these things in my core. But I think it’s funny because I want to believe that “The Unmoved Mover,” just because it’s such an ancient idea, was meant to create movers who can move. Just inherently, at our core, I think we’re meant to move, we’re not meant to be still. This is why I get so frustrated in class – I can’t sit still. I have to take a lap. You can usually find me running a lap around Blair in the middle of class because I think movement helps to process things.

So not just from yesterday (One Last Thing) but from conversations I’ve had with you before, I know there was a period in your life where you were really struggling with your physical self. How did that affect your relationship with dance and your ability to create movement?

Oh, that’s a lot. That’s a big journey. We’re going to try to encompass it. So there was a lot happening in terms of the shell that houses my spirit. That’s what I refer to my body as. It was a lot weaker than my spirit. As a result, I was like “well, fuck, my spirit is weaker.” So I would do movement for the sake of impressing or the sake of competing because I was a competitive dancer, in my freshman year as well. I loved it. My coach, Palmer, would always say “if this isn’t healthy for you, you shouldn’t do it.” But I told myself I could do it and that everything was fine. I knew I needed something that I wasn’t getting and I tried therapy. A therapist told me once,  “this is never going to work for you, because you can see through the bullshit.” And I was all like “how can you say therapy is bullshit, I’m trying!” And she just responded by saying it can be bullshit and it’s all about how you interpret it. Sometimes it’s telling yourself a really nice lie until you get to a place where you  can form a new truth. So she basically just told me therapy wasn’t going to work for me. So then I was like “where do I go now?” So that was when I turned to people and storytelling. I decided that I wanted to live more outside my head because inside my head was rough. I thought that if I could live outside my head, I could collect new ideas and feel new things. Eventually, that would have to fill up all the space and push out some of the bad. That was when I started working in a hospital. I would pick up these weird hours like 2am because that’s when people are most lonely and need someone to hear their story. Or I would go to train stations on cold nights and bring coffee for the homeless people. I’d sit and just ask for their truths. Because a lot of times people get written off if they are perceived as not being grounded in reality. But just because what they’re saying isn’t grounded in reality doesn’t make it any less true to them. Imagine a world where people walk by you not hearing your truths. Imagine how empty would that leave you. I heard some wacky stories about purple penguins and some were more fun. But at the hospital, one night a guy came in and he had broken his hip. His daughter had dropped him off because he was around ninety. He just wanted to talk to someone because his wife had passed. So I was sitting with him and eventually he told me this cool story about his best friend, who was also his wife. It was all about how you need to go on a road trips and adventures with your best friends and you need to not bring your phone. If you do bring your phone, you can only respond to people who reach out to you. Don’t initiate, don’t try to be in a place different from where you are. You can answer people to tell them that you’re safe, but don’t ask them “hey, how’s it going?” Don’t reach out, let people reach to you. He said that all you need to pack is a swimsuit, something you don’t mind getting dirty, and something you feel so stunning in. Take those three things, pack them in a car, and go anywhere. My best friend, who’s going into the army as a field artillery officer, and I did that a few times. She is remarkable in every way. She’s the most tender-hearted badass woman. She is my person for that, and so is Boy Danny. Eventually, I just accumulated all these stories and all these thoughts that there wasn’t room anymore to hold onto these really stubborn, hateful things that I felt about myself. It’s unconventional, but I think people and stories are a form of therapy.  Through people’s stories, I was able to realize that I had so much more to experience that I needed to stop lowkey killing myself. Not in a hopeful or inspirational way, because I heard a lot of heartbreak. But I still wanted it. I still wanted to feel it all. I think the goal to life is intensity in any form on the spectrum. I hope people feel intense heartbreak and then learn empathy from it. I just hope it doesn’t break people; that’s always my fear. I think people should experience these deep, intense emotions in any way. Then that’s a full life. That’s a life well-lived. Then, when I came to Starfish and I started doing dance therapy, I would ask someone “why aren’t you moving? Why aren’t you trying?” And he’d be like “oh, I don’t like my body, it doesn’t move like this.” And then I would have all these reasons why that wasn’t real. So then I was like “shit, why am I not saying this to myself?” Because if you hear something enough you start to believe it which is a lot of how I believe mental illness perpetuates, especially in abusive and trauma situations. So we always tried to replace the bad perpetuating thoughts with good ones. My kids would eventually turn to each other and say things like, “hey, your body is beautiful because it’s trying!” and stuff like that where I would be amazed that my words were on someone else. I was around it enough that it felt naturally to allow myself to hit a reset button.

So now, with the way you are and where you are in life, would you say that you’re content with the way things are or do you feel like there is so much more that is uncertain?

I’m really scared all the time that I’m going to lose my deep empathy for people, because I think that’s one of  the core characteristics of who I am. And I’ve seen it from working with my kids. Trauma can really tear down your empathy. That’s probably my biggest fear. Especially because my mom is in her last stage of cancer. I’m very, very, very scared that when she passes I’m going to be so frustrated with people who are having fun and are happy that I’m going to be the Grinch and my heart will shrink seven sizes or whatever and I’ll lose my ability to empathize. I’m at peace with the fact that I think I’ve learned a lot about how to care for people and how to say “I love you” in different ways. If I were to die tomorrow, I feel like my last breath would still be one where I could say “yeah, I did it.” That’s a really great feeling. But I think that as people we’re so fluid and ever-changing that I would never want to be in a place of full contentment. I want to be uncomfortable all the time because that means there’s still something else to do. I want to feel like there’s still someone else that I have to talk to and something more to do, like I have to tell them this or that. I want some sense of future urgency and longing and discomfort. I’m not content, but I am grateful for the journey. One of my life’s purposes is to find the best ways to care for people and I think I’ve done that up until now, but tomorrow there’s going to be a new opportunity to find another way. So it’s this bit of unrest with knowing that we’re fluid and ever-changing and anticipating the fear. I think we can’t let fear drive the bus – Erik Garrison has this great quote where he says “don’t let fear drive the bus, you drive the bus but strap fear in” or something like that. I’m sure that’s completely wrong but I think fear needs to come along with you on the journey because it forces you to constantly be thinking and feeling. With my mom, I’m so afraid of losing my empathy, but my fear is sitting there and constantly reminding me to express my feelings, call my friends, go to the hospital to check on her which ensures that the empathy is still present, to make sure that it doesn’t diminish and gradually fizzle out. So I think we should never be wholly content. We should always have a little fear in our hearts all the time. I think that it drives us to – not improve because I hate that word since people picture success conventionally, but to dive in deeper into the things that we care about.

It’s cool to hear someone say that because there’s such a negative outlook that people have about fear. That it’s always something that brings you down or holds you back. It’s really interesting to hear someone put it as a motivator.

Yeah, my mom always used to say “feel the fear and do it anyways.” If you’re not doing something that is even a little motivated by fear, you’re not doing it from your heart.

A lot of times, when you’re feeling most vulnerable is also when you’re having your greatest growth. I guess that’s the whole idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone.

I try to never stay in my comfort zone. I’m not sure if I have one. Which can be tricky, because you crave comfort, as people. Recently, I made a friend who I just met but we fell fast into a feeling of kindred spirit-ship. We love living outside our comfort zones. He took a year off to work in Vietnam from the ground up. He didn’t have any social support, did not know the language, he didn’t have an institution that was helping him teach – just a set of classrooms which were really just like campsites. So yeah, cool guy. Recently, he was like “it’s raining. Meet me outside at our corner in five minutes.” And I was like “great, I can do that.” So he comes in the rain, he’s smiling, and he’s just holding these mugs of hot coffee. We brought hammocks and blankets. We set up these hammocks on the beach. It was cold rain. We cuddled up in our blankets and just talked for hours. He was like “the goal is that one of us is going to tap out before we get hypothermia.” He tapped out first. We were out there for at least two hours and it was so cold and so uncomfortable but there was so much more to that interaction than comfort. I actually think the discomfort contributed to how vulnerable we were willing to be. I don’t think anyone’s comfort zone is naturally being cold and wet,  but I think you should find a way to blend something that comforts you, like a good, good friend, with these scarier, fear-based things outside your comfort zone.

The Excitement of Life

What is something that gets you up in the morning? What excites you?

What excites me in life? Well I have this mortal fear of having a boring life. I come from rural Virginia and there’s a lot of people there who have grown up, lived, and then died 20 miles away from their house. I do a bunch of random stuff because I hate … I’m, I’m not religious.  I don’t really have a lot of certainties in my life, so I want to go out and find a reason to get up in the morning. I want to go out and find something that’s fun. And I feel like if I just kinda sit and do the same thing day-in and day-out, I’ll never get to that point. And so, I like to go out and I like to try everything.  I like to go out and do tons of random stuff just to kind of, I don’t know, get a little more of a handle.

Is there any point at which you felt like has a grasp on life?

Oh, God no, not yet.

Or are there any experiences that really resonated with you and that you look back on like, “this is awesome?”

No, that’s fair. I hate to do almost anything alone. Like, I really like to have people around.  I’m very extroverted. I get really jazzed up around people, so like I get energy from crowds.  So, um, I really understand that.  And that’s one of the things, actually, that is a good point. I try to make it a point to meet people and ask about their stories because of that.  Even in my home community. Like I said, I don’t want to be one of those people that grows up and lives and dies 20 miles away from the house. Well those people are incredibly interesting even if they live a lifestyle that I don’t want. And, I mean, they’re fascinating people.  There’s this guy named Charles Bennett who’s just … he probably has lead poisoning or something, but he has an almost incomprehensible level of country accent. He’s like 86 or something … and he has a cat, and this cat is his life. And he gardens and the man can barely walk, but he can make things grow in the ground every frickin’ year.  And it doesn’t take him anything.  Like he literally just walks outside and is like, “Okay, I’m going to put some seeds in the ground. I can make things grow.” And so I always go out and I try to meet people.  And I try to really figure out what makes other people .. kinds bringing it back to the other topic… what makes other people get up in the  morning. And see if that would be something interesting for me. Because, again, I don’t know.  I don’t have that.

Do you relate your academics to that at all? What are you studying here?

I’m a Comp Sci and a physics honors double-major.

Okay, so I have ADHD and if you get to my age and you have ADHD you can develop an anxiety disorder with it.  Just based around the ADHD.  I had that and, um, for the SATs .. I don’t want to be like an asshole or a bragging person, but I did frickin’ well on the SATs.  But you have to send them out officially through CollegeBoard. Could not do that.  Like I stared at my computer screen and just like, was unable to click two buttons and do it; however, I applied to … in the William and Mary application I’d written that essay for the 2-2 Program and they didn’t have enough people for it.  So they’re like, man this kid’s an idiot, but he can be our idiot.  So they accepted me into that program. Then I was like, “fuck they don’t allow you to double major.  You can’t do anything in science.”  And I was like … ’cause both my parents are English teachers, but I’m also decent at science as well, so I’ve never really had a path to go [along.] So, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I immediately dropped that program.  Then I was like, “Oh I’m going to be an engineer because we have a 3-2 program with Columbia. And, so the only degree you could get for that in three years was a physics degree.  And so, I was like, okay, I’ll be a physics major! So then I was kinda doing that and then I got stuck in it ‘cause I was too stubborn to leave. And now I want to be a politician.

So, I’m like, “fourth year.”

That’s cool.

My life is never, like, from point A to Point B.  It’s always like really twisty and messed.

Why politician now?

Because, again I don’t really feel like I have a direct end goal or path that I can take that I feel would be meaningful directly for me. I feel like I might be able to get some meaning out of helping others. And I’m decent at computer science and decent at physics, but I’m certainly not, like, a genius. And I definitely am a lot better at public speaking, working within a political realm whenever I’ve been in that realm, and even if I could be a political but like working on a campaign to help people because if I can, especially if I can make other people’s lives during my lifetime and hopefully after my lifetime, with work, I might be able to do… If could make their lives better, I feel that might give … that might be like when I’m however old I’ll be and dying, hopefully of old ago … Although, who knows, it could be a freak plane accident … hopefully I’ll be able to look back and be like, you know what, it was worth it and I’m dying now, but I’m madly satisfied.

I think that’s a very noble goal – to help people.

It’s a little selfish from my angle because I’m like, you know what I want to be okay on my death bed.

Do you have future plans after … are you going to school still or are you going on a …do you know yet or are you just living day by day?

Um, living day by day is something that I enjoy doing, but right now I’ve applied to the William and Mary 5th year Masters program for business analytics because they do machine learning and artificial intelligence classes in that all in a programming language called “R” which I haven’t had a lot of experience with, so I’m excited about that. So if I get in, I’ll know by the 20th of December if I get in.  That’ll be very awesome for me and I’ll be like, okay, well, since I don’t really know what I want to do I can get this and the job market is really good for that so I can go in and do some business analytics for a couple of years, do some consulting and hopefully become an international business consultant.  Maybe do some networking, understand a little bit more about the international economy, because if I become a politician, that would give me a little more of an “in” in the business world.  I would really like to push for a better education system in America, but the only way to do that is to … the education system in America is … our scores are just terrible in comparison to other western developed nations.  And a lot of that has to do with the way we treat education in our economy. And with a  globalized world, we can have a more broad idea of what education is and how it should be treated. And so that’s why I want to go, especially in interactional consulting, I’d like to see frame markets and see how they treat education from a business perspective.  Because especially with the rise of neoliberalism, that’s, especially in America, that is how our education problems are going to be solved. We’re gonna have to pitch it from a very like, “this will be profitable,” instead of, “this is a good idea to do.”

It sounds like even though you are focusing on things in school, you have all these other interests and you’re actually learning about them and wanting to do something about them. 

Let me just put it like this: I am not focused in school at all. I’m just going through, but, it’s the outside stuff that really interests me.

Okay, I have a question because I think I mentioned your name to an upperclassman and they said that you have really good clothing style and everything.  Is there a reason why … do you take pride in your style?

Let me think, how do I explain this… So I wear like a lot of crazy patterns and stuff. Especially when I was abroad in Scotland, I was in a long distance relationship so I started really just not caring, so I would wear mascara and stuff and just go out and say, “Why the fuck not?” I don’t know, I just … for me with clothing and stuff like that, it’s like .. I used to wear … I’m a hand-me-down kid and Goodwill, so I wear just like, whatever I had at the time.  For a long time I didn’t really have a style. I’d just wear whatever the hell I had. But then when I got to college I had a bit more control over what I could wear.  And I just started realizing that, for me, I wanted to do so many varied things in life that I … this sounds kinda ridiculous, but it’s like I want in a way for my clothing style to reflect that. So I started realizing that I was very interested in patterns and colors because a lot of modern fashion is not patterns and colors for men. You go to the shirt section in Goodwill and it’s every variation of plaid. I am so tired of plaid shirts. I probably have about ten Hawaiian shirts and, like right now, I’m kinda crashing on a Saturday, but I just like suspenders, bow ties, just like anything that’s like fun. I’m so tired of clothing having to be “fashionable” or “cool” or like “ooh I gotta do this.” I just want my clothing to be ridiculous just so that I can. Why not?

I think that’s really cool you are taking that initiative to just be you.

Well, thank you very much. I may take it too far sometimes, but, uh, yeah it’s a lot of fun.

How do you find clothes?

Goodwill.

Do you have an eye for things?

What do you mean?

Do you see something and know it will be awesome?

I’m decent at … the weird style I have, that kind of fashion sense comes naturally.  Even though I don’t know if it can be called “fashion-sense” for what I wear, but yeah, it kinda pulls together in my brain.

I also like this very [pointing to decorations].

Yeah, it breaks every fire code rule we have.  So I actually built a table out of logs that we pulled out from under the bridge over there. I was a great table! It lived in our kitchen, it supported our damn microwave and all our appliances and then the fire code people came in and were like, you’re not allowed to have this because you’re not allowed to have Christmas trees. And we were like, first of all, that is a ridiculous way to make us get rid of a table. And so they kept sending out e-mails that were like, “oh you can’t hang things from your ceiling because it breaks fire code and we were just like, fuck you, you took our table … we’re going to hang everything from the ceiling. This is all because of our friend {Cody} whose, like kinda an amazing human being. Well, not kinda, he is an amazing human being.  He and his mom just got this stuff and Cody’s just one of those guys who will literally empty his wallet on anything if he thinks it’s going to be a cool idea.  Like he tried to run a chocolate business and he was doing pretty well until the Jamaican customs people stopped him from importing coca. So he’s like one of those guys where you’ll ask him what’s happening one day and you’ll just be like “oh, okay yes, Jamaican Customs. That’s something that I have no experience with.” So we get in a lot of stuff like this.

Yeah, you guys have a fun dynamic, that’s for sure. Do you consider your adventuring the main part of your life?

One of the biggest things that I could, in terms of any advice …  and I am not someone that should be giving overarching life advice, but …. is that there are times when you’ll be doing something and you’ll feel scared, but it’s not that you’re terrified.  It’s that fear of doing something that you’ve never done before, or that challenges you or that forces you to really really think about what it means, like what your life means in that moment. And that’s sounds a little dramatic, but for instance, going exploring, going in steam-tunnels, jumping off a high cliff, usually if for a lot of people one of their first. Things like jumping in the water, you know it’s going to be fun, you know you’re going to have a good time doing it, and you know that at the end of it, it will make a great story. And if it’s important to you that people will think you’re awesome for doing it, but you have to be yourself.  You have to have an inner conversation that’s basically like, “you can turn away right now and everything’s going to be okay, or you can take that one step.” And for me, whenever I get that feeling, be it going up and oh, God, I had a terrifying experience the other day, where it was like, this is a little bit weird, but I saw this absolutely beautiful woman in the caf. And I was like, I’ve seen her once before and I was like “Holy shit.” I promised myself then because I was trying to work up the courage to go talk to her and I was like, “Oh, God, I’ve gotta …I’ve gotta do this. I saw her and I was like, no Edward, you can’t live your life like this. You’re always going to kick yourself in the face if you don’t take a little bit of a risk.”  And so you just feel this welling of anxiety and then you past it.  I walked up and was like, “Hey. This going to be really weird, but you’re one of the most beautiful people I’ve seen on this campus.  Do you mind if I ask you out, like get coffee or something.” And a lot of Facebook conversations. Wound up not working out, but that’s fine.  And it was just kinda like, a weird example, but taking those risks allows you to be a little bit more full as a person when at 3 in the morning you’re questioning yourself. You know, you wake up at like 3 in the morning like, “Oh, fuck, what am I doing with my life?” You can look back and [say], “no screw it, I’m taking those risks.” I’m doing the things that I want to do in the moment without really hurting anyone else.

I think the fear of not knowing is worse than the fear of knowing.

Yeah, no it totally is. And for me, I definitely have problems of like, if I don’t do something, I’ll just feel really bad about myself. I’ll just be like, “Edward, what is the point in living if you’re not gonna put yourself out there.” And I take that on all levels.  I do a lot of stuff that people … because I just hate this … sorry this kinda a rant, but I detest this concept that people seem to have, especially at William and Mary, that there is this rulebook of life. That there’s just things that you do and things that you don’t do and you can’t step outside of that.  For instance, it’ll be ridiculous things like talking to a professor. For me, it’s just like, I’ll go and be like, hey, let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk. Or like, the people at the caf. I’ve actually been talking to some people about maybe trying to get a book together or maybe like a collection of stories because the people at the caf have AMAZING lives.  Like there’s this guy named Hassan.  He was studying to be an engineer in Morocco. And now he fixes all the machines. Like the drink machine, and the ice cream machines, anything like that. And he’s just this amazing guy but no one fucking talks to him! And there’s Mohammad who is also from Morocco. And we had this really cool conversation about this Moroccan prince and all this other stuff. And people are just like, “Oh, you don’t talk to the car workers. You don’t do that.” And it’s just like, “no, what the fuck?! They’re really cool!!” And Miss Evangeline. She’s from the Philippines. She’s the sweetest lady. She’s like that do you know her? She’s like the tiny Asian woman. She’s super Christian, but like she’s super nice about everything and she’s really taken that, like, Christian thing … I come from militant Christian land, so for me it’s really awesome to see someone as religious as her just totally take the kind aspect instead of the militant part. She’s taken all of the things about kindness and Christianity and just channelled that. And so, like, I have her number now.  And it’s just, she’s super fucking nice and I love her. Another thing is that I e-mailed this guy from NASA. I looked up … uh, I’m a physics comp-sic major, so I was like, “fuck it, I’ll do quantum computing.” And there’s something called the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab that partnered with Google out in Aims, California. And it’s like, who the fuck does machine learning, quantum physics, fucking.. it was just so amazing and there was no information on internships and stuff that I could find.  So I just e-mailed the guy.  And so many times I’ve talked to people, especially around William and Mary, and they’ll be like, “wow i really want to do this thing.” And I’m like, “Why don’t you call them. Like, call the person who runs it.” And they’re like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” And I’m like, “why the fuck … what are they going to do to you? What are they going to do to you if you call them?” Oh, they’re going to say like, “fuck off, I don’t want to talk to you.” Like, oh, no, you tried. Like at least you tried.  You know now that it wasn’t possible, whereas, from like let’s say 10 years out, you’re like, “Fuck, man. My life could’ve been completely different if I just tried to make that one phone call.” So, like now 10 years from now you’ll know like well, fuck, that wasn’t going to happen.

Maybe, I’m a little childish at heart, but I think it’s me.

No that’s amazing, come on, never … Saying that, “being a little childish at heart,” if you’re in kindergarten they teach you: everybody cleans up, everybody shares, like, don’t be an asshole. And be honest. Tell people what you’re feeling. Like, have these conversations.  And when you’re a kid, you’re like, “I want to be your friend because I think you’re cool and you fucking can climb trees. Like, I think that’s really cool. And now, in the modern age of adulthood — well, “adulthood” as it is in college — you just have to guard everything.  And you’re not allowed to do those things like, “I want to put a fucking sticker on an envelope because it’s awesome.” And it is awesome! Like who doesn’t like stickers. Yeah, no I agree. Whether it be e-mailing this dude at NASA or talking to the caf workers, it’s just … always put yourself out there. Cause, again, for me, I don’t have that big end goal, so I might as well just enjoy things as they are now.  There’s no point in walling yourself off. Unless, I mean you are super comfortable with yourself, being alone, then yeah, whatever. You can get a lot of joy out of that.  But I just .. it would be such a dark world if you just didn’t interact with people.

Yeah, for sure.

 

Happiness versus Contentment

What would you say is the best or worst thing that has happened to you in the past week?

In the past week – wow, that’s really narrowing down the time frame. Okay, this is totally random but it reminds me of my boss, who asked me what I did over the weekend and I told her I couldn’t remember because I had spent the whole time thinking about my thesis. TW0gpWyZQjKo+6+OkLFmhg_thumb_864She said that it would come back to me once I started talking. I did celebrate Galentine’s day with some friends. One of them, I’ve known since freshman year. Her name is Emily and we’re very different people. She’s the Night Man to my Day Man. But we’ve remained friends through all this time – somehow, I haven’t scared her away. It was a good time. Playing music with friends has also been a good thing. I feel like I can’t have a best or worst so much as just some goods and bads. I’ve had some low points in this week, too — some emotionally draining stuff to deal with and process. Some of my friends are getting hit pretty hard with things, too, so that’s always hard. I don’t know if I answered your question, but it’s always a mix.

That’s true, every week is always a mix.

Yeah, every week is the best week you’ve had and every week is also the worst week. It’s kind of weird, but that’s how I feel. It’s really good, but it’s also bad – and that’s okay. That’s just life.

I agree, I feel like life would be more boring if it was just one way the whole time

Not that I’d want to just suffer. I think it’s good when you’re content. Actually, one of my favorite artists talks about this a lot and I also talk about it with a professor I’m close with – you know Linda, right?

Oh yeah. She’s the best.

Yeah, so we were talking about this idea of happiness versus contentment. Because of course it’s good to be happy, in the moment, and full of excitement and exuberance. But contentment is more valuable because it lasts. Then, you’re comfortable with who and what you are.

Do you consider yourself a content person?

Well, I’m young, you know, so I’m still pretty shiftless. I don’t know where I’m going to go. I don’t have a defined direction. I have a lot of possibilities, a lot of supportive people in my life. But I don’t know if I’m at that point yet. There are things that make me feel content but there’s so much that’s always still unknown, so it’s hard to tell, a hundred percent.

Yeah, especially I’m sure that right now, at your stage in life, you feel like you’re at the brink of many possibilities.

Yes, my wizened self approaches the finish line. There’s so many possibilities and so many things to do so it’s all feeling very unlimited.

So, you said, earlier, that you were playing music. What kind of music were you playing?

I was playing a cover, when I was playing with my friends. For a while, though, I didn’t really consider myself a musician. Everyone else seemed more talented than I was. I felt like I didn’t have a right to play music, but I mean, who does? That’s such a weird, limited viewpoint. But I just felt really small and self-conscious. I think everyone does, to some extent, about one thing or another. I’ve always liked folk songs. The idea of oral tradition, the act of passing it down through singing and chants, has always been very interesting to me. Not that that’s the kind of music I play. But still, when you play music, it’s a narrative and it’s also a way of processing the world around you. So if you decide to sing about it, it helps you work through your thoughts better. I was always drawn to musicals as I was growing up, so I believe that’s part of it. In musicals, when the characters can’t talk or express themselves in other ways, they just sing. That’s the whole point of musical numbers—they’re so overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know if that’s a weird way to approach it or not. But when I feel too much, I just sing about it or write a song, and just see how it goes.

What instrument do you play? Or rather, instruments. I don’t want to limit you to one!

That’s what I was thinking. Well, I play the piano. That’s where I have my formal training. But then, I was that edgy fifteen-year-old kid who was like “oh yeah, I’m going to pick up the guitar and learn all these chords!”  I couldn’t bar chords for the longest time, though, so I was that one person who only plays four chord songs. And that’s okay. That’s fine. Then, one summer when I was doing field work with a friend, he had a ukulele. And I thought to myself, “I can just pick this up.” So I was building my confidence with music. I also sing, just because it’s nice. I really believe that everyone can sing and it’s just the rare person who can’t. It’s such a wonderful way to express yourself – just to sing, with passion in your heart. That’s what I like about it. That’s good enough. You should be able to express yourself and connect with the world around you. I’m not going to be like “oh, you’re not formally trained or classically trained or whatever, you can’t sing. Get out of my town!” No, not here.

I think that’s some of what I like most about music. First of all, there’s the connections that you can build with other people because music is often such a communal experience. Also, there’s the ability it has to express your emotions and convey them in a meaningful way.

Do you play an instrument?

Yes, I’ve been playing the piano for quite a while, but that’s the only instrument I’ve been formally trained in. But right now I’m taking voice lessons.

Oh, that’s so cool!

I’m trying to build up my voice. I’m one of those people who really likes to sing but I know if I had better technique and everything, I would probably sound better.

I like that! Taking the initiative to train yourself  — it’s like you’re telling yourself that you know you’re pretty good but you want to intentionally do better.

Exactly. But moving on, when in your life would you say that you felt most free?

Oooh. I’ve often considered what it means to be free to be yourself. How you can express yourself, and be yourself to the fullest capacity. Last summer, so the summer before this year, I was working up in Delaware, subletting from someone, doing the whole 8-4. Because you know, 9-5, psh, everyone does that. It was 8-4 and the office locked down at 4:30, so you pretty much had to be out of the building – preferably before then. They didn’t want to come find you. Especially because I worked in the basement. That’s just a common theme in my life. Every job I’ve had so far has been working in the basement. It’s pretty funny. But it was just nice to be making a living wage and living with people in a house. I could buy groceries and go out when I wanted to. I didn’t have a car, which in the States is pretty limiting, because you can’t drive and don’t have access to a personal vehicle, just because of the way our transportation is set up. Unless you live in the cities, in which case, it’s a little better, with trains and such. But I would bike a lot. I went hiking with a friend because I reconnected with a friend from high school. We walked to Pennsylvania, which was a fifteen mile hike. It was a fifteen mile round trip – I don’t think I could have done fifteen miles one way and a thirty mile round trip. I mean, I’m fairly strong but that would’ve just been a lot, physically. But it was just nice to say “oh yeah, I’m competent enough to get my own schedule to work. People trust me with research and trust me with these responsibilities. I can have a job and I can pay my rent.” I find it very liberating to be my own source of income.

I guess in a broader sense of being free, I felt free when I came to school. People were actually interested in getting to know me as a person. They would say things like “I like this about you.” Or “I like being around you, you’re an interesting person.” That was very different from high school and growing up. I can tell, because it’s hard not to. High school just has a – I don’t know about you, but had a big negative impact, in a way. But I made it to William and Mary somehow and I’ve been inching my way through.

So do you like hiking and stuff? Do you feel like you can connect to nature?

Oh yeah. Even when I feel disconnected from people around me – not in a bad way, but it’s just how I am that sometimes it emotionally feels easier to be isolated. I’ll just go out into the forest and spend time with nature. I like hiking because it’s very fulfilling and gratifying. You can see step by step how you’re making your way through a place and there’s some kind of reward. Because sometimes you’re at the Rec doing the same routine over and over and that can be rewarding in some ways, but there’s something about hiking. One time, we were in the Blue Ridge for a Geology trip, just going down Bull Run trail. And even going down and coming back up is such a great experience. It’s a great feeling because you’re like “I can do this! It might have taken me forever and I might be dripping with sweat but I did it. There’s proof that I can do stuff like this.” It really makes you feel better because you’re like “wow.” I mean, I can feel pretty helpless about a lot of things so it’s so nice to have confidence and realize that ‘yes, I did this.” But yeah, I love nature.

Yeah, when I’m out and about I really feel like I’m connected with something that’s bigger than myself. It anchors me, in a way. Do you think rocks have souls? Because I have to ask you this since I’m a Geology major and so are you.

I don’t know. That’s such an interesting thought. Because most people would say they don’t really think rocks have souls. But I would say yes. When you learn about how things are constructed and how they’re made, it’s hard to believe they couldn’t. Yeah, I feel like they do souls. Maybe that’s just whatever makes sense to me. But I think so.

What idea of a soul are we talking about?

Oooh, that’s true too. I guess a soul in the sense that it’s a connection with the universe. I don’t know if that’s a valid take of the soul.

Is there any invalid take?

I don’t think so, personally. But I think of it in the sense that we’re all connected in this universe. The idea of the soul as spiritual value. There’s something really beautiful about this planet and the world that we live in. I don’t know if I like the phrase “we’ve been given” because we’re all part of the world. So it can’t really be given to us. I guess I mean “given” more in the sense that we should be stewards of it because we have the capacity to understand the consequences of our actions. We should be charitable. The whole idea in any of Miyazaki’s works, about the connection with nature, really expresses that well. Do you think rocks have souls?

You know, I’m not sure. It’s very interesting to me to think about that because personally, I believe that souls exist. Maybe rocks do have a soul because they’re going through a constant process of creation and destruction and moving into something new, just like any living thing is. So why not?

Yeah, I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to chew on this for a while. I have a new question to ponder on.

Speaking of rocks, did you always want to be a Geology major?

Well, that’s such an interesting story! I’ve had this conversation with a few people recently enough, so I have some kind of idea. I guess the short answer is no. Maybe in some way – like I was always drawn to nature and geology. But I never really knew it was an option or choice that I could have. Like geology—what is that? But I was born in Rockville, Maryland, which is a hilarious fact. You know, you’re just pulling out geology people and they’re all like “hehehe, you’re from ROCKville?” It’s always been my one-sentence blurb. “Well, I was born in Rockville, Maryland, so I guess it was always my destiny!” you know, if I wanted to write a coming-of-age novel or something. It was after freshman year and I was a lost, tormented soul, like everyone is when they turn 18 or 19. Honestly, I still am. I can say that. I’m old. It’s fine.

That’s not very encouraging!

No, I’m just joking. Mostly. I was in a place where I was like “where am I? Who am I?” I had taken a lot of science classes, but I decided to try taking a geology class. I really didn’t care anymore. I took the intro class with Linda – over the years, we’ve had a lot of history together. I was sitting in class and realizing that I had learned about these topics conceptually and theoretically, but all of a sudden it all made sense. Nothing had made more sense than this class in college. In the middle of the course, Linda asked in class if anyone was interested in becoming a geology major. I was too shy so I kept my hand down, but after class, I told her that I was actually kind of interested. She was like “yeah, I can see it in your eyes.” She gave me a tour of the whole department and introduced me to a lot of people. It seemed like everyone was laid-back, which was really neat. So at the end of the course, I signed up for Mineralogy with Doc Otis. He gave me an override into the class, actually. They were all very supportive and encouraging. They’d see stuff that I did as important. Instead of saying “oh wow, you have such an average, almost low grade in Chemistry” they would say “oh wow, you’ve already taken so much Chemistry and math? Most of our majors are still working on that!” It’s a really supportive environment if you’re willing to put yourself out there. If you’re willing to engage, you’ll be met with that. The professors are great, so my interest in the department because of the people. But the subject material is also fascinating. I love to casually chat about it, probably to the dismay of my friends. I was joking  with my professor about the “natural selection of friends.” Whoever listens to me talk about my research, stays. Whoever doesn’t, goes. It’s a joke, though, because all of my friends listen to me talk about my research. They’re all very sweet people. I’m very fortunate.

What do you like most about your research?

I like that it stirs up my emotions. I have strong feelings about it. It’s something I get really passionate about. Sometimes, it drives me crazy but that’s just part of the ebbs and flows of life. It’s cool because I’m working with patterns I’ve found in the real world and there’s real implications to it. Since I’m working with marine geology and coastal systems, it’s easy to see my research in the context of the present day. It’s also nice to be treated like a professional, like my research is real and not just some little project. It’s another way of approaching the world, too. It is very stressful, but I think I would say it’s a worthwhile experience. Because you’re studying with professors, you get incredible mentors to learn from. And absorb their power.

Books are real!

No, really, that’s a joke among my friends. Instead of getting set back by events, we just say that even if these bad things happen to us, we can only become more powerful. It’s just a joke because we all definitely read too many fantasy novels as children. But I seriously think that if you can joke about your life, see the humor in things, that’s great. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel –not despair, despair feels like a strong word – but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Well, you brought this up so…what is your favorite fantasy novel? Or what was?

Oh, man! That’s so tough!

That is a hard question, yes. I would be so mad if someone asked me.

I have to dig through a lot…let’s see, I really love the Chronicles of Prydain a lot. They’re a series of children’s books by Lloyd Alexander. They’re fabulous because they’re all based on Welsh mythology. That’s what comes to mind, but there’s probably a lot of other books, too. I read a lot as a kid. I don’t think I can remember half of the books. I wish I had kept a better log of it. But some stories still stick. Do you have a favorite? I’m getting back at you with this question.

Oh my god. This isn’t fair.

It’s hard. You probably want to tell me “oh, you can get back to me on that.”

Yeah, exactly. Well, a lot of the times I say Lord of the Rings. I think part of that is because I read the Hobbit in fourth grade, so it’s the fantasy series that has stuck with me for the longest. Maybe that’s why I say it’s my favorite.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite because all of them have a different influence on you. It’s because the story makes you feel a certain way or connect to something or has been there for the longest time.

Why did you read a lot?

My mom taught us how to read when we were kids. This was when we were very young – even before school. It was easy to learn, some kind of phonics. I thought learning phonics was so much fun as a kid – I really enjoyed learning how to read. I was more withdrawn and loved reading all these stories. It was like a safe space for me, or like a dreamland, a very idealistic sort of place. I always believed that if I walked out of my neighborhood and kept walking, I could eventually be in another world, or swept off the road into some adventure. There was always the possibility of encountering the wonderful and the bizarre. That’s what I liked a lot about books. It felt easier, sometimes, to connect to characters in stories more than other people. Because it can be tough growing up. We moved a good amount for not being in the military, so there was a lot of movement between environments. But stories can be a constant and give people stability or allow them transcend whatever is happening through characters. Good characters and good stories will stick with you across all times. There’s a kind of universality.

Sometimes when I reread a book I used to love, it feels like coming back home in a way.

Yeah. There’s something so comforting about it, because all kinds of stuff can change as life goes on, but then you have pieces of memory to return to. That’s a really good way to put it.

Well, you were talking about how you often felt like you could go to other worlds, so I have to ask – do you think aliens exist?

Yes. There’s so much out there we don’t know about, so there’s a very likely chance that there is alien life. Just hanging out, waiting around the next corner. I love Star Trek – just the idea of it struck me, even as a kid – so I would always try to calculate if I would be alive for First Contact. I might be eighty-four when they come, but maybe technology will have advanced enough that I’ll still be pretty active, and they’ll take me with them. I’m just holding out for 2100, is it? Something like that. I can’t remember.

I think it’s sometime around 2050. Maybe a little after that.

That would make a little more sense. Especially in terms of trying to stay alive.

I’m actually also a huge Star Trek fan!

Oh, good. I’m so glad to hear that. I love that show. I mean, field geology is probably the closest thing to it. After all, a lot of Star Trek is essentially field geology on other planets.

That would be so awesome. Chuck’s Planetary Geology class was really cool to me, but actually being able to go to the field on other planets…

Yeah. Just wow. That would be really great. I’m just thinking about that right now. Oh my goodness, I just want to be able to transport myself there right now.

What position would you want to be?

I don’t know. I always thought science officer was really cool. But I think I’d be able to be on the command track, now. I’m a lot bolder. Not in a bad way. I do boss people around sometimes. I like the idea of being in charge and keeping a ship running. Trying to keep everyone alive and maintaining diplomatic relations. That feels so fascinating. And just in general, Star Trek is very nostalgic to me. My cat is named “Tribbles,” so you can tell how big of a fan I am. I still think very fondly of it. I felt a stronger connection to it in middle and high school but I still love it.

So do you think humanoid aliens exist?

You know, I don’t know about that one. The jury’s still out about it. I mean, they could exist. Who knows? Who am I to say? But it’s definitely fun to speculate about.

Yeah, I mean, maybe they’re trying to talk to us but we just don’t know how to connect with them.

Maybe we’re already being contacted by aliens, as of this moment, but we just don’t have to capacity to understand it.

Exactly. We still don’t understand everything about the consciousness of plants or the deep ocean, and that’s on our planet. So who knows? I think about that a lot. Like, can you actually talk to plants?

I think you can absolutely talk to plants. I’m just going to say it. I’m going to definitively assert that it’s possible to talk to plants. And we all should. Because they need our breath. It helps. They’re not going to be like “ewww,” they’re going to say “aw, yeah!”

I hadn’t ever thought about it that way before! So I know you have a radio show. How is that?

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In high school, I somehow got roped into the job of doing announcements. I don’t even know this came about. But I just thought that I could definitely be on radio, because I have the right sort of personality. People joke that I have a face for radio, but when I think about it I really feel like it’s true. I’ve loved the idea of making playlists since forever. And I’ve done it for a while which is a whole different narrative in and of itself. I wanted a show, and I have friends who were involved in radio since the beginning of time. But I felt really discouraged freshman year because I told people that I had thought about getting into radio, and someone just told me I shouldn’t even bother because it was really crowded, and that I probably wouldn’t even get a show. And I’m a sensitive person, so I thought they were probably right. I didn’t have ability to stand up and say that I thought they were wrong and fight for what I was interested in, anyways.  I just thought they were right and decided to give up. I had a friend, though, who had already graduated. She would always encourage me and tell me to try. She helped me realize that was something that I really wanted to pursue. And then last year, I just had so many friends who were involved. So I told myself it would be a great way to hang out with my friends and learn something. I soon got over my fears of old and having my choices judged. I started to feel like it was alright, like I could hold my own and do this. All the people there were really nice and I felt more like it was all on me. I just had to grow as a person before I could realize what I wanted to do. And sometimes I look back and think “man, if I could just redo my whole path, I really would.” I would do a lot more. I would change a lot. But you know, I’ve made it out okay. So I can’t complain too much.

I guess, then, my last question is, from where you’re standing right now and how you feel, what message would you have for the world right now?

Spend more time with the people you care about. Life is strange, and sometimes you don’t get any closure. Tell people you care about them. Tell people how you feel. It feels kinda weird and just kinda strange and I know a lot of folks just aren’t into that. But it’s just important to me because I’ve lost people that I cared about. And I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. And that just gets to me. So even if it seems a little dorky and strange, it’s to my friends. So I always tell my friends “hey, I really appreciate you being my friend,” and thank them for the help they’ve given me. Just little things. And empathy, too. Always assume that people come from a good place. Try to make that your default. Even if they’re not, just try to see it that way. It’s tough. But not everyone has been afforded the same opportunities and privileges, or the same knowledge, so there’s a chance that they really don’t understand. So, yeah…that was kind of a long one, but there it is.

A call to action

“How would you describe yourself to someone when you are first meeting them?”

In terms of personality traits, I’m extremely open-minded, creative, and loving. I try to be as nice as possible.

*we laugh* “Sometimes that can be hard.”

It’s not hard, I just want to be nice to everyone unless they give me a specific reason not to be. I wish everyone was nice as well. I think our world would be a better place if everyone had that mentality. Also, I’d say that I’m very energetic, especially about things I care about like my family and friends, and even strangers. I’d give an arm and a leg for anyone that needed help. I just care. Maybe a little too much.

“Is that something that your parent instilled in you?”

Yes, it’s definitely something that both my parents instilled in me. I am a second-generation American, originally from Egypt. I was born and raised here in a very diverse community and I have friends who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, et cetera, and friends of no faith as well. A fair majority of my friends have come from very diverse backgrounds and I’ve learned a lot about the world just by getting to know them. I really like being able to listen to their experiences and to share my experiences with them as a second-generation American who is in tune with both the Egyptian and American cultures.

“Where are you from?”

I’ve from Virginia Beach, Virginia. That’s where I was born and raised. But Cairo is definitely my second home.

“Have you been able to visit Egypt?”

I actually went last year, which was amazing as I got to see my extended family. However, there is definitely a sense of culture shock when I go and come back, just because the two places are different in many respects. At the same time, being a second-generation American enables me to have the best of both worlds. I appreciate and cherish the fact that I was able to grow up in such a diverse community, as well as have the background that I have.

“What is something from your background and your heritage that you end up talking to people about a lot?”

The sense of openness and warmness, and the treatment of strangers as if they are not just that, regardless of their background and beliefs. Everyone deserves to be listened to and appreciated. Everyone deserves to feel like they are valued in this world. I think that Egyptian culture, and Arab culture in general, is very accepting and expressive. People always give hugs to one another and kiss each other on the cheek, even if they’ve only been separated for a day. Women walk hand-in-hand, men walk hand-in-hand, and it’s completely normal. People aren’t just seen as acquaintances and strangers, but rather potential friends. This is one part of my heritage that I’ve adopted, as well as my optimistic outlook on people and life. Even if I’m having a bad day, it’s important to keep moving-on. Each day is a new adventure and opportunity.

“Did college shift that mentality at all?”

There have definitely been challenges and struggles along the way, but I knew I wanted to come here when I was accepted for many reasons. Living in Virginia Beach, I had always heard about W&M and been interested in attending. I’ve grown so much as a person since coming here. What I love is that I’m able to talk to people that see eye-to-eye on many issues, as well as people who may not. A few hours ago, I was tabling for World Interfaith Harmony Week and handing out coexist stickers to people, and they were more than willing to have a conversation and listen. We tend to forget that we live in our own bubble here at W&M. We need to work on expanding that bubble of coexistence, open-mindedness, and positivity across Virginia, America, and the world, especially during this crucial time when Trump is vying for the very opposite of that. Everyone is being affected, certainly some more than others, and we need to unite in our resistance. We need to work together to counter anything that has been going against our basic human rights.

“So you’ve been doing stuff for World Interfaith Harmony Week? How exactly did you get involved with that?”

I currently serve as the Undersecretary for Religious Affairs within the Student Assembly’s Diversity Initiative, which means that I am a liaison between religiously-affiliated organizations and other organizations here at W&M. It is my responsibility to facilitate interfaith dialogue and bring together people of different faiths and no faith as well. Along with the other Undersecretaries of Multicultural Affairs, Neurodiversity, International Affairs, LGBTQIA Affairs, and Socioeconomic Affairs, we work together to plan campus-wide programming like I AM W&M Week and to provide a voice for the diverse communities here on campus. As the Undersecretary of Religious Affairs, I wanted to organize an event that promoted positive interfaith relations, especially at a time when the stakes are high and the political climate is very polarized. I did a bit of research and came across the UN’s annual World Interfaith Harmony Week initiative, which happened to take place following the recent inauguration. Right away, I began planning and brainstorming a few events that could take place in celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week, as well as making a green and gold coexist sticker.

*we laugh*

I love art and anything that enables me to use my creativity. I designed the stickers in green and gold just for fun, even before we had secured the funds to print them. I thought they had a positive message and that people could stick them on their laptops, water bottles, et cetera. Over the last two months, I’ve been gradually planning the event and getting in contact with people who would be interested in participating, such as the five panelists. I poured my heart and a lot of energy into this event, and am very satisfied with how it turned out. However, I am not satisfied how our country is still in shambles and that many people still do not believe in coexistence and religious pluralism. So many lives have been negatively impacted, some even shattered, by Trump’s executive order [on immigration]. No Ban in my Name [a rally in support of refugees and others affected by the ban here at William & Mary] was amazing and showed the power of the people to stand against Trump and his unjust ban.

“I was there. [Professor Stephen] Sheehi’s speech about rage was particularly powerful.”

Yes, people need to rage and come together now more than ever.

“About the ban itself: what was your first reaction when you heard about it?”

I was disgusted, and shocked, especially at the rather arbitrary list of countries he chose. The ban is both xenophobic and Islamophobic. I’m the daughter of immigrants from Egypt, which wasn’t on the list for Trump’s own selfish reasons. A small part of me was relieved that it wasn’t one of the seven, but at the same time, the other countries on the list have nothing to do with anything bad happening in America. The refugees that Trump is barring from entering have been through the most rigorous vetting process in the world. He is turning away people who have skills and education, been forced out of their homes, and given up everything to come here. It’s really, really disheartening. The ban is affecting everyone and is a testimony to how much work this country has to do. It doesn’t even matter if the ban was for one day; what matters is that Trump did it with an intention to hurt people and families who have been forced to give up everything. We can’t turn our backs on our brothers and sisters. We can’t sit complacently over the next few days and four years while millions, billions, continue to endlessly struggle.

“Have you gotten involved in any way besides World Interfaith Harmony week to resist Trump’s presidency?”

I’m also the Service Chair of the Middle Eastern Student Association, so I have organized a few fundraisers over the last semester that have made a good sum of money to be donated to a local organization that helps refugees resettled prior to the ban. I make it a priority to participate in events put on by our student body as well as the larger Williamsburg community. Attending events like these, calling representatives, donating, and showing solidarity for those who are being targeted is the very least we can do. People are also forgetting that entire nations like Syria and Yemen continue to burn. We need to speak to people who don’t see eye-to-eye with us, like students on this campus who support Trump. They are allowed to have their own opinions, but when their opinions are affecting peoples’ inalienable rights, that’s where the line gets drawn. I wish they could simply see the other side. These rallies and events help us decompress and unite, but there has to be a way for us to reach out to people with opinions different from our own.

“Exactly. I was talking to my girlfriend last night, and she was talking about how these rallies aren’t reaching the people whose opinions are different from ours. Reaching out to those people is difficult.”

It’s difficult, and the question is, how do we even do it? Would they be willing to listen to us? Would they be willing to change their opinion? Sometimes you just can’t change what people have believed their entire lives. At the panel on religious pluralism, one of the professors emphasized the importance of self-care. I’ll be doing a lot of that over the weekend since the celebrations of World Interfaith Harmony Week just ended, but that’s not where it ends. I will continue to promote coexistence and co-resistance and work towards a more inclusive environment.

“Is that what you want to continue to do for your career?”

Right now I’m double majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Business, most likely Marketing. I do know that I don’t want my artistic talents and creativity to go to waste. As far as a career goes, I don’t know yet where I want to work and what I want to do, but I hope that I can combine my love of people, the world, and art in whatever I decide to do. I want to make people smile.

“I didn’t know you were into art. Have you taken art classes here?”

I did take one art class, but most of my art coursework was in middle and high school, so in IB and AP art. Before I came to college, I made sure to take at least one art class every single year since kindergarten as well as participate in a pull-out art program for five years, so art has definitely been something that I’m very passionate about. Last year, I got my art published in two W&M magazines, and I’ve won a few regional, state, and national art competitions in the past. I really like studio art and graphic design, and I want to learn how to use Adobe Creative Suite once I get my hands on it. I had to use Microsoft Word to make this coexist sticker and all of the promotional materials.

“No way!”

I’ve become very proficient in using Microsoft Word and other editing software and websites to manipulate drawings and photographs as free alternatives to Creative Suite. My goal for the future is to learn how to use Photoshop and Illustrator so I can elevate my creative talents to produce better products and make positive impact on our world. You never know who is going to see your sticker, flyer, or Facebook event and inquire about it. A Trump supporter could see it, and it could stir conversation.

“Thinking about the way you can affect people you don’t even know is sometimes optimistic, but that optimism is rooted in something real. So just to give you a classic HONY question, what is your greatest struggle right now?”

I’m struggling to come to terms with what’s happening around me, I’m struggling to choose what path I should take for a career, as well as whether or not I should be doing more than what I am doing right now to help my people. A lot of things, both good and bad, are happening around us, and I feel like I need to be doing more. I am so fortunate to attend W&M, to have clothes on my back and a bed to sleep in, a dining hall where I can just swipe-in for food a few meters from where I live, an education, great professors, and a very loving family. There’s a lot to be thankful for, and I thank God for what I have, but I know that there are a lot of people around the world that don’t have many of these things. I don’t know what more I should be doing. My struggle does not even come close to the struggle of these refugees. My struggles of not having finished an essay due in two hours or that the food I was served wasn’t what I was hoping for don’t even come close to what so many others have to cope with on a daily basis.

“What is something that you want people to ask you about being Muslim or about being from Egypt or about your heritage?”

I want to be asked about my experiences as a second-generation Muslim-American. I consider myself to be a devout Muslim and I really care about my faith. I’m very open to questions and talking about faith with other people. Unfortunately, I have been bullied in the past for being Muslim. It boggles my mind that people see me in a different way and incriminate me for being something that I’m very obviously not. This goes for the very vast majority of Muslims too. I’m beyond thankful that people of different faiths and backgrounds came out to support the Muslim community [at the No Ban in my Name rally].

“Yeah! I saw a dad carrying around his child.”

Yeah! I saw a mother and her baby as well. They could have been at home eating dinner or sleeping, but no, they chose to come here. They chose to listen to the stories [of students and professors and community members].

“Do you have anything else you would like to say the William and Mary community?”

Be kind to one another. Listen. Be open-minded, especially when someone doesn’t look like you or believe in the same thing you do. Everyone has a story. Everyone has value. Everyone deserves to be smiled at and accepted, regardless of their faith, color, origin, orientation, and abilities. Be open, listen, and care. It’s the very least you can do.   

 

“Grandma, Dadi, and Me”

So, tell me about the children’s book.

So I was looking for a job last spring, and I went on “Williamsburg Families” which is where my big had told me that she had gotten a job many years back and I emailed two of the people who were on there. One of the people was somebody who needed an ongoing babysitter and another woman was somebody who was making a children’s dictionary and she wanted people to illustrate pictures for her dictionary. So I emailed both of them and I was kinda like, you know, just whatever works out. I was saving up to get a kitten and so this was leading to that. And so, the woman with the babysitting job ended up contacting me first, and so I still babysit the 6 year old kid. She’s the sweetest; I love her a lot. But then a few weeks after I had started babysitting, this lady with the dictionary emailed me back and she said, “Hey, so sorry it took me awhile to get back to you. I actually had somebody for the dictionary already, but I was wondering if from your background you might be interested in helping me with another project that I am doing, which is writing a children’s book about a little girl who has a grandmother in two different countries.”

Oh, wow.

And I think that, you know, she didn’t say it super explicitly, but she sort of hinted at the fact that like, “Oh, I could tell your name was Indian.” And so I was like, “Okay, tell me a little bit more about the book and I can talk to you about that a little bit.” And she told me that her husband was Indian and her daughter had one grandmother in India and one in Maryland. And so she really wanted her daughter to have a book that she could relate to and she hadn’t really seen any of that for her kid personally. So, she said that this was kind of more of a personal project for her and her daughter, but she really wanted to see how far it could go. She told me she was a member of some Facebook groups with cross-cultural families and that she had received a really positive response there when talking about possibly doing a book like this. So, I said, “Okay, cool!” And she sent me the text to her book and it was really cute she had little phrases in Hindi. She had just picked up those phrases after visiting the country and coming back and from her husband and from movies, she told me. A few of them were a little misplaced but I didn’t say anything about it. Luckily, she asked me about them later and ended up switching them to more common ones which was good.

Laughing

I mean I was surprised. I was like, “I’ve never heard of that word before myself, but okay.”

So have you illustrated stuff before?

I hadn’t illustrated a book before. I also really like art. It’s always been something I enjoyed a lot. It’s not something I’ve made a lot of time for myself for. So, I was excited by the job prospect. I wasn’t sure how I was going to take it just because all my life my mom’s been like, “Oh you should go into something creative where you do art and stuff.” And I’d always said “no, I don’t think I would like doing art if it was something that I was mandated to do.” And I will say it, first this was really fun, but, you know, by the time you are doing 32 pages of this, it gets a little bit monotonous. It was still really fun and I enjoyed it a lot, but I spent so much time researching other children’s book illustrators to try and figure out what my children’s book illustration style was going to be, and sort of finding that for myself.

And what was the style?

I can show you some pictures, actually, if you want! I should have brought my copy of the book. I gave it to the girl that I babysit.  She was my number 1 fan so I gave it to her. I could not keep that from her.

This is so cool.

Yeah, it’s very cute. I have the whole thing in PDF here somewhere. I’ll find it and just continue talking. The book ends up being about this little girl named Seema. And it starts off with, “Hi I’m Seema and this is my family,” and it’s a picture of her and her mom and dad having a picnic. And then they kinda go on to say, “I have a grandma that lives close by and a grandma that lives far away.” And then she talks about the different ways she has her transportation to get there. So she’ll drive to one grandma’s house, but fly overnight to another grandma’s house.  And the author drew some really neat parallels between what she does with each grandma. So, while with her grandma here in Maryland, she bakes cookies. With her grandma in India, she makes these things called rotis, which are kind of like flatbreads, on the stove. So she introduces little vocab words there which was cool. It sort of wraps up with her saying that one grandma, after we wash up and get ready for bed, she tucks me in and kisses me goodnight. And it’s the same thing for the other grandma except she writes it in Hindi. So it’s a lot of back and forth. My favorite page ended up being this floating market page. I’ve never been to a floating market myself – her family is from a different part of India than I’ve ever visited. I think I have some relatives there, but I’ve never seen this place. So, the way that they get their groceries is the coolest thing. They go in these canoe-like things and all the people who grow their food have their own larger canoe boats, and all their produce is laid across them and they’re called floating markets. So, you row your boat to the market and you go get all your food and load it into your boat and take it home!

*Laughing* Woah!

Yeah, so that was really cool for me to draw a picture of. That ended up being the best, and it was very cute. She was like, “My grandma always makes sure I get lotus flowers on the way. So we got to pull some out of the stream there…” I’m sorry I’m just struggling to multi-task.

*Laughing* It’s fine. I’m excited to see it.

Yeah, hold on, let’s see. If nothing else there’s gotta be an old draft in one of these.  There we go .. I think this is — no that’s just a couple pages.  Let me open it up on here so I can actually have it.

Okay, okay .. yeah that sounds so cool.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun.  

Yeah.

It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. *laughing*

So is it being published?

Yeah it’s published on Amazon. You can buy it if you want.

Yeah, what is it called?

It’s called, “Grandma, Dadi, and Me.” So Dadi is D-A-D-I, which is the Hindi word for “paternal grandmother.”

Okay.

Yeah, I can show it to you on Amazon if you want.

Yeah, this is amazing.

Yeah, it’s very cute. The girl I babysit was extremely excited about it. She was talking about it for months leading up to it and was always saying, “When is your book coming out?”

Your #1 fan.

She really is. And what ended up happening was before it was actually ready, I printed a black and white copy for her because she couldn’t wait and she carried it around for two weeks before I gave her the real one.  

Wait, that’s so cute! Can we look inside?

I don’t know if it shows any of the pages.  But I can pull up the real book for you, too.

Wow, these are beautiful.

Thank you.

Yeah, I ended up learning a lot about digital picture editing. I checked out a tablet for a couple months from Swem. They were very accommodating.

And that’s so cool your name is on it… your name is on the front cover. That’s awesome.

I put it there.

Laughing. Wow. That’s awesome.

So it’s a very sweet story. I thought it was very sweet that this woman also wanted to make a book just for her daughter.

Best gift ever.

Yeah, so her daughter was three when I met her – I don’t know if she’s a little bit older now, but she was so smart. She was playing little vocab games on her mom’s phone. But she was very chatty and I don’t think she completely understood the concept of this book, but I think she’ll grow to really appreciate it.

So how do you do it? Do you draw this on a piece of paper and then somehow transfer it to a computer?

I have no experience with this, which I disclosed fully, but she still wanted me to do it. I watercolor painted all of them first and then I scanned them and I traced over the outlines because my lines weren’t really dark enough when I scanned them. And then I erased all the backgrounds and I filled them in with solid colors so it would be smoother and less grainy. But it’s mostly watercolor that you see there.

This is amazing.  It’s just so beautiful.  

I had a lot of fun with it. I never realized before that when you illustrate a children’s book, the illustrations are actually the main point of the book.  

Because they don’t know how to read yet.  

Usually somebody else is reading to them. The girl I babysit is always taking picture walks through her books before she’s allowed to read them where they just flip through and look at all the pictures first. So I know I played a very important role for kids who read this. Yeah, I’m going to find it for real now.

Campbell:  How did you start painting and when did you start?

I’m not sure when I got into it, but I’ve done it all my life. I’ve always had little side projects and painting things. I like sculpting a lot. For a lot of my elementary and middle school life. I like having a little project going and I didn’t have one going in college. There wasn’t that much room for supplies here. At home I have drawers and shelves of art supplies, so everything is within reach. And this gave me a reason to have something going on. It was a lot of fun.

Yeah, a good break from your neuroscience, right?

Exactly, I got to take one art class here which I made sure I worked in. I was glad there was a GER6 because, I could justify it to myself, “I have to do this.” But it was nice that it was like taking an art class but doing whatever I wanted.

Yeah, not having the structure or the deadlines of an art class.

When I took an art class they made me only paint with a palette knife the entire semester until the final. I wasn’t really a huge fan of that. He kept saying, “You’re not ready for bushes yet,” to the whole class. I was like, “Are you sure?”

What, how can you not be ready for brushes?

And admittedly he showed us one really cool painting that he made with a palette knife only.  And it was nice; I get that that’s your style. That’s understandable, but I don’t know. And then mixing paints was a whole big thing for him – which I think it has to be in an intro art class I guess. We did the circle where you make a color wheel. And we did ten squares from white to blue and white to red and white to yellow. He had a thing about not giving out 100% because nobody’s could be perfect. But I got a 99% on that, so…

Laughing. You were pretty close.

I got his 100. So I was pretty proud that day.

Emily: Did you tell him about the book?

I didn’t. I don’t know if he’s still here. He might be. Dave Campbell? It was his first semester when I took his class. So, anyway his palette knife paintings were great. We only painted wooden balls on a piece on a table. So, this was a little more fulfilling to me.

Yeah, you could be a little more creative with this for sure.

Yeah, this was a little more up my alley … okay it’s downloading now.

So did she give you an idea of what she wanted or was it really just up to you?

She told me when she hired me she wanted me to do it because I had the experience to get the colors right. So, really she let me do whatever I wanted. I sent her an outline of what I was thinking for each page and she was like, “Okay great!” So she gave me a lot of freedom.

Oh, that’s nice.

I really just drew whatever felt right.  *Shows book*  So there it is.  You can zoom in or out as is convenient.

Emily:  Have you gotten feedback from anybody?

I told some people who have young children about it. And a lot of them told me that it was their child’s favorite book for that favorite book phase. They kinda had their favorites for the week. Mallory, the girl I babysit, still totes hers around and when we draw pictures she usually wants these characters so we do that a lot. But I haven’t heard personally from too many people. I don’t think I personally know the right audience for this book.

Emily: I think if I were a kid, I would bring this book around with me too, I really like this

Thank you. It took me a really long time to decide how to color it and how to draw it.

Campbell:  I think the like the watercolor kinda just helps, especially I’m not a neuroscience person .. You can almost like tie in your neuroscience of how watercolor appeases the brain or something like that.  

I like it.

Campbell: I really think the watercolor just helps though, the child focus and sees like a .. I don’t know the word.

With watercolor you’re not just getting one color when you put it on the page. Even though I didn’t do anything too realistic here, it looks more real. When you look at a leaf, it’s not just one green. And I think watercolor really brings that out.

Wow, this is so detailed. This is amazing. Look at this page.

Thank you. I’m glad you like it.

Wow. So cool.

Campbell: Exactly how long did this take you?

So I think I started around Spring Break last year and then I worked on it pretty intermittently.  And I had all the pages done at the beginning of June and then there was a lot of back and forth and just formatting it to the right PDF format. So I don’t remember exactly when this came out, but it was pretty early in the summer.

Really?

Yeah. I know my drawing part of it didn’t go very deep into the summer at all.

Campbell:  There’s like the drawing and painting stage, so did your painting just take a while?

I drew all of them because painting was more fun, so I drew all of them first just to get it out of the way and then I started filling them in. So the drawing and the painting actually was done by the beginning of summer. And then I spent a little of the beginning of summer just devoting myself to transferring this into a computer and tracing it and editing it, which was not my favorite part. The painting was a lot of fun though.

So is this something you might want to do again? Continue?

I don’t know if she’s going to be writing more books. If she does I would be down to help her out with it. I think I’d prefer shorter books in the future.

Laughing.  Yeah, this was actually a lot longer than I thought it would be.


Right? It seems short when you read the text on one page, but once you start drawing a whole one or two pages for each sentence, it ends up a little bit hefty.

So how many pages is this? It says 32.

I think it’s 32 if you count the covers.

Wow, that’s so cool.

But I was really happy that I developed my own little cartoon style.

Yeah, yeah and this is something you can show off to friends forever.  You, know?

When I get another copy of the book.

Laughing. Oh, yeah.

I need to buy one again, first.

Laughing.  Wow, this is so cool. I can’t get over it – I’m in shock.

Thank you.

Water is Life

What is your story?

My name is Laundi Keepseagle and I’m from Fort Yates, North Dakota, which is on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe reservation. I just got done running Chase’s campaign. Chase Iron Eyes, he ran for the Dem-NPL Party in North Dakota and he was running for Congress. Clearly, there was a lot of agitation from the political side, as in Trump’s campaign and segregation that he had caused, and also local aggravation from the NoDAPL movement, that I feel like was a big part in the failing of his run. Either way, onward and forward. So, now, I am the Director for Last Real Indians, which Chase Iron Eyes is the founder of, and basically, we’re switching gears from the campaign and being more involved in the political aspect into Standing Rock’s camp at Oceti Sakowin which is the head for the NoDAPL movement. Chase is a lawyer by profession, and a humanitarian by heart, and I basically just assist in all those efforts. I’m way more badass than he is, so that’s what he needs me for. So now, we are here in Charlottesville, we did a TED Talk yesterday, what town are we in actually? Bridge-builder?

Chase Iron Eyes: Water is life.

No, what town is this?

Natural Bridge.

Water is life. That too. But, we’re at Natural Bridge for a pipeline summit, yesterday, we were at the TED Talk, and then, from here, I’m going to Washington, D.C. to do the groundworks. I’m organizing a benefit concert that Dave Matthews is heading in Washington D.C.  at Constitution Hall on the 27th of November. And then on the 28th of November, we’re hosting a huge march, which all of you are invited to, and I hope that you guys come. It’s going to be from the Department of Justice to the Lincoln Memorial. We’re going to have a lot of great speakers and people present and basically, just make a stand that what’s happening in North Dakota…there’s zero tolerance for social injustices, for racism, segregation, and hatred, and we’re not going to put up with that shit. From the ground level all the way to the presidency, we’re just not gonna sit back and accept that this is our fate. So, it is led by the NoDAPL movement, but we’re really hoping to build those bridges between conservationists, between wild lens organizations, lawyers, students, politicians…this is all of our fight, everybody’s fight. We just want to engage the world to be involved. So that’s where we are now.

Show us your shirt and tell us what it means and how it embodies the movement.

So, this is an “Honor the Treaties” shirt, and the artist works through the Amplifier Foundation, and they do a lot of dope, grassroots artwork. So right now, what’s happening right now in Standing Rock, that land is basically treaty land. It’s a treaty that was made between the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the United States government, which isn’t being upheld. How do you trust a country that isn’t even uphold its own treaties? So a big part of this movement, is first, acknowledge our history, acknowledge that there’s a treaty already established, and then we wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place. So, that’s where my shirt comes from.

Can you tell us a little bit about what’s happening in Standing Rock right now?

So right now… I will talk about two sides of it. The first is the movement itself. In the movement itself, it is huge, it is a huge magnitude. It is indigenous peoples from all over the world, non indigenous people alike, it’s just all the people that are there standing behind the fact that climate change is real, that we need to stop our dependence on fossil fuels, that we won’t accept segregation. That indigenous people need to be recognized and valued and stop being dehumanized. It’s just this great big beautiful movement that stands not just all the injustices taking place here in the United States, but also internationally.  

And then there is another side that you are looking at through another lens, and that is North Dakota itself and their local government including Governor (name) who is a piece of shit. And he has sixteen percentish invested in a pipeline itself. And because North Dakota doesn’t have an ethics commission they are pretty much able to do whatever they want. So they kind of declared a false state of emergency and urgency that enables them to pull money and resources from wherever they want. But that type of emergency that is supposed to be used for resources like I don’t know like a tornado or a mass flooding, not for a peaceful protest. So they are doing it really successfully so they are convincing all the people of North Dakota that will offer them some sort of job diversity, which it isn’t – that’s a total lie. The pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer, and they’re out of Texas. The people who are gonna moner (??) to the integrity of the pipeline come from Oklahoma and Texas, so they’re out of state. And then the people who have been hired so far like security and construction workers, those are only temporary jobs, those aren’t’ long term, lasting jobs. So I feel like it’s kind of a no-brainer, but for a lot of people it isn’t.

In addition to that, North Dakota’s oil is shitty as it is, I mean it’s crude oil. They don’t have a refinery there that’s capable of processing that type of oil. That’s why it has to be shipped out to Chicago and has to be refined there. So when it comes down to that and ‘jobs’, which are all in another state as well, and that specific oil is going to be refined and then contracted to China. So economically, it doesn’t do anything for the US let alone North Dakota, and these are the things that people aren’t paying attention to and need to be aware of.

So those are the two things happening: the beautiful, amazing camp that is there with all of these awesome people like artists, musicians, politicians, tribal leaders, indigenous peoples, just a big beautiful commune. It’s super sustainable and everybody’s working together to keep moving forward, and it’s just a great place to learn and educate each other. And there’s singing and dancing and art, and it’s just a beautiful place if you ever get the opportunity to go there that’s cool. But then the other side is the ugly side, the side that’s mostly led by the political world, which clearly sucks for us all. And now even more so with Trump, because Trump is also financially invested into DAPL, so that’s shitty too. So there’s these two worlds, but either world you want to be involved in, you should come there and make a stand with Standing Rock against big corporations, against big oil. And also for your own personal vendetta, to be there and say ‘This is what I stand for, this affects all of us and not just indigenous people.’

jack-and-lyla-08

Can you tell us a little bit about the people from Standing Rock?

Yea, I mean we are them! We’re just like everybody else, except we grew up in a small towns. We grew up on the reservations, so it’s just like small town living that would be anywhere else. It’s always funny for me to see people who have never had a direct relationship with people who grew up on reservations, because they see living on reservations as like a weird little bubble. But actually, we’re exactly the same. Our culture is vibrant and even though it’s been threatened for hundreds of years, we’re definitely revitalizing those specific issues. We play basketball and go to college just like everybody else!

But right now, this is very personal because it challenges our inherited stewardship we have for the planet as indigenous people, and so that’s why I feel like we’re having such an uprising right now.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your life?

I’m 29 years old, and I have two daughters; my oldest is 6 and my youngest is 4, and they’re probably like the coolest people on the planet. I currently live in Bismarck, North Dakota, but I’ll probably be travelling around for the next however long. I grew up in Fort Yates, North Dakota, with my grandmother. I have a huge family (10:38)

With my dad I have 17 siblings, so there’s eighteen of us. My siblings are all super powerful and involved, and amazing people. Funny story is that Chase’s mom and my grandmother were super homies growing up. And so our families have been intertwined through generations.

This is personally really important to me because I went to school for sustainable development. I have also been involved in an organization called POSO? which is Placed based Opportunity for Sustainable development and high hopes which builds science curriculums infuses indigenous knowledges, ecological knowledges with core sciences like chemistry and biology. I have been really immersed in that really environmental aspect. And when that fight was taken to my home, you take on a personal relationship. So I have been there doing whatever I can to stand in support. I haven’t been arrested and I don’t really plan to get arrested. I am taking on more of the political side and hopefully the legal side. So now I am here and I don’t really know what is going on after this. This is my real focus as a person.

And just that, I have two cats. Winston and Sebastian, they are pretty sweet. And that’s just about me basically, I am a workaholic.

My number one thing is educate yourself, so become well versed on your topic so you know where you stand and you have the ability to communicate it clearly. That’s one of the biggest things. Be educated. Be woke. Wake yourself up. Be aware of these things, be aware of the politics, be aware of the legal elements so you are able understand these things from the broader elements.Take your education seriously, that is the only way you can help any movement. And the biggest thing we are lacking right now are lawyers. So just consider that, be educated.

And the second thing is in your own way pray. There is a higher power, and I know that there are a lot of people indigenous and non indigenous alike are called to the movement, so take the time to reflect within yourself and do whatever you do to connect with your higher power to find the right answer.

As far as money, you can go to the Last Real Indians, contact us and we can help you with that, or you can go to standingrock.org and they have a donation site there. Organize your own rallies, ask questions, join social media movements, if you cant travel there, which is the number one thing, just because it is a super awesome, it would be a super awesome experience for you, when you are 70 years old you can tell your grandkids about

But if you can’t do that, educate yourself, pray, maybe donate some money, maybe donate some time, but also be influenced by the movement to bring that type of motivation and that inspiration to your own local fights. That is really important as well.

So on the ground there are camps, so people are camp living so that is really cool. But winter is coming so that is a big fear for everyone. So on the ground there is that, there is the camp. Also they have the direct action and civil disobedience quite often. So they go out and practice civil disobedience and at different construction sites and locations. That is where they are facing militarized security that is funded by the DAPL, police officers that are influenced by our super shity governor, and they are facing extreme brutality but I mean this is real.  People are getting shot with rubber bullets, which people call non-lethal, but in actuality they are just less lethal. They are painful, they tear your skin and it feels like you are actually being shot. People are being maced;  men, women, children, it doesn’t matter, People are being tear gassed, there are constant sound horns that blast excruciating sounds. People are being subjected to extreme violence just for standing up for clean water.

On the ground people are dealing with PTSD and severe emotional abuse. Believe it or not, we are all on the same team. People have a hard time understanding how other Americans can completely dehumanize us as a nation. It is really intense, it is really crazy, it is really sad. We need people like you guys to stand up with us and basically say that “this is not okay that this is happening.”

What keeps you motivated?

My daughters. Anytime I have reflected within myself and thought about why I am doing this, why is this important, it comes at a personal level because this is my home. I don’t want my daughters to think it is okay to treat them awfully because of the pigmentation of their skin. This is a civil rights movement, it truly is. I will not sit back and let not let my daughters see me be mistreated because I have a darker color skin. That is absurd. I will not do it as a mom.

Also we have one planet. We don’t get another one. We don’t get to go anywhere else. That river that is there right now is the cleanest river in the United States. People in other countries right now are being stripped their rights of their right to clean water. I don’t want that to be my children’s or my children’s children’s future. That’s insane. I will not sit back and let that happen.  Also my friends and family. They are there every day. They are there being arrested. They are there taking bullets directly to the face. They are my inspiration. Anyone would be there to protect their family. And you just got to do it in the best way you know how to do it.

Everyone else that is part of the movement is really my inspiration. And Chase is my inspiration as well. To watch someone from my own community to get through roadblocks in their own life, continue to move forward, get educated, become eloquently spoken, and run for Congress, it makes you feel like anything is possible.

People like that give me inspiration for standing up for what is right. This movement and the peaceful protestors are 100% in the right. I don’t care what they have to say,  there is no argument that can tell me what they are doing is wrong. If they are trespassing…well Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus at that time, and history vindicated her. And that is what will happen to this movement.

Anything else you want people you want know?

The biggest thing is not to be discouraged by this Presidency. If you look at the voting map of your generation,  almost every state except for North Dakota is blue. That gives me hope. You guys the most inspirational right now. You are on the right path. Keep doing what you are doing.

We all have to be aware of the environment. It is all interconnected. Whatever you are doing can be useful. So just know that. Education is definitely the path you should be taking. And also we have bomb food at camp right now. Seriously there’s four really awesome food tents. So if you needed any other reason to go, just go and stuff your face, it is really delicious.

And also you can add on facebook “Last Real Indian” and Standingrock.org, if you want more information go on that site. Follow me on facebook, my name is Laundi Keepseagle.

Building Alliance

You said in class that your generation failed us. What did you mean by that?

Just in terms of the nature of the rhetoric, that is a clear regression. I tried to be as clear as I could in the classroom context with the students. I’m not suggesting that things were going back to the (not so) “good ole days,” not pollyannaish at all or romanticizing the past. I was taken by surprise when President Obama was elected, pleasantly surprised, of course. I thought this meant something. At the time it was mainly symbolic when you consider things like mass incarceration and growing wealth inequality, but then I had a daughter who went to kindergarten around that time. I remembered going in and seeing the pictures on the walls and being struck by them myself. Seeing those crayons and the brown faces, I realized I wasn’t doing it a service by saying it’s “just” symbolic. Symbolism is powerful, and you wonder if there might be some kind of backlash [to the progress we’ve witnessed], but you are still fairly hopeful. Recently, this kind of visceral reaction was clearly at least a couple steps back after one step forward, in terms of the public discourse. I don’t want to overstate; we’ll see what happens.

I thought we just set the completely wrong example. Whatever people’s political leanings are, they are entitled to the grievances on both sides. On the Republican side, Mr. Trump was tapping into something real. But the message we are sending to you, to say it in the capacity of a citizen, the sheer vulgarity on display at times, just left you stunned. I saw your faces in class, silenced and stunned, wondering what in the world is going on.

There’s a vacuum of leadership from my generation. In that sense, we didn’t offer you the psychic protections that you see all over the place we should have. You see it on the community level, where the impoverished children often grew up with some protection. Their parents shield them from things and they don’t realize how dire the circumstances are until they’ve built up some resilience when they get older. The feeling I had was that, at the national level, we didn’t shield you from some of those things that my generation, and certainly previous generations, endured. As bad as things sometimes could be, I certainly did not feel like bearing the brunt of being told that you’re not valued or wanted in the way that is happening to some of our population; particularly minorities, and to an extent women as well. If you reward someone for this behavior by electing him President, then you are sending a clear message to the people he’s offending. That’s what I was trying to imply as appropriately as I could in a classroom setting. I felt like we really let you down in the sense that we didn’t set a good example and protect those folk. Of course, those of us trying to do that should be supported, but overall, we have to take the blame for not doing generationally what we should be doing.

I’m just hoping it’s a wakeup call. I hope you realize that part of the lesson—this might seem kind of cynical—is that you cannot wait for us. I’m hoping young folk realize that you have to find ways to take the reins, because the adults sometimes either don’t get it or won’t get it, out of willed ignorance or whatever the case is. You have to lead. Most progressive changes come about through youth leadership. In the case of the Civil Rights Movement, we forget how young Martin Luther King was at the time he was killed. He was a very young man. Youth energy, youth vision and perspective are critical.

Ben 06b.jpg

For young people to take the lead on progressive change, how should they address a large portion of this country who feels left out? How do we talk to them?

Unfortunately, that’s too good a question. A lot of us are struggling with that. Even what I suggested at the end of the class—to talk to people who you disagree with—is too simplistic. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing. Now emotions are still high and raw, so those conversations are fraught and charged.

I worked on the Race project for the American Anthropological Association. The fundamental assumption with that project is that we have to engage in open and honest conversations, and we have to work from a shared framework and database of knowledge. Race is one big example, the one I’m most familiar with. We came up with a model that incorporated science, history, and contemporary lived experience. From that, we have the basis for talking about race and racism, and human variation. Everyone may not agree, but as a starting point for discussion, that’s the most comprehensive one I’m aware of. There has to be some assumption that we have some shared goals. We need to figure out what those are and work backwards from those goals as opposed to either assuming that we don’t have shared goals or failing to lay out transparently what those goals are. That’s where we tend to get lost. To address the issue or problem of race, racism, and human variation, we have to acknowledge first that this is how we got here. But that’s not what we have done, certainly not at a big enough scale.

I say that you have to assume leadership, but there are certain things that have to be put in place. You can’t do it with us sitting on top of you. I think there have to be structural commitments, and then the task becomes for you to go out and spread your tentacles where those structures become impediments as opposed to enablers of these conversations. The fact is, we are here and we are all here to stay. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement, people recognize and realize that we are not going anywhere, so we have to figure this thing out.

Some people think conversation sounds watered down, especially when you hear it so often—conversation on this, conversation on that. But if those conversations consist of discussions on the real issues of power and inequality, and the barriers to justice and peace, then I think they are worth having. You are just primed and ready to have those conversations in a way that many folk my age and older simply aren’t comfortable with having.

If you look at what the millennial voters’ position was in this election, no one can deny that it would have been a progressive move if we had elected a woman president—that represents the belief of 80% of our young people. That fortifies my position that you all are ready. The challenge for you is to figure out how to get us out of the way. That’s something I’m not quite sure of. We can have those conversations amongst ourselves, but I think you also need to push and prod where necessary. That’s just how history has worked. Youth and young adult movements have been the main engine of social change everywhere you look.

As an anthropologist, what do you think are some of the elements in that shared knowledge base that are not established between “us” and “them”? What are the impediments to conversation?

I wonder about this. As anthropologists, we look at the historical evolution of different racial identities, including whiteness. I don’t want to reduce various political camps down to racial identities, but I want to use that as an example. Often one of the challenges is how to present this notion that we all have these identities, that we are all multifaceted and multidimensional. It’s easy for us on this side of the political divide to stereotype Trump supporters, to reduce them to racists, sexists, you name it. But there has to be some acknowledgement that that’s not the only driving force even as those forces clearly are at play. People on our either side have to acknowledge the viewpoint of those on the other side. We have to find a way to acknowledge the multidimensional aspects of all of our identities and to allow the other side to be as uncompromising in their critiques as we are. That’s a challenge. You see this across all sorts of divides. A group can be leveling some blistering critique and yet be somewhat blind to the critiques of others.

Alliance-building across this political divide, to be honest, has to address this perceived loss of power. We are coming on the heels of two terms of our first African-American president, faced with the prospect with a woman president. If we are honest, for some people it was just too much. You do get this backlash. For others, there are other issues. It comes down to allowing people to be human, as we allow ourselves to be—here’s where it gets tricky, since it’s too easy to give false equivalence—yet doing that while acknowledging historically entrenched power and inequalities. We may all have legitimate grievances, but me hurling some words at someone doesn’t have the social and historical force as other groups do. Historically, even minor changes have elicited huge backlash responses from the majority white population.

I’m sorry I don’t have concrete suggestions or answers as I would like. At this point, we’re still processing a lot of this. I do see this as hopefully some last vestiges of pushing back against what really is inevitable change, demographic and otherwise. A lot of the people who supported Hillary Clinton, and the political pundits, underestimated the force of that backlash and that feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness. You put all of that within the broader context of economic change, for which people are looking for answers and scapegoats as to why circumstances are what they are, and you’ve got the situation that we have today.

But there is hope.

Absolutely. In my position, one thing I want to say to the students is that, while it’s important to let people know that you are hurt, it’s at least as important to address the real issues, including the physical vulnerability of some people, and at the same time not feeding too much into a sense of despair. Again, I’m not romanticizing the past, but we’ve been here before, in some cases tougher spots. Many circumstances have been overcome in the past. We just have to have that sustained commitment that takes us beyond episodes [of effort]. Another point of the Race project was to give people access to this type of information and have the conversations when they are not charged. Don’t wait till an incident. Here’s information you can pore over about the lived experiences of people across all sorts of political and racial divides. Talk about this stuff not simply when there is a police shooting, so that when those things happen, you have a framework to put them in. I hope a shared structural commitment can come out of this to sustain dialog that will then lay a new foundation for behavior when the next inevitable thing happens. Optimism can rise and wane from time to time, but there’s never an excuse for hopelessness.

Regardless of your political persuasion, seeing the first woman president would have been another huge milestone in this nation’s history. In that sense, I can only see it as a setback. But when you look at the full arc, you are reminded that this experiment of America, this notion of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and pluralistic society, has never really been accomplished or even attempted. To have a society in which everyone is supposedly able to come in and feel welcomed as free and equal citizens—that experiment just hasn’t happened before. The newness and youth of our nation in that sense—several hundred years is still a drop in the bucket—should give us pause so that we don’t become too cynical or hopeless. The balancing act for me is always to keep that in mind while realizing that progress, as we have seen, can be taken away. So you are always pushing and hopefully there’s creative tension between how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go. If there’s any silver lining, I’m hoping that this becomes both a clarion call for younger folk to stay engaged in creating the world they want to see and also opening up opportunities for some hard dialogues across differences.

We focus so much on structural change, with good reason. Also, some of this has to come from conversations that people are not always willing to have. In the case here, if you look at students feeling threatened, Muslims, racial minority students, those are conversations that need to happen across and within groups. I think about my white faculty colleagues and sometimes conversations can be qualitatively different along racial lines. I would hope that they will have some hard conversations with their colleagues across political lines —conversations that I’m less likely to have—to do what it takes to bring about the change and make sure everyone feels valued on this campus. The first thing has to be making sure everyone feels safe. Then we can work towards those dialogues.

For my part, I’ll be in touch with people who are willing to have those sustained dialogues and make those structural commitments on the part of departments and the entire college. I see that as our role and responsibility. If we can do that, then we don’t have a fertile environment in which these flare-ups can happen. That’s the foundational change we have to work towards. Students play a role there as well. Students can support such initiatives and the faculty behind them, to keep the demand on those types of programs in their own interest and in the interest of the institution. Nations and institutions have a right to decide what they are going to be, but they also have the ability to change, and so you do have some power and some say in what kind of society you want.

Sticking together

Did I tell you how my dad got a new teaching job while I was in high school? He had been unemployed for like, I don’t remember, a year or two maybe. And he got this job. And it was a few days before school started. He found out on a Thursday and then school started on Monday – it was such a whirlwind. We were just so excited for him that he got this job, though. But then after the excitement settled he realized that the new school had a rule that your kids have to go to school there if you teach there; they said it was a way of ‘showing support.’ They were going to let me out of the rule that year because classes had already started, but it would apply next year. They were still going to let me out of it, though, because it would have been my senior year and it would have been mean to make me change schools. But they weren’t going to let my younger brother, JonDavid out of it. And I just told you how I’m probably going to cry telling you this but… he would have had to go to this new school by himself. And that just made me so sad to think about because… I just miss him a lot. My siblings and I have all been so close. We always just followed each other all the way through school. And then I realized that he was going to have to leave and wouldn’t be able to share the rest of the experiences that we had. So when I realized he was leaving, I just went with him. Because I didn’t want him to go by himself. And I’m so glad that he went to this new school because I feel like he has such better friends there. And I think overall it’s better for him. I don’t know how much I had to do with it, but being with him that year was way more important than finishing my senior year at my old school.

So you left for your senior year?

Yeah. That’s like my one really good story. Like I wrote about it for college and everything.  That’s my one story.

How did you tell him about your decision?

I was never sure. I think that he knew that I was vaguely considering it because we both went to prospective student day. I just went for the heck of it because I was interested and I wanted to miss school and stuff. And I was like “oh yea they’re fun I like them!” I tried to not tell him because i didn’t want to ever get him excited and then not follow through.
I talked about it for a long time with my dad. Back and forth back and forth. I talked about it a lot with my older brother. A lot of people were really not supportive of it. My older brother was not supportive, my teachers were really not supportive. I think my dad really wanted me to go but was trying not to sway me. I remember I decided when I was on a bus.  I thought “I have time to think right now so I’m just going to sort it out right now and make a decision about it”. So then I decided I was going and I texted my dad and he was really excited. So I came home and asked my brother how he was feeling about changing schools. I would periodically do that because I knew he was scared and sad. So I asked him “how do you feel about changing schools?” and he said “fine, I guess” and I said, “would it feel better if I was there?” and he was like “yeah, but what do you mean?” and I said “I’m gonna come. I’ll be there.” And he just started freaking out.

A secret longing

Interview with Arthur (Art) Davis

I work at a senior living community in Lake Oswego, Oregon, a few miles south of Portland. Art Davis is one of my favorite residents. Whenever I give him a drink or his food, he always says in his Mississippi accent, “Oh, bless your heart.” He spent some time in Williamsburg in the 50’s. I interviewed him while at home for spring break.

When did you live in Williamsburg?

I never lived in Williamsburg. I was in the Mississippi army, the National Guard. I was stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, which is about 6 or 7 or 8 miles out of Williamsburg. Fort Eustis was a small base. It was a transportation base, and it was located in a very pretty area surrounded by history. So if you were going to be in the army, it was a good place to be. That’s my relationship to Williamsburg.

And you visited Williamsburg a lot?

When we got off duty in the afternoon, and I don’t know if it was 4:00 or 4:30 – I cant remember – but we would have 2 or 3 of us and we would get in a car and drive over to Williamsburg. And none of us had any money and we were all young people and we would get a hamburger or something and we would sit on the curb and watch the tourists, or we would find us a bench and watch the tourists, and that was our entertainment. We’d go back to the base around 8:30 or 9:00, so that was our excursion and that was our excitement of the day.

Did you ever walk through campus?

Anna, as well as I can remember, and correct me if I’m wrong, this goes back 60 years ago and my recall is not so good, but it seems like to me there was a drug store right smack-dab on the corner of the main street. And it seems like, and I could be wrong, that the street bat off to the left I think, and that was the extension of main street and you would go down a few blocks and William and Mary was on the right if I’m not mistaken. Is that right?

Yeah!

Well, I’m doing good so far. Now, I went down out of curiosity one day to look at the campus and to walk through the campus and to soak up the history and the ambiance of the campus and the beauty of it. And I thought to myself, “hey I would like to go to school here” but of course I did not have the opportunity. But years later, I was a college football coach and I thought to myself, “If William and Mary were to call me and wanted me to come up to interview for a job, I would have to go up.” I was so enamored with the beauty of the campus and the town and the history and the colonial aspect of it and all. It was so appealing to me. I didn’t go to the football office and I didn’t go to the football field. But to look at the building and the colonial flavor that the town offered and that William and Mary offered – it was wonderful. And for you to have the opportunity to go there to school is a great thing.

I love it.

I would too. I would love going to school there, I really really would.

Did you ever go back?

I went back one time to a conference in Williamsburg. I want to say I stayed in the 1776 Inn. Is that still there?

It might be. I’m not sure.

At that time, it was a very nice place to stay. Williamsburg is one of my favorite places, and I’ve been to many places. The quaintness of it and the history and the colonial aspect – all of that is so appealing. I’ve only been back one time since the 50’s.

What years were you there originally?

I was only there for four months. Back then, when you were in the National Guard, you were required to go on active duty for six months, and I spent four months of that in Fort Eustis, which was a very good place to be. And more than once, maybe twice a week, we would get in a car and drive over to Williamsburg and do nothing but watch the tourists and eat a sandwich or something. We may have eaten on the base and then gone over to Williamsburg, I can’t remember. And then we enjoyed the fact that we could get off the base and have a glorious place to go. And it was. And am I right that Williamsburg is down the main street and on the right?

Yeah!

Well, I’ve got fairly good recall. And if I’m not mistaken, the main drugstore in the town was right there on the corner, and it’s probably not there anymore.

There is a drugstore there – it might not be the same one.

There is a drugstore there? Well I’ll bet you it is the same one. I’ll bet you it is. My memory is better than I thought. Anyway, it was a tourist place at the time and I’m sure it still is. We would watch all the people and visit with the people and sit on the bench or the curb and at 8:30 or 9:00, we would go back to the base. And that was our day. That was what we did. That’s about all I remember about Williamsburg, other than the fact that I liked it so much and if they had ever called me to go up there about a coaching job I would have gone because I liked it so much and it appealed to me. And it would appeal to any student school. If I were a student, it would be attractive for me to go there.

Where did you go to school?

Mississippi State. Are you a sophomore?

Mhmm

Ain’t that something? You’ve got another two years to go. That’ll be fun.

[We talk for a while about my major and activities and things]

Well Anna, I can’t think of anything else as far as Williamsburg.

And Colonial Williamsburg was set up then, right?

Yes. And where we would get a hamburger or a hotdog or something, I don’t know. I can’t picture any fast food places in that area.

Do you remember Duke of Gloucester Street, DoG Street? Or Prince George Street?

I remember the names of them, yes.

Those are the main streets down.

Do the people still dress up?

Oh yeah.

And that’s part of the flavor of the tourist attraction and so forth. Well, you’re a lucky girl. You’re very fortunate to have the chance to go to that school.

It’s unforgettable. It’s amazing.

And I saw William and Mary play James Madison this year, and I was wondering if you were at the game, and you said you weren’t at the game.

My dorm is right across the street from the stadium, so I can basically watch the game from my bed.

Really? But you don’t go to the games?

Not usually, sometimes I’ll go for a little bit.

[He tries to convince me to go to games and talks about football for a while. And then talks about his granddaughter at Baylor.]

Golly, Anna. My goodness. Well you’ve got a good start in life at a wonderful place and you’re meeting wonderful people.

[We talk about my sorority for a while. His daughter was a Kappa Delta at Mississippi State.]

Were you in a fraternity?

I was. I was a Sigma Chi. The blue of her eyes, and the gold of her hair, she’s a sweetheart of Sigma Chi. I wasn’t a real enthusiastic member. I didn’t have time to go to the fraternity. I was in football all the time and I didn’t have time. I did as much as I could. And now, they write me all the time for money. They want money for various projects and so forth, and I help them as much as I can. But I was never that gung ho about it. And you get out of it what you put in it, and I didn’t put much in it. But, I can say that I was a Sigma Chi and it was a good fraternity.

 

Snapshot of a lifetime

What are you doing here on such a cold day?
“I am in the Fundamentals of Design class. I’m drawing the PBK loading dock area, and I’m using a ruler and my thumb to try to get the perspective and the scale.”

What do you think is the difference between pure artistic drawing and design?
“The paperwork you do is supposed to be a visual representation of what it will then look like on the stage. The most beautiful thing about the design is that you have a drawing of a set or what the lights are going to look like, and then you actually do it on stage. You get to put it together and see what it looks like in real life. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. There won’t be the same people, the same design, and the same actors at the same place. I just think it’s insanely neat how it is one unique experience. Every show is different; every rehearsal is different.”

The peak of our lives

Brenna 07Where are  you guys heading right now?

The cheese shop. We had an eight a.m. Calc quiz, so we’re treating ourselves.

What would you consider the “peak” of your life?

I made RBG laugh. I made Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laugh, so I think that’s when I peaked. I was giving her a gift from my school, and she was on a podium. I said, “Do I have permission to approach?” and she giggled. Everything else since then has been downhill.

Anybody else?

I peaked in seventh grade because I was this tall. I was six foot in seventh grade, and then it just all went downhill after that. I feel like people were kind of over it. People were over me. I don’t really blame them because it happens to everyone.

Democracy’s Descendants

I think today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and young leaders have always played a crucial role in building a better world. My parents were activists in Tian’anmen Square in the 80’s.That has been a huge factor in me getting involved in the democratic process and never taking my freedoms for granted. It has definitely motivated me to go into public service and to become interested in international affairs.

As an Asian American, I am on the cusp of two cultures. I spent an entire year abroad in Taiwan just recently, where I really got to know myself a bit better. The greatest thing I learned is being true to who you are. I’ll never be completely Chinese, but at the same time I’m not going to sacrifice my cultural values or traditions in order to fit into mainstream American society. And it’s good to know that there are other people at this school that are in the same exact situation as I am, sort of like third-culture kids.

My multicultural background has definitely been a big part of who I am. I grew up in New Jersey. I was born in China. I go to school in the South, and I stay in touch with my cousins in Vienna, Austria and Oklahoma. When my family first moved to the US, a lot of us dispersed in different directions. Talking to my relatives and traveling to different places inside and outside the US has really ingrained in me an appreciation for different cultures.